They thunder right in the middle of America’s biggest megalopolis. leap off cliffs in the nation’s flattest states, plunge into darkness hundreds of feet underground.
If you’re looking for a dramatic, romantic, or fantastic waterfall, you don’t need to fly to Niagara or drive to Yosemite. Chances are there’s a classic cascade not far from where you live.
Great Falls of the Passaic (Pictured Above) Paterson, New Jersey (77 feet)
Pounding against the walls of an ancient basalt chasm barely 18 miles from Times Square, one of the nation’s most powerful falls is the centerpiece of our newest National Historic Park, dedicated last November. Thousands of commuters rush by on nearby Interstate 80 daily, unaware of the tranquil overlooks and paths that offer dramatic views of the falls that pour, in the words of poet William Carlos Williams, in a “recoil of spray and rainbow mists” (201-3145-3977; nps.gov/pagr).
Cedar Falls Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio (50 feet)
America’s prairie begins in Ohio, so it’s something of a surprise to find Cedar Falls sliding down a gorge just over an hour south of Columbus. Narrowing at the point where the water makes its final drop, the falls resemble a giant ladle. If you just can’t bear to leave, stay overnight in a park cabin or your own tent (740-385-6842; 1800hocking.com).
Falling Waters Falls Chipley, Florida (73 feet)
The highest waterfall in Florida may also be the lowest: Falling Waters Falls drops into a 100-foot sinkhole, then drains into the uncharted underground limestone caves that honeycomb the state. Elsewhere in Falling Waters State Park you can swim, explore fern-lined trails, and hunt for migrating butterflies (850-638-6130; floridastateparks.org/fallingwaters).
Cowley Lake Waterfall Dexter, Kansas (20 feet)
True fact: A 2003 scientific study proved that Kansas is, literally, flatter than a pancake—but that doesn’t keep Cowley Fishing Lake from spilling over a natural horseshoe-shaped ledge (are you listening, Niagara?) and into a wood-shaded stream below. Just upstream, catfish and walleye await your hook, but watch out for the tarantulas on shore! (620-876-5730; stateparks.com/Cowley.html)
Turner Falls Davis, Oklahoma (77 feet)
If Oklahoma’s famous buffalo were to roam too close to the edge of Honey Creek, they could end up sliding down the rocky toboggan-like slope of Turner Falls. And then they’d have to deal with the thousands of swimmers who cool off in the natural pool at its base all summer. Turner Falls Park also has nature trails and a castle built in the 1930s (580-369-2988; turnerfallspark.com).
Amicalola Falls Dawsonville, Georgia (729 feet)
One of America’s tallest waterfalls splashes in a
mountain wilderness about 70 miles north of downtown Atlanta. There are observation spots both at the top and bottom, and there are cabins to rent along Little Amicalola Creek. The falls are an easy walk from the parking lot outside the park’s lodge and restaurant, where you’ll find the best Sunday brunch for 100 miles around (706-265-4703; gastateparks.org/amicalolafalls).
Marvel Cave Falls Branson, Missouri (50 feet)
If the height doesn’t impress you, perhaps the location will: more than 500 feet below ground in a cave that’s been hosting tourists for nearly 120 years. On your way down you’ll pass through the Cathedral Room, one of the largest cave entrances in North America. The tour comes with admission to the Silver Dollar City theme park, but be warned there are lots of stairs, up and down, during the one-hour tour. Happy ending: a cable car hauls you back to the surface (Park admission: $60.19 adults, $49.44 children 4-11; 800-475-9370; bransonsilverdollarcity.com)