8 Waterfalls You Have to See to Believe

Top Secret Waterfalls brings viewers to the brink of some of the most sublime precipices on the planet. Take a trip through Mother Nature’s spectacular family album with this collection of cascades.

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Photo By: Citizen Pictures

Burney Falls; Burney, Calif.

Teddy Roosevelt once described the 129-foot Burney Falls, nestled in 910 acres of northern California forest, as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Dry summer conditions don’t diminish Burney’s beauty, since its source is an underground spring. Rain or shine, 379 million liters of water tumble over the falls every day.

Burney Falls; Burney, Calif.

The pool below Burney Falls would be a rather bracing swimming hole, since the snowmelt that feeds it maintains a temperature of about 42 degrees. The creek above and below the falls, however, is popular with fly fisherman (and the trout they catch and release there).  

Great Falls; Rock Island State Park, Tenn.

More than a century ago, the 30-foot horseshoe cascade known as Great Falls powered a Tennessee cotton textile mill. Since 1969, it’s been a crown jewel of Rock Island State Park.

Great Falls; Rock Island State Park, Tenn.

Great Falls is accessible to more leisurely waterfall aficionados by means of parking lots at the old cotton mill. The slick limestone terrain that surrounds it also offers challenges to more adventurous hikers. As part of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau (which rises in some spots to more than a thousand feet above the Tennessee Valley), the landscape is dramatic—and sometimes difficult to navigate. 

 

Great Falls; Rock Island State Park, Tenn.

Don’t let Great Falls’s old-fashioned good looks fool you: It’s part of a high-tech hydroelectrical grid, thanks to its proximity to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Great Falls Dam. When the TVA releases large quantities of water, the entire Caney Fork Gorge below the dam can become flooded in no time (which is why there are no swimming areas downstream from the powerhouse).

Great Falls; Rock Island State Park, Tenn.

Visitors who fall in love with Great Falls and Rock Island State Park can take their relationship to the next level and stay nearby. Half a mile away from the natural sand beach along the Caney Fork River, 10 three-bedroom cabins are open year-round—and two campgrounds offer 60 different sites for RVs, trailers and tents.

Ngonye Falls; Sioma Ngwezi National Park, Zambia

In Zambia, the Zambezi River transitions from the Kalahari Desert’s flood plain to a series of gorges cut into basalt rock at Ngonye Falls, a staggered, 20-meter drop. Visitors can actually feel the river’s thunderous power beneath their feet, since the water flows beneath the rock on either side of the falls. 

Ngonye Falls; Sioma Ngwezi National Park, Zambia

Between July and November, when water is scarce in some parts of Zambia, the Ngonye Falls area offers glimpses of wildlife that come to drink from the Zambezi. Rafting season, in turn, is between February and May, when rains have swelled the river. 

Ngonye Falls; Sioma Ngwezi National Park, Zambia

Ngonye is one of 18 cascades scattered across Zambia, a country so remote in areas that finding some of its waterfalls is “like finding the treasure chest from a secret map,” as the tourism bureau puts it. (The bureau uses a waterfall in its logo, appropriately enough). 

Ngonye Falls; Sioma Ngwezi National Park, Zambia

Ngonye Falls is also known as Sioma Falls, thanks to its proximity to the village of Sioma. Visitors who reach the village and hire a guide can secure a spot in a dugout canoe that will take them across the Zambezi to a picture-perfect place to appreciate the view.

Chute Jean-Larose; Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec

At the foot of Mont-Sainte-Anne near Beaupré, Québec, the Jean-Larose River tumbles over 12-, 19- and 41-meter drops into a picturesque basin. It can be tricky to get a good view of Chute Jean-Larose (Jean-Larose Falls) through the trees, but there are two viewing platforms on the way down the steep, 400-plus stairs that take hikers to the foot of the cascade. 

Chute Jean-Larose; Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec

After finding their way through otherworldly, moss-covered rocks and tree roots to reach the falls, hikers can follow the Mestachibo trail 12 kilometers to the Saint-Férréol-les-Neiges church. The spectacular trail follows the Saint-Anne du Nord river, passes through a spruce and pine forest and crosses two hanging bridges.

Chute Jean-Larose; Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec

Ready for a more intimate look at this landmark? The most dramatic view of Chute Jean-Larose is the one you get from the end of a rope: Between May and October, professional canyoning groups offer climbers of all skill levels the chance to rappel down the falls’ 12- and 19-meter drops (and swim in deep pools at the bottom of each). 

Fumacinha Falls; Bahia, Brazil

Visitors to Brazil’s Fumacinha (“Little Smoke”) Falls pay for their picture-postcard view in sweat equity: This hidden gem demands a six-mile pilgrimage from its would-be admirers. Moss-covered canyons climb 250 meters and converge at the top of the falls. The result: a spectacular natural cathedral. 

Kaaterskill Falls; Catskill Mountains, New York

Nearly 2,000 feet above sea level in the Hudson Valley, Kaaterskill Falls is New York State’s tallest two-tier waterfall. The hike to the falls is rocky and steep, but there’s hidden treasure along the way: Bastion Falls is visible from the trail. 

Kaaterskill Falls; Catskill Mountains, New York

Visitors to the Great Northern Catskills have gravitated to Kaaterskill’s sublime beauty for centuries. Hudson River School artists memorialized it in landscape paintings, and Washington Irving was so fond of the area that one of his most famous characters—Rip Van Winkle—dozed off nearby for 20 years. (The falls were the first thing he saw when he woke up.)

Upper Waikani Falls; Hana Highway, Maui

A half-mile past Mile Marker 19 on Maui’s spectacular Hana Highway—a road that takes travelers over 50 bridges and past 18 waterfalls—you’ll find Upper Waikani (“Three Bears”) Falls tumbling into Wailua Nui Stream. In winter months, the 70-foot falls can be difficult to approach (and unattractive, according to some cascade connoisseurs). In spring and summer, they say, the family is at its best. 

Catarata de Río Celeste; Tenorio Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

Catarata de Río Celeste, the stunning star of Costa Rica’s Tenorio Volcano National Park, is said to owe its sapphire-blue hue to sunlight-refracting particles in the water and a mineral coating on the rocks at the bottom of the river. Waterfall visitors get stern instructions to stick to the trail—which is difficult, given that it winds its way past thermal hot springs and a lagoon—in order to preserve the delicate rainforest ecosystem.

Catarata de Río Celeste; Tenorio Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

Tenorio Volcano National Park’s topography gives Catarata de Río Celeste extra allure: Because a dip in the continental divide creates a mountain pass from the slope of the volcano to the ocean, a natural flyway from the northern Caribbean to the Pacific sends flocks of jewel-bright birds through the forest. These falls are a birdwatcher’s dream come true.