I thought about asking this question on English Language and Usage, but decided not to because I want answers from people who are familiar with cascades and waterfalls in reality, not just in the abstract. Moreover, the definitions aren't very helpful.

From The Oxford English Dictionary, a cascade is:

Usually, a small waterfall; esp. one of a series of small falls, formed by water in its descent over rocks, or in the artificial works of the kind introduced in landscape gardening.

And from the OED, a waterfall is:

A cascade of water falling from a height, formed when a river or stream flows over a precipice or ledge; (also) a garden water feature resembling this.

Much of my hiking has been done in the Sierra, especially Yosemite, where waterfalls and cascades of every size abound. I have always thought of a waterfall as water that flows over a lip and then falls freely. And a cascade as water that may flow quite steeply downhill but remains in contact with the underlying rock or streambed. I would never describe Nevada Falls, for example as a cascade, nor would I describe the cascades that flow over the bare granite at roughly the 8,000 foot level of Yosemite Creek as waterfalls.

Is there a difference between the two in TGO in other parts of the world, or have I made up a distinction that is not commonly used in TGO?


2 Answers 2


Example of both enter image description here

Note in the high background, that is a waterfall. In the foreground is the cascade. One part fills before the other does.

The picture below shows a cascade.

Another example of just a cascade

Key difference between the two: in a waterfall, water moves only downward, while in a cascade, it moves both downward and onward, like stairs


Waterfall-- Water falls vertically and without obstruction from a distinct feature, generally more than 1 m high and often across the full channel width

Cascade-- Fast flow with a smooth boundary and turbulent flow over boulders or bedrock. Flow is in contact with the substrate and exhibits upstream convergence and downstream divergence

ECOSPHERE “Fluvial biotopes influence macroinvertebrate biodiversity in South-East Asian tropical streams”December 2016 v Article e01479

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