|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – June 2002
Learn the weird science behind our addiction to waterfalls, and the location of the best trails in North America.
Anatomy of a waterfall
As befits Yellowstone's volcanic geology, the waterfalls Stevens, Whittlesey, and Rubinstein discovered were mostly of the ledge variety, where water falls off a ledge of sedimentary or volcanic rock. Over time, the water's falling force pummels the landing area, undercutting the harder caprock until it collapses, slowly backing the waterfall upstream.
There is no universally accepted classification system for waterfall types, but cataract devotees typically refer to three main kinds of falls:
Turkey Creek Trail, Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan National Forest
Spring snowmelt feeds numerous spectacular falls in this Rocky Mountain paradise. Take Forest Service Road 037 (turn north off CO 160 about 8 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs) to the Turkey Creek Trail (TR #580). Hike up the drainage past Eagle Creek Falls and others, and then across the high Cherry Cairn Plateau to a cataract beneath Puerto Blanco Mountain, at mile 12.5. Contact: Pagosa Ranger District, (970) 264-2268; www. fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan.
Panther Creek Trail, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
The 8-mile round-trip hike to Panther Falls begins off US 23/441, just south of Tallulah Falls. The trailhead sits just across historic Rt. 441 from Panther Creek Recreation Area. The hike along Panther Creek gorge sports several campsite possibilities. Above the falls, traffic declines sharply, but it's best to avoid weekends and holidays. Contact: Tallulah Ranger District, (706) 782-3320; www.fs.fed.us/conf.
North Country National Scenic Trail, Ottawa National Forest
The NCT runs 118 miles across the Ottawa National Forest. Follow its Black River segment 5 miles from Copper Peak Road, north of Bessemer, to Black River Harbor on Lake Superior, passing at least eight major waterfalls along the narrow riverine canyon. Contact: Bessemer Ranger District, (906) 667-0261; www.fs.fed.us/r9/ottawa.
Thunder Creek Trail, North Cascades National Park
This path runs some 20 miles from Diablo Lake on the North Cascades Scenic Highway (WA 20) to Park Creek Pass. From there it descends to the isolated town of Stehekin, at the north end of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Along the way, you'll pass at least four large falls, with numerous smaller cataracts pouring off the glaciers and side valleys. Take the NPS shuttle van (reservations recommended) down Stehekin Valley, and the ferry across Lake Chelan to road's end. Contact: North Cascades National Park, (360) 856-5700; www.nps.gov/noca.