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Thunderous Dives and Mossy Runoffs: A Spring Guide to Waterfalls

As fall is on the leaves, spring is on waterfall viewing, an ongoing seasonal activity in the northern and higher regions of the United States.

The waterfalls can range from thundering dives to delicate mossy runoff. These could be backcountry pop-ups or park centerpieces, like Great Falls Park in McLean, Va., And Silver Falls State Park, near Salem, Oregon.

There is no agreed-upon definition of a waterfall, according to Joel Scheingross, assistant professor of geology at the University of Nevada, Reno, who studies those that break away from a riverbed, creating an air pocket. between the face and the water jet. . Waterfalls, he explained, can be the result of glacial carving (like at Niagara Falls) or faults in tectonic plates. Places where hard and soft rock mixes often produce waterfalls that spill over a harder rock cap that digs up the soft rock below.

“Any area where the water flow is dominated by snowmelt will get larger waterfalls now, not only in the northern United States but also at high elevations,” Scheingross said. “If it’s not the snowmelt, you just need big storms.”

Especially now, perhaps, as pandemic-weary travelers continue to seek the safety and solace of the outdoors, waterfalls are, like Johnny Cheng, who writes about waterfalls on his World of website. Waterfalls, the so called “metaphors for life and nature.” go do his thing.

The following is a selective spring guide to waterfalls in the United States.

About six million acres of the Adirondack Mountains offer waterfall viewing from the famous Rainbow Falls in Ausable Chasm, a tourist spot since 1870, to the more secluded Gleasmans Falls near Lowville.

OK Slip Falls near Indian Lake sits between them on the Spectrum, an impressive height of about 250 feet – one of the tallest in the Adirondacks – accessible via a trail of about three miles through rolling forests that ends with a pair of viewpoints (a short, very steep path leads to the river below).

“The great thing about OK Slip Falls is that you go a distance to get there, building the anticipation,” said Stacy Pagoda, owner of Another Paradise Cove, a canoe and kayak rental store. in Long Lake, which offers regional tourism tips to visitors. “This year we had a big snowmelt with a lot of rain, so the water everywhere is moving pretty well right now.

Hamilton County, home to OK Slip Falls, has a waterfall challenge identifying 19 waterfalls in the area accessible via hikes ranging from five minutes to several hours, each assigned a point value ranging from one (easy) to four ( difficult, which is OK Note from Slip). Hikers who score 12 or more points may receive a souvenir badge.

Over 10 waterfalls spring up seasonally with highland snowmelt and spring rain in and around Crawford Notch National Park in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The highest in the state, Arethusa Falls, falls on a cliff nearly 200 feet.

Two of the park’s falls, the ribbon-shaped Silver Cascade and Flume Cascade, can be seen from the roadside stops. Others require hiking on trails that can be muddy or snowy this time of year.

“You can do a lot of hikes if you want to,” said Clare Arentzen, senior outdoor guide at the Appalachian Mountain Club in New Hampshire, noting that the moderate three-mile round-trip trail to Arethusa Falls can be completed. to Bemis Brook Trail to reach Bemis Brook Falls tiered for ‘more bang for your buck’.

Across the White Mountain area, Chris Whiton, a nature photographer who regularly photographs waterfalls, estimates that there are over 100 falls named in shapes ranging from canals to falls to steps. He uses 19th century guides published by railways and hotels to find often unnamed waterfalls that have fallen off the map.

“Stunts are fun because they have such a personality and each one is a little different,” he said.

Many waterfalls and falls in Maine are ephemeral and depend on snowy winters, according to Greg Westrich, author of “Hiking Waterfalls Maine,” which identifies about 100 falls on 67 hikes. Because this has been a relatively dry year, he urges waterfall watchers to act quickly.

“In Acadia National Park there are a half dozen falls that will be dry by mid-June or just a trickle unless there is a heavy rainstorm,” he said. .

At nearly 100 feet, Moxie Falls in the central Kennebec Valley, where the Dead and Kennebec rivers meet in an area known as The Forks, is one of Maine’s tallest falls, with the allure additional easy accessibility. A well-maintained 0.6 mile trail reaches the water, a popular swimming hole in the summer.

One of Maine’s best-known waterfall hikes, Gulf Hagas, near Brownville in central Maine, has often been called the “Grand Canyon of Maine” for its series of slate gorges, rock faces and falls and ripples along four miles of the West Branch of the Pleasant River in the Appalachian Trail Corridor. From the same starting point, avoid the crowds by walking a little over a mile to Hay Brook Falls, “prettier than Gulf Hagas and easy to get to,” Westrich said.

The United States and Canada technically share 120 feet in height in Grand Portage State Park, where the Pigeon River forms the international border in northern Minnesota on Ojibway tribal lands.

“High Falls is the biggest dives, the last big one the river takes before lazily heading towards Lake Superior, less than two miles from the lake,” said Travis Novitsky, the park manager.

“It’s quite common to have a rainbow when the water is high,” he added, noting the angle of the viewing platform to the falls, an effect that is also visible. at the Moonlight.

In addition to seeing Minnesota’s tallest falls, accessible by a paved trail, explorers can take a challenging 4.5-mile round-trip hike over steep, rocky hills, traversing a ridge with vistas of the river and the Lake Superior, to reach the further Middle Falls.

Grand Portage is at the north end of the 145-mile Duluth Highway along Lake Superior, linking eight state parks, most with their own waterfalls, including Tettegouche State Park, which is home to another High Falls, the second highest in the state.

At an impressive height of 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park is the icon of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Range, peaking in May and June and diminishing to a trickle or drying out. in August. But there are many more in the area where waterfall hunting is a spring pursuit.

“There are a lot of hiking trails in the canyons outside of Yosemite where the waterfalls are a delight to discover,” said Allan Pietrasanta, a backcountry athlete and board member of administration of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, which has warned that the snowpack is about 60% of normal. this year, which will end up slowing the flows.

Yet many of the high-altitude areas remain closed until snowplows dig the roads in the spring. When that happens, the Devils Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes will open, usually in mid-June, offering the opportunity to see the basalt columns of the same name as well as the 101-foot-high Rainbow Falls, the most high waterfall of the middle fork of San Joaquin. River, and named for the rainbows that tend to form in the mist. It is accessible via a round trip hike of about three miles.

Nearby falls include the Twin Falls, which exit from Mamie Lake, and the 270-foot Horsetail Falls on the 16-mile June Lake Loop route.

Many waterfalls are regulated by dams or siphons for irrigation. But Mesa Falls on the Snake River in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in eastern Idaho, about 50 miles southwest of Yellowstone National Park, is free flowing, the last of the state’s uncontrolled falls. .

When snowmelt swells the Snake River, from May to June, it rushes through a curtain of flowing water over the 10-story, about 200-foot-wide Upper Mesa Falls. A mile downstream via the Mesa Falls Scenic Drive, the water then tumbles down through a smaller sinkhole known as Lower Mesa Falls.

“In the spring, the falls are meteoric,” said Susan McKenna, who manages the falls site.

Despite being located at 6,500 feet above sea level, Mesa has the advantage of being accessible, especially for families, many of whom are on their way to Yellowstone when they stop at the falls. The round trip hike to the viewing platforms is about half a mile, and a walk on a nature trail will add two more miles.

The road has been cleared of snow, but the road may be icy and the visitor center will not open until Memorial Day.

“People have already called to see if we’re open,” Ms. McKenna said. “We’re not Old Faithful, but we’re getting there.

There are at least 150 waterfalls in Mount Rainier National Park, about 85 miles south of Seattle. But the unofficial tally is much higher.

“There are times of the year when if you count all the places where the water flows and flows, you probably have thousands of them in the park,” said Kevin Bacher, director of the park’s volunteer program. “There’s a good reason we’re in an area called the Cascades.

It may take until July for the snow, which averages 53 feet per year in the 5,400-foot paradise region, to melt. Melting snow and water from 25 glaciers on the namesake 14,410-foot peak produces a prolonged torrent that begins in April and makes its way to higher lands in summer.

“The park is best known for its mountains and awe-inspiring scenic views, so people often miss the forest trails where you see the waterfalls,” Bacher said.

For a mix of seasonal and year-round falls, he recommended the Eastside trail at low elevation, introducing “a waterfall every quarter mile or so” along the approximately 13 mile one-way trail. The trail, which has multiple access points for shorter hikes, follows Chinook Creek and the Ohanapecosh River through dense forests beyond a series of falls, including two-tier Ohanapecosh Falls and ‘a group that does not have a name ”.

From roadside terrain, visitors can easily visit Narada Falls, where the icy waters of the Paradise River sail nearly 180 feet above ancient andesite volcanic rock.

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