Hiking is a terrific way to explore your surroundings. You don’t need much equipment to do it. Just some sneakers or hiking boots, water and maybe some sunscreen. And there are thousands of hiking trails in national and state parks that are waiting for you.
But you aren’t looking for any hike. You want a unique and unforgettable one. The solution? Waterfall hikes. Because waterfalls – like bacon – make everything better.
When you reach the end of these trails and there’s moisture on your face, will it be mist from the falls or tears of joy? Maybe a little of both.
Here are four of the coolest waterfall hikes in America that are worth tackling this year.
Mist Trail to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park
Move over, Scrooge McDuck. Yosemite National Park also has a deep and seemingly endless reservoir of riches. From how-can-those-be-real giant sequoias to towering Half Dome’s granite rock face, you’ll find majesty everywhere you look in Yosemite.
There are countless cool hiking trails but Mist Trail to Vernal Fall packs a real emotional wallop. It’s a 4-mile hike alongside the Merced River through rainbows and mist coming off the waterfall – especially in spring. You’re in for a workout but the scenery is so pretty you may not notice. As you keep climbing upward, you’re likely to see Steller’s jays flitting about. And that’s one neat bird.
Just when you’re starting to tire, you reach the top of a spectacular summit. Your reward is beautiful Emerald Pool, and a close-up view of Vernal Fall, which drops 317 feet. Some of the steps along the way can be slippery, but the landscapes you’ll encounter are drop-dead gorgeous.
Goat Island Scenic Walk, Niagara Falls State Park
Niagara Falls is one of the most picturesque places on the planet. If you’ve been there, you know what the fuss is about. Heck, it’s even attracted Superman. If you haven’t been there yet, we’re glad you’re reading.
Niagara Falls is an amazing place, and that goes for hiking, too. You have a number of nice options to choose from. Goat Island Scenic Walk is right at the top of the list because it offers some incredible, unobstructed views of both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. This is an easy, 2.3-mile hike that is perfect for families.
Wondering about the name Goat Island? Hey, us too. There are no goats on Goat Island today, but there used to be. A pioneer by the name of John Stedman kept a herd on the island back in the 1770s. So no horned mammals besides white-tailed deer but endless Instagram-worthy views.
Mystic Falls, Yellowstone National Park
There are dozens of incredible waterfall hikes in the Yellowstone region. The obvious choice to profile may be the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is absolutely breathtaking.
But if you are looking for a hidden gem that’s worth your time, check out the appropriately-named Mystic Falls. This 70-foot waterfall looks like something out of The Hobbit, with clouds of steam rising from geothermic forces. And while the payoff is fantastic, here, the thrill is in the journey. To get to the waterfall, you’ll follow a 1.5-mile trail that winds along the river. It’s a good hike for all ages and ability levels and you may just spot some native wildlife, like eagles, falcons and other animals that don’t share a name with NFL teams.
Plus, you’ll glimpse Biscuit Basin’s magnificent hot springs. This hike is a winner in so many ways and it’s best experienced in summer or fall.
Dark Hollow Falls Trail, Shenandoah National Park
Dark Hollow Falls Trail is one enchanting hike. The evocative name alone is filled with intrigue. This pretty, 1.4-mile hike looks like something out of a fairy tale or quite possibly the forest moon of Endor. Take your pick. It’s magical.
You venture down with the creek running parallel to you. When you head far enough, the path intersects with the stream and that’s where you can get a good look at the waterfalls. Really lovely stuff and selfie heaven.
Watch your step on the hike down and please don’t climb on the waterfalls. Keep your eyes peeled for native animals like black bears and the rare Shenandoah salamander (you probably won’t mix them up).