Waterfalls are beautiful destinations for hikers of all skill levels though precautions must be taken when visiting these natural wonders. Hidden dangers lead to serious injury and death of visitors every year.
Following these waterfall safety tips can help keep you safe. Please review before exploring waterfalls on your next hike.
27 Waterfall Safety Tips
1. If there are warnings or instructions posted at the waterfall, along the hike or at the trailhead, obey them. The warnings are there for your protection.
2. Stay on public land and marked trails. Do not venture onto private land and avoid the temptation to venture along trails created by visitors or through the wilderness to find a waterfall or better view.
3. Do not climb on or go beyond fences or barriers into restricted areas.
4. If there are observation platforms, stay on them. They have been created for your safety and enjoyment of the waterfall.
5. Tread carefully. Trails around waterfalls can be slippery from the mist coming off the fall. Mud, slick rocks, algae-covered rocks, loose rocks, gravel, and exposed roots can all be hazardous. Consider a pair of Black Diamond trekking poles from Backcountry to improve your stability.
6. Do not lean over unprotected ledges.
7. Do not climb on or around a waterfall. The surfaces are slick and dangerous.
8. Do not jump or dive from waterfalls or neighboring cliffs or rocks into the pool below the waterfall. Why shouldn’t you have a little fun and jump?
- People commonly lose their footing and fall to their death.
- Tree branches and debris continually work their way downstream and may be found below the water surface along with boulders that have fallen from cliffsides.
- It’s harder to swim in aerated water created by water falling into the pool below a waterfall. The lower resistance of this aerated water makes it more difficult to swim and to resurface after jumping.
- Water currents can force swimmers under the water, ledges around the waterfall, or trap them in or under debris. The power of water can be a deadly force.
9. Do not play in the water above the waterfall. Rocks and the river bottom are often slick. If the current catches you, you can be swept over the waterfall.
10. If you want to swim, swimming downstream from the waterfall is often safer. You may even find a marked safe area for swimming.
11. Some waterfalls have polluted water. Do not swim or wade in water that is deemed unsafe.
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12. Many waterfalls are in areas far from medical help. Should you have an accident, it’s important to take a first-aid kit like this one from Backcountry for emergencies when you hike. Such a small expense for your protection.
13. For safety, it’s best to have a hiking buddy with you on the trails and at the waterfall.
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14. Be careful to maintain safety, footing, and balance when taking photos.
15. Keep a watch on children and pets at all times.
16. Wear appropriate hiking footwear with good traction… Crampons (microspikes) are often needed in freezing temperatures when the mist from the falls coat the surrounding area with a layer of ice. If you aren’t familiar with crampons, they’re very affordable spikes that can easily be attached to your hiking boots/shoes. Consider grabbing a pair of microspikes over at Backcountry if you’re going to be hiking around frozen conditions this winter.
17. Bring a change of clothes for the ride home. Your clothes, especially shoes and socks, may get wet. There are often streams and low wet areas to cross when hiking to a waterfall.
18. Never cross rushing high water. You can get swept off and beat to death on rocks or drowned. Water is incredibly powerful and its forces should not be taken lightly.
19. Protect your feet. If you want to get in the water, be sure to include water shoes like these at REI in your pack. There can be sharp or slick rocks and debris in the water. Do not wear flip-flops or sandals.
20. Keep watch on the time so you can get back to your car or campsite before nightfall. Having a headlamp in your pack is always a nice precaution. I’m partial to the Petzl headlamp over at Backcountry.
21. Bring your cell phone in case of an emergency and for GPS guidance in case you are lost or lose your trail map.
22. Check the weather before and during your hike.
- Though beautiful, icy conditions in freezing weather can make for dangerous footing around waterfalls. Microspikes are often needed in winter. (mentioned above)
- Flash flooding can take a deadly turn within seconds around waterfalls.
23. Tell someone where you’re going and when you should be back. Check-in with them along the trail and after your hike.
24. Just because someone else does something they shouldn’t around the falls doesn’t mean you should. Practice safety and common sense.
25. Don’t drink alcohol on a romantic date or with your buddies at the waterfall. Not only will alcohol impair your judgment and increase your risk of injury. It will dehydrate you on your hike… Don’t do drugs either.
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26. Bring water to prevent dehydration.
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27. Do not drink water from the waterfall or other natural water sources without purifying the water first. Doing so with put you at risk of bacterial infections like Giardia.
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Waterfall Etiquette Tips
To sustain our natural wonders and our ability to enjoy them and the trails for years to come, certain etiquette at waterfalls should be followed.
Some of these waterfall etiquette tips are a matter of law and others are common courtesy. Respecting others will make everyone’s experience more enjoyable.
1. Do not litter and keep the park clean. You should carry out your litter and any other litter you find at the waterfall or along the hiking trail. Consider carrying a trash bag in your pack for this purpose.1
2. If you pack it in, pack it back out. This includes anything considered biodegradable.
3. If you bring a pet, keep it on a leash and pick up your pet’s waste.
4. Do not spoil nature through any destructive act.
5. Be considerate of others visiting the waterfall.
- Be kind.
- Greet others.
- Do not scream, yell, or otherwise make loud noises that could disturb other visitors.
- Do not play music or use electronic devices that might disturb anyone’s experience at the waterfall.
6. If you swim in designated safe areas:
- Keep your clothes on. This is not the place to skinny dip.
- Do not change into a swimsuit or out of wet clothes at the waterfall unless there is a designated area for doing so.
7. Respect wildlife (both plants and animals):
- Keep your distance from animals and observe them from a distance.
- Do not feed the animals.
- Leave rocks and plants where you found them.
- Do not get off the trail and trample wildlife.
8. Do not consume alcohol or drugs.
Most accidents at waterfalls can be avoided by following these simple safety tips. Failure to do so can lead to serious injury or death.
Stay safe and have fun!