If there’s anything that compounds the magical allure of a trail in winter, it’s a frozen waterfall at its terminus. Frosted trees, sparkling rivers, and invariably fewer people converge to paint an entirely new picture of a trail—even for those who might frequent it often during the warmer months. Plus, bird migrations, hibernations, and shorter days invite an entirely different animal population in the surrounding woods.
Such is true for a stunner like Tamanawas Falls on Mount Hood’s shoulders in Oregon and a roadside favorite like Kaaterskill Falls in New York. Many are familiar with the thundering cascades in the summertime, but far fewer have made the effort to get a glimpse once winter makes its mark.
While many of the adventures on this list (including the two above) are leisurely strolls or roadside stunners requiring little to no technical experience, there are several for which a knowledge of basic snow science is recommended. Here’s your cue to look into Avalanche 1 and WFFR course options near you!
Below we’ve highlighted our top five favorites from the west and our top two from the east—scroll a bit further down to see the complete list. Happy wandering!
Bells Canyon Lower Falls: Central Wasatch Mountains, Utah | 4.7 miles
Large aspen and pine trees line the creek that hugs the trail up to the falls—one of Salt Lake’s favorite. Because it is so popular, the snow will most likely be packed down regardless how soon your arrive after snowfall. Keep an eye out for moose, deer or porcupine, which are all common in the winter months.
Salt Creek Falls: Willamette Foothills, Oregon | 4.5 miles
This well-marked loop includes views of Salt Creek Canyon and Diamond Creek Falls. Traversing woods, gingerly navigating footbridges, and gawking at the stellar views from two viewing platforms along the way converge to make this one of the best in the west.
Sahalie + Koosah Falls Central Oregon | 2.6 miles
Though the trails are not maintained for winter travel, icy slopes abound, and there might not be many clues for navigating the steep cliffs along the McKenzie River, those that are up for the challenge will experience the power and magnificence of these waterfalls in winter.
Tamanawas Falls Mount Hood, Oregon | 3.8 miles
See the wintry side of this magnificent waterfall on Mount Hood's eastern side with a relatively easy snowshoe hike through old-growth forests. While popular and oftentimes crowded during the summer, this falls sees only moderate activity during the middle of winter, which only adds to its grandeur.
Alexander Falls: Squamish, British Columbia | 1.5 miles
Though most opt to see the falls from the upper viewing platform, there's also a well-marked snowshoe trail that takes you to the base of the falls, and allows an entirely different perspective—one that does justice by this 141-foot stunner. Conditions often vary, but visit January through March and your chances of seeing ice crystals galore is high.
Sawteeth Mountain: Adirondacks, New York | 13.1 miles
A stunning, frozen Rainbow Falls is merely one of the prizes for your effort on Sawteeth Mountain. Summiting New York’s 35th highest peak also rewards adventurers with views of Austable Lake, quiet woods, and exciting, steep exposure. Note that the first three miles of trail are on a closed road.
Kaaterskill Falls Catskill Mountains, New York | 13 Miles
As New York’s tallest two-stage waterfall and one of America’s oldest tourist attractions, Kaaterskill Falls by no means serves up any solitude. Nevertheless, the minimal effort required to reach this stunner puts it at the top of our list. Though the path is manicured, it’s not always shoveled, so bring your snowshoes along even if you’re joined by many others in the parking lot.