The Best Waterfalls Around the World

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Waterfalls are a beautiful part of nature that many people around the world enjoy. They can be large or small, wide or narrow, tall or short, but all of them have one thing in common – they are a sight to see. The union of the water, carried through the rivers, to the divide of the land and then its convergence again is a process that gives birth to the waterfall. Rivers are a powerful force shaping the landscape of the earth. They create deep valleys, wide plains, and even entire deltas. But the river’s most powerful act of landscape transformation is to form a waterfall. A waterfall is a sudden drop along the course of a river. Rivers are meant to flow, this is their nature. The sudden drop in elevation enables the water to tumble and free fall over rock and stone. This creates hydraulic forces that can erode away the rock and earth at the base of the waterfall. Step by step as this rock and earth is worn away, the waterfall will move upstream leaving a path of bedrock steps. Given enough time, many waterfalls will recede to form a canyon. Waterfalls are a force of primary and are a natural force of change to the earth’s landscape.

Definition of a waterfall

A waterfall is a point in the river where the riverbed is quite literally broken. Water flows over a vertical drop in the riverbed and has a more sudden and direct change in elevation than it has at any other place in the river. Waterfalls are often formed in the upper stages of a river where it flows over different bands of rock. Some of the drainage may be internal into underlying bedrock, but some is often on the surface. This usually results in a fairly high erosional activity to the softer rock, and if this eroded area becomes deeper, it forms a steep-sided gully. If the gully is deep enough and the river flows over a more resistant band of rock, erosion will cease on the softer rock. The river may reach a point where it is no longer able to access the deeper eroded area, and there is an abrupt change in the gradient at this point. A nickpoint is formed where the river encounters a band of harder rock in a softer area. This dip in the rock may be more apparent to a waterfall, which is a more sudden break in river gradient and occurs when a river encounters a particularly resistant band of rock while the underlying rock is less resistant. To a river, a waterfall can be a disruptive force, and there are many often complex causes behind a waterfall formation.

Importance of waterfalls in nature

Waterfalls have a very important role in nature. Not only are they beautiful and dramatic, but they also have a significant role in the development of the landscape and the environment. Geologists and ecologists have long recognized the relationship between the structure of a waterfall and the processes that are taking place in the landscape. Waterfalls tend to form where a band of more resistant rock crosses a river valley, causing fluctuations in the rate of erosion. This leads to the difference in the erodability of rock above and below the waterfall and can cause the formation of gorges. Many waterfall gorges occur in what is known as “knick zones,” which are areas of a river that are seeking graded profile equilibrium after changes in the base level of erosion. The passage of a waterfall or series of waterfalls will effectively help the river to attain this equilibrium. Over time, the waterfall will migrate further upriver, and the gorge downstream will be left to fill with sediment and eventually be left as a dry valley with the waterfall being only a geological feature. Dry valleys are a common feature in areas that have had recent glaciation due to the vast amounts of meltwater produced. Although these landscape processes are common in waterfall areas, it is fair to say that they are often overlooked by people who are attracted to the area by the waterfall itself. This is due to the fact that many waterfalls form in upland or mountain areas that have a high landscape value and are often protected by conservation agencies and National Parks. This does not mean that such areas are free from human intervention, and there have been many cases of National Park authorities having to defend the conservation status of waterfall areas from developers. An example of this can be seen in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty that is famous for the Plitvice waterfalls, of which there are many. During the 1990s, the park was placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger as a result of the Croatian War, and there are still remnants of artillery and mines in and around the park.

Famous Waterfalls in North America

Yosemite Falls – This is the highest measured waterfall in North America. Located in Yosemite National Park in California, it is actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (436 m), the middle cascades (206 m), and Lower Yosemite Fall (97 m). The total height of 739 meters makes Yosemite Falls the sixth highest waterfall in the world. Usually, the falls reach peak flow in late May or early June after a significant amount of snow melting. In the case of severe winters or little snow, the falls may actually cease to flow in late summer or fall.

Niagara Falls – This is certainly one of the most famous waterfalls in the world. It is actually a group of waterfalls consisting of three large waterfalls: the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the Horseshoe Falls. The falls are situated on the Niagara River, draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario and forming the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York. The falls have an average vertical height of 50 meters. The Horseshoe Falls are the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and flow rate. The falls are capable of producing the highest flow rate of any waterfall on earth, with a maximum of more than 6,800 m3 per second. The Horseshoe Falls are also the most powerful waterfall in terms of current on the North American continent.

Niagara Falls, USA and Canada

The slow and steady erosion can also be seen in the contrast between the American and Horseshoe falls. The American falls are currently much higher, but the capping layer is very resistant to erosion, so the river has undercut the falls to a far greater extent than at the Horseshoe falls.

This allowed the glacial meltwater to undercut the cap, and the falls moved upstream more rapidly than the river wore the gorge down. This is a very important process as the erosion and the formation of the gorge assisted in the formation of the Niagara Escarpment, which is a major topographical feature clearly visible along the entire length of the escarpment. This abrupt rise in elevation accounts for the Lockport and several other formations not reaching similar heights on either side of the gorge.

During the last 9000 years, the Falls cut through the hard Lockport Formation limestone, which underlies the dolostone cap of the river channel, and the more resistant chert and shale of the Rochester Formation, which supports the cap. This layering is evident from the raggedness of the top layer and how the under layer crumbles readily.

During the “last glacial maximum,” the ice cap at one time covered all of Canada and extended some 150 miles past the present boundaries of the lower Great Lakes. This included an area where the western edge of the Falls is now located. During this time, the falls were 7 miles downstream from their present location.

High flow rates are typical in the spring and early summer and often create a mist that can be seen from miles away. The flow is much reduced in the winter months, and power is actually diverted to hydroelectric stations.

Located on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the combined falls have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m). Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and flow rate. The falls are located 17 miles (27 km) north-northwest of Buffalo, New York, and 75 miles (121 km) south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.

From largest to smallest, the three waterfalls are the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. The Horseshoe Falls lies on the border of the United States and Canada, with the American Falls entirely on the United States’ side, separated by Goat Island. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls is also on the United States’ side, separated from the other waterfalls by Luna Island.

Niagara Falls is the collective name of three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United States. More specifically, they are located between the province of Ontario and the state of New York. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge.

Yosemite Falls, USA

Yosemite’s falls are some of the most beautiful in the world. They are at their fullest in the spring months when the vernal snow melts off, but even in the less heavy water flow times, they are an impressive display. The best view of the falls is at the Swinging Bridge picnic area or from Cook’s Meadow. To be eye to eye with the falls, hike up the three-mile trail to the top. This is a steep hike which is not recommended for casual hikers, but the view of Half Dome and the valley will make it worth the trip. A trip to the top of the falls, or on any of the trails along the rockslides near the base, may provide a closer view of the falls than you really want to see, since slippery rocks and unpredictable footing make this a dangerous place to be. A number of people have fallen to their deaths in this area, and not to mention a number of rescue efforts of less fortunate hikers. Be especially careful at the top.

Ice age glaciers shaped the sheer granite cliffs that loom over Yosemite Valley, creating natural dams in the streams. The rivers filled the valley with water, and 10,000 years ago, the last glacial age ended with a tremendous flood released by the dam, creating the spectacular torrent of Yosemite Falls. This has been the most recent of a series of five dramatic events of cascade formation, each one eroded away by the power of the water, and this present falls is still regressing upstream to an even higher cascade.

Havasu Falls, USA

Havasu Falls derives its name from the Havasupai tribe. Havasu in the native tongue means blue-green water. This is an accurate description of the beautiful color of the water that plunges down the 120-foot falls. The Havasupai tribe still lives in the Havasu Canyon; the area of the Grand Canyon where you will find the Havasu Falls. Because of this, Havasu Falls is harder to get to than most waterfalls. It takes a 10-mile trek through the desert, the Supai Village, and finally arriving at the falls. The Havasupai tribe does enforce this by not allowing any vehicles in or out of the area surrounding the Supai Village. This means that the falls area remains mostly untouched by man’s progress. The water forms blue-green pools that are a beautiful sight and a nice way to cool off after that long hike. The Havasupai tribe has done a great job maintaining the falls area with its natural beauty. In 2000, a flash flood tore through the canyon and destroyed much of the tribe’s work, including the trail and lodge. In 2003, only three years later, the trail and lodge were fully repaired and operational, and Havasu Falls was once again open to tourists.

Breathtaking Waterfalls in South America

At 979 meters, Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world. Dropping over the edge of the Auyantepui Table Mountain in the Gran Sabana region of Bolivar State, it holds the claim of the most famous landmark in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park. The falls are named after Jimmy Angel, an American bush pilot and gold prospector, who is credited with having been the first person to fly over and then to land on top of the tepui in an airplane. His name and story have since become intertwined with the falls. 21 separate leaps can be found along the Auyantepui, which is the name given to this type of flat-topped, sandstone mountain, characterizing the area. The longest drop is 807 meters, over the northwestern edge. The remainder of the height is from a complex of separate cascades. Lower temperatures and frequent overcast skies in the region can often give way to dense cloud cover. Climatic effects from these conditions and a fairly regular equatorial westerly wind result in the mists and small stormy clouds that have given birth to the falls’ name among the indigenous Pemon and Angel’s shattered dream. This unique occurrence has created a perennially waterlogged and dense rainforest on the escarpment and all of its surroundings, meaning there are numerous examples of endemic species to the tepui’s upper and lower slopes. Visitors commonly talk of seeing waterfalls and cascades on the walls of the Auyantepui as numerous tributaries and rivulets can be seen from its rim. Angel itself is an unforgettable spectacle and the highlight of most people’s trip to Venezuela. Iguazu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River located on the border of the Brazilian State of Paraná and the Argentine Province of Misiones. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. With a total of 275 falls and the best view of the falls being from the Brazilian side, one can only imagine the spectacle of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Upon seeing Iguazu, the United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed “Poor Niagara.” These were the same words reportedly said by the wife of the Spanish Governor of Paraguay upon seeing the falls for the first time, after he had discovered the falls during an expedition he had led into the jungle. Spanning an area of 2.7 kilometers, this is wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara Falls. The Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped chasm, is 82 meters high, 150 meters wide, and 700 meters long, and is the most impressive of all the falls. A walkway can be easily and safely accessed from the visitors’ center and the view is quite spectacular, as one can see the U-shaped chasm with its myriad of cascades. During the rainy season when the river is in flood, the number of waterfalls can reach 300. The water discharge can be threefold higher than during the dry season. The falls can be reached from two main towns, Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil and Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, and from there the falls are a short distance away.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

Because of the tightness of the canyon walls, the Angel Falls is an ultra unique waterfall. You’ll never see another waterfall in such a magnificent place. The free fall of the water is so large that the majority of the plunge turns to mist, pushing over the onlooker as a memorable rain. The best view of the falls is on the opposite side, so you can hire one of the tourist guides to take you there. Flights over the top of the falls are also available. But just being near the falls is a great experience. Unfortunately, reaching the falls is a long and arduous trip from El Callao, which is 10 hours from Ciudad Bolivar.

The Angel Falls, or the Salto Ángel Falls, is the highest waterfall in the world. It is the most wonderful waterfall in the world. It has an elevation of over 807 meters. Further downstream, there is a vertical drop of 979 meters and it is around 100 meters wide. The waterfall is located in the Canaima National Park, in the Gran Sabana region of Bolivar State, Venezuela. The fall is so high that, before reaching the ground, much of the water is evaporated or disintegrated by the strong wind, and it is probably 1/3 shorter than its full height. The falls are on a tributary of the Rio Caroni. The legend says that the name of the falls comes from a tale about a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American aviator who helped the local indigenous people. But at the same time, he slept with the chief’s daughter and when the tribal chief found out, he pushed the aviator from the top of the falls.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil

Iguazu Falls is located on the border of Argentina and Brazil. Like many other falls on this list, it is part of a national park bearing the same name. It is one of the widest falls in the world at 2.7 kilometers in width, though the water is split up into 275 different falls and cascades. Here, the mighty Iguazu River tumbles over the edge of the Parana Plateau in a spectacular display of nature’s force. The most well-known of the individual falls is the Devil’s Throat, which is a massive 82-meter-tall U-shaped cascade. The water roars so loudly as it plunges over the falls that talking to someone standing right next to you is difficult. The falls can be reached from the entrance to the park via a short train ride, with walkways and viewpoints to enjoy the scenery. There are also boat and helicopter rides available for those with a sense of adventure and a desire to experience the falls spray up close. A particularly well-known boat ride is the Great Adventure offered at the Argentine side. This involves a truck ride through the jungle and the river, and a boat ride under some of the lesser falls and then into the Devil’s Throat. Here the boat stops just short of the falls, allowing passengers to marvel at nature’s might and take in the tremendous atmosphere. Then, without warning, the boat is taken right under the fall. A very wet and wild but fun experience.

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Kaieteur Falls is situated among the lush rainforest of Kaieteur National Park in central Essequibo Territory. Its location is in the heart of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil. Kaieteur Falls is the best and the most powerful waterfall in the world. It is about four times the height of the Niagara Falls and about two times the height of the Victoria Falls. The falls are one of the most majestic and forceful falls in the world, reaching its record during the rainy seasons. The creek above the falls is interesting with clear water and a well-defined course. Soon it reaches the edge of a gorge which varies from 82 feet to 210 feet in width and over which it spills in one awesome unbroken and perpendicular fall to the bed of the Potaro River 741 feet below. During hundreds of centuries, the river has been cutting its way backwards to the very notch over which it now pours. It is significant that the great volume of water has never shifted from the Kaieteur ledge. This is indicated by the fact that there is a lack of water-worn rocks immediately above the falls but a great depth of rounded potholes below the ledge. The result is a gorge below the falls that is five and one-quarter miles long and in places about 300 feet deep. This is easily traced on the Pakaraima Plateau, but the broken slopes of the massif have turned the 120 miles that must be descended to reach the river into a most arduous journey. Every thousand yards there is a change in the vegetation, and after two miles, the evident profusion of growth disappears, leaving a well-wooded mountaintop with a jagged skyline of steep rocks and enormous granite boulders shaped and balanced most fantastically. A journey down the gorge is an explorer’s paradise, providing adventure and excitement to those who are interested in studying geological phenomena, mineralogy, botany, and zoology in all of its wondrous forms. For here are to be found the flora and fauna of the lost world. This is the only spot on earth where the endemic species of the genus Xate Palm (Lepidocaryum) is to be found, and here also is the natural habitat of the world’s largest single flower: the Victoria Regia Lily. The locality offers tremendous potential for study to both the amateur and the professional scientist. Today it remains largely unspoiled, and it is highly desirable that steps be taken to preserve it in its pristine glory. This, however, can be achieved only through the creation of a national park at Kaieteur.

Salto Ángel Falls, Ecuador

Salto Angel Falls, Ecuador is the tallest waterfall in the world standing at 979 meters or 3,212 feet. One of the unique things about this multi-colored waterfall is it flows into a canyon that holds rich biodiversity. It is a difficult and costly trip to reach the falls, but the trail and small boat takes tourists/adventurers through the paradise of Canaima National Park, where you can get clear views and pictures of the waterfall. If you’re lucky, you may also see the local Pemon indigenous people in their small dugout canoes moving goods about the river. Angel Falls “El Sapo”, the lower stumbled upon this waterfall in the early 1933 when they were in search of gold. His Indian guide informed him that the falls had long been named Kerekopay, but in 1910 the missionary named it Angel Falls because the angel in the story had ascended to the top of the falls. Angel Falls lies on the Gauja River which is a tributary of the Carrao River, a very small river at the brink of the falls. There are now plans to build a bridge and divert water to create a reservoir for the generation of electricity. This has stirred up much conflict, but no one knows the fate of Canaima and the eternal Angel Falls.

Exquisite Waterfalls in Europe and Asia

Plitvice Lakes is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls that you will see anywhere in the world. These waterfalls are formed by the runoff of water from the limestone caves beneath the waters of the lakes. The formations are ever changing because of the process of water and tufa deposition with the waterfalls, which creates a truly magical and surreal environment. Due to this natural phenomenon, the Plitvice Lakes is one of Croatia’s most prized natural parks. The highest waterfall in the park, Large Waterfall (Croatian: Veliki slap), is over 70 meters tall. The best way to see the waterfalls and to experience their beauty is to take the boat ride offered on Kozjak Lake. This will take you across the lake to the start of the Lower Lakes tour and allow you to witness the beauty and grandeur of the waterfalls from a close distance. The boardwalks and trails make it easy for visitors to explore the park and view the waterfalls from many different angles. The Lower Lakes tour is 8 kilometers in length and takes about 3-4 hours to complete. It is understandably the most popular tour in the park because it takes visitors past the largest waterfalls and also because it is the most scenic tour in the park.

Plitvice Lakes Waterfalls, Croatia

The Plitvice Lakes waterfalls are located at the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. The national park is a World Heritage Site and is famous for its sixteen lakes, interconnected by a series of waterfalls. The waterfalls consist of several different types; they are situated in an area of karstic rock, mainly dolomite and limestone. The barriers creating the waterfalls are the result of the activity of the moss, algae, and bacteria. Over time, these organisms have grown on the edge of each lake, creating a natural phenomenon. The lakes run into each other, and it is due to the difference in elevation between the lakes that creates the differing types of waterfall. These waterfalls range from small series of tumbling falls to the large roaring Grand Falls. The tallest waterfall is Veliki Slap at 70 meters. During a visit to the waterfalls, it is difficult not to notice the array of colors in the water, varying from green to blue. The Plitvice Lakes waterfalls are formed by means of tufa. Tufa, or travertine rock, is a porous carbonate rock formed via the chemical precipitation of calcium carbonate from ground or surface water. This is evident by the way in which the water appears to dance over the rock, rather than flow. In some areas, the water is running over moss-covered tufa, it is possible to see the reflection of the waterfall in the water. This creates a mirror-like effect, and the water can appear to be flowing in two directions. An example of this can be found at the Burgeti and Gradinsko falls. In addition, at the base of each waterfall, the tufa is still forming, owing to the constant movement of the water. This can be seen via tufa barriers that run across the falls or cascades of water that appear to be frozen due to the tufa underneath.

Gullfoss, Iceland

This waterfall was believed to be sold to foreign investors during an era of a lot of societal change in Iceland. The daughter of the farmer, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, fought vehemently to prevent this sale. She even went as far as to walk barefoot to Reykjavik in protest. At that time, this journey was notoriously difficult and could be fatal. This protest, however, managed to register with the authorities and the contract was void. This historical fight is commemorated by a plaque at the site of the waterfall. This plaque serves as a testament to the power of the human spirit and a source of pride for the Icelandic nation. This history is closely entwined with the waterfall and subsequently adds to the allure of this tourist hotspot.

The Gullfoss Waterfall, also known as the ‘Golden Waterfall’, is known to be one of the most impressive and significant waterfalls in Iceland. The intriguing attribute about this waterfall is that it is fed by the River Hvítá. It tumbles and plunges in two stages into a crevice which is 32m deep. The crevice is the origin of the age-old Icelandic folklore, where it was believed that the crevice led to a treasure chest, and youth from the nearby farm would try to lower a rope into the crevice in the hopes of snagging the chest.

Jog Falls, India

Jog Falls is situated in the Indian state of Karnataka, being the second highest waterfall in India. Jog Falls, Gerosoppa Falls or Joga Falls is the highest waterfall in India located in Shimoga District in the Indian state of Karnataka. 2000 feet (610 meters) high Jog Falls is the highest waterfall in India. It is created by the Sharavathi River which is dedicated to the bomb-firing event carried out in the Army area recently to wash away the clouds present in the sky. Jog Falls is around 25 km from Sagara and 100 km from Shimoga. It is situated in dense evergreen forests and the view is unexplainable. It is one of the top destinations in the list of Karnataka Tourism. The four cascades, called Raja, Rani, Rover and Rocket, merge further down to form the huge waterfall which continues to gush down at great speed. These different cascades were named after some British Officers who used to visit this place quite frequently. A rock climber’s delight in this waterfall, the place is so quiet and calm that it’s an ideal location for a holiday camp or a retirement home.