12 Prettiest Rivers in the United States

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: June 9, 2023
Share on:


America boasts some fantastic river spots, but what are the prettiest rivers in the United States?

Unfortunately, human use has taken a toll on the waterways in the USA. While the development of rivers greatly aided in the modernization of America, some of the rivers themselves paid a price.

America is still chock full of beautiful waterways despite these modern setbacks. Whether you’re planning a trip in your own backyard or want to see some of the amazing rivers in the United States while you’re visiting from another country, we have our top 12 prettiest river picks for you.   

Discover the 12 Prettiest Rivers in the U.S.

Infographic of 12 Prettiest Rivers in the U.S.
The Colorado, Columbia, Hudson, and Salt rivers are among the most scenic in USA.

1. Horseshoe Bend Is the Prettiest Spot on the Colorado River in Arizona

Horseshoe Bend is the prettiest spot in the Grand Canyon.


The Colorado River is infamous for cutting through the Grand Canyon, which is undeniably pretty, but the Horseshoe Bend in Arizona is arguably one of the most scenic parts of the entire river.

It’s rumored that the height and breadth of the scenery aren’t captured in a photograph and that this spot needs to be taken in firsthand. The roads to Page, Arizona, and the trailhead can be a bit remote, so make sure you’re prepared to travel out of cell phone range and without major conveniences on the roadside.

Here the river bends 270 degrees, about the shape of a horseshoe. It’s about 5 million years old geologically and near Page, Arizona. There is a fee to park at the mile-and-a-half-long horseshoe bend trailhead, so be prepared for that.

2. The Merced River in California Through Yosemite Is Pretty

Yosemite is prettiest when the wildflowers bloom.


Right through the middle of Yosemite National Park runs the Merced River. Most of this river is protected, so it still feels wild. It’s at a low elevation, so this pretty location makes a great winter destination as well.

The spring wildflowers that bloom in and around the Merced River in Yosemite every year are one of the prettiest things to see in America. It’s not easy to predict when exactly this bloom will be, so planning too far in advance without some flexibility isn’t recommended.

3. The Kenai River in Alaska Is Pretty and Clean

The wildlife and the landscape make Kenai River pretty.

©iStock.com/Jonathan Nafzger

The water in the Kenai River is so clean because motorized boats are banned from using the waterway. The turquoise water remains sparkling clean to this day due to these conservation efforts.

Humans have been fishing this river for thousands of years, and it’s not uncommon to see caribou or moose along the river’s edge in calmer spots on the river. There is a six-mile stretch with rapids for those that are seeking extreme water sports.

4. The Waimea Canyon in Kauai Is Pretty Steep

Prettiest Rivers in the United States - Waimea Canyon

The Waimea Canyon is a lush Grand Canyon in Kauai.


Kauai is one of the Hawaiian Islands, and the Waimea Canyon is a 3,000-foot deep crevice dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” It looks nothing like the Grand Canyon in person, however, because of its tropical lushness.

The longest river on the island of Kauai is the Waimea River, the same waterway that carved out the Waimea Canyon. Such a beautiful canyon in a paradise is a pretty sight to behold.

5. The Hanalei River in Kauai Varies in Prettiness

Prettiest Rivers in the United States - Hanalei

The Hanalei River on Kauai offers opportunities for water sports.

©Harald L. Vaagan/Shutterstock.com

This river is short at less than 16 miles long, but it meanders through mountain wilderness down into a beautiful bay with gorgeous green pasturelands in between. There are tons of water sports to do along various parts of this pretty stretch of water including at Hanalei Bay, where the river ends.

6. The Pretty Columbia River Gorge in Oregon Is Known for Spectacular Hikes

The Columbia River Gorge has picturesque waterfalls.


The Columbia River is polluted but beautiful. It spills through the Cascades into pretty waterfalls that are popular tourist attractions. The gorge is known for its spectacular but challenging hikes, and water sports are in abundance at this pretty river.

This is a great destination if you want to stay in the city but still take in natural beauty since Portland is only 30 minutes away. There’s a fish hatchery and other historic sites to see as well.

If you’re into rambling road trips, checking out the Columbia River Highway is a great choice. The highway was designed specifically to be a scenic drive, and it holds up to its reputation.

7. The Truckee River Is the Sole Outlet for Pretty Lake Tahoe in California

Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River that manages its levels are beautiful.


Summer brings in rafting season down the Truckee River, which has clear waters and tree-lined banks. Serving as the sole outlet for huge Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River is a vital waterway that continues the Tahoe beauty miles away from the lake.

The Truckee River is controlled by the Lake Tahoe Dam, which can let the first 6 feet of water of the lake out into the river when needed. There’s also a paved bike trail for people who want to pedal around a little bit.

8. The Potomac River’s Great Falls Overlooks Have Pretty Views

Prettiest Rivers int the United States - Potomac River

Right outside of Washington, D.C. is a pretty spot on the Potomac.

©Doubletree Studio/Shutterstock.com

Amazing views are to be had at different spots along the Potomac River, but the prettiest spot on the river is about 15 miles outside of Washington, D.C. in the state of Virginia. The Great Falls Park, where the overlooks are located, offers a variety of daytime activities from kayaking to horseback riding.

9. The Hudson River in New York Is Stylishly Pretty

Prettiest Rivers in the United States - Hudson River

The Hudson River presents pretty landscapes in New York.

©Songquan Deng/Shutterstock.com

What makes the Hudson River in New York so pretty is the sweeping city landscape pictures that can be taken at various places along its banks.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is a pretty location to check out if you’re looking for that classic Manhattan skyline photo.

Pebble Beach is also a great location to take in the best part of the Hudson River in New York City. It’s prettiest as sunrise or sunset when the sky is more contrasted against the skyline in the background.

10. The Crooked River in Central Oregon Is Pretty Desolate

Prettiest Rivers in the United States - Crooked River

The Crooked River is pretty because it’s desolate.

©Bob Pool/Shutterstock.com

The Crooked River is a tributary of the Deschutes River in Oregon that offers up great fishing as well as pretty scenery. Boating and camping are also available for those that want to make a getaway out of their visit.

This river is pretty in a way that comes with the majesty of desolate locations and sheer mountainous landscapes. There are also hikes to waterfalls that flow at certain times of the year.

The fact that rivers can cut out canyons like this over the millennia is something that’s hard to take in or fully comprehend until you’ve laid eyes on a location like this.

11. The Salt River in Arizona Has Pretty Horses

Salt River in Arizona

There are pretty horses along the Salt River.

©Brent Coulter/Shutterstock.com

Natives to the Phoenix Valley in Arizona might not consider the Salt River to be beautiful, but people visiting will see it another way. There are saguaros in the mountains as well as greenery right around the river itself. It’s a great way to beat the heat.

The Salt River really made this list due to the frequency of running into wild horses. Taking a simple rafting trip down the river on a hot day may reveal them, as well as hanging out in recreational spots like Coon Bluff to see if you can spot them.

You’ll need a Tonto pass to park in the Tonto National Forest, which is where the access points to the Salt River with horses will be. Going by car or on a tour is the only means of accessing the horses.

These horses are wild and should never be approached. Exercise extreme caution when admiring how pretty they are up close.

12. Loxahatchee River in Florida Is Slow and Pretty

Juvenile manatee swimming

Manatees live in and around the pretty Loxahatchee River.

©gary powell/Shutterstock.com

This river is a short one at only 7.6 miles. The manatee is a rare and very Floridian species that lives here. The Loxahatchee River is a slow river, so it’s good for beginners that want to try their hand at paddling a canoe.

The water from this river meets the ocean at the Juniper Inlet, so about half of its length is brackish water, not fresh. This supports a large variety of habitats for native animals.

Summary of the 12 Prettiest Rivers in the United States

Here’s a recap of the 12 beautiful rivers in the U.S. that we took a look at.

1Colorado River
2Merced River
3Kenai River
4Waimea River
5Hanalei River
6Columbia River
7Truckee River
8Potomac River
9Hudson River
10Crooked River
11Salt River
12Loxahatchee River

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Songquan Deng/Shutterstock.com

Share on:
About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves doting on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with whimsical adventures geared toward exploring her new home.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.