While cliff diving tends to be more popular at international destinations such as Mexico, Brazil, and in the Mediterranean, the sport can actually trace its origins back to Hawaii. As legend has it, Kahekili—the last king of Maui—would leap into the Pacific Ocean from a 63-foot cliff face called Kaunolu. It's said that Kahekili was so athletic and nimble that when he hit the water below, he wouldn't even make a splash. Later, he would require his warriors to prove their loyalty and bravery by making the same jump.
Over the centuries, the extreme sport of cliff diving has spread across the globe, with competitions regularly held in exotic locations. Today, it is not uncommon for divers to plunge 80-plus feet into the water below while enthusiastic crowds watch on in admiration.
But just because the sport isn't quite as popular here in the U.S., that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of good places to give it a try. In fact, the country is blessed with some spectacular locations for thrill seekers to give it a go. These are our picks for the best places to do just that.
Warning: Cliff diving is an extremely dangerous sport and it is recommended that you have proper training from an experienced coach before you try it. Accidents can result in severe injury or even death, so caution is advised.
Kahekili's Leap (Hawaii)
Named for the king of Maui himself, this is the exact spot where the sport of cliff diving reportedly began back in the 1770s. Today, adrenaline junkies still make the pilgrimage to this spot—located on Lanai in Hawaii—to follow in Kahekili's footsteps. While it is a popular place to jump, this location can be on the more dangerous side due to the long drop into relatively shallow waters below. For this reason, it is recommended that only experienced cliff divers make the attempt, while those just getting started should look elsewhere.
Possum Kingdom Lake (Texas)
With cliffs that range in height from as little as 10 feet all the way up to well over 80 feet, Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas is a top spot for experienced and beginner divers alike. Most are drawn to a place called Devil's Island, which has hosted professional cliff diving competitions in the past. Don't attempt those leaps from the highest point without careful consideration, as divers are said to reach up to 55 mph on their way down.
Havasu Falls (Arizona)
Havasu Falls in Arizona is known for its breathtaking beauty, and it is especially famous for the turquoise-colored waters in the pool found at its base. Each year, thousands of hikers make the trek to this place, which is located not far from the Grand Canyon. Most of them don't climb to the top of the falls, however, and fewer still are willing to dive from its 100-foot height. Still, it is a popular destination for cliff divers, although it is not recommended for anyone who isn't highly experienced. In terms of sheer natural beauty, this is among the very best diving spots in the entire U.S.
Red Rocks Park (Vermont)
The cliffs overlooking Lake Champlain at Red Rocks Park in Vermont make excellent launching pads for gravity-addicted thrill seekers. At their highest point, they reach just over 70 feet, although there are a few lower ledges that are much more accessible for less experienced cliff divers. Be warned: After making the leap, the often chilly waters of the lake below can provide quite a shock to the system upon entry.
Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
As the deepest lake in the U.S., Crater Lake in Oregon has long been seen as a relatively safe place to give cliff diving a try. Add in the fact that there are a range of heights to jump from, and you end up with a location that is very beginner-friendly. Despite the fact that the National Park Service goes to great lengths to discourage the activity, many visitors will jump into the lake anyway. Thanks to its crystal-clear waters, it's hard to blame them.
Ka Lae (Hawaii)
Not only does Ka Lae in Hawaii hold the distinction of being the southernmost point in the entire United States, it happens to be a premier cliff jumping spot, too. With ledges reaching as high as 40 feet and a water depth of 20 feet, it's a safe place to take the plunge. Leaping from these cliffs is so popular that you'll find wooden platforms to jump from and even a rope ladder to help you climb back up to the top for your next flight.
Malibu Creek (California)
If you're looking for a place to cool off from the warm California sun—and possibly get your adrenaline pumping at the same time—head to Malibu Creek outside of Los Angeles. The cliffs that oversee the creek offer good spots for cliff diving, with heights ranging from 20 to 70 feet. This allows it to accommodate daredevils of all levels, although the relatively narrow entry into the water below can feel a bit disconcerting at first. After making a jump or two, though, you'll get the hang of it and maybe even climb a little higher for your next leap.
Guffey Gorge (Colorado)
Guffey Gorge—aka "Paradise Cove"—requires a bit of effort to reach, but it is well worth the short 1-mile hike just to witness the beautiful location firsthand. One of Colorado's many hidden gems, the gorge is a popular destination for day hikers, although cliff divers will find a lot to love here, too. The ledges range in height from 20 to 70 feet, with a pristine pool of water waiting to slow a jumper's fall below. On warm summer days, the site can be quite busy, so keep that in mind before you go.
Tar Creek Falls (California)
Another popular diving destination in California, Tar Creek Falls has jumping spots to accommodate both the timid and the fearless. On the low end, the cliffs are just 10 to 15 feet in height, while other areas spiral upwards to 70-plus feet. Reaching the best spots requires a 3-mile hike, and anyone considering a dive should be sure to check the water levels first; during the drier seasons, the river can run low and not provide enough support during splashdown.
Lake Powell (Utah/Arizona)
Straddling the border between Utah and Arizona, Lake Powell features miles of sandstone cliffs that tower above the water, which make the perfect launching spot for divers and jumpers of all levels. Technically, visitors are not allowed to jump off of a cliff that is taller than 15 feet—but there are some that climb as high as 70 feet and are still used nonetheless. As with any cliff jump, use caution and common sense, and you'll make the proper kind of splash along the way.