You Can Hike to These Otherworldly Frozen Waterfalls Right Now
Waterfalls are a highlight of any hike, whether you’re aiming to jump off them or swim under them or just use them as a rest point while you take in the view. We tend to picture them in the summertime; maybe that’s when we’re more inclined to be out on the trail, or maybe it’s something about cooling off under the spray. But a lot of our nation’s waterfalls are at their most grand once the temperature drops below freezing. To inspire your next cold-weather hike, here are 10 of America’s most magical frozen falls.
Zion National Park
Zion in the summertime? Overcrowded. Hot. Too many lines. Zion in the wintertime? Sublime. Peaceful. Wondrous. Surprisingly cold! The best time to visit this national park is definitely between November and March, when foot (and car) traffic is about one-tenth of what it is in the peak summer months.
MORE: The best hikes in Zion aren’t where you think they are
Coloradans like myself have always known Hanging Lake, a few miles from Glenwood Springs, as one of the state’s most scenic destinations, and that’s no less true once the aspens have stopped quaking for autumn. Come wintertime, the gentle waterfalls feeding Hanging Lake can freeze into icicle-like columns; catch it on a quiet early morning and it’s like the whole world is standing still.
MORE: America’s most-photographed mountain peaks tower over Colorado
Columbia River Gorge
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of Oregon’s famous Multnomah Falls, considered the crown jewel of Columbia River Gorge Highway, a historic stretch cliff-lined road west of Portland. What you might not know is that, massive as it is, this storied waterfall can fully turn to ice once the temperature drops below freezing. Sometimes it’s only partly frozen, but the streams of water running down over translucent blocks of ice makes for no less grand a view. The same goes for the dozens of other smaller, less-touristed falls hikers can visit right off the historic highway.
The temperature has to drop and stay that way for a while in order for Niagara Falls to freeze completely, but it can and does happen. For the most part, there’s still water flowing underneath the frozen surface, but Niagara Falls really does give the appearance of being iced over.
Starved Rock State Park
Head southwest of Chicago to LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park toward the end of a cold snap and you might find this gargantuan column of water suspended off the rock face, perfectly still. Follow the trail to take in the view from behind the falls, looking out through what would normally be a curtain of flowing water.
Winding Stair Gap
The imposing falls at Winding Stair Gap in Franklin -- a town hidden in the forests of western North Carolina -- freezes so solidly as to attract ice climbers. It’s also conveniently accessible from the Appalachian Trail, for those of you who want to take advantage of the waterfalls’ majesty without necessarily bringing a pickaxe.
Mountain Lake Park
There are several beloved waterfalls in Maryland that are known to freeze under the right conditions, including the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls. Head into Swallow Falls State Park on the western reaches of the state for a tower of cascading ice you can walk right up to.
Head to Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan's unofficial tundra, the Upper Peninsula, and you’ll come upon the eponymous Tahquamenon Falls, which can often be seen in a partial freeze come wintertime. The signature brown running through them comes from tannins absorbed from cedar and hemlock swamps -- in the summer the water might just look muddy, but when frozen the tannins add an unexpected pop of warmth (color, not temperature) to the ice. There are many, many frozen falls here -- this is a place where the waves on Lake Superior freeze into ice volcanoes -- but this is the most famous and accessible.
These 31-foot falls in Ozark National Forest, Arkansas, pours out of what looks like a large hole in a larger rock ceiling. Sometimes it’s a slow drip; sometimes it’s a raging waterfall; sometimes, when it’s below freezing, it’s a perfectly suspended column of water. The only leaky ceiling you’re likely to ever enjoy.
Bonus: Apostle Islands
Is this strictly speaking a waterfall? It is not. But you are probably here for pretty pictures and/or inspiration for nice winter hikes, and the frozen sea caves of the Apostle Islands, on the coast of Lake Superior, check these boxes for you. Lake Superior’s mainland ice caves only appear like this under precisely the right conditions -- not just temperature, but wind and waves -- and are one of the most breathtaking wintertime sights in the country.