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Detian Falls, Vietnam
Straddling the border between Vietnam and China (where it’s called Ban Gioc-Detian Falls), Detian Falls is the largest waterfall in Asia — and one of the largest waterfalls in all the world. While its height is a relatively modest 197 feet, the width of the lush, multitiered falls spans more than 650 feet. Fed by the Quay Son River, Detian Falls has eroded over thousands of years and today consists of two separate waterfalls. But during the rainy summer season, the swollen river and rushing water create the illusion of one stunning cascade.
The area around Detian Falls is just as stunning as the falls themselves. From the Chinese side, often busier with tourists, you can take in vivid green-blue lagoons, jagged limestone rock formations called karsts, and lush vegetation from a viewing platform. The Vietnamese side, equally remarkable, is a bit more treacherous, but a historic Buddhist temple is within hiking distance. Raft rides are available on either side, offering an amazing vantage point from the water, but you can enjoy the thunderous sound anywhere — it can be heard miles away.
Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Deep in the Amazon rainforest, the magnificent Kaieteur Falls is considered the world’s highest single-drop waterfall at 741 feet tall. Located within the Kaieteur National Park and fed by the Potaro River, the falls tumble over a series of sandstone outcroppings and are bordered by lush, tropical greenery. The cascades are thunderous, creating sheets of heavenly mist that result in frequent rainbows. Surrounding the falls are abundant and vividly colored birdlife and frogs, many of which don’t live anywhere else in the world.
Kaieteur Falls is fairly remote — the upside is that the jungle surrounding the cascade remains unspoiled. Most travelers fly in on tiny planes from Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. Their reward: spectacular views of the falls during take-off and landing, and a quick 15-minute hike to a prime viewing spot. Visitors can continue on to additional lookout points, including a rock ledge near the top of the falls, where the particularly brave can lie down on their bellies and peer out into the drop.
Rhine Falls, Switzerland
Though not exceptionally tall, Rhine Falls, on the Rhine River, is exceptionally powerful. With a water flow of 21,000 cubic feet per second in summer months, Rhine Falls absolutely roars, and vibrations can be felt on land nearby. The possibility of generating power from the falls has been a hot topic in Switzerland since the 1880s, but the value of the area’s striking natural beauty continues to stave off those plans. It doesn’t hurt that more than a million tourists visit and spend money in the area each year.
Located where the High Rhine cascades roughly 75 feet down to a lower level, the falls consist of a single drop that flows nearly 500 feet wide. It is surrounded by picturesque Swiss countryside and the historic town of Neuhausen am Rheinfall. There, visitors can join boat excursions from April to October that offer front-row seats to the epic cascade, as well as a closer look at the 14th-century Wörth Castle. The impressive stone fort adds a dose of medieval charm to the scenic waterfall nearby.
Weeping Wall, Hawaii
The Weeping Wall isn’t just one waterfall — it’s a collection of many stunning cascades. Located in central Kauai, one of the wettest places on Earth, the series of narrow falls rushes down the side of the 5,000-foot-tall Mount Waialeale. Fed by near-constant rain — more than 35 feet of it per year — the cascades are relentless. You can rarely see where the streams start, as the mountaintop is often enveloped in thick cloud cover and mist, but you can’t miss the shifting white stripes of water rushing through the rich greenery below.
A canyon called the Blue Hole is one of the best ways to view the Weeping Wall, but the jaunt is not recommended for novice hikers. Visitors will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the trailhead, and the hike itself is long, poorly marked, and vulnerable to extreme weather and flash flooding. You can hire a guide for the trek, of course — or you can experience the Weeping Wall like most visitors to Kauai do, via helicopter.
Sutherland Falls, New Zealand
Located in the Fiordland area of New Zealand’s South Island, Sutherland Falls is among the tallest waterfalls in the world at over 1,900 feet — spilling down an almost totally vertical cliff. The water flows from a round crater lake called Lake Quill and splits into three thunderous cascades. The terrain, formed by glaciers, is rocky and mountainous, lush with vegetation, and unspoiled.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime view — and it makes the long, off-the-beaten-path trail to reach the falls worthwhile. You’ll also encounter other magnificent waterfalls and breathtaking vistas along the way. Hiking out to Sutherland Falls can take four days, so some visitors opt to take a helicopter instead. Either way, the mountainous territory is known for extreme weather and is inundated with over 20 feet of rain per year. It’s best to visit between October and early April, as summer visitors will still encounter snow-capped mountain peaks and unexpected rain, but without the storms and frigid temperatures of a winter trip.
Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls — part of the Zambezi River, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe — is only about 350 feet tall. But with cascades that stretch over 5,500 feet from end to end, Victoria Falls is sweeping, and thus considered to be the largest waterfall in the world. Naturally, a cascade of that size is tremendously loud and capable of creating a wall of all-encompassing mist. That’s why locals refer to it as “the smoke that thunders.”
Accessible from the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side and surrounded by three small national parks, the falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the area is rich with wildlife. Notably, the constant misting creates a rainforest microclimate; it surrounds the swimmable Devil’s Pool before giving way to more typical savannah and hardwood forest populated by crocodiles, baboons, and giraffes. While the weather is temperate year-round, the period between March and August generally affords the best views and clearest skies.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
At over 3,200 feet high, Angel Falls is the world’s tallest waterfall. To put it into perspective, it’s four times the height of Niagara Falls. The sheer height and spectacular power make Angel Falls one of the most breathtaking natural sites on the planet. Located in the Canaima National Park — famous for its flat-topped mountains, sheer cliffs, and verdant forests — it cascades over the Auyántepui mountain. From there, the falls create a series of dramatic white-water rapids as the streams drain into the Churun River. Angel Falls isn’t just pretty to look at, however — the park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its unique sandstone geography as well as its abundant animal life. (Look out for jaguars, giant anteaters, and toucans.)
From June to December, when water levels are highest, boat trips upriver offer spectacular views and a chance to enjoy the mists rising from the falls and the rapids below. Getting there requires a commitment — most tourists fly into the small town of Canaima before a full-day boat ride through dense, isolated jungle.
Havasu Falls, Arizona
Havasu Falls is arguably the most breathtaking of the five Havasupai Waterfalls — a series of cascades in one of the offshoot canyons of the majestic Grand Canyon. The scene is eye-popping because of the incredible colors — the rocks are a brilliant orange-pink, and the pools below an otherworldly cerulean, thanks to calcium carbonate and magnesium in the water. Nearly 100 feet tall, the falls run into Havasu Creek, which meanders along limestone outcroppings through tribal land within Havasupai National Park.
Viewing the falls isn’t for the faint of heart, however. Unless you’re able to reserve a seat on one of the few helicopter tours, the area is accessible only via a 10-mile hike, usually overnight. Advance reservations are required, and all visitors must camp. Despite how tough it is to get there, the opportunities to experience the magical views and invigorating plunge pools of Havasu Falls are bucket-list worthy.
Iceland is home to several spectacular waterfalls, but Gullfoss might be the island nation’s most famous. Part of the well-traveled Golden Circle of Icelandic natural wonders, Gullfoss translates to “golden falls,” so-named for the amber-colored sediment left behind by glacial activity. That sediment turns the water gold when the sun shines at just the right angle in the afternoon, and those moments are what make this waterfall — just over a hundred feet tall — so memorable.
Fed by glaciers and part of the flood-prone and treacherous Hvítá River, Gullfoss tumbles over a series of ridges or steps and features two main cascades. The view from above is especially breathtaking, as the torrents of rushing water appear to simply disappear over the edge of a cliff. Beyond, visitors are struck by the almost alien landscape of Iceland — rocky, dramatic, dusted with snow in winter, and mossy green in summer. At one time, the waterfall was privately owned, and numerous attempts were made to harness the power of Gullfoss by building electrical plants. Fortunately, the area was designated a nature reserve in 1979.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
Straddling the borders of Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is considered the largest system of waterfalls in the world. Iguazu’s height is nothing to sneeze at — 269 feet tall — but its length is where it really shines. Stretching almost 9,000 feet across, the stepped series of cascades and islands along the Iguazu River includes 270 distinct waterfalls across more than 1.5 miles. The massive cascades can be deafening, especially in the wetter summer months between December and March.
Located within two national parks and itself a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Iguazu is awe-inspiring year-round. The massive falls — twice as wide as Niagara Falls — punctuate the thick, emerald subtropical rainforest. While visitors can take helicopter tours from the Brazilian side, a charming way to view the falls and access additional portions of parkland is by boarding the Rainforest Ecological Train on the Argentinian side. That short trip includes access to the Devil’s Throat — a narrow chasm that a massive portion of the river flows down into.
Thor’s Well, Oregon
Thor’s Well isn’t technically a waterfall, but it’s extraordinary nonetheless. Located on Cape Perpetua, a wooded peninsula on the Oregon coast, Thor’s Well is a focal point of Siuslaw National Forest. A seemingly bottomless hole in the rock at the edge of the Pacific, the formation likely began as a sea cave carved out over the centuries by rushing ocean waves. As the cave expanded, a weakened roof caved in. Now, this pit, also known as “the drain of the ocean,” dramatically swallows streams of seawater as they roll in.
Visitors should plan to arrive about an hour before high tide to view the nearly empty well, and hang around to see the ocean roll in, eventually fully encompassing the 20-foot-deep formation. But use caution, as roiling ocean water and rocky walls can make for a dangerous slip. The rest of the park offers hiking trails, rich evergreen forest, camping facilities, and miles of Oregon’s signature craggy coast.
Dudhsagar Falls, India
At over one thousand feet tall, Dudhsagar Falls is one of India’s highest waterfalls. Spanning four cascading tiers, the falls are nearly 100 feet wide, and the force of the water, falling from such extreme heights into the Mandovi River below, creates plumes of mist and gurgling rapids. All that white water has earned the waterfall its nickname “Sea of Milk.” This is especially true during the region’s monsoon season, starting in late May and extending into September.
Located inside the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary in the Goa province, the cascade drains into a plunge pool and is surrounded by deciduous forests rich with wildlife, including chatty macaque monkeys. Casual viewers can take in the site from a nearby train line that crosses the waterfall on a picturesque stone bridge covered in vines and moss. But more adventurous hikers and swimmers will need to hire a guide and a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get past poorly marked roadways and rushing creeks.
Passaic Falls, New Jersey
In 1778, Alexander Hamilton visited Passaic Falls, also known as Great Falls, as America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. He established the area, now the city of Paterson, as the site of America’s first planned industrial development. Close enough to Manhattan, the spot was selected for its rushing waterfall, which would power the mills and factories planned along the Passaic River. It was a wise choice: The cascade’s combination of height (close to 75 feet), power, and constant flow make the falls one of the country’s largest — and hydroelectric turbines harness the waterway’s force for electricity to this day.
Previously a state park, the area became the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in 2011. Two bridges cross the falls; while one carries water pipes, the other is a pedestrian bridge allowing visitors a bird’s-eye view of the rapids. Adjacent to a natural gorge and surrounded by stately brick industrial buildings, Passaic Falls is one of the country’s loveliest and most historically significant urban waterfalls.
Skradinski Buk, Croatia
Though not quite as well-known as the many waterfalls cascading from lake to lake in Croatia’s Plitvice National Park, Skradinski Buk is the centerpiece of Kyrk National Park and widely considered one of the prettiest calcium carbonate waterfalls in Europe. Such falls are composed of constantly dissolving and shifting limestone and dolomite building up over time, along with algae and moss. The phenomenon means these cascades are dynamic — growing and shifting, with waters tinged electric turquoise. Stretching 1,300 feet across and featuring over a dozen waterfalls, the surrounding area is alive with rich greenery.
Running along the River Kyrk in southern Croatia, the park is more easily accessible than Plitvice. And unlike in that park, the terraced lakes along Skradinski Buk welcome swimmers. The area also features an island village, a Roman fortress, and a historic monastery — all dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
Fairy Pools, Scotland
This series of pristine swimming holes and modest waterfalls may not be especially tall or dramatic compared with others on this list, but the ethereal beauty of the Fairy Pools more than makes up for it. Located on Scotland’s rugged Isle of Skye near the base of the Black Cuillin mountains, the crystalline streams and dappled ponds are magical in appearance (hence the name). The first waterfall visitors encounter is the tallest, and tumbles into the deepest of the area’s pools. And the second and perhaps most photographed waterfall features a natural stone arch visitors can climb over or swim under.
The turquoise water is freezing year-round, but many still dive into the bracing cool pools, which are so clear that you can often see straight to the mossy bottoms. A hike through the Fairy Pools area is relatively easy and can be completed in under an hour. But to explore each spectacular pool, enjoy the fairy-tale vistas, and seek out some of the rich array of local bird life (including ravens, grey herons, and common ringed plovers), plan to stay for at least a couple of hours.
Palouse Falls, Washington
Rushing almost 200 feet off the rim of a crater into a churning, circular pool lined with mossy stone, Palouse Falls will easily take your breath away. And that’s why — in a state famous for its many gorges, cataracts, and cascades — the Palouse is Washington’s official state waterfall. Located in the relatively remote southeast corner of the state, within a state park of the same name, the falls are a part of the Palouse River. Hiking the rim of the crater allows for a series of spectacular vantage points, along with access to the lush forests surrounding the pool and a second set of cascades, the upper falls, which feature a wide rapid of foaming water dropping 20 feet.
Spewing nearly 1,000 cubic feet of water per second, Palouse Falls is powerful and quite noisy. In the 1980s, officials looked to harness that energy for electricity generation, and the area was slated to be damned. Fortunately, local environmentalists — the sort Washington is well-known for — blocked the project, protecting the falls and this craggy, green corner of the state for posterity.
Kawasan Falls, The Philippines
Located on the Filipino island of Cebu, near the town of Badian and several stunning local beaches, Kawasan Falls contains two separate cascades tucked away into the luxuriant jungle landscape. The waterfalls are not especially tall — the larger is about 130 feet tall, while the other is tops out around 75 feet — but they are remarkable for the vivid turquoise pools they drain into. That green-blue water alone (part of the Matutinao River system) makes the Kawasan one of the island’s top attractions.
One of the coolest ways to view the falls is on a canyoneering tour — a jungle adventure for visitors looking to scale canyons, climb ridges, and swim waterways before reaching the serenity of the falls. If you want something a bit more relaxing, you can rent a rustic bamboo raft and simply float through the rushing water. Either way, a dip in one of the dazzling pools is an absolute must — the water is crystal-clear and refreshingly chilly.
Cascate del Mulino, Italy
The terrace-like cascades of Cascate del Mulino may seem man-made, but they’re indeed a natural phenomenon. Fed by underground hot springs starting at nearby Mount Amiata, the water flowing through these falls is slowly filtered — for 40 years! — through tiny cracks in the rock before emerging in the exclusive thermal pools of a luxury resort called Hotel de Saturnia. While the resort pools are reserved for guests, the water feeding those extensive pools continues down a river called the Gorello as it winds a short distance through the scenic Tuscan countryside. From there, the falls appear, adjacent to a historic mill and forming a series of milky-blue plunge pools that contain healing, balmy water.
Always open and free to access, the mystical views and therapeutic waters make the Cascate del Mulino — translating literally to “waterfalls of the mill” — a popular attraction for both locals and tourists. Winter visitors, however, will find the staircase-like falls a little less packed — and they can escape the cold air by plunging into the water, which is consistently 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bigăr Waterfall, Romania
Bigăr Waterfall might be one of the most unique waterfalls in the world: Fed by an underground spring and cascading into the Miniş River, the formation looks a bit like a giant mushroom. The falls are located in Romania’s Cheile Nerei-Beușnița Național Park, where they trickle over a huge, rounded stone formation sheathed in brilliant, green moss as it hangs over the river below. The streams pour over the rock in every direction, creating the illusion of an open umbrella in the pouring rain, before the water tumbles 20 feet to the surface of the water.
The image of the Bigăr Waterfall is straight out of a fairy-tale — complete with an adorable gazebo nearby. In fact, according to local legend, the waterfall represents the hair and tears of a heartbroken young girl forbidden from seeing Bigăr, the boy she loved. Overwhelmed with emotion and the deluge of tears, Bigăr drowned. Interestingly, the falls are located on the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole.