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11 Different Types of Waterfalls

An aerial view of a waterfalls.

There is no doubt in saying that the world has blessed in many glorious ways in terms of natural beauty. From evergreen valleys, tremendously hefty mountains, vibrant flora, to the never-ending deep blue seas, there is a hidden treasure in every corner of the world. One of the greatest gifts presented by nature would be waterfalls. The fascinating thing about these waterfalls is that there are no two waterfalls that have the same look. Moreover, even if a certain waterfall is the same type, there will be differences.

Whether you look into the world-famous, the largest, or the most beautiful waterfalls, every waterfall will give the viewer a different kind of experience. With the constant sound of water falling onto hard rocks, these sounds are like music to many ears while others feel comforted.

Although there are many kinds of waterfalls located around the world, there are two basic ways to classify a waterfall. One of the ways is by grouping or classifying according to its shape. The other way is by classifying it according to its volume. Therefore, as a member of the world, it is our responsibility to be aware of the different types of waterfalls.

Geometrical Classification

Plunge Waterfalls

A view of Rainbow Falls in Hilo.

The definition of a plunge waterfall would be a waterfall that falls vertically without making any contact with the underlying cliff face. Plunge waterfalls are also popularly known for their forceful fall and their ability to produce lots of water spray.

The information provided to us by various “how are waterfalls formed” articles suggest that waterfalls that fall into this category have been around for quite a long time. Most of the time, plunge waterfalls have the ability to break the underside part of a cliff with its force fall which creates caves or alcoves under the lip of the waterfall. These are the waterfalls that have a small area behind the waterfall where people typically go when visiting this type of waterfall.

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The famous examples of plunge waterfalls would be the Bridal Veil Falls (this is a part of the Niagara Falls), Rainbow Falls in Hilo, Steinsdalsfossen Falls, Mangawhero Falls, Snoqualmie Falls, and Nobe Young Falls.

Horsetail Falls

A view of the Horsetail falls in Yosemite.

Waterfalls that are classified as being horsetail falls are the types that fan out at their drop on a steep slope but they have contact with the underlying cliff face. With this kind of classification, it is normal to wonder how these waterfalls may differ from cascades or fan-shaped falls. As the name of the waterfall classification suggests, this waterfall was given this name because the shape of it strongly resembled the shape of a horse’s tail.

When considering the formation process of this waterfall, it is determined that a horsetail waterfall is younger than plunge waterfalls. The layer of hard rock that supports the waterfall is so sloped that it gives an illusion of the waterfall being more than just a fan or a cascade shape.

The famous examples of horsetail waterfalls would be Sanddalsfossen Falls, Manawaiopuna Falls, and Nevada Falls.

Fan Falls

A view of one of the fan falls of the world.

Fall waterfalls are very similar to horsetail waterfalls. The common characteristic that makes both these types of waterfalls similar would be how the water from this waterfall drops. It drops in a steep slope direction while the water keeps on touching the underlying cliff.

The main difference between the two types of waterfalls would be that the shape of this kind of waterfall is closer to the shape of a fan than a horsetail. The fan shape resembles the fan used by Asian women when they want to fan themselves during hot days, except the orientation of the waterfall will be flipped upside down, not how it is typically held by the majority.

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Fan waterfalls are more trapezoidal-shaped than a horsetail fall. Moreover, the velocity of the water falling down the slope is different compared to the horsetail. Since the waterfall is fanned out at its base, it does not fall as strongly as a horsetail fall would.

The famous examples of fan waterfalls would be Rustic Falls, Mokau Falls, Lower Falls or Enfield Falls, Union Falls, Fantail Falls, and Friaren Falls.

Punchbowl Falls

A view of the Punchbowl falls in Oregon.

A punchbowl waterfall has a large and wide catch pool at the base of the waterfall. This is the kind of waterfall that is considered as being the most peaceful. This is the kind of waterfall where individuals commonly go for swimming. Although there are many types of punchbowl waterfalls located around the world and people do go swimming in them, it is important to keep a check on the surrounding waters as they can be dangerous.

The reason why these types of waterfalls are considered as being extremely tranquil is that the water distance from the waterfall is short. This means no loud or aggressive sounds of water falling. However, just because the distance does not seem very much, it is not safe to jump into the pool from the cliff. There have been incidents when people have risked their lives (drowned or died) because of doing so. This is why, before swimming in the pool, it is important to survey it thoroughly.

The famous examples of punchbowl waterfalls would be Punch Bowl Falls, Wailua Falls, Cedar Creek Falls, and Tawhai Falls.

Block Waterfalls

A view of the massive Victoria falls.

Block waterfalls, also referred to as rectangle waterfalls, are the kind of waterfalls that have the “classic” waterfall appearance. In other words, these are the type of waterfalls that adopt a rectangular shape as they fall.

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The underlying cliff face of this waterfall is commonly at a vertical standing. Most of the time, the waterfalls that are in this category are taller instead of being wider (just like how a rectangle is). The wideness of the waterfall solely depends on the river the fall is falling into, if the river is wide, the waterfall will be wide causing the rectangle to be wide. Moreover, no matter how tall a block waterfall gets, it retains its classic block appearance.

The famous examples of a block waterfall would be Shifen Waterfall, Skogafloss Falls, Victoria Falls, Horseshoe Falls (this is a part of the Niagara Falls), Cave Falls, and Raukawa Falls.

Tiered Falls

A close look at a multiple tiered waterfall.

As the name suggests, a tiered waterfall is one that has more than one vertical leap or tier. But, these tiers are close together, most of the time, so they look like one synchronized fall. This certainly does not mean that all waterfalls in this category have tiers that are close together because there are a few that have spread-out tears.

These waterfalls fall off different underlying rocks in a tiered manner. Each fall –despite its size- has its own small pool as well. The taller the waterfall is the number of tiers it will have. On the other hand, if the waterfall is a smaller sized fall, the number of tiers will lessen. Keep in mind; although there are small pools in this waterfall, they are not safe to swim in.

The famous examples of tiered waterfalls would be Sentinel Falls, Gullfloss Falls (this waterfall has pairs of falls that fall at a 90-degree angle away from each other), Sutherland Falls, and Mitchell Falls.

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Segmented Waterfall

A beautiful segmented waterfall.

A segmented waterfall is the one that has the water coming from the waterfall split up into two or more segments or threads. The reason why this waterfall is broken into different segments is because of an interrupting rock that may be in the middle of the watercourse, at the beginning or towards the ending.

Depending on the flow of the water, the waterfall may only be segmented into one waterfall but have small threads missing. However, on the other hand, if the water flow is heavy, the segments can be broken into smaller bits and they may not even merge towards the base of the waterfall. Sometimes, when the segmented waterfall has a fast flow, it hits the base hard which can be dangerous for someone to be standing or sitting there.

The famous examples of segmented waterfalls would be Waipunga Falls, Dinner Falls, Glanni Falls, Burgess Falls, Seven Sisters, and Conwy Falls.


A view of a waterfall with cascade tiers.

A cascade waterfall would be a waterfall that falls alongside a sloped surface, considering it as a guide. The water that falls from this waterfall has a gentle and slow fall as compared to other types of waterfalls. There are some beliefs that state how a cascade is a waterfall in its early stage which is why it moves slowly along the underlying rock layer. However, as the waterfall formation takes place and the waterfall emerges, it changes.

There are a few cascades that turn or break down into tiers, which is why they get confused as tiered waterfalls. However, the main difference between a cascade and tiered waterfall would be that the tiers in a cascade are very small and very subtle.

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The famous examples of a cascade would be Dip Falls, Tokopah Falls, Minaret Falls, and Chilnualna Falls (only the upper half section of it).

Chute Waterfall

A view of the Murchison chute waterfall.

A chute is a type of waterfall that has a forced water flow that has to go through a narrow channel that causes the water flow to become quite violent. This causes the pressure of the waterfall to be especially harsh at its base. These waterfalls are considered as being one of the most rapid falls along with being the messiest, noisiest, and frothiest as the water makes its way out of the narrow channel.

There are a few waterfalls that have a little chute action going on in them, such as a punchbowl. The Punchbowl Falls in Oregon has a narrow channel in the beginning but slowly adapts the shape of a punchbowl fall.

The famous examples of a chute waterfall would be the Barnafoss Falls and the Murchison Falls.

Slide Falls

Any waterfall that has a low angle fall of water on the slope at a low speed will be considered a slide waterfall. Sometimes, these slide falls may be a little more rapid, but most of the time; these waterfalls have interesting ways of pouring out water.

When it comes to distinguishing a slide waterfall, it is important to know that it can be quite problematic to assign a waterfall with this title. Certain questions like “how much should the slope of the fall be to fall under this category?” and other such related questions arise. To fully understand what a slide waterfall is, it is recommended to perform proper research.

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The famous examples of a slide waterfall would be Waterwheel Falls, LeConte Falls, Lion Slide Falls, and Pywiack Falls.

Ribbon Waterfall

A view of the White ribbon waterfall.

Just as the name suggests, a ribbon waterfall is a type of waterfall that is very slim and has a narrow stream. The drop in this waterfall is very long which is why it is called a ribbon fall.

Most of the time, these ribbon falls are short-lived seasonal falls or ephemeral falls, and there are many waterfalls that fall under this category. Although there are a few waterfalls that are consistent ribbon waterfalls, they do not usually last the entire year.

The famous examples of a ribbon waterfall would be Ribbon Falls, Pelverata Falls, Catarata de Yumbilla Falls, Manoa Falls, and Fairy Falls.

Waterfall Volume Classification

Waterfall falling from small cliff.

Apart from being subjective and giving a waterfall a name according to its geometrical shape, there are a few scientific approaches that you can take which can help determine the type of waterfall. These approaches mainly consist of seeing how much water is currently present in the drop of the waterfall, which makes it easier to distinguish and label.

The Beisel Waterfall Classification System is what helps determine the volume present in the waterfall.

3 Must-Visit Waterfalls in the World

1. Niagara Falls, Ontario and New York

A view of Niagara Falls with rainbow.

If you want to witness a true miracle on Earth, then the best place for you to go to would be the Niagara Falls. The reason why it is considered a miracle on Earth is because this magnificent fall stretches into two different countries, Canada and the United States. The falls stand tall at 167 feet or 99 meters, but its width seems like a never-ending stretch. While the Canada side of this falls is very touristy and the perfect place to spend the weekend, the American side is appreciated for its beautiful view. Despite what side you are standing on, this falls is worth the visit.

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The best time to visit the Niagara Falls would be when the skies are blue so you can witness the gorgeous rainbow. Go between May to September. However, be prepared for the chilly winds to hit as they can leave you feeling quite cold.

2. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and Zambia

An aerial view of the massive Victoria Falls.

There is no surprise in the fact that one of the world’s most famous waterfalls has made it to this list. The extraordinary Victoria Falls is located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Victoria Falls stands at a tall height of 355 feet or 107 meters and it is quite wide. Even though this fall is not the tallest falls in the world, it is considered as being the tallest because of how rapidly the waterfalls from the top to the bottom of the falls. For tourists, the Victoria Falls has become an iconic place to visit in Africa because of how special the experience becomes.

The best time to visit these falls would be at any time of the year and because of this reason, this falls is even more popular. Although the summers can be very hot and dry, if you want to see this waterfall under a clear sky, go between March and August.

3. Angel Falls, Venezuela

A view of Angel Falls in Venezuela.

Standing tall and proud at an impressive height of 3,212 feet or 979 meters, the Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the entire world. Because of this reason, tourists that visit Venezuela have to write this waterfall in this “to-do list.” Apart from being recognized by its astounding height, the Angel Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apparently, it was discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh when he was searching for El Dorado (a city). Since this fall is still quite isolated, it has become even more of a tourist location.

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The best time to visit Angels Falls will be from June to December. The reason is that during this time, the river trips take place and the water levels are not too high. Since they are not too high, being close to the waterfall is not too dangerous, plus it has a beautiful view during this time. If you go during the beginning months of the year, you may not be able to go on the river trip.


This is what you need to know about the different types of waterfalls and the top 3 must-visit falls in the world. Waterfalls are a gift of nature and they should be embraced to the fullest! Plus, who wouldn’t want to witness clean water falling from an unknown source?