The Northwest Waterfall Database is intended to function
as a reference for the known waterfalls of the Pacific
Northwest. Much of the information presented here
is universal, but some is specific to this site, used
for both inventorying purposes and to objectively provide
a method of comparison between the many waterfalls in
the region. This page will provide visitors with a crash
course on how to interprete the data presented in the
The Northwest Waterfall Survey uses geographical coordinates
and ID numbers to uniquely identify a given waterfall,
but providing a name is the easiest way to reference
a waterfall. The NWS Database uses five conventions
for denoting the name of a waterfall:
- OFFICIAL NAME - The
name is recognized by the USGS, National Park Serivce,
National Fish and Wildlife Service, or a similar governing
body (also including city, county, state) where presidence
has been set in usage.
- HISTORICAL NAME -
A name one time recognized through common use or by
an aformentioned administrative body. Where
two or more names have been used in the past, the
oldest takes precidence unless a second name has a
more established usage. If a feature with this
designation is officially recognized under a different
name by the USGS, the Historical name is usually over-ridden.
- PROPOSED NAME - This
is a designation for a name of a waterfall at the
suggestion of the Northwest Waterfall Survey.
The name has not been officially adopted, but is the
- ADOPTED NAME - This
is a designation for a name of a waterfall that is
in common use by the outdoor recreation community,
but is neither officially recognized nor viewed as
entirely appropriate for official designation.
Such names usually stem from reference in guidebooks.
- UNOFFICIAL NAME -
This is a designation for a working title of a waterfall,
used simply for reference purposes. Waterfalls
with this naming convention may change names at any
These designations can be found below the "History
and Naming Information" header in that section
of the page outlining each entry to the database.
At the top of the page for an entry to the database
are several icons, designed to be used as a quick reference
for certain aspects of a waterfall. There will
be no more than one icon from the Access and Difficulty
categories, but any or all of the remaining icons may
appear for any given entry.
- Though it might not necessarily be required,
it is recommended that a high clearance vehicle
is used to reach the waterfall in question.
- When this icon is displayed, the waterfall is
adjacent to a road and requires little to no effort
- Visiting a waterfall with this icon displayed
requires a short to moderate hike. Distances
will vary, which will be reflected in difficulty.
No hikes longer than 10 miles will have this designation.
- Visiting a waterfall with this icon displayed
requires a lengthy hike where camping may be required
to successfully reach the destination. No
limit to the length of hike necessary.
- Off trail travel is necessary to visit a waterfall
with this designation. Distance isn't a
factor in the method of access, but will be reflected
in the difficulty. Lengthy bushwhacks will
almost always generate a moderate to difficult
- Viewing a waterfall with this designation requires
a watercraft of some sort. Details will
usually be provided under the access information
under each entry in the database.
- Accessing a waterfall with this designation
requires little to no effort. If walking
is necessary, a well graded trail is provided.
Usually not over a mile from the road.
- Accessing a waterfall with this designation
entails a noticably level of exertion. Moderately
steep trails, light to moderate underbrush and
lack of safety barriers may be present.
- Assume on long distance hiking, steep grades,
moderate to thick bushwhacking, dangerous terrain,
steep drop offs nearby and crumbly, unstable ground.
Recommended - Entries with this icon are
discouraged from being visited due to dangerous
terrain, precarious viewpoints, swift stream fords
and travel not suitable for most.
Swimming hole present, or
Viewpoints for entries with
this icon are accessible via barrier free methods,
such as paved or well graded gravel paths or boardwalks.
This icon will only appear
when the waterfall in question is known to be
commonly kayaked, rather than when the waterfall
is known to have been run.
Perhaps the most difficult task when it comes to cataloging
waterfalls is how to fairly quantify and compare any
given waterfall with another. There have been
many attempts over the years at creating systems which
would effectively rate waterfalls based on their aesthetics,
accessibility, volume, quaintness, or whatever else
characteristic could be identified.
Over the nearly 10 years that this website has been
online (in some form or another), many different systems
have been used to rate the waterfalls featured.
Initially, a 1-5 star system was used, similar to that
in Greg Plumb's "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the
Later a 1-10 point system was adopted due to the simple
difficulty of catagorizing the vast variety of waterfalls
into a 5 point system. This 10-point system was
further expanded to represent both a peak streamflow
rating and a low-volume rating.
While this system worked well enough, it was still
hindered by the simple fact that there is only so much
room to maneuver in a 10-point system. Two waterfalls
may end up getting the same rating even though one may
be notably better than the other. Further, one
man's favorite may be another's least.
So, to put an end to this issue once and for all, a
rating scale was developed using as much quantifiable
data as possible to try to provide an objective rating
without the influence of personal favor. This
system uses three primary sources of data and is constructed
In the 3rd Edition of "Waterfall Lover's Guide
to the Pacific Northwest", Greg Plumb adopted a
system to measure the visual impact of a waterfall which
he termed Visual Magnitude. This system uses a
logarithmic scale of 10, based on the waterfall's height,
width, volume and slope. The resulting figures
render a decent method of comparison between any two
waterfalls, despite any and all differences in size
or volume. Each increase of 10 in magnitude indicates
a doubling of the impressiveness of the waterfall.
For example, a waterfall with a rating of 90 is twice
as impressive as a rating of 80, and a rating of 100
is four times as impressive as a rating of 80. Taller
waterfalls, and waterfalls with a higher volume will
have a higher Visual Magnitude rating. Low volume waterfalls,
or waterfalls with a shallow slope, on the other hand,
have a lower rating, because they don't have as much
force. This is the first figure displayed in the
"RATINGS" box at the top right of each entry
in the database.
International Waterfall Classification System
A second method of measure that is used in this database
is one coined by Richard Beisel Jr in 2002. This system
uses a natural logarithm of the average volume of water
present in a waterfall to come up with a rating on a
1-10 scale, then rounds it up to the nearest whole number
to achieve the class the waterfall falls into.
The IWC Rating is listed first, followed by the Class category
the waterfall is assigned to, within parenthesis (for
example: 4.35 (Class 5)). This system rewards high-volume
waterfalls, and waterfalls with a shallower slope over
more vertical waterfalls, because there is more square
acreage to low-gradient waterfalls and hence more volume
in the waterfall, and is best used to compare waterfalls
based on volume rather than height or stature.
This is the second figure displayed in the "RATINGS"
box at the top right of each entry in the database. As an editorial afternote, I find this system to be largely flawed because it awards too little influence to percieved impact and too much influence to run and hence will skew favorably towards rapids and cascades over vertical waterfalls.
The NWS Rating System
In attempting to identify a fair way to rate waterfalls
against one another, it was determined that both these
systems have shortcomings in certain areas and excel
in others. To solve that issue, the Northwest
Waterfall Survey Rating System was developed.
It uses both of the above ratings as a weighted percentage
of a final score, as well as four additional variables,
then grades the final score on a curve based on the
highest and lowest possible scores. This allows
a 1-100 point system to be employeed, and breaks down
Accounts for 50% of the score, maximum number of points awarded with a Magnitude of 80 or higher.
Accounts for only 10% of the score due to its flawed weighting of large volume waterfalls.
Accounts for 10% of the score, up to 10 points. More points awarded for fewer visual obstructions when viewing the waterfall.
Consistency of Streamflow:
Accounts for 10% of the score, up to 10 points. More points awarded for less substantial of a fluctuation in the volume of the stream as seasons change.
Accounts for 10% of the score, up to 10 points. More points awarded for less visual intrusion of man-made structures of any kind (includes trails, roads, bridges, etc).
Accounts for 10% of the score, up to 10 points. This is used primarily to balance out ratings for waterfalls which we feel are inaccurately represented. Most of the time this will reflect a general alignment of the legacy 10-point rating system from the previous incarnation of this website.
As stated above, the total score based on these variables
is not displayed as the final score, but it is rather
graded on a curve based on the highest and lowest scores
possible. The grading may periodically change,
and should you notice a number either over 100 or a negative number, please let us know so we can adjust the scoring.
Below the Ratings box a thumbnail of a photograph of
each waterfall is displayed where available. To
conserve space on the main page, only one thumbnail
will be visible when multiple pictures are present.
If more than one picture is associated with an entry
in the database, the picture randomly alternates.
Clicking on the picture will bring up the fullsize image
on another page, along with thumbnails of all the available
pictures, photography tips and information about purchasing
prints of the pictures in the database.
The next table down is the main reference outlining
the stature and significance of each entry in the database.
There are several rows detailing different aspects of
the dimensions of each entry. The breakdown is
- Height - The total drop of the waterfall, in feet.
- Tallest Drop - The tallest drop of the waterfall,
where more than one tier is present, in feet.
When there is only one drop, this will reflect the
- Num. Drops - The total number of tiers to the waterfall.
- AVG. Width - The average width of the waterfall,
- Pitch - The angle at which the waterfall drops -
vertical being 90 degrees and flat, placid river being
0 degrees. This number represents the average
slope of the actual face of the falling water, not
the average slope of the formation based on the linear
- Run - The linear distance between the crest and
base of the waterfall, in feet (usually approximated).
- Primary Form - The most obvious or prevelant form
the waterfall takes as it descends. Waterfalls
often have characteristics of two or three categories,
so the most identifiable is usually used, with rare
exception. Categories are:
A waterfall in a Block form occurs over a wide
breadth of the stream. The waterfall must be wider
than it is tall. A waterfall with this form does
not have to be a solid sheet of water across it's
A waterfall of a Cascade form descends over, gradually
sloping rocks, a series of small steps in quick
succession, or a rugged sloping surface of some
kind. Cascades can be both gradual and steep.
Curtain waterfalls occur along a wide breadth
of stream where the falls must be taller than
it is wide. A waterfallof this form often becomes
narrower in low discharge periods.
Waterfalls of a Fan form occur when the breadth
of the water in the waterfall increases during
it's decent, causing the base of the falls to
appear much wider than the top of the falls.
Horsetail waterfalls are characterized by the
constant or semi-constant contact the water maintains
with the bedrock as it falls. Horsetail waterfalls
can be almost vertical, as well as very gradual.
The classic and overly cliched waterfall form,
where the water drops vertically, losing most,
or all contact with the rock face. This waterfall
form has also been referred to asa "Cataract"
and a "Vertical" form waterfall.
Punchbowl waterfalls, coined from the famous Punch
Bowl Falls in Oregon, occur where the stream is
constricted to a narrow breadth and is forcefully
shot outward and downward into a large pool.
Segmented waterfalls occur where the stream is
broken into two or more channels before descending
over the cliff, causing multiple falls to occur
side by side.
Similar to a cascade, a Slide type waterfall descends
a smooth, gradual bedrock surface. Slide waterfalls
maintain constant contact with the bedrock, and
are often associated with the granitic family
Tiered waterfalls are characterized by multiple
distinct drops in relatively close succession
to one another. Whether or not a waterfall with
two visible drops counts as a tiered waterfall
is up to the beholder. I typically require tiers
to be visible together and within a given distance
of each other.
- Watershed - The predominent drainage system the
watercourse which each entry in the database occurs
along feeds into.
- Stream - The name (if any) of the watercourse which
each entry in the database occurs along. When
not named, usually left blank.
- AVG. Volume - An estimate of the average streamflow
of the watercourse at the waterfall in question, in
terms of cubic feet per second.
- Source - A general classification for the most obvious
source of water feeding the waterfall in question
to help identify streamflow consistency. Will
be one of the following: Glacier, Lake, Springs, Irrigation,
- Seasonality - Whether the stream will flow all year
or not (yes / no).
- Best Flows - General estimate of the periods when
the waterfall will be most boisterous.
Listed below the History and Naming section is a brief
descriptive of how to access the waterfall in question,
along with its Latitude and Longitude, the Elevation
(rough) of the top of the waterfall, and the name of
the USGS 7 1/2" Topographic Quadrangle that the
waterfall occurs within, for mapping purposes.
One of the major new features of this site is the addition
of maps to each entry in the database. Those familiar
with the Google Maps interface will understand how to
use these maps. Click and drag the map to pan,
use the zoom slider on the top left corner to move in
and out, and toggle between road maps and aerial photography
with the buttons on the top right. Eventually
we hope to add Topographic maps as well. The waterfall
in question is shown on the map as the opaque icon in
the center of the map. The 10 closest waterfalls
are also shown as transparent icons (see below).
Immediately below the map for the waterfall in question
is a list of methods to search for additional waterfalls
in the vicinity. The first column is a list of
the 10 closest waterfalls which fall within a radius
of 10 miles (if applicable). These 10 entries
are also displayed on the maps above as transparent
icons. Clicking on the icon will open a dialog
box with a link to its entry in the database.
To the right of this list are several other methods
for expanding the search further out. Options
are available to find waterfalls in the same County,
Region, State and Watershed. Additionally, one
may also use the drop-down box to broaden or narrow
the radius of search up to 25 miles and down to as little
as 1/4 mile to find other nearby entries.
Below the Physical Makeup box on the right side of
the page are several links to outside resources that
may be deemed relevant. Options are available
to search for more information on the waterfall in question
using Google and on the World Waterfall Database, to
find Geocaches in the vicinity, and to locate additional
pictures on the various major photo sharing websites
(Flickr, Pbase, Smugmug and Webshots). Also found
are links to post to Del.icio.us, Digg, Facebook, Stumble
Upon and Google Bookmarks.
Finally, at the bottom of each page is another new
feature - an area where users can leave comments about
entries in the database. To combat spam and control
irrelevant information, all user comments are moderated
and must be approved by the NWS before they will be
posted. Users are encouraged to share their experiences
visiting the waterfall in question - trail and road
conditions or geologic changes to the area are especially
encouraged. We ask that you not double post, and
please don't contact the NWS if your comment isn't approved.
NWS reserves the right to restrict what may be posted
and to revoke the privilage of posting user comments
at any time. Those who abuse this feature will
be blocked from accessing this website indefinitely.
Q: The pictures on your website
don't show up in my browser. What's wrong?
A: The pictures and graphics displayed on this website
do work. If you are running an Internet Security
Program that utilizes a Firewall, namely Norton Internet
Security, McAfee Security Suite, or Zone Alarm Firewall,
these programs have known issues with allowing this
website to properly load its images, and the programs
need to be directed to allow this site to download images.
You'll need to open the Firewall / Antivirus / Security
program(s) and add www.waterfallsnorthwest.com to the
list of "allowed" or "safe" sites
Q: The picture for a certain waterfall
doesn't appear or is broken.
A: There may be a broken link here and there, or a typo
in the filepath of a picture to be displayed on a given
page. If you see a broken image, please report it here.
Q: Why don't you have pictures
for all the waterfalls?
A: The Northwest Waterfall Survey is an undertaking of
a single individual, Bryan Swan, and is run as a personal
project. Because this project does not net any
profit, full time dedication is not feasable, so it
is only possible to visit and photograph waterfalls
when not working a day job.
Q: I have a picture of a waterfall
you don't have pictures of, can I have it displayed
on your site?
A: Yes, but not yet. The website and database have been redesigned to accomodate user submitted pictures, but at this point, not everything is in place to display the pictures. So, you are more than welcome to send pictures in, but they may not be displayed for some time. Additionally, not all picutres which are submitted will be used, editorial discression will be employeed to choose which submissions are displayed. If I have visited the waterfall and already have photos online, user submitted pictures will usually be rejected.
Q: Why don't you have information
for all the waterfalls in the database?
A: Because the database is constantly growing, it is difficult
to keep up on everything that needs to be changed.
As stated above, full time administration is not possible
because the Survey is run as a personal project when
Q: Why do you have so few waterfalls
in Idaho listed?
A: The Northwest Waterfall Survey is currently based out
of Bellevue, Washington. Idaho is simply too far
out of the way to allow for frequent surveys and field
scouting. The Idaho database is in the process
of being greatly expanded, and NWS hopes to make several trips to areas north and east of Spokane in the next couple years,
which will provide greatly increased information about
the waterfalls in Idaho. However, with gas prices rising as they are, this will be a slow process.