What is the greatest waterfall of all time?
The most massive waterfall on earth. The falls got their name from the local word “Iguaçu”, meaning simply, “big water”. It seems the locals weren’t much for flowery language, as the name easily could have been “gigantic bubbling cauldron of aquatic rage”. The Iguazu Falls unleash over 60,000 cubic feet of water each second. They release enough water each day to satisfy the drinking water needs of New York City for over a month! And these are the averages we’re talking about here. During the rainy season, the banks of the Iguazú River swell to mind-blowing proportions. In fact, just this past June, Iquazu set the record for the highest flow rate ever recorded. A truly unfathomable 1.6 million cubic feet per second . . . more than the average flow rate of the top 200 largest rivers on earth combined! It’s a fitting record for this legendary wonder of the Amazon.
Location: Border of Brazil and Argentina | Watercourse: Iguazú River | Annual Visitors: Hundreds of thousands | Local Name: Iguaçu is Guarani for “big water”
Type: Cataract | Total Height: 269 ft | Max Plunge Height: 220 ft | Total Width: 1.7 miles | Flow Rate: 62,010 ft³/s
The tallest waterfall on earth. Some waterfalls are tall, some waterfalls are freakishly tall, and then there is Venezuela’s Angel Falls. Towering an amazing 3,212 feet above the jungle floor below, Angel Falls is like the Manute Bol of the waterfall word. This hyper-tall plunge waterfall launches the fast-moving water of the Gauja River far off the face of the rocky cliff wall of the Auyantepui mountain. At one point, the water free-falls for over half a mile before violently smashing upon the cliff-face at the base of the mountain. The locals called this the “waterfall of the deepest place” and you’d have to dig very deep to come up with a natural wonder that was as beautiful and dramatic as Angel Falls.
Location: Canaima National Park, Venezuela | Watercourse: Gauja River | Annual Visitors: Tens of thousands | Local Name: Kerepakupai Vená is Pemon for "waterfall of the deepest place”
Type: Plunges | Total Height: 3,212 ft | Max Plunge Height: 2,648 ft | Total Width: 500 ft | Flow Rate: 500 ft³/s
The largest sheet of falling water anywhere on earth. Victoria Falls is yet another crown-jewel in the impressive collection of other-worldly wonders belonging to the African continent. This thunderous waterfall separates the nations of Zambia and Zimbabwe and is fed by the meandering waters of the Zambezi river. The water flow fluctuates drastically from one season to the next, and at the peak of the rainy season, the flow rate can reach over 3 times that of Niagara Falls. Visitors can catch awesome views of the falls from a number of scenic overlooks, or for the more adventurous (some might call them suicidal), you can take a dip in Devil’s Pool. This daredevil’s hot-tub allows swimmers to enter the Zambezi, and literally swim up to the edge of the falls, looking directly over the edge. It makes for an incredible photo-op, but don’t let your guard down. An accidental trip over the 350+ foot drop would truly confirm the name the locals gave to this incredible waterfall: “The Smoke that Thunders”.
Location: Border of Zambia and Zimbabwe | Watercourse: Zembezi River | Annual Visitors: 1 million+ | Local Name: Mosi-oa-Tunya is Tokaleya Tonga for “the Smoke that Thunders”
Type: Cataract | Total Height: 355 ft | Max Plunge Height: 355 ft | Total Width: 5,604 ft | Flow Rate: 38,430 ft³/s
The most famous American waterfall west of the Mississippi. Yosemite Falls has been the darling of postcard photographers since the national park opened in 1890 (I know, it’s very questionable that photographs were widely used on postcards at that time . . . so sue me). The abundance of idyllic scenery at Yosemite Falls is matched by the impressive dimensions of this towering plunge. At 2,425 total feet, and a maximum plunge height of 1,430 feet, Yosemite Falls is officially listed as the 8th tallest free-fall drop waterfall in the world, and the second tallest in North America (narrowly losing to a Yosemite Park neighbor: Ribbon Falls). Few super-tall waterfalls anywhere can match the 250 cubic feet per second flow rate of the Yosemite Falls, and in terms of jaw-dropping beauty, we think this iconic landmark is second to none.
Location: Yosemite National Park, California | Watercourse: Yosemite Creek | Annual Visitors: Hundreds of thousands | Local Name: Yosemite is Southern Miwok for “some them are killers”
Type: Tiered Plunge | Total Height: 2,425 ft | Max Plunge Height: 1,430 ft | Total Width: 150 ft | Flow Rate: 250 ft³/s
The third most powerful waterfall south of the equator. Guyana’s Kaieteur National Park is the home of this behemoth plunge waterfall of the same name. This hulking beast exhibits a truly rare and jaw-dropping combination of soaring height and earth shaking aquatic volume. At 741 feet, the water plummets from a cliff that is taller than the Seattle Space Needle. Getting hit from a bucket of water dropped from that height could do some serious damage, so imagine the impact of Kaieteur Falls . . . nearly 1.5 million pounds of water slam down on the plunge pool each second! According to Patamona legend, the falls were named after the chief Kai, a man who self-sacrificed himself by swimming over the falls in the name of the spirit Makonaima. Kai saved the people of his tribe with this insane act, he also helped add to the mystique of one of the greatest waterfalls of all time.
Location: Kaieteur National Park, Guyana | Watercourse: Potaro River | Annual Visitors: Tens of thousands | Local Name: Kai is the name of Patamona chief who self-sacrificed at the falls.
Type: Plunge | Total Height: 741 ft | Max Plunge Height: 741 ft | Total Width: 500 ft | Flow Rate: 23,400 ft³/s
The highest volume waterfall in the Northern Hemisphere. The Niagara Falls unleash a mindblowing 85,000 cubic feet of water every second. This hydro-electric juggernaut pumps out enough water to fill every NFL stadium in America TWICE every single day! The place is now a veritable Disneyland of tourist fueled family-fun, and perhaps that artificial accompaniment makes the raw power of the falls all the more impressive. Thousands of homes are powered by the energy from the upstream hydro-electric plants at Niagara, and no waterfall can match the overall societal impact of this legendary mega-cataract. Whether you’re a fan of the circus surrounding it or not, one can’t help but appreciate the epic strength and history of the Niagara Falls.
Location: Between Niagara Falls, NY and Niagara Falls, Ontario | Watercourse: Niagara River | Annual Visitors: ~30 million | Local Name: Niagara is Mohawk for “The Neck”
Type: Cataract | Total Height: 167 ft | Max Plunge Height: 165 ft | Total Width: 3,660 ft | Flow Rate: 85,000 ft³/s
The third most voluminous waterfall in the Northern Hemisphere. Virginia Falls is a stellar example of the jaw-dropping beauty and terrifying power of an untouched natural phenomenon. This beast is twice as tall as Niagara Falls. It spews only half the water, but it does so with a terrifying wildness and intensity that the super-commercialized plunge on the edge of the Empire State cannot match. Their remote location in the Northwest Territories of Canada makes the Virginia Falls hard to reach, but they are well worth the trek for anyone with an appetite for the unadulterated ferocity of one of the most powerful natural forces on earth.
Location: Northwest Territories, Canada | Watercourse: South Nahanni River | Annual Visitors: Very few | Local Name: Na
Type: Cataract | Total Height: 315 ft| Max Plunge Height: 295 ft | Total Width: 1,000 ft | Flow Rate: 35,000 ft³/s
Once the most massive plunge waterfall in Asia. Few westerners have ever heard of Jog Falls, and sadly many young people in the east never had a chance to experience this awesome cataract in its natural heyday. A massive hydroelectric facility now closely regulates the water, forever muzzling the kinetic energy of the wild beast. During monsoon season tourists are still treated to the falls at their most spectacular crest, and only then can you truly appreciate just how massive these falls once were. With a plunge height of 829 feet, the falls are taller than any building in Africa, and all but one in South America (The Gran Torre Santiago building in Chile is 984 ft tall). And with a width of over 5 city blocks, the Jog Falls had a commanding presence unlike any other in Asia. It’s a shame the falls are now just a shadow of their former selves, but The GOAT Series will always remember them as one of the greatest waterfalls of all time.
Location: Karnataka, India | Watercourse: Sharavathi River | Annual Visitors: Thousands | Local Name: Joga is Kannada for “falls”
Type: Cataract | Total Height: 829 ft | Max Plunge Height: 829 ft | Total Width: 1,550 ft | Flow Rate: 5,387 ft³/s
Widely considered to be the single largest waterfall in history. The Dry Falls precipice in Grant County Washington is a living reminder of a geological event that is nearly impossible for a mere mortal to fathom. Some 20,000 years ago, enormous glaciers moved south from modern-day Canada into the northern area of the US rocky mountains. These glaciers formed natural dams within the river system of the region, eventually leading to lakes so large they covered entire states. Finally, the dams gave way, and a flood of biblical proportions swept over the states of Idaho, Washington and Oregon within a few days. The waters converged at the Grand Coulee river and were then launched over the 400 foot sheer ledge at Dry Falls. The event is estimated to have had a water flow rate of 10 times all the current rivers on earth combined! That’s over 2 billion cubic feet of water per second! No modern waterfall can be used as reference for this event, it would be like comparing a thimble to a wave pool, but we can all agree that Dry Falls was absolutely one of the greatest waterfalls of all time.
Location: Grant County, Washington, USA | Watercourse: Grand Coulee River | Annual Visitors: Several thousand | Local Name: Na
Type: Plunge | Total Height: 400 ft | Max Plunge Height: 400 ft | Total Width: 3.5 miles | Flow Rate: ~2 billion ft³/s
The most voluminous waterfall on earth. Venezuela is home to a number of the world’s best waterfalls, and Salto Pará is no exception. At over 3 miles wide, this enormous horsetail waterfall can only be seen in its entirety from an aircraft. With a flow rate of 125,000 cubic feet person second, the Salto Pará somehow ushers through 50% more water than Niagara Falls! The falls are far less commercialized than the more famous Angel or Iguazu Falls in South America, but we encourage anyone near Bolivar to make the effort to see Salto Pará for yourself. It’s the most hulking display of cascading water that you can find anywhere on earth.
Location: Bolivar, Venezuela | Watercourse: Caura River | Annual Visitors: Very few | Local Name: Unknown
Type: Horsetail | Total Height: 211 ft | Max Plunge Height: Unknown | Total Width: 3.48 miles | Flow Rate: 125,000 ft³/s
Cascada De San Rafael
The second highest super-flow waterfall in the world. The Cascada De San Rafael drops the equivalent of 7 shipping containers full of water each second. That’s 440 tons of Coca River agua hurdling over a 40 story granite cliff before slamming into a deep plunge-pool at the base of the Ecuadoran jungle canyon. Misty spray from the falls can rise as high as 500 feet, engulfing the falls in an eerie fog, sometimes concealing the churning monster from view. But you don’t need to see the Cascada De San Rafael to know you’re in the presence of greatness, as the crashing water creates a non-stop deafening roar that inundates the entire valley. The remote location makes the falls hard to reach, but witnessing the tremendous force of this epic plunge waterfall is well worth the journey.
Location: Napo, Ecuador | Watercourse: Coca River | Annual Visitors: Thousands | Local Name: Na
Type: Teired Plunge | Total Height: 430 ft | Max Plunge Height: 310 ft| Total Width: 100 ft | Flow Rate: 14,125 ft³/s
Long believed to be the tallest waterfall in New Zealand. The Sutherland Falls were one of the first “rock-star” waterfalls on the planet. Discovered by prospector Donald Sutherland in 1880, the falls were long hailed as the tallest in New Zealand. We now know they are actually 4th on the list, behind 3 nearby waterfalls in the same national park. But none of those falls can match the beauty, intensity, and seemingly impossible positioning of Sutherland. The falls carry water down from Quill Lake high atop the mountain in the most efficient way possible. Plummeting down 3 successive drops, the first and tallest measuring a staggering 885 uninterrupted feet. The water eventually crashes into a tiny plunge pool, tucked nearly out of view at the base of the towering cliff-face. One can only imagine what Mr Sutherland was thinking when he first encountered these falls, but it was a probably a fitting emotion for someone witnessing one of the most impressive plunge waterfalls on earth.
Location: Fiordland, New Zealand| Watercourse: Arthur River | Annual Visitors: Tens of thousands | Local Name: Na
Type: Tiered Plunge| Total Height: 1,904 ft | Max Plunge Height: 885 ft | Total Width: 90 ft | Flow Rate: 400 ft³/s
The second most powerful waterfall in Africa. Ruacana Falls is a massive 2,300 foot wide cascade waterfall located in Ruacana, Namibia. A waterfall that gets nowhere near the kind of fanfare as its Zambian cousin to the East, the Ruacana deserves a place among the titans of the waterfall world. Like many African waterfalls, the flow-rate at Ruacana fluctuates drastically, growing from barely a trickle during the dry season to a raging tidal wave at the peak of the rainy season. If you hope to see this beast at the peak of ferocity, plan your trip to southern Africa at the end of the rainy season, in February or early March. And once you get there be sure to appreciate the reality that you’re standing beside one of the greatest waterfalls in the world.
Location: Ruacana, Namibia | Watercourse: Kunene River | Annual Visitors: Thousands | Local Name: Na
Type: Cascade | Total Height: 390 ft | Max Plunge Height: 350 ft | Total Width: 2,300 ft | Flow Rate: 10,000 ft³/s
The most powerful waterfall in Europe. It’s almost hard to tell land from earth when one first sees Dettifoss, but in person, the deafening thunder of this frothing brute is unmistakable. Located near the northeast shores of Iceland, Dettifoss lays claim to the title of Europe’s most powerful waterfall by volume of water flow. The waterfall is powered by the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, with water originally sourced as run-off from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier, and various other sources. Much of northeast Iceland’s water flows to Dettifoss, creating one of earth's most vivid examples of what happens when gravity meets a huge amount of water in a confined space. Dettifoss is part of Iceland’s national park system so it is sure to be protected and cherished as an all-time great for generations.
Location: Northeast Iceland | Watercourse: Jökulsá á Fjöllum | Annual Visitors: Tens of thousands | Local Name: Icelandic for “the collapsing waterfall”
Type: Cataract | Total Height: 160 ft | Max Plunge Height: 160 ft | Total Width: 550 ft | Flow Rate: 7,000 ft³/s
Currently the largest waterfall in Asia. China’s Huangguoshu Waterfall has been revered by locals for centuries. At 255 feet tall, and 331 feet wide, the waterfall presents an impressive physique. And with a clean, plunging curtain of water, it is perhaps one of the most peaceful of the great raging waterfalls. In fact, this curtain of water lent its name to a magical cave that lies behind the falls. Called “The Water-Curtain Cave” this place allows visitors to stand directly underneath and behind the falls, looking out through the streaming sheet of water. With tourism quickly on the rise in the region it’s likely that Huangguoshu will be protected for generations, we think it’s a worthy cause to preserve one of the coolest waterfalls in the world.
Location: Guizhou, China| Watercourse: Hai River | Annual Visitors: Hundreds of thousands | Local Name: Huangguoshu is Mandarin for “yellow-fruit tree waterfalls”
Type: Segmented Block | Total Height: 255 ft | Max Plunge Height: 220 ft | Total Width: 331 ft | Flow Rate: 1,000 ft³/s
GOAT Staff Score - WaterfallThe candidates have been assigned a raw score across a range of criteria. The raw scores have been weighted to reflect the impact that each individual criterion has on the 'Final GOAT Score'. -->TURN DEVICE SIDEWAYS TO VIEW ON MOBILE-->
|Height (25%)||Flow Rate (25%)||Drama/Beauty (25%)||Natural Preservation (10%)||Ease of Access (10%)||Pop Culture (5%)||Unweighted Total||Final GOAT Score|
|Cascada De San Rafael||10||8||5||5||3||6||37||685|