“Yellowstone Park is the realm of the water-nymph. It revels in rills, mountain brooks, rivers, and lakes. It leaps about the cataracts, disports itself in the rapids, flits through the veils of spray that gracefully sway hither and thither, and haunts the hundreds of cool trout streams that wind from sunlight to shadow, from canon to meadow. But it finds its chief delight in the waterfalls. And what wonder, when such cataracts, falls, and cascades are there. There is apparently no extended area in the park without them.” Olin Wheeler
The above quote, describing with eloquent poetry the charms of Yellowstone’s water-filled landscape, originates from a surprising source: an 1897 Northern Pacific Railroad promotional pamphlet for the park. The author of the foreword for the delightful book, The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery, uses it to introduce the reader to the bountiful and magical world of Yellowstone’s waterfalls.
Until fairly recently, however, the park was thought to contain only 50 waterfalls. Lee Whittlesey, Paul Rubinstein, and Mike Stevens embarked on an ambitious seven-year research project to catalog the waterfalls in Yellowstone (detailed in the aforementioned book), which resulted in an addition of 240 unknown falls to the park’s official inventory.
I recently took the short hike to Wraith Falls (which technically isn’t a waterfall in the true definition of the word, but that takes nothing away from its charm). Near the end of Lupine Creek in northern Yellowstone, Wraith Falls gently cascades down rock for a hundred feet. Its name is thought to refer to a ghostly figure in the water witnessed by a USGS party in 1885.
After twenty years exploring in Yosemite, I had to first recover from my snobbery of considering waterfalls under 1,000 feet not worthy of consideration to appreciate the smaller heights of Yellowstone’s falls (just kidding!). Although I still miss the roar of Yosemite Falls as it rushes 2,425 feet down granite cliffs, the multitude of smaller waterfalls and cascades that abound in Yellowstone more than compensate. After all, words like “tallest,” “highest,” “first,” and “best” really have no place in the natural world. Everything we witness simply falls into the category of magnificent, regardless of its human-imposed ranking.
Video of Wraith Falls