5 Best Hikes to Waterfalls in National Parks

Plush forests, dynamic trails and striking waterfalls await

The U.S. is home to 61 national parks and thousands of trails. Sure, all the hikes can be appreciated, but trails that bypass or lead to waterfalls are that much sweeter. We’ve rounded up some of the best hikes in our national parks, complete with roaring falls.

St. Mary to Virginia Falls

  • Location: Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Length3.1 mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/Intermediate
  • Dogs: No dogs

Featuring some of the earliest falls to be clear of snow in the area, this hike is very popular in summer, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. But hikers flock to this trail for a reason: The short, relatively easy hike hits five waterfalls and gorges from St. Mary Falls to Virginia Falls, the main two being the largest. Wildflowers, ferns and tall pines line the trail. Bring your camera for this one.

Ouzel Falls

  • Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • Length5.3 mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Dogs: No dogs

An open, well-groomed trail leads up to the dramatic, almost 40-foot Ouzel Falls. The gentle rise of the climb and the lush aspens and evergreens make for a fabulous outing for most skill levels. Along the way, among smaller, unnamed falls, you’ll see Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades. A perfect, shorter hike for summer, the trail is popular, so try to plan an early morning or evening hike.

Comet Falls

  • Location: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  • Length4.6 mile round-trip out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/Difficult
  • Dogs: No dogs

Named for its resemblance to the tail of a comet, this is one of the tallest of Mount Rainier’s falls at 320 feet. Full of switchbacks, the trail can be steep and somewhat challenging. Continue on past the falls to Van Trump Park to take in sub-alpine meadows and breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.

Laurel Falls

Named for mountain laurel, 80-foot Laurel Falls is one of the most popular to visit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A paved trail—the longest of four in the national park—takes you to the falls. Be cautious on this hike with children, as there are steep drop-offs, and keep in mind that bears inhabit the area.

Overall Run Falls

The hike to Overall Run Falls is well worth it for the views. At 93 feet it’s the largest waterfall in Shenandoah. The hike starts off gently but increases in difficulty as the trail winds through some dense forest (that is home to bears). Aim to hit this trail in summer, when there will be plenty of water in the falls.