Glossary Of Waterfall Terms
Compiled by members of the Western New York Waterfall Survey

Copyright 2006 By Scott A. Ensminger. Please contact me at falzguy@verizon.net if you would like to use all or any part of it.

   The following glossary of waterfall terms is based on a glossary from "A Waterfall Guide To Letchworth State Park" by Scott A. Ensminger and Douglas K. Bassett. Published in 1996 by the Glen Iris Inn. Additions and suggestions are welcomed.

For pictures of waterfall types go to WorldWaterfalls.com, Waterfall Types.

This page was last updated on July 05, 2006


"A" Shaped Waterfall A waterfall whose crest width is one third or less of its base width. Also called a Fan Waterfall
BASE The point at the bottom of a waterfall where the stream ends its descent.
BASE LINE or WIDTH The distance from one stream bank to the other along the base of a waterfall.
BREAK A horizontal interruption in the drop of a waterfall.
BRINK See Crest.
CASCADE The sudden descent of a stream primarily over a very steep slope in its stream bed. Characterized by the stream rushing down the slope somewhat smoothly or in a series of small individual drops, or any combination of these. The steepness of the descent is greater than that of rapids, but less than that of a horsetail falls. A cascade must have a minimum drop of five (5) vertical feet.
CASCADING When a stream descends a very steep rock face somewhat smoothly or in a series of small individual drops, or any combination of these.
CATARACT The descent of a very large volume of water over any combination of rapids, cascades, and falls, often through a narrow gorge.
CANYON A very wide and deep chasm with sides comprised of a series of cliffs, carved by a river.
CHUTE A very steep cascade that is confined to a narrow channel.
CLASSICAL WATERFALL A waterfall whose height is roughly equal its crest width. Both of the following must be true: (1) The height divided by 2 is smaller than the crest width. (2) The height times 1.5 is equal to or is larger than the crest width.
COMPLEX WATERFALL A single waterfall comprised of several different segments, such as overhanging, horsetail, terraced and cascading. The stream may divide into segments during its descent of the rock face, or the segments may occur side by side along the crest of a waterfall.
CREST The point at the top of a waterfall where the stream first begins its descent.
CREST LINE or WIDTH The distance from one stream bank to the other along the crest of a waterfall.
CURTAIN WATERFALL A waterfall whose height is notably smaller than its crest width. The following must be true: The height times 1.5 is smaller than the crest width.
DROP A single vertical, or very near vertical, fall of water. Also the vertical distance from the crest to the base of a waterfall.
FACE The vertical surface of a waterfall found between its crest and its base.
FACE ORIENTATION The compass direction toward which the stream is flowing as it passes over the crest of a waterfall.
FALLS The sudden descent of a stream primarily over a vertical or extremely steep section of its stream bed. Characterized by the stream dropping freely through the air, or very nearly so, during its descent. It must have a drop of at least five (5) vertical feet.
FAN WATERFALL A waterfall whose crest width is one third or less of its base width.
FLAT WATER A very calm and level section of a stream. The water has very little current.
FLUME See Chute.
FOOT See Base.
FOSSIL WATERFALL See Historic Waterfall.
FUNNEL WATERFALL A waterfall whose crest width is over three (3) times its base width.
GLEN A long narrow valley, often U-shaped with small cliffs on the sides, carved by a stream. A small gorge.
GORGE A narrow, very deep canyon with preciptous rocky sides usually carved by a river.
GULLY A small long and narrow ravine caused by the erosion of a stream.
HEADWATERS Small streams that make up the source of a stream.
HEIGHT The vertical distance from the base to the crest of a waterfall.
HISTORIC FALLS The site where a waterfall once existed. The falls no longer exists because the stream has stopped flowing.
HORSETAIL FALLS A falls that descends a very nearly vertical rock face, maintaining some contact with it. A horsetail falls is much steeper than a cascade.
HORSESHOE CREST or WATERFALL A waterfall with a crest that is curved, or U shaped, in an upstream direction.
KNICKPOINT An abrupt change in steepness along a streams length. Often marked by a waterfall.
LEAP A single vertical, or very near vertical, fall of water.
MOUTH The point where a stream ends as it flows into another stream, or body of water.
OVERHANG WATERFALL A waterfall with a distinctly projecting or undercut crest, that creates an air space behind the falling water.
OVERLOOK A viewing area for a waterfall or a scenic area.
PLUNGE See Leap.
PLUNGE POOL A deeply eroded depression in the stream bed, found at the base of some waterfalls.
RAPIDS Any descent of a stream over a moderately steep slope in its stream bed. Characterized by swift moving water with violent choppy waves and whitewater. Also any vertical drop of less than five feet found along the course of a stream.
RAVINE A steep sided depression cut by a stream, smaller than a valley and larger than a gully.
RIBBON WATERFALL A waterfall whose height is notably greater than its crest width. The following must be true: The height divided by 2 is equal to or greater than the crest width.
RIFFLE Moderately swift water with ripples and small rolling waves caused by the slight increase in the steepness of, or an obstruction in, a stream bed.
ROCK FACE The vertical to very steep section of a stream bed that a waterfall descends. It is located between the crest and base of a waterfall, behind the falling water.
RUNOUT The horizontal distance from the crest to the base of a waterfall.
STREAM BED The bottom of a stream, or the channel in which it flows.
STREAM PROFILE A view of a stream's course from its headwaters to its mouth, showing the steepness of the descent.
TALUS A chaotic accumulation of large rocks at the base of a cliff or steep slope.
TERRACED WATERFALL A waterfall comprised of two or more distinct drops. Each drop is connected with the preceding drop by continuous whitewater, to form a single waterfall. Generally, all of the drops can be seen from a single vantage point.
TOTAL DROP or HEIGHT The total vertical distance, from the first crest to the last base, of a close series of waterfalls. The drop of rapids preceding the crest, between the crest and base, or following the base is also included, if they are considered part of the waterfall.
TWIN WATERFALLS Two waterfalls found side by side at the same point in a stream, whose crests are separated by an island.
VALLEY A broad area between hills or moutains that usually includes a stream.
WASHBOARDING When a stream descends a rock face in many small and rather evenly spaced drops.
WATERFALL Any sudden descent of a stream over a very steep slope or precipice in its stream bed. Characterized by the stream dropping vertically, or very nearly so. The water must drop a minimum of five feet to be considered a true waterfall. The term is collectively applied to three types: (1) cascades, (2) falls, and (3) cataracts.
WATERFALL SERIES Two or more distinct waterfalls occurring in succession along a stream. Each is separated from the other by a calm stretch of the stream. The waterfalls are not connected by whitewater, and generally cannot be seen from a single vantage point.
WHITEWATER Swift moving water, whose surface has become foamy and turbulent because of passing over or around rocks.

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