Guidebooks to Waterfalls of Western North America

I never go off on a photography trip without a regional waterfall guidebook. If there is a waterfall in the area, I want to see it, photograph it, and maybe add it to my waterfall web site - see Don Bain's Waterfalls of the West (WaterFallsoftheWest.com) or make a VR panorama to add to this site (see the thematic list for Waterfalls).

The classic western waterfall guide is the Waterfall Lover's Guide Pacific Northwest: Where To Find Hundreds Of Spectacular Waterfalls In Washington, Oregon, And Idaho, by Gregory Alan Plumb. Greg is a geographer, like myself, and has been at this a long time - this is the 4th edition. I think I have all the earlier editions of his books, going back at least to 1983, and the older ones certainly look well-traveled.

Each area with one or more waterfalls has a simple but very useful map and directions on how to reach the falls. I have never gone wrong with his maps and directions. There is a description of each waterfall, and the falls are categorized for accessibility (drive to, hike to, etc.), form (plunge, punchbowl, block...), and rated with one to five stars. The photographs are very good, but they are black and white and not every falls is illustrated.
Highly recommended.

My sole reservation about Greg's book is that it only covers Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Not his fault, there are certainly a lot of waterfalls in the northwest (he lists over 500). It's just that I would like a book of similar thoroughness and quality for every part of the West.

As if in answer to my prayers, Matt and Krissi Danielsson have put together an excellent companion work, the Waterfall Lovers Guide Northern California: More than 300 Waterfalls from the North Coast to the Southern Sierra. It follows Greg Plumb's tried and true format, with maps, types and ratings. It lists over 300 waterfalls and covers down the coast ranges as far as Monterey Bay and the Sierra south to Sequoia National Park. So between the two "waterfall lover" books there is complete coverage from Canada to central California. The maps and directions are excellent, and the photographs are very good (though black and white).
Recommended.

A very ambitous title covers the rest of California (generously overlapping with the Danielsson book) - The Definitive Guide to the Waterfalls of Southern and Central California by Chris Shaffer. It describes 265 waterfalls in an area extending south from the Santa Cruz Mountains in the Coast Ranges and from a little bit north of Yosemite in the Sierra. It has lots of photos, at least one per falls, all of them in color, but the quality is highly variable. The written directions sound okay (haven't tried them out) but there are no maps!

Despite its thoroughness and enthusiasm I find Shaffer's book a bit annoying. It has typos, minor errors, and too many pictures of the author's friends and fish they have caught. Maybe a second edition will be better. An additional volume on Northern California is planned.

There is also a comprehensive guide to waterfalls in all of California: Foghorn Outdoors California Waterfalls: More Than 200 Falls You Can Reach by Foot, Car, or Bike, by Ann Marie Brown. It is very thorough, listing 225 falls, including many that I had never heard of (mostly in Southern California). Brown is a prolific author on hiking, biking and camping subjects for both Foghorn and Moon.
Recommended.

Some people have complained that many of the falls in Brown's book have very little water, and that even some of the most famous falls dry up in the summer. Well, that's California. You can't have six straight months of sunny rainless days and still have waterfalls year around. If you want to see California's famous falls (such as in Yosemite) at their best, do it in spring and early summer. If you want to see some of the exotic amazing small falls in Southern California, go in winter or early spring, right after a stretch of rainy weather. If you must travel in August and want to see waterfalls, plan on hiking into the high Sierra backcountry or heading north into the Cascades.

I carry all four of the above-mentioned books with me when I travel around California and the Pacific Northwest. But I need a few more (hopefully similar to the Waterfall Lovers titles) to cover the rest of the west. There are some spectacular waterfalls in the Southwest, and lots in the Rockies - I even found a couple in Nebraska last summer! There should certainly be a book for Canada and Alaska. It is ironic that there is no printed guide to waterfalls in British Columbia, home to thousands of spectacular falls including some of the world's greatest (Helmcken, Hunlen, Takakkaw, Shannon, and Della). Aspiring authors take note - there may be a market for another western waterfall book!


Now here is a truly unique waterfall guide: Romance of Waterfalls: Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, by Barbara L. Bloom and Garry W. Cohen. The back cover sums it up: "A joyous celebration of nature’s most romantic wonders." It covers 100 waterfalls (all within daytrip range of Portland), with maps and practical information, natural history, and Indian lore. Each falls is illustrated, not with a mundane photograph, but with artwork by Bloom, and accompanied by a poem written by Cohen. Each falls also gets a "romance rating", and there is even advice on the best kissing spots!

The Rocky Mountains have several good guides, though no one book covers it all. Charles Maynard has written one on the Waterfalls of Yellowstone National Park and another on Waterfalls of Grand Teton National Park and John Fielder presents a picture gallery of Colorado Waterfalls.

Then there is The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery. The authors enumerate not only the famous "postcard" falls - Upper and Lower Yellowstone and Tower Falls, but also the 50 "known" falls, and 200 previously "unknown" falls. They have combed the park (for many years) and presumably found absolutely every waterfall. An amazing work of research and a great book.
Recommended.

As for the Southwest, I have only found Dick Wunder's 100 Utah Waterfalls, many of which are in the Rockies. There aren't many waterfalls in this arid part of the country, but a few are really spectacular, such as Havasu and Mooney in the Grand Canyon, and Baseachic in northwest Mexico. Somebody should add these to a book on waterfalls of southern California.

Photographer David Anderson has come out with a challenger to Greg Plumb's book with Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest: 200+ Waterfalls throughout Oregon & Washington, but I haven't seen it yet. America's Top 100 Western Waterfalls by Richard Beisel sounds promising, but I haven't had a look at it (he also has a book on 100 eastern waterfalls).

The only thing that tries to be a comprehensive waterfall guide to North America is Waterfalls USA, by Carla Bowers and James Grass (illustrator). I've heard some pretty harsh criticisms of this book - low production values, inaccurate information, quirky selection of what to include and exclude. One such review is on the Amazon site.


Websites offer a lot of useful information on waterfalls, potentially very up to date and well illustrated. A good place to start is the Hub Page of the Waterfalls Web Ring. You will see sites listed there from all over the world.

One unifying site is the World Waterfall Database by Bryan Swan and Dean Goss. It has data and photos for 950 falls from Aa (in Hawaii) to Zephyr (Wyoming). They also provide lists of the tallest, largest, and their choice of the 100 best.

Leon Turnbull's Waterfalls West site covers much of the west (over 400 falls) and goes a long way towards covering for the absence of a good printed guidebook to waterfalls of western Canada.

Bryan Swan (of the WW Database) has a great site on Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest.


For related information see the thematic listing for VR panoramas of Waterfalls.

Contact Don Bain: dbain@virtualguidebooks.com


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Waterfall Lovers Guide
Pacific Northwest
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Waterfall Lovers Guide
Northern California
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Waterfalls of the
Pacific Northwest