Friday, May 06, 2016

King of Waterfalls: Oregon or Washington?

One of my favorite places in the world is Oneonta Gorge, with the beautiful Lower Oneonta Falls in the back. This waterfall is in good company - it's located in the Columbia River Gorge area, an 80 mile canyon containing the Columbia River. There are several waterfalls off the Historic Columbia River Highway, including one of Oregon's most well known falls - Multnomah Falls.

I knew about the high number of waterfalls in that area, but I didn't know just how many there were until I looked it up. The Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge has over 90 waterfalls! Many of the waterfalls on my bucket list are in this area. 

Lower Oneonta Falls in Oneonta Gorge
One of my favorite places in the world and probably the best photo I've ever taken.

On Instagram, I follow several photographers who are based in the Pacific Northwest. I've been making a list of places I want to visit and hikes I want to do based off of the photos I see, and most of that list consists of waterfalls. It seems like 9 out of 10 waterfalls I see are located in Oregon. That, and the amount of waterfalls that are in the Columbia River Gorge, made me wonder if Oregon has the most waterfalls in the United States. I did some research, and it was more difficult to find an answer than I thought. This is most likely because it's impossible to know if every waterfall in a state is known. There may very well be some waterfalls that haven't been discovered yet. 

According to Geology.com, Oregon has the most waterfalls of any state, coming in at 226. To put that in perspective, here are numbers for other states: Washington with 181 falls, California with 174, New York with 165, Montana with 119, Maine with 119, North Carolina with 102, and Hawaii with 100. The state I grew up in and am currently visiting, Georgia, has 28 waterfalls. 

However, Wikipedia has a page containing a list of waterfalls in Oregon, with at least 238 waterfalls.

Yet another source, the World Waterfall Database, lists 1,337 waterfalls in Oregon, and 2,683 waterfalls in Washington. I checked a few other states I suspected of having a large number of waterfalls, and the only one that came close was California with 1,052 waterfalls. Some waterfalls from this source have not been confirmed, so that explains the high numbers compared to other sources.

On the maps below, blue waterfalls have been visited and surveyed, green waterfalls have been confirmed, and yellow waterfalls are unconfirmed (a waterfall likely occurs at or near the location).

World Waterfall Database map - Oregon

Washington is completely out of control when it comes to waterfalls.
I had to zoom in before it would display the locations of the waterfalls, because there are too many to fit when I'm zoomed out to show the entire state.

My answer to the question of which state has the most waterfalls is that I have no answer. I originally suspected Oregon may have the most waterfalls, but it's looking like it could be Washington. Since my personal list of waterfalls to visit has more located in Oregon, I'm going to feature a few Oregon waterfalls below. My favorite, Lower Oneonta Falls, was shown above. The ones below are falls I haven't been to that are high on my bucket list. Northwest Waterfall Survey is a good resource for Pacific Northwest waterfalls.


Multnomah Falls
620 feet tall with two drops. I've actually seen this waterfall, as it's visible from the Historic Columbia River Highway. I haven't stopped at it yet or tried to go up on the bridge because it's the most popular waterfall in the area and is often extremely crowded. When I do go to see it one day, I'll go on a weekday during the off season. 

From Amazing Places On Earth


Fairy Falls
20 feet tall. Located in the Columbia River Gorge area in Wahkeena Canyon. This waterfall may be tiny, but it veils beautifully over the rock wall. Photographers love it. I'm looking forward to photographing it one day!

Photo by Nate Zeman


Ponytail Falls
88 feet tall. Located in the Columbia River Gorge area. Visitors are able to hike behind the falls, which makes for good photographs. 

Photo from Hikelandia


Punchbowl Falls
36 feet tall. Located on Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge area. This waterfall is frequently photographed and gets its name due to the falls entering a bowl-shaped pool. 

Photo by Piriya Wongkongakthep


Abiqua Falls
92 feet tall. Finally, a waterfall on my list that's not in the Columbia River Gorge area. This waterfall is located near Silver Falls State Park, east of Salem. The basaltic amphitheater around the falls is gorgeous and gives it a different look than other falls. 

Photo by Jordan Hackworth

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