Though Alaska may not necessarily be well known for its waterfalls, one usually associates towering mountains, huge glaciers and sheer-walled fjords with the state, so one would naturally be forgiven for assuming that Alaska harbors lots and lots of waterfalls. It may surprise you then to learn Alaska may not in fact be quite so endowed with waterfalls as may be assumed. Oh there are many waterfalls throughout the state for sure, but how many there truly are is quite difficult to discern. Thus far, we have recorded information on 314 waterfalls throughout Alaska.
The big issues preventing extensive surveying of the state are a) the remoteness and lack of developed infrastructure, and b) the fact that the population is so small and for all practical purposes inaccessible to the population of the lower 48 states without flying in to Anchorage first (which then adds further travel limitations such as rental car range and lodging). Most of the waterfalls surveyed in Alaska occur either in the southeast coastal area along the border with British Columbia and Yukon, or within the mountainous regions along the south coast around Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula and the beginning of the Aleutian Peninsula.
Many of Alaska’s waterfalls occur in the glaciated fjords in the coastal south and southeast parts of the state, from Ketchikan all the way up to Anchorage. As the glaciation is extensive, the valleys are carved quite deeply and in turn the waterfalls can be considerable in size. The catch to this situation is that because of the extensive glacial cover, there are few roads in the area, so access by Boat is necessary in many cases, and those which can be accessed by car or on foot will require first flying or boating in to an isolated town such as Juneau or Ketchican, and then procuring wheeled transportation to travel further. The roads leading to the towns of Seward, Whitter, Valdez and Haines all provide access to many waterfalls from the mainland, but long travel times are required due to the limited road network.
The vast majority of the interior of the state is a huge black hole. In fact, out of the 314 waterfalls we currently have listed in the database in Alaska, only three of them occur north of Fairbanks. This is not to say there are no waterfalls further north, but rather that the area is so remote and difficult to access that it is hard to know what may actually be out there. Now that said, a good chunk of this part of the state is occupied by the Yukon River valley and is pretty darn flat – in fact while flowing over 1,200 miles between the Canadian border and the Bering Sea, the Yukon River only drops 850 feet in elevation. Sure there are mountains around the river, but this is a pretty good gauge for the overall terrain in the northern part of the state. Further north lies the Brooks Range, the most likely area for waterfalls to occur in the northern part of Alaska, but like much of the rest of the state there is no developed infrastructure so there is no easy way to explore the area.
As a footnote, in addition to this data about Alaska, we published information on the only two natural waterfalls known to occur within the state or Rhode Island several weeks ago. With these two states published, and considering that the State of Delaware has no natural waterfalls, we now have data published for half of the United States. In the coming weeks we should be wrapping up the editing work on our data for New Hampshire and Maine and hope to have those two posted by the end of January. Once those two are out of the way, there will only be 5-6 other states with considerable numbers of waterfalls to collate, so we’re hopeful that the rest of the country can be finished by the summer – or at the very latest the end of 2014.