Types of waterfalls are based on how the water falls or passes through it’s course, how much water is flowing, the surface beneath it and the geological processes that created it (geomorphology). These all together form a waterfall’s unique shape, it’s fingerprint so to speak.
Waterfall Types & Structures:
Table of Contents
- 1 Combination
- 2 Cascade
- 3 Cataract
- 4 Ledge
- 5 Block / Sheet
- 6 Classical
- 7 Curtain
- 8 Overhanging Ledge
- 9 Plunge / Vertical
- 10 Punchbowl
- 11 Chute
- 12 Fan
- 13 Horsetail
- 14 Parallel / Twin
- 15 Ribbon
- 16 Scree / Talus
- 17 Segmented
- 18 Slide
- 19 Slot / Keyhole
- 20 Tiered / Staircase / Multi-Stepped
- 21 Veil
- 22 Frozen
- 23 Dry / Historic
Many waterfalls are a combination of more than one type of falls. At Paulina Creek Falls, you will find curtain, slide, segmented, and scree / talus.
Cascade is a commonly used term when referring to waterfalls and rightly so. The term “cascade” comes from the Italian word “cascada” which actually means “waterfall”. A cascade type waterfall is defined by the surface beneath it. It is one of the most common as the surface beneath it is irregular and encompasses the falls not classified elsewhere. It is generally water that flows down in small steps or stages. Multi-cascading.
Another word for waterfall but usually one that is large, very powerful and rushes down with force.
A geological formation that influences shape of waterfall. It is a cliff that is relatively flat with some width at the top and is vertical or almost vertical. Angel Falls and Niagara Falls are great examples of a ledge. The following shapes / types often result from a ledge.
Block / Sheet
Water from a wide river or stream drops over a ledge forming what appears to be a “sheet” of water. Ideally, it is not broken into segments at high water and it is observably wider than tall.
Similar to Block, water drops over a ledge but is close to equal in width and height.
Similar to Block and Classical, water drops over a ledge but is taller than wide but not a Ribbon.
Another geological formation that influences shape of waterfall. It is a cliff that the water has eroded under it causing an obvious overhang resulting in the water free falling to the surface below.
Plunge / Vertical
Water descends vertically without contact with the surface.
Water falls through a constricted area and descends down into a pool of water. The water “punches” through and falls into a “bowl”.
The following have unique features where the water does not fall over ledges like the ones described above:
A violent section of water that is forced through a narrow passage due to cliff walls or large rocks. Depending on the descent angle, they may be classified as rapids not a waterfall. Very common in canyons where the water is wall-to-wall.
Water falls through a relatively narrow crest and spreads out and becomes wider as it descends.
Water descends down remaining in contact with the surface most of the time.
Parallel / Twin
Parallel falls happen when falls are side-by-side and fall similar to each other. There can be two or more falls and can be from the same watercourse (also see Segmented falls) or from more than one watercourse. Twin falls are also side-by-side but do not have to be similar in type. Triple and more falls exist as well.
Water descends in a narrow strip significantly taller than it is wide.
Scree / Talus
Water flowing over a chaotic mix of rock debris on a slope usually found at the base of a cliff or steep incline. Scree is usually the rocks that are smaller than a softball and talus is larger than a softball. Some people do not consider these to be waterfalls however if the slope is at least 30 degrees then it fits our criteria.
Pieces of land segment the river (same watercourse) causing the water to fall in sections. Not to be mistaken with different watercourses forming different waterfalls side-by-side as in Parallel / Twin falls.
Water glides over a single slab of rock maintaining smooth continuous contact.
Slot / Keyhole
Water pushes through a narrow area before falling. A keyhole is a special slot as it has a rounded part at the bottom of the slot resembling the old fashioned keyholes. Some times the water has forced (eroded) out a part of the rock causing an actual hole water falls from.
Tiered / Staircase / Multi-Stepped
Separate waterfalls falling consecutively and in close proximity so generally they can be seen together. Any type of falls can be tiered.
Water falls over rocks (usually large rocks) creating a thin layer of water that just barely covers it’s surface.
The following are special waterfalls that are in a class of their own.
These falls can be of any other type and it must have ice as a part of the falls. They are spectacular as the ice formations are just as unique as the falls themselves. If the temperature is just right, punchbowl falls will often form a cone in the bowl of water.
Dry / Historic
This type of falls no longer exists with water flowing over it. It is referenced here as some of these historical falls were very magnificent in their time. Dry Falls in Washington is one of these type and in it’s day it was over 3 miles wide and had a huge flow of water, the unique thing about this falls was that it only flowed when the glacier lifted up to release the water.