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 database.


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 recommended title.
  • 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 given time.

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.


4WD - Though it might not necessarily be required, it is recommended that a high clearance vehicle is used to reach the waterfall in question.

Roadside - When this icon is displayed, the waterfall is adjacent to a road and requires little to no effort to view

Dayhike - 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.

Backpack - 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.

Bushwhack - 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 rating.

Watercraft - 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.


Easy - 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.

Moderate - 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.

Difficult - Assume on long distance hiking, steep grades, moderate to thick bushwhacking, dangerous terrain, steep drop offs nearby and crumbly, unstable ground.

Not 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 nearby.

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 Pacific Northwest". 

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 as follows.

Visual Magnitude

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 (IWC)

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 as follows:

Visual Magnitude:
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.

Surrounding Development:
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).

Subjective Score:
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 as follows:

  • 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 total drop.
  • Num. Drops - The total number of tiers to the waterfall.
  • AVG. Width - The average width of the waterfall, in feet.
  • 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 distance.
  • 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 entire width.

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 of bedrocks.

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, Runoff, Other.
  • 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 to browse.

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 time permits.

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.





Naming Information

The Icons

Rating System


Physical Makeup

Mapping and Directions

Additional Resources

Posting Comments

Frequently Asked Questions







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