Natural Waterfalls

Mark Crawford May 08, 2023
38 People Read
Outdoor waterfalls
Table of Contents
  1. Introduction to Natural Waterfalls
  2. What are the basic types of natural waterfalls?
    1. Plunge Waterfall:
    2. Horsetail Waterfall:
    3. Cataract Waterfall:
    4. Multi-step Waterfall:
    5. Cascade Waterfall:
    6. Segmented Waterfall:
    7. Tiered Waterfall:
    8. Fan Waterfall:
  3. 5 Tips for Waterfall Design and Construction

Introduction to Natural Waterfalls

Waterfalls are a popular natural water feature in landscaping and outdoor design and can add a soothing and calming atmosphere to any space. From garden waterfalls to backyard waterfalls, outdoor waterfalls are versatile and can be designed in a variety of ways.

A waterfall design is an essential aspect of creating a beautiful and functional waterfall, and there are many DIY waterfall ideas that can be incorporated to create a unique and personalized waterfall.

Waterfall landscaping is a complex process that involves careful planning and consideration of various factors, such as the surrounding environment, water source, and materials used in the waterfall's construction.

Proper waterfall maintenance is also crucial to ensuring the waterfall remains in good condition and functions effectively. This can include regular cleaning, checking the water flow, and ensuring that the surrounding vegetation is well-maintained.

Are you interested in DIY waterfall construction? Waterfall construction can be a challenging task, but with the right tools and knowledge, it is possible to create a stunning waterfall that will enhance any outdoor space.

What are the basic types of natural waterfalls?

Waterfall design

Plunge Waterfall:

A plunge waterfall has a single, uninterrupted drop, in contrast to other types of waterfalls that flow down a sequence of rocks. A plunge waterfall's height can range greatly, from a few feet to several hundred feet.

Victoria Falls in Africa is the world's greatest plunge waterfall example at over 5,600 feet wide with a 355-foot drop.

Natural water features

Horsetail Waterfall:

A horsetail waterfall is a type of waterfall that flows like the flowing tail of a horse and cascades almost vertically down a cliff face. A horsetail waterfall has contact with the rock face for at least some of its descent, unlike a plunge waterfall, which has a single, continuous drop. Due to this, the water spreads out as it falls and takes on the appearance of a veil.

Wallaman Falls in Queensland, Australia, is a horsetail waterfall standing over 880 feet tall and is the nation's biggest single-drop waterfall.

Garden waterfalls

Cataract Waterfall:

A waterfall known as a cataract is distinguished by a strong, turbulent water flow that generates copious amounts of spray and mist. Cataract waterfalls often feature a high drop, with water pouring down several rocky ledges and stairs, frequently forming multiple channels or braids.

Cataract waterfalls frequently travel through difficult terrain and have tremendous water flow rates.

Niagara Falls, which is situated on the Niagara River between the United States and Canada, is a well-known example of a cataract waterfall. With a total height of over 160 feet and an average water flow rate of 85,000 cubic feet per second, Niagara Falls is one of the most well-known waterfalls in the entire world.

Backyard waterfalls

Multi-step Waterfall:

A multi-step waterfall is a particular kind of waterfall in which the water cascades over a number of distinct drops or steps as it cascades down a cliff or rock face. A multi-step waterfall, as opposed to a plunge waterfall, which has a single, continuous drop, has multiple smaller drops, frequently producing a cascading effect.

Multi-step waterfalls come in many shapes and sizes, some with only a few steps and others with dozens. They are often located in mountainous places where there is a sharp elevation drop.

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls, which are situated on the border between China and Vietnam, is one well-known instance of a multi-step cascade. This waterfall has numerous levels of cascading water that descend more than 98 feet in total. Another illustration is the Kuang Si Falls in Laos, which feature several pools and levels of cascading water encircled by dense jungle vegetation.

Due to their beauty and peaceful ambiance, multi-step waterfalls can be a popular natural destination for visitors and outdoor enthusiasts.

Outdoor waterfalls

Cascade Waterfall:

A cascade waterfall flows over a sequence of small drops as it makes its way down a cliff or rock face. A cascade waterfall often has smaller, more gradual drops that produce aeration (i.e., a cascading effect), as opposed to a multi-step waterfall, which has larger, more pronounced steps.

The Silver Falls State Park in Oregon, which has a 7.2-mile route that goes past 10 different waterfalls, including the South Falls, a 177-foot cascade waterfall, is one well-known example of a cascading waterfall. Another illustration is the Lower Falls in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park, a succession of cascades with a cumulative plunge of more than 300 feet.

Due to their tranquil environment and the relaxing sound of cascading water, cascade waterfalls can be a well-liked natural attraction for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. They also serve as an essential habitat for numerous plant and animal species.

Waterfall landscaping

Segmented Waterfall:

A segmented waterfall is a style of waterfall in which the water cascades over various ledges or stairs in a sequence of discrete drops or levels. A segmented waterfall's drops or tiers may have roughly consistent sizes, or they may differ in height and width.

A stair-step impression can be produced as water travels over the various layers of rock in a region where segmented waterfalls are frequently found. They may also result from faulting or other geological processes that separate the rock formation into discrete tiers or steps.

Yosemite Falls in California's Yosemite National Park is one prominent example of a segmented waterfall. This waterfall is one of the tallest in North America and consists three different cascades that drop a combined total of more than 2,400 feet. The Huangguoshu Waterfall in China, which features 18 distinct tiers or drops, is another illustration.

Segmented waterfalls can be a well-liked tourist destination for those who enjoy the outdoors, and they can provide vital habitats for many different plant and animal species.

Tiered Waterfall:

A tiered waterfall is a type of waterfall that consists of multiple distinct levels or tiers, with water cascading over each level as it descends a cliff or rock face. The levels or tiers of a tiered waterfall can be relatively uniform in size, or they can vary in height and width.

Tiered waterfalls are often created by a river or stream that flows over a series of steep drops or cliffs, creating a cascading effect. The size and number of tiers can vary widely, with some tiered waterfalls having just a few levels, while others may have dozens of tiers or more.

The Iguazu Falls, which are located on the border of Argentina and Brazil, is one prominent example of a tiered waterfall. Over 270 different cascades combine to form this waterfall's spectacular display of mist and torrents. Another illustration is the three-tiered, 215-foot-tall Taughannock Falls in New York.

Tiered waterfalls can be a well-liked tourist destination and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, and they can support a wide range of plant and animal species.

DIY waterfalls

Fan Waterfall:

This kind of waterfall is frequently distinguished by a broad flow of water that spreads out in the shape of a fan as it tumbles down a cliff or rock face.

Numerous natural processes, like erosion, faulting, and the presence of several water channels, can result in fan waterfalls.

The Bridal Veil Fall in Yosemite National Park in California, which drops 620 feet and forms a misty fan-shaped pattern as it falls, is one well-known example of a fan waterfall. Toketee Falls in Oregon, which has a two-tiered fan cascade with a total plunge of 113 feet, is another illustration.

Naturalistic waterfalls mimicking nature are very popular selection for landscape water features!

5 Tips for Waterfall Design and Construction

  1. One of the most important design considerations for any multi-level or basin water feature is the consideration of Shut-Down-Rise (SDR), which is an industry expression referring to water displacement. When a multi-level water feature activates, water volume is pumped from the lower catch basin to the upper portions of the water feature, which will cause the operating water level in the lower catch basin to drop below its static (non-operating) level. The SDR of a water feature is calculated by dividing the difference in upper water volume needed (from static to operating stage) by the area of the lower catch basin. SDR may have an impact on the proper operation of water feature components like water level control, overflow, fittings, and lighting. So how does one calculate the upper water volume needed? That is a topic for another in-depth post coming soon!

  2. My recommended minimum design flow rate for naturalistic outdoor waterfalls or creek runnels is 20 GPM per linear foot of width. While minimal flow may reflect visual flow "around" rocks, more flow can result in some aeration or cascading effect over the same rocks, and too much flow can simply flood over the rocks with not much visible attraction at all.

  3. Be careful with sharp turns (> 45 degrees) and steep grades (> 10%) in runnels. If a turn is too sharp or the grade is too steep, there is a chance that some of the water may splash out or breach the runnel berm. These parameters should be addressed as a proactive measure, as they can be labor-intensive to correct later when testing fails.

  4. When an area widens out, the water flow velocity slows down, resulting in what can appear to be little or no flow, which is generally undesirable. To remedy this, simply place a few discharge fittings (such as eyeball sweeps) aimed upward at about 45 degrees and a few inches upstream of some protruding rocks or other structures in the waterway. This will help to create some visual water movement.

  5. Test the water flow and make any necessary adjustments in rock size, rock or structure placement, path configuration, primary flow rate, and/or additional flow at specific areas as needed. After the water feature is tested successfully to achieve the desired aesthetic and is proven waterproof, waterway stones can be grouted in place, and decorative elements such as plants or other final touches can be added.

Related Blog Articles:

Water Feature Water Supply

How to Prevent Excessive Splash


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Table of Contents
  1. Introduction to Natural Waterfalls
  2. What are the basic types of natural waterfalls?
    1. Plunge Waterfall:
    2. Horsetail Waterfall:
    3. Cataract Waterfall:
    4. Multi-step Waterfall:
    5. Cascade Waterfall:
    6. Segmented Waterfall:
    7. Tiered Waterfall:
    8. Fan Waterfall:
  3. 5 Tips for Waterfall Design and Construction