Imagine the gushing of water over rocks, sometimes aggressive and other times calm, as it surges and plunges down hillsides. Alaska is one spot washed by an overflow of splendid falls moving fast to carry the streams downhill as they make their way to the sea and the larger rivers. The image isn’t complete until you gaze at the bushes next to the falls nodding gently and leaving you with a sensation of a smell sweet as honey.
The best part is that most of the falls here don’t require overnight trips or long hikes. I live in Alaska and have been hiking around the state since I was young. Here is the list I created containing the 15 best waterfalls to visit in Alaska.
1. Thunderbird Falls, Anchorage
This is perhaps one of the best falls for family ventures and certainly one of my favorites. Located near Chugiak, the leisurely trail that leads to Thunderbird is only 1.8 miles long, and it only takes about half an hour to drive here from town. Landscaped with handrails and boardwalks, and coupled with viewpoints, the trailhead is easily accessible and well maintained. You also get an occasional opportunity to have an up-close view of the deep canyon Thunderbird Creek and the Eklutna River.
However, the trail has been marked as treacherous, especially after gaining popularity and high traffic from tourists. This means you must stay on the trails to be safe.
During winter, expect to find frozen falls leaving magical columns of blue ice. Bundle up with ice spikes and crampons to veer through the blankets of ice along hills.
2. Horsetail Falls, Whittier
The route that leads to Horsetail is a pack of all things beautiful for the intermediate and experienced hikers. Although the area has steep switchbacks, starters might also want to give it a try.
Flowing only during winter and early spring, Horsetail Falls is fed by snow and ice melt and is the center-most point for you to view numerous waterfalls.
Swishing over the rocks and toppling heavily down the 176-foot stretch, the gorgeous fall that descends in two streams is situated right by the roadside, making this the most iconic part of the region.
Read also: 28 Amazing Hidden Gems in Alaska
3. South Fork Eagle River Falls, Anchorage
Tucked into a gorge, this fall is an iconic secret place that is moderately trafficked, and the trail that leads here is only 0.9 miles long.
Located near the Eagle River, it is adorned with two channels that cascade over a huge bedrock face. The trail that leads to the falls also gets very icy during winter and muddy in summer.
It has been marked as one of the most epic destinations for all skill levels.
4. Winner Creek Falls, Girdwood
Located along a scenic gorge, this Winner Creek fall considered very small yet mighty at only 10 feet, and is scenic and worth visiting.
It is fun to be here, especially due to the cage pulley system used for crossing the raging river. For the height phobic, this might not be a very interesting activity, unless you are trying to look for clever ways of conquering your fears.
At a closer look, the Winner Creek looks like a big fall flowing in two directions and is considered more of a raging river than a tall fall.
5. Virgin Creek Falls, Girdwood
In the depths of Alaska’s thick forest flowing with moss-covered yet vibrant green pines, lies the amazing beauty of the Virgin Falls.
As you make your way to the falls, you are greeted by the stream’s swift water that leaves white bubbles and a dramatic silver effect teasing your sight.
Although it is an all-season fall in an amazing rain forest and the path is rated as moderate, the water tends to rise and flow faster during winter when the snow melts at the peaks.
Further reading: 15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Alaska
6. Liberty Falls, Chitina
Any time you are around Chitina, take advantage of the spectacular mountain views that the region boasts. What comes as a package is the Liberty Falls and a perfect camping site.
The one-way trail that measures about 1.7 miles leaves you awed by the beautiful scenery all around. The fall is viewable from the parking lot, and the pounding water is known to lull travelers to sleep.
7. Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park
Located within the Katmai National Park, Brooks Falls is a destination of a kind, a spot you do not want to skip. This is the world-famous home for large populations of brown bears where top-class photographers compete to capture classic shots of dozens of them.
Bears get to the falls to fish for the salmon which arrive between the months of July and early September. This is perhaps the best time to visit the area. It is always fun to watch the bears waiting to grab the salmon as they leap out of the water.
8. Nugget Falls, Juneau County
Also referred to as the Mendenhall Glacier waterfall, Nugget is certainly the highlight detail of Alaska. From the minute you exit your vehicle, you are bound to hear the falls roar as the water rushes to tumble down the 377 feet of glacier rocks.
Soak yourself in the sight of the thundering and cascading waterfall pouring into the Mendenhall Lake and delight at the sights of other glacier views from the site’s observation deck.
Since the glacier is an active calving zone, you will also get a view of drifting icebergs on the lake, usually deposited by the calving glacier.
9. Blackstone Falls, Whittier
Gazing at icy glaciers in the islands of Alaska is perhaps one of the most emotional and fulfilling feelings you are likely to get. Blackstone Falls is one of them, a sleeping giant that allows you to calm your nerves just by listening to the creaking ice.
Blackstone Falls is a glacier-melt fall that plunges into Blackstone Bay and is said to originate from Blackstone Glacier. The volume of water in this fall largely varies depending on the weather, and the 500-foot glacier fall may not fully get its flow from the meltdown of the ice, so expect to get a less forceful flow around summer.
This fall requires no hiking but is accessed by a 4-hour boat ride from Whittier.
10. Rookery Falls, Whittier
The 600-foot Rookery waterfall can be clearly seen from Whittier, across the bay. It is one of the many waterfalls on the map of Learnard Glacier and can be easily accessed using a kayak or any cruise ship leaving for Prince William Sound.
History has it that the fall was named after the Kittiwake Rookery that graces this region. Hundreds of these birds are seen flying around the fall year-round and are said to nest here. This alone is a highly unique feature that should tease your urge to get to the falls.
11. Hidden Falls, Whittier
If you head for the Whittier’s Prince William Sound, you will be greeted by dozens of waterfalls, one of them the Hidden Falls.
The 4-hour glacier cruise from the town of Whittier ventures into the calm yet cold waters of the Hidden Falls, a spot where seasickness is not likely to occur.
This amazing 50-foot fall is where cruise ships stop in the mist for those on board to take photos in front of the falls. It is a spectacle of a kind, so expect to see massive chunks of ice breaking off and crashing gracefully into the water.
12. Russian River Falls, Kenai Peninsula
The Russian River waterfall tumbles through a stunning riparian canyon. What meets the eye first is the leaping of wild salmons over and under the strong currents. Most people visiting the Russian River falls go to watch the spectacular view of thousands of salmons and feel the thrill of the possible presence of bears.
The trail leading to the falls appears more like a leisurely stroll and is only two miles long, adorned with gravel and sloping at a gentle elevation.
It is advisable to remain at the viewing platform since the area is sometimes patrolled by the brown and black bears. You might also catch a view of moose in the open areas surrounding the falls.
13. Pitchfork Falls, Skagway
At an elevation of about 2100 feet is the scenic Pitchfork waterfall that happens to be one of the tallest in the world. From a distance, you can see the superb cascading of the fall down the walls of the canyon in well laid out segments.
This fall is also a hydroelectric facility said to provide Skagway with power.
There are several motor companies here that offer trips along the Yukon highway, where you can see the falls up-close, and you can also opt to get the aerial view by plane.
14. Pioneer Falls, Palmer
The Pioneer waterfall is one of the best-known secrets of the U-shaped A fjord valley. The trail that leads to these falls is very short, and it is easy to find your way here even as a first-timer.
It might be difficult to view the fall in its entirety from the trail or the gravel parking lot, meaning you need to move towards the middle part or the lower portion of the fall.
15. Lower Reid Waterfall, Skagway
When it comes to interesting day hikes, Skagway is a great starting point. Take a good stroll towards the Klondike highway near the Goldminer Graveyard, and let the pounding water blow your imagination away.
Being a popular destination, the trail is crowded with hordes of people during most times of the day, so if you want to avoid this get there in the early morning hours.
Don’t leave the falls before visiting the secret cave at the river.
Alaska and its wealth of wild nature certainly represent America’s final frontier. When it comes to this dynamic region, it’s all about the glaciers, mountains, and endless waterfalls.