Doggin’ America’s Best Waterfalls
Cumberland Falls (Corbin, Kentucky).
Cumberland Falls is located west of Corbin, Kentucky (birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken) and is the largest waterfall on the Cumberland River. Known as the "Niagara of the South," the thundering waters of Cumberland Falls are 65 feet high and 125 feet in width. When the Cumberland River is at flood stage the width of the falls can quickly expand to 300 feet. The view is dramatic during the day but is truly special at night.
On clear, moonlit evenings during a full moon a moonbow rises across the river from beneath the falls. This is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where this pehomenon occurs and is said to only be duplicated at Victoria Falls in Africa. This truly awesome sight takes place only two days before and two days after the night of a full moon. This month and next the dates are from the 16th to the 20th.
Most visitors will observe the moonbow from the viewing platforms built at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park Visitor Center. But adventurous canine hikers will want to go to the other side of the river where Trail 9 offers some of the best views of the falls. At 1.5 miles, this natural surface trail seems benign enough but if you complete all of Trail 9 your dog will know he's had a workout.
About a half-mile from the trailhead you get a view of the Cumberland Gorge below the falls. Next comes a spur level that drops all the way to the river level and picks its way over rocks to Eagles Fall, a worthy hydrospectacular in its own right that falls from a side stream into the Cumberland. Your dog will be able to play in the plunge pool here so you won't be in any hurry to start back up. The upper trail traces Eagle Creek upstream to a ridge as the hike becomes very rugged in a spectacular forest. The loop closes before reaching Cumberland Falls so your dog will get one last look before a well-earned return to your car.
Upper Peninsula - Michigan.
Sooner or later all serious waterfall hunters make their way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Wolverine State claims some 200 named waterfalls and all but one lie in the Upper Peninsula. In this remote land much of the plunging water is easier for your dog to hike to than for you to drive to but aim your car down Route 28 and you will hit most of Michigan’s watery highlights.
Traveling east to west after crossing the Mackinac Bridge your first stop is your most dramatic. The 200-foot wide Tahquamenon River reaches a 50-foot escarpment and dumps more than 50,000 gallons of amber-tinged water per second over its edge. The Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. A narrow trail leads your dog away from the typical crowds here and meanders four miles downstream to the eclectic Lower Fallswhere the river tumbles around an island across a wide panorama.
The Upper Peninsula’s prime attraction, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, looms to the west. Blessed with a half-dozen waterfalls, it is nonetheless not an earmarked destination for the traveling dog owner. Dogs are not permitted on the trail to Sable Falls and the spectacular Spray Falls, that pours directly into Lake Superior, is best viewed by boat. Still, Miners Falls and Munising Falls are impressive and easy for your dog to reach.
Back on Route 28 heading west, a short sidetrack lands you at Wagner Fallswhere your dog is welcome on a short trail that leads up to a viewing platform. Thirty miles west of Munising is the Laughing Whitefish Scenic Site where the river slides delicately down a 100-foot rock face. A well-trod trail leads to the top of one of Michigan’s highest waterfalls and stairs lead to the bottom where your dog can play in the river. In drier weather the flow becomes thin enough to negate a visit.
After slipping into Ontonagon County you reach two more state scenic sites at Agate Falls and Bond Falls. Just off the road across the Ontonagon River Agate Falls drops 40 feet with a crest twice that. To the south, down US 45 and east of Paulding, is a full-fledged member of the pantheon of Michigan waterfalls: Bond Falls. A boardwalk takes your dog to the base of this 100-foot wide hydrospectacular. Rocky side trails enable you to further explore the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River with your dog.
Back on Route 28, after joining US 2 and just before leaving Michigan, pick up the Black River Scenic Byway north of Bessemer. The Black River produces a series of plunges on its journey to Lake Superior. The two most accessible and picturesque are the neighboring Potawatomi and Gorge Falls. Nearby is Porcupine Mountains State Park where the Presque Isle River’s final sprint to the world’s largest freshwater lake is characterized by a series of wide drops over bare rock. Your dog can hike on both sides of the river to reach these falls and trot over a suspension bridge to Presque Isle.
Columbia Gorge - Oregon.
In 1986 the Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington was designated America’s first National Scenic Area. Created by a cataclysmic blast of glacial lake water 15,000 years ago, the Columbia river flows through one of the few east-west canyons in the world. Some 77 waterfalls tumble off ridges and sheer walls that soar 2,000 feet above the river. Included in this hydrospectacular bounty is the largest concentration of high waterfalls in North America.
The best way to explore the falls is along a remnant stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway that was carved out of the cliffs in 1916. The two-lane passageway, punctuated by intricate stonework and artful bridges, serves up a series of trailheads between Exits 35 and 28 of I-84. From the trailheads you will find a pleasing array of canine hiking choices ranging from gentle paved pathways at feature falls to steep, day-long backpacking scrambles into the interior of the Gorge.
The centerpiece of the Columbia Gorge waterfall collection is Multnomah Falls, America’s second-highest year-round plunge at 620 feet in two sheer drops. The trails surrounding Multnomah can be linked to form energizing hiking loops to neighboring falls. The five-mile round trip westward leads to 242-foot Wahkeena Falls that squeezes through a basaltic cliff, passes drape-like Fairy Falls and skirts several waterfalls on Multnomah Creek. A short downhill spur leads your dog right to the lip of Multnomah Falls.
To the east a shorter loop tags falls in the Oneonta Gorge chasm, the twisting Horsetail Falls (176 feet) and its picturesque cousin further upstream, Ponytail Falls. After trotting behind this 80-foot cataract down a curving basalt alcove your dog can play in the plunge pool. The plunge pool below Horseshoe Falls is also easy for your dog to walk in and take a swim.
As you travel east through the Columbia Gorge the average yearly rainfall drops about an inch a mile and the temperature rises. Just east of the Columbia River Highway at the Bonneville Dam Exit of I-84 is the scenic loop along Tanner Creek to powerful Wahclella Falls. The east side of this mile-long trail travels through cedar glades and stately Douglas firs while the west side of the gorge resembles a western desert.
At the next exit (#41), still traveling east on I-84, you bring your dog to Eagle Creek Trail, the most popular hike in the Columbia Gorge. The footpath in places has been blasted directly into the basalt cliffs as it traces Eagle Creek through impossibly green forests. The resulting surface has been left jagged and rough which will challenge the paw pads of your dog in these short crossings.
Although the trail continues further, the destination for most ambitious canine hikers is six miles out at Tunnel Falls where the trail passes behind a shower of falling water. Less determined dog adventurers can content themselves with a two-mile jaunt to Punch Bowl Falls where the waters pound into a blue-green pool set in a large grotto. This is easy going just about the entire way but sheer dropoffs from the unguarded cliffs make Eagle Creek a trail only for well-behaved dogs.
Iron County - Wisconsin.
The north woods of Wisconsin are laced with waterfalls and are a worthy destination for any connosieur. But dog owners beware - many of the Dairy State’s most popular cataracts are in state parks (Brownstone Falls and Copper Falls in Ashland County, for example) and are reached via designated nature trails. And dogs are not allowed on Wisconsin state park nature trails.
Iron County, south of Lake Superior, has the state’s most displays of tumbling water -15 - and three are among the state’s six highest. Since most of these hydrospectaculars are off the beaten path your dog will be welcome if you make the effort to seek them out. The most beautiful of Iron County’s falls is on the Potato River southwest of tiny Gurney. A 131-step descent leads your dog to the brink of the powerful Upper Falls as they maneuver around old volcanic rock. The impressive Lower Falls can be explored by adventurous canine hikers on steep, informal trails that lead into the river gorge.
Your dog will likely prefer the scrambling to the plunge pool of 35-foot Peterson Falls on the Montreal River north of Hurley. The short footpath leads to the lip of the falls but further on you can slide down a conifer-anchored bank and pick your way back to the cascade where your dog can score a refreshing swim.
Further downstream, near its mouth on Lake Superior, the Montreal River makes its last gasp in Wisconsin as it falls 90 feet at Superior Falls. From a power company recreation area in Michigan a short trail winds down to Lake Superior before turning and heading to the plunge basin framed by rocky gorge walls.
Waterfall seekers may want to head east to Marinette County which bills itself as “Wisconsin’s Waterfall Capital.” The water here is heading not to Lake Superior but is part of the Lake Michigan watershed. The county’s nine waterfalls are not so much dramatic plunges as rapids on steroids. Teh best is Long Slide Falls that powers 50 scenic feet down the shale and sandstone of the North Branch of the Pemebonwon River. A sprightly trail in a county park leads to a ledge overlooking Long Slide. You can take your dog down a steep embankment to the water and onto a 1.5-mile trail upstream to Smalley Fallsthrough a classic Wisconsin woodland.
Lake Superior North Shore - Minnesota.
The westernmost edge of the world’s largest freshwater lake is characterized by craggy headlands blanketed in thick coatings of pine and birch. Along the coast dozens of fast-flowing streams are cascading down small mountains to mingle with the waters of Lake Superior. Hardy canine hikers can take in the entire north shore on Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail that winds through 200 miles of wilderness but most visitors will choose to explore these waterfalls via the North Shore Scenic Drive on Highway 61, immortalized by Bob Dylan in 1960s music lore.
Shoving off from Duluth, the hub city of northeastern Minnesota, your first destination heading north is Gooseberry Falls, located past the Port of Two Harbors where the 3M Company began more than a century ago producing sandpaper. Twinned with a highway rest stop, you and your dog will likely be sharing the intertwining trails around a pair of 30-foot Gooseberry River cascades with plenty of casual waterfall hunters.
Next up is Tettegouche State Park where a mile of trails lead to hydrospectaculars ont he Baptism River. At High Falls your dog can work down to a dip in the plunge pool but this requires a crossign of the river on an open grate bridge that may stop an overly cautious dog. Downstream, a long wooden staircase takes your dog to water’s edge and a swim in front of 2 Step Falls.
Wayside parking areas serve up your dog’s next gateway to adventure along Lake Superior. At the sign for “Caribou” pull off to the parking lot on the west side of the road. Here the Superior Hiking Trail hugs the Caribou River for a half-mile until you reach a spot where a cataract of water is pinched through a gap in the granite and plunges powerfully down 60 feet. Further along, near the village of Schroeder, the Cross River Falls can be viewed from the paved wayside. Next a series of rocky gorges and waterfalls on the Temperance River can be accessed from the wayside parking lot. If your dog is feeling frisky a six-mile round trip hike to Carlton Peak here leads to panoramic views of Lake Superior.
The “cascades”of the Cascade River can be absorbed with a canine hike of less than an hour to view them rushing into Lake Superior. There is plenty of swim time for your water-loving dog along the many trails in this state park. In Judge Magney State Park a hike along the rugged mile-long footpath tot the Brule River is rewarded with the beauty of Devil’s Kettle waterfall.
The northern bookend of your dog’s North Shore waterfall tour along Lake Superior comes in Grand Portage State Park where the Pigeon River forms the border between the United States and Canada. Here the river rushes over a 120-foot drop in a series of torrents that forms the highest waterfall in Minnesota and the second highest around the entirety of Lake Superior. A well-traveled one-mile trail and boardwalk take your dog to the high falls area.
Kaaterskill Falls - New York.
Niagara Falls is not the highest waterfall in New York State and for a good part of the 19th century it wasn’t even the most famous. Kaaterskill Falls, a two-tiered water plunge
with a slight lefthand turn in the Hudson Valley, is the state’s highest waterfall. The upper ribbon of water drops a full 175 feet - the same as Niagara Falls - and the lower falls tumble another 75 feet into a rocky basin. Kaaterskill was an inspiration for landscape painter Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painters, the first major art movement in the United States. The Catskill Mountains were introduced to the world by these artists in the mid-19th century. Thomas Cole can be seen at Kaaterskill Falls in Asher B. Durand’s major work, Kindred Spirits. In the late 1800s, when the New York State Legislature designated lands “forever wild,” the Falls were in the first set of lands protected.
The trickiest part of this short hike for dog owners is the .2-mile downhill walk from the parking lot to the trailhead along a narrow roadway making a hairpin turn. At points this mountain road is scarcely wide enough for two vehicles. Once on the trail, it is a sometimes rugged .7-mile climb to the base of the falls. The beginning is a manufactured trail up the side of the fast-flowing Bastion Falls. From the top of these falls the walk becomes easier through the hemlock-filled gorge. Many of the dark giants are old-timers more than 200 years old. The trail ends splendidly at the Kaaterskill Falls.
Endless Mountains - Pennsylvania.
When the first European settlers grew restless on the shores of New England and began to migrate westward the encountered strings of north-south mountain ranges with few breaks or passes. It is no wonder that frustrated travelers hung the name “Endless Mountains” on these northeast Pennsylvania uber-hills.
A good waterfall trail might yield three, maybe four waterfalls. How about a trail that goes past 23 named waterfalls? That’s what you’ll find in Ricketts Glen State Park on the magical Falls Trail, a Y-shaped exploration along two branches of the Kitchen Creek. One of the most uniquely scenic areas in the Northeast, Ricketts Glen was slated to become a national park in the 1930s but World War II shelved plans for this development. Instead, Ricketts Glen opened as a state park in 1944. Gradually the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania continued purchasing blocks of land from the descendents of Robert Bruce Ricketts until the park spread across more than 13,000 acres.
The remoteness of the land in the 19th century kept the waterfalls, ranging as high as the 94-foot Ganoga Falls, undiscovered until 1865. Colonel Ricketts hired a crew to build a trail along and across the plunging water and the project took 28 years. Today the Falls Trail remains a maintenance challenge and its steep grades can be muddy and slippery and your dog’s four-wheel traction will be most welcome.
Kitchen Creek slices through the Ganoga Glen to the left and Glen Leigh to the right before uniting at Waters Meet. The two prongs of the trail connect at the top of the twin falls via the 1.2-mile Highland Trail. The complete falls experience encompasses almost seven miles.The stem of the trail flows through Ricketts Glen, among towering hemlocks and oaks, before tumbling over three cascades at Adams Falls at the trailhead.
Twenty miles west of Ricketts Glen State Park is a much smaller, but no less dramatic landscape, Worlds End State Park. So named because the first road built here atop steep ridges left travelers feeling as if they were at the end of the world, these hiking trails wind to panoramic views of the Loyalsock Creek Gorge. The heartstopping High Rock Trail is one of the most challenging short trails in Pennsylvania and features life-threatening drop-offs that mandate a tight leash on the dog. Your reward for these tough miles, are visits to High Rock Falls and a series of plunges along Double Run.
A third state park in the Endless Mountains, Salt Springs, serves up an enchanting run of cascades on the Falls Brook Trail with three signature waterfalls on one of Pennsylvania’s most spectacular footpaths. The trail unwinds underneath a forest of Eastern hemlocks, some of which are estimated to be over 500 years old.
Falling Waters - Florida.
At 73 feet, Falling Waters is home to Florida's tallest waterfall. That is only 100 feet shorter than Niagara Falls, which is darned impressive in a state where the highest elevation is only 345 feet above sea level. The trick is that most of the water falls underground into a sinkhole.
The potential of power generated from tumbling water attracted industry in the 19th century. A grist mill operated here, grinding corn into grits and cornmeal during the Civil War. In 1891, a whiskey distillery just above the waterfall provided legal hooch for nearby railway workers. A crack in the earth and old Indian legends triggered dreams of black gold in the head of Jose Mantanza. In 1919 he parsed together a tall, wooden derrick and steam-driven rig and sunk one of Florida's first oil wells at Falling Water. At 3.900 feet a blow of gas shook the ground and reports of a gusher raced through the community. But no oil followed. Drilling continued to a depth of almost one mile but no oil was ever found. The well was capped in 1921.
At Falling Waters State Park you take your dog into woods of towering Southern pines and Northern hardwoods but it doesn't take long for this hike to cease to resemble a typical forest walk. In short order you are introduced to fern-draped sinkholes, the namesake waterfall, a wiregrass prairie, and a two-acre lake. The trail system essentially links the Sinks Trail to the Wiregrass Trail to the Terrace Trail. Starting from the parking lot your dog will be working up one of Florida's highest hills to an elevation of 324 feet in the campground. Probably not enough to set him to panting but midway the trail passes by the lake where your dog can slip in for a quick refresher. Detailed plant identification brochures accompany the trail to explain the rich biodiversity that exists along the Branch Creek. Your dog will be trotting on elaborate boardwalks and the remnants of old country roads throughout the park.
Ithaca, New York
“Ithaca is Gorges.” The college town’s (Cornell University, Ithaca College) ubiquitous slogan was appropriately coined by a local professor in the 1970s who gave anyone the right to use it for free. The town on the southern end of Cayuga Lake comes by its moniker honestly - there is said to be 150 waterfalls within ten miles of town.
The namesake Ithaca Falls is the closest to lake, right in town in a small park with an oft-time muddy and slippery trail to its base. Fall Creek finishes its run from Beebe Lake to Cayuga Lake, dropping 400 feet along the way, with this final 75-foot plunge. Strap on your dog’s hiking boots and take off on a two-mile round-trip on the Cayuga Trail and you'll pass Forest Falls, Foaming Falls, Rocky Falls and finally Triphammer Falls on the campus of Cornell University.There are vigorous climbs to many steep clifftops and unprotected views down to the water. Keep a close rein on an exuberant dog. Fall Creek is spanned by a number of pedestrian bridges, including two suspension bridges.
Three creekbeds actually race through Ithaca, spilling dozens of waterfalls in their wake. South of Fall Creek is Cascadilla Creek where a short hike in the gorge will be rewarded with a view of nine waterfalls. The star is 50-foot Cascadilla Falls.
The City of Ithaca pulls four million gallons of drinking water daily from Six Mile Creek but there is still plenty for looking at. Unlike the area’s other gorges that required an army of workers to construct stone paths along the water, the trails along Six Mile Creek evolved more naturally. It is a tamer walk and although you are close to downtown Ithaca your dog will find the wooded creekside quiet and leafy. From the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve there are several miles of streamside hiking along Six Mile Creek.
Another nearby town defined by its waterfall is Ludlowville. Here a wide creek bed crosses a thick erosion-resistant limestone caprock that lead to a combination plunge and bouncing cascade. The softer rock beneath the capstone has been scooped out by the pulsating water to form a cavern behind the curtain of water and interesting rock formations. In the small town park boot-carved trails lead to the top and bottom of the falls.
Ithaca is ringed by waterfall-themed state parks. To the south is Buttermilk Creek that storms 600 feet down two separate glens in the Cayuga Valley. It culminates in a wide curtain of water and public swimming pool that your dog can enjoy out of season.
Close by Buttermilk Falls is the “Lost Gorge” of Lick Brook and a trio of impressive waterfalls. The trails to the bottom of the 500-foot gorge could pass for a state park but it is in fact the Sweedler Preserve of the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The conservation group hungered to preserve this spectacular property for years and finally obtained it when owner Moss Sweedler - who was going to deed it after his death to the Trust anyway - swapped his land on Lick Brook for a lesser piece of property with a pond where his dogs could swim.
To the southwest, about eight miles out of town, is Enfield Glen, arguably the most impressive of the Finger Lakes gorges. Robert Treman, an outstanding baseball pitcher at Cornell in the 1870s and later Deputy Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, donated 387 acres in Enfield Glen to the State. The marquee plunge in Robert H. Treman State Park is 120-foot Lucifer Falls. the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression did some of its most impressive stonework along Enfield Creek to make the gorge accessible to your dog.
Eight miles north of Ithaca on Route 89 Taughannock Falls drops to the west side of Cayuga Lake. That fall would be a single drop of 215 feet - 33 feet higher than Niagara and higher than all but one cataract east of the Rocky Mountains. A hiking loop can be created with climbs up both sides of the falls or your dog can just admire the falls after a flat hike from the lakeside state park.
Transylvania County - North Carolina
Transylvania County, in the mountains of western North Carolina, calls itself the “Land of Waterfalls” and backs up its claim with some 250 waterfalls. Canine waterfall chasers will concentrate on three public areas: the Pisgah National Forest, DuPont State Forest and Gorges State Park.
But before diving into the heart of this bounty of tumbling water, head for Nantahala National Forest on the North Carolina-South Carolina border for a look at Whitewater Falls. Upper Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies with a plunge of amazing 411 feet. South Carolina's Lower Whitewater Falls drops another 400 feet. The rugged setting does not afford easy access so your dog won’t be playing in the falls here - just a short walk and some picture taking.
Up the road is Gorges State Park, a new public space where an elevation that rises 2,000 feet in only four miles and a rainfall in excess of 80 inches per year conspire to create a a superb collection of waterfalls.
The DuPont State Forest in the southeastern slab of Transylvania county is home to three of the more impressive and accessible waterfalls in the North Carolina mountains. High Falls is the tallest of the Little River falls, hugging a granite slope for 150 feet as it charges down a mountain. Downstream the Little River darts right and left, breaking into three separate waterfalls. Triple Falls is easily reached on a wide, graded dirt path.
Bridal Veil Falls requires a bit longer hike but the pay-off comes in a unique hydrospectacular where the Little River drops off an overhanging ledge and then spreads across a long, shallow inclined plane of granite before dumping into a pool at the bottom. There is water play aplenty for your dog in the Little River here.
The Pisgah National Forest is speckled with waterfalls, some that highlight sporty hikes with your dogs and others that wait just off forest roads. The most popular is Looking Glass Falls off US 276, where a stairway and observation deck afford access to the 65-foot curtain of water.
Moore Cove Falls is reached by a shortish, twisting trail that ends when the trail leads behind a 50-foot waterfall spilling over a rock lip. Further north on US 276 you will find the ultra-popular Sliding Rock where swimmers indeed slide down a sloping rock face propelled by 11,000 gallons of cold mountain water per minute. Your dog won’t be joining in the fun on the slide but can enjoy the pools downstream.