Rating Waterfalls

Waterfall newbies tend to focus on height. They start using it as a scoring system: "A 20 m high waterfall is better than one that is 10 m high." Right?

People soon figure out that there is lot more to waterfall enjoyment than the size of the falls. Some larger falls are actually boring. Some tiny falls are brilliant.

This website uses a star rating system to identify waterfalls that are more likely to give a great visit. It also uses a colour-code system to identify waterfalls that are easier to visit.

Newburgh Falls is 1 m high. Is this worth a visit?

Size Isn't Everything

Tews Falls is one of our tallest waterfalls.

Taller Waterfalls

There's no denying that bigger waterfalls are often impressive. Truly tall waterfalls are actually rare in Ontario, and so they get our attention.

At about 41 m tall, Tews Falls is one of our tallest waterfalls. It makes for beautiful photos. But is this a five-star, top-notch waterfall? I don't think so.

Yes, you can make great photos, but visitors are limited to just a few vantage points. You can't get close to it, and so there isn't a lot more to do here.

Shorter Waterfalls

Many other waterfalls are cascades, including most of the ones in northern Ontario. They aren't vertical and instead are longer than they are high. A good example is Wilsons Falls.

Wilsons Falls has no "Ta-da!" spot where we can stand and be amazed. It can be hard to get a photo of the whole falls. So should these places be skipped? No way!

These waterfalls cover more ground and offer lots more exploring. Visitors often spend more time here, even if the site doesn't offer that classic waterfall photo.

Wilson Falls is a cascade; it isn't very tall but it's fun to explore.

The Five Star System

Middle Falls on Trent isn't much of a falls, but it's fun to visit.

The 'Waterfalls of Ontario' project uses a five star rating system. Any rating system is subjective, and you need to take it with a grain of salt.

Some visitors will be underwhelmed by 3- and 4-star waterfalls. Other people will be perfectly content to sit and relax beside a little 1-star falls. Everyone is looking for something different.

Ratings have been adjusted and matured using input from hundreds of people that have visited this website over the years. You may disagree with the scores, and that's Ok!

Five-star waterfalls will impress just about anyone. Even people that aren't interested in waterfalls will think "Ok, that's pretty cool!"

Only 2% of the waterfalls in Ontario are rated as 5 stars. They are always large, almost always have good flow, offer lots of exploring potential and great photographs. There is usually a parking lot and viewing platforms.

Some examples are Balls Falls, Kakabeka Falls, Kapkigiwan Falls and Onaping Falls.

Kakabeka Falls is a 5-star waterfall. Even it suffers from low flow sometimes.
Mink Creek Falls is a 4-star waterfall.

Four-star waterfalls are still attractive to most people, even if they aren't a waterfall fanatic. Only 6% of the waterfalls in Ontario are rated with 4 stars.

The line between 4- and 5-stars is blurry. They usually have most of the same qualities, but 4-star waterfalls might be a bit smaller, a bit less developed for visiting, or suffer a little more from low flow.

Some good examples are Healey Falls, Mink Creek Falls, and Rockway Falls.

Three-star waterfalls lack the "wow" factor of our best waterfalls. People that aren't into waterfalls usually won't be interested. But waterfall fans will definitely be interested!

About 16% of the waterfalls in Ontario are rated as 3 stars. They are usually medium-sized, with good visiting and decent photos. There is usually something holding them back. This could be that they aren't that big or that they almost dry up in summer.

Some examples are High Falls at Bancroft, Little Falls on Atikokan, Sauble Falls and Webwood Falls

Robertson Creek Falls is a 3-star waterfall.
Knoefli Falls is a 2-star waterfall.

Two-star waterfalls are less interesting for most people. Serious waterfallers will still seek them out and find them rewarding.

These falls are normally smaller, and either produce average photos or have limits to exploring potential. They may dry up completely in summer.

Small waterfalls can still provide good photos, or be incorporated into a nice hike.

Some good examples are Morrow Lake Falls, Mossy Falls, and Mystery Falls.

One-star waterfalls are the least-interesting waterfalls that we have. Most people, even some waterfall fans, won't be interested. Many of them are small, and some of them are actually named as 'rapids'.

While they may not be a major destination, they can be part of a nice hike or a fun day trip. About 40% of the waterfalls on this site get 1 star. People in our Facebook group still visit and post about them.

Some examples are Billy Monkley Cascade, Irvine Rapids, North River Cascade and Price Rapids

Aidie Creek Rapids is a 1-star waterfall, yet is a nice roadside pitstop.

The Colour Codes

Some waterfalls are easy to visit. Some have a parking lot, a short, paved trail and even a quaint viewing platform! Just about anyone can visit a waterfall like this.

Other waterfalls are more challenging to reach. Visitors may have to drive down a bumpy dirt road that is far from civilization. Trails may be long, require climbing over some rocks, or be absent altogether! These places aren't for everyone.

Still other waterfalls can only be visited by water. You'd need a canoe, kayak or boat to visit them.

Fenelon Falls is easy to visit.
Families regularly follow the 10 minute dirt trail to Egan Chute. Thus, green stars

Waterfalls marked with green stars or map dots are generally easy for most people to visit.

You may still get muddy shoes, have to walk up some hills or across some uneven ground. But for the most part, the effort (and risk) to visit these falls is manageable for most of us.

Be aware that conditions can change over time. In winter, some places become so dangerous that they should be avoided. If in doubt, stay out!

Yellow stars and map dots mean 'caution'. Waterfalls marked with yellow stars or map dots are more challenging to visit. These aren't a walk in the park, and usually aren't appropriate for a family outing.

Visitors may have to use backroads that are in bad shape and not signed. They may have to follow a long trail that is rough, poorly marked, or that doesn't even exist. There may be some climbing involved.

The amount of risk and effort is increased with sites marked as yellow. Some yellow sites are easier than others. Each waterfall page usually identifes why a site is marked yellow.

Grassy High Falls can be reached by land, but isn't for everyone.
Heart of an Angel Falls requires a paddle of 2 km. © Gary Smith.

Waterfalls marked with blue stars or map dots can only be visited using a canoe or boat.

These waterfalls are less than about 5 km from a boat launch location. This means that someone with reasonable paddling skills can likely visit the site and return in the same day.

WARNING: The blue color is for general information only. Inexperienced paddlers may find these trips to be too strenuous. There is no guarantee that these falls can be reached (and returned from) in a day. Attempt at your own risk.

Red waterfall stars and points mean 'stop'. Extra care is needed. These waterfalls can only be visited by boat and are generally further than anyone can paddle to and back in a day.

These waterfalls require additional planning and research. An overnight backwoods canoe-based camping trip is required.

WARNING: Inexperienced paddlers and campers are at risk, and should not attempt to visit these sites without experience companions. Attempt at your own risk.

It took Gary Smith two days of paddling to reach Bridal Veil falls on the Lady Evelyn River. © Gary Smith.

Waterfalls of Ontario Project

This project has been online since 1999, in print since 2003, and on social since 2011. (See archives: 2003, 2012, 2018). It was the first to inventory and map Ontario's waterfalls for recreational purposes. With your continued help, it grows. Learn more...
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This page last updated on April 20, 2024. Earlier versions can be examined on Archive.org, dating back to 2003.