Get up close to a thundering waterfall, and you’ll glimpse nature’s raw power from up close. In winter, however, cascades in cold climes turn into something completely different, thick, crystalline pillars of ice. These ten hikes are a chance to see how the fourth season transforms nature’s marvels and leaves them looking even more spectacular.
Grotto Falls, Gallatin National Forest, MT
When the temperature drops below freezing—and in this part of Montana, that’s usually in late October—this waterfall and the shallow cave behind it turns into a natural ice sculpture. Hike 1.3 miles from the trailhead to snap some photos of the 15-foot cascade and the icicles lining the cliffs around it.
Fish Creek Falls, Steamboat Springs, CO
This 5-mile out-and-back gives you two cataracts for the price of one. Upper and Lower Fish Creek Falls are both as spectacular when frozen in winter as they are when gushing in spring. The 284-foot lower falls are the second-tallest in the state.
Falls Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA
Washington’s side of the Columbia River Gorge has some truly impressive snowshoe hikes, such as this one to 335-foot-wide Falls Creek Falls. The strenuous, 7.4-mile out-and-back passes through old growth hemlocks and firs on the way to the three-tiered cascade.
Winding Stair Gap, Nantahala National Forest, NC
This North Carolina ice-climbing destination is perfect for hikers, too. From the Appalachian Trail (northbound from Winding Stair Gap), it’s only 0.25 miles down the trail to the falls. The drop is short but vertical, forming a thin veil of ice over the dark rock.
French Canyon Falls, Starved Rock State Park, IL
Though only a half mile from the park visitor center, French Canyon feels a world apart once the winter chill hits. The 45-foot cascade from the canyon rim drops over multiple ledges on the way down, and in winter stays quiet for the hikers who make their way up-canyon.
Muddy Creek Falls, Swallow Falls State Park, MD
The highest waterfall in Maryland (accessible via a 2.6-mile out-and-back trail) doesn’t disappoint no matter the season, but winter is when it really shines. The 53-foot drop and the pool below both freeze, resulting in spiked ice formations you won’t be able to tear your eyes from
Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch State Park, NH
At 140 feet wide and 70 feet tall, Arethusa Falls is one of the biggest flumes on our list. The 3-mile round-trip snowshoe to the falls is scenic all on its own, too, heading through mixed evergreen and deciduous forest in the White Mountains as it heads upstream.
Apostle Island Ice Caves, Apostle Island National Lakeshore, WI
A 2-mile hike on frozen Lake Superior leads to a series of sea caves carved from sandstone, where seeps in the ceiling and crashing waves combine to form mini ice-waterfalls on the rock walls. Check the Apostle Island website for ice safety conditions before heading out.
Roughlock Falls, Roughlock Falls Nature Area, SD
This 50-foot cascade drops to a pool where sharp eyes can spot the American Dipper, a bird that can walk underwater and is the continent’s only aquatic songbird. The hike to the falls is only .1 mile, but it connects to several trails that spiderweb through the rest of the park.
Jemez Falls, Santa Fe National Forest, NM
This 70-foot drop in the East Fork Jemez River is the tallest in the Jemez Mountains. Though a short hike, the remote trailhead and quiet forest surrounding the river make it feel like you’ve hiked into a hidden world. In winter, the pines around the falls glitter with frost.