Skip to content

So you think you know something about waterfalls, do you? (5 photos)

This week, Back Roads Bill helps us connect with nature through waterfalls and you may be surprised by some of the information he shares

The colour changes are upon us and will nicely contrast landscape photos with the subject of waterfalls.  

In some senses, a waterfall is nature at its most rudimentary, a simple case of physics. It is the same gravity of a leaky tap or raindrop; we wonder about that falling water.

We need to first understand how falling water happens to captivate our outdoor spirituality. Dr. Larry Dyke, was contacted; Professor Emeritus, from Queen’s University, Department of Geology and Natural Resources Canada.

Any place a stream encounters either a contrast in resistance to erosion between rock types or a structural weakness is a potential site for a waterfall.

The Canadian Shield has countless possibilities manifest most commonly as faults (structural weakness) is generally very sound rock.

The faults are weak because there is usually a zone of fracturing and comminution caused by fault movement.

Glaciation will likely have already preferentially scoured such zones of weakness, followed by water flow to continue the erosion. This will give rise to sudden drops where water erosion is restrained and a waterfall is a result. 

So now we know the mechanics. What of the passion for moving water? Using various Google queries two Ontario and international websites were discovered, and the proponents contacted.

Waterfall Attraction

Mark Harris, is the blogger behind Waterfalls of Ontario. Started in 1999, this is the fifth version of this website and it's now mobile-friendly, so you can easily access it on the road using your smartphone or iPad.

He shared the following.

A few years ago I was contacted by Firefly books, the first book was released in 2003 and was one part guidebook, one part coffee table book.

The book kept selling, not at huge volumes, but at a constant demand. They ran out of stock and so we did some modifications and released the second book in 2011.

Shortly after, Facebook was really catching on, and so I started a group to support my website.

We are now close to 3,000 strong and there are now daily posts of photos, directions and questions about visiting waterfalls in Ontario. We have lots of members in Hamilton, which claims to be the 'Waterfall Capital of the World.' But we also have members from northern Ontario, where the waterfalls are often remote, but somehow people are able to get to them.

Waterfalls are the centrepieces of many hikes, whether it’s a long rugged hike through the bush or a short walk down a dead-end street in small towns and villages.

They have also allowed me to explore parts of the province that I otherwise wouldn’t have visited. I love the thrill of hearing the sound of the water on the rocks, whether it’s the thunder of a large spray-filled river or the trickle of a little woodland stream.

They serve as an excellent subject for photography, especially how they change from season to season.

Some people like to sit and relax next to waterfalls for hours. But I’m always too busy trying to get to the next one! I’ve identified over 500 in Ontario to date, but there are no doubt many more hidden off the beaten trail.

(I appreciate “…the next one!” comment.)

World of Waterfalls

Julie and Johnny Cheng, from Los Angeles, CA., say they love chasing waterfalls! Their passion for 'waterfalling' is so strong they travel the world looking for them and created a website to showcase their passion.

Chasing waterfalls recharges us and reconnects us with Nature. It also takes us to places we otherwise would never have considered before.

When we expanded our search for waterfalls (especially around the world), it forced us to see a side of most foreign lands that most people don't get to see.

They're genuine attractions (i.e. they're typically not "made for tourists"), we've shared them with locals where oftentimes there were few if any tourists around, and we learned a lot about the local environment and how people live with it.

No two waterfalls are the same so we never get tired of engaging in this activity.

How did they get started?

In an attempt for some stress relief from work and school, Julie bought a book about California waterfalls and we used it to visit the local ones around Los Angeles.

However, after visiting Yosemite, it opened our eyes to what was possible in California as well as the rest of the USA.

But after honeymooning in New Zealand, that really opened our eyes to the possibility of going around the world to chase waterfalls. We've never stopped since.

We feel like we've found the right passion to carry us through the rest of our lives while we're still able.

We even share it with friends and loved ones, and we even met total strangers who shared such experiences with us.

It just seemed to us that no matter what political affiliation, religious affiliation, where you came from, what race you are, etc., that all gets thrown out the window when we find we have this common ground in that we love waterfalls and want to spread the love.

Using waterfalls as the destination of various trips and excursions has changed their lives.

While the stress and drama of life in a big city and an increasingly competitive world persist, it's nice to know we have a means of getting away from it all.

Even people not in the big cities but have accessed falls (as well as other scenic features) are already "mellowed out" and proceed on a much slower pace of life.

Regardless of whether it's a local day trip on a weekend morning in the Los Angeles area or a multi-week getaway overseas to places most people only dream about, we always return from these trips and get back to reality with a new perspective on life as well as a healthier state of body and mind.

Classification of Waterfalls

Not all waterfalls have a straight drop that is for sure. And Julie and Johnny explained the waterfall classification most often used around the world with some local examples as the usual suspects.

A 'plunge' drops vertically usually without touching the underlying cliff face and there are not many of these.

Agawa Falls, north of Sault Ste. Marie is one of the highest and most dynamic waterfalls in northern Ontario, see my blog for directions on how to get to it.

'Horsetails' fan out as they drop into a steep slope but maintaining contact with the underlying cliff face and most northern Ontario waterfalls usually fall into this category. The name of this category derives from the fact that some might observe the shape of the waterfall under this circumstance resembles a horse's tail.

Not in our immediate area but east of Nipigon on Highway 11 you will see these along the Pijitawabik Palisades. And near Kirkland Lake, Highway 66 West, there is Teepee Canyon, see the description in the Discovering Wild Temiscaming hiking book (worth it the book and the falls).

'Fans' are quite similar to that of the horsetail variety. They share the common characteristic in that the waterfall drops and slides along a steep slope while consistently maintaining contact with the underlying cliff.

There is a beautiful small fan at the end of the very south end of Hearst Lake, along the Roosevelt Rd, 2 km south of Latchford (you will need a canoe or you can access via the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail, also in the reference book above. Magpie Falls, just off of Highway 17, near Wawa, is the same.

A 'punchbowl' describes the shape you get when you have a stream channelled into a narrow hanging gorge and shooting over a drop that results in a plunge pool resembling a punch bowl that you might see at a party. The Blue Lagoon, NE of Sudbury on the Kukagami Lake Rd, see this blog post for photos and direction.

Sometimes called 'block or rectangular waterfalls,' these are the types of waterfalls or what might be the classic shape of the waterfall.

Basically, you have a waterfall that resembles that of some rectangular shape. The underlying cliff face is usually a vertical wall. Sometimes waterfalls in this category end up being wider than their height.

There’s Pete’s Dam, just west of Temiskaming Shores on Highway 65 is like this along with High Falls in Timmins.

'Segmented' waterfalls involve the descending watercourse splitting up into two or more parallel segments or threads. Usually, the cause of the split is some protruding rock in the middle of the watercourse before or during the course of the waterfalling cascade.

Along the north and south Lady Evelyn River in the Temagami wilderness and Till Falls near Old Woman’s Bay on Lake Superior are good example locations; also the Sand River on Highway 17 within Lake Superior Provincial Park.

'Cascades' are common enough. These descend along a sloped surface.

From the standpoint of waterfall formation, the falls could be in the early phase of their evolution or the underlying hard-rock layer is sloped and water is moving along it.

Sometimes you get stepped formations if the individual tiers are too small to count as a tiered waterfall. The Talon Chutes on the Mattawa River is a good one to visit along with Chippewa Falls on Highway 17 just Northwest of the “Soo.”

'Chutes' are a watercourse forced into a narrow channel resulting in a violently pressurized ejection of water. You could argue these are more rapids than falls, but it's hard to tell when you have a noisy, frothy white water forcing its way through the narrow channel. The Eau Claire Gorge on your way to Mattawa is a good example and the free-flowing channel, the only outflow of Lake Nipissing, not dammed, is another.

'Tiered' waterfalls have more than one vertical leap or tier to them from the perspective of a singular vantage point. Onaping Falls on Highway 144, heading north out of Sudbury is an example (painted by A.Y. Jackson).

A 'ribbon' is a thin or ephemeral waterfall that has a very narrow stream but may fall over a long vertical drop resulting in its ribbon-like appearance.

Just east of Nipigon on Highway 11 you will see these along the steep cliff faces of the Pijitawabik Palisades.

Fall is giving us vibrant colours. When we see and hear moving water, we can feel a very real, often profound connection to the raw primal power of nature.

It affects all of our senses in a very real way; we are mesmerized by the sight and sound alright, but when the spray or mist touches you, well there’s nothing else like it (here is a challenge, find New Post Falls north of Smooth Rock Falls, a favourite and one of the finest).