Adele DuranGO
Adele DuranGO
  • Tutorial Team
  • Bayfield, CO

How to Build a Backyard Waterfall up a Slope

8 Materials
$1500
3 Days
Medium

Greatest Mother's Day present ever -- was building a waterfall in our backyard together with my son. Thanks also go to another older son who contributed a few heavier rocks as well, and my hubby who was in charge of hooking up the plumbing aspects and critiquing as we went along.

We now have something beautiful that we all did together to enjoy for many years to come. Here's how the project developed with

Mike at site
Mike at site

Here's the site with my son Mike in front. He's 6' tall, the fall will be 22' total length with a 6' basin pond below for the circulating water.

connects to older koi pond
connects to older koi pond

Here's what the fall will connect to. A koi pond we built a few years back and established with aspen trees, cotoneaster, water lilies and irises.

I want the falls to look like they sprang up out of nature to cascade into the pond below.

Dig site
Dig site

Step 1 Dig it out. Determine a natural flow that works with gravity and nature. Dig full length, one to three feet deep into the hillside. 22' long, roughly 10' high, plus 2' deep x 6' ellipse basin. Took me about five hours to dig.

foundation of treated timber and cement block
foundation of treated timber and cement block

Step 2 Create a strong skeleton. Contour a Stair-stepping foundation for the stone work and cascades. I used cement block where two 30" drops will be: one at top, one at basin. Landscape timbers used for ten stair-step drops of 9" to 18"


Timbers to the side show where ground terracing will be.

Treated lumber and cement blocks used for this foundation, then filled in with the surrounding dirt.

Side view curvy staircase foundation
Side view curvy staircase foundation

Side view shows how the staircase foundation has a natural flow to it.

Underlayment
Underlayment

Step 3 Put an underlayment over the groundwork. This prevents the stones from damaging the rubber liner.

Underliner clearly shows the full area for the new waterfall. This padding goes over the dirt, blocks and rock and under the rubber liner.


P.S.: After I took this pic, Rich talked me into extending the basin with a 6' creek between the falls instead of going "pondless" A bit more digging, but now the final result appears to connect the top fall to the older pond with a creek. A good call!

Look it up -- "pondless" -- creating a deep basin for circulating the water, rather than an open pond -- and decide which works best for you.

rubber liner
rubber liner

Step 4 Roll out the rubber liner -- overtop full length and up over the basin wall.

Rocking in process
Rocking in process

Step 5 Rock it in. Use rocks to encourage flow and drops. I also leave plenty of excess with the rubber liner to ensure that water flows away from the sides so it is not wasted or blown in the wind. Not everyone does that -- they seem to prefer flatter surface areas and let the rocks provide the direction.


Step 6 Bury the pipe used to connect the pump to the waterfall at the top. You can see the pipe on the mid to lower left-hand side. I just ran it alongside the stream up the hillside and covered up the rest of it with dirt and rocks.

Rocks and plants work in process
Rocks and plants work in process

Step 6 Test the water flow & tweak your rock design. Arrange the rocks to maximize flow while you check for leaky corners or edges. You may need to add more dirt or rocks around outside wall to ensure that your steps are water-tight and secure. Watch also for creating too much wasteful splash. Mix in pebbles. Even small elements will direct water in big ways. I also integrate logs and driftwood into the design to ensure a very natural spontaneous look.

finishing details
finishing details

Step 7 Add plants. You can see I started adding them in Step 6 when I was building up my dirt to secure the rock wall. Junipers, irises, lilies, ground covers. View with rocked in mini-pond and plants added.

Detail view into mini-pond
Detail view into mini-pond

This shows the view dropping into the connecting mini-pond which is where our pump in stored.

Detail waterfall at top
Detail waterfall at top

We chose to naturalize the waterfall at the top so that it really looks like water is just trickling from the top of the hillside.

View looking down from top
View looking down from top

If you stand at the top... here's what it looks like looking over and toward the larger old pond below.

SO COOL!

Side view from basin
Side view from basin

Side view from basin a month later with lilies integrated into the natural landscape. I'll add some pics in the comments section showing how this area has matured.

I can assure you that this water feature has lasted for many years now without a leak of a bit of trouble. (Even after a bear adopted it as a staircase to the coal mine above!) We turn it off when below freezing in the winter and back on in the spring through fall, whenever we want to enjoy it. Just as Mother Nature does with the natural waterfalls in our area after snow-melts and big rains.


The larger pond with fish, below this waterfall feature, circulates water 24/7 x 365.

You can find details on how that was constructed with a tribute to my landscape helper on this youtube video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHY9J9WQ094


SUPPLIER INFO:

http://www.halfoffponds.com/Default.asp

I worked with Andrew at halfoffponds.com


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To see more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHY9J9WQ094

Have a question about this project?

3 of 28 questions
  • Billie Jo
    on Dec 29, 2018

    Very beautiful and natural looking and what a beautiful thing to do as a family. Is the small “fall” the flows into the koi pond natural? Why didn’t you connect the falls to this small “fall” so the water would run through the little creek to the pond? Do you wish you had? Maybe a future project? Anyway, either way it’s beautiful and I wish I could watch it out my window.

    P.S. What a GREAT idea for homes built into the mountain to dress up the drop off. It’s so hard to landscape those areas and this is a beautiful option!

    • Adele DuranGO
      on Dec 29, 2018

      Yes the top falls does connect into the lower falls with the stream running into a much larger pond. We have two pumps so that we can turn off the upper falls in the winter and turn it on when we like.

      Here are views from last year of the upper falls to the lower falls and half of the stream




  • Lisa West
    on Dec 29, 2018

    This is so beautiful. The tranquility at night or during the day with your family. And very romantic at night. I have bot watched the video. I do plan in it. A great mother days gift to. Are you planning on any solar lighting around the area? I feel it would really enhance the beauty at night. Has the bear swam in it yet? Lol he or she will and possible drink from it as well as other wild life. As the lady said in another comment. I agree with her. It is very hard to landscape an hill side on property and keep it in a natural setting. Great job on this project. I love it. Thank you for sharing. Definitely keep us updated in any news plants lighting what ever you do with your water fall. I am almost jealous of the tranquility you have. Lol

  • Lisa AndNeil Ward
    on Dec 30, 2018

    I want to do this project. I have thought about it for a long while and just keep putting it off. Then I see this video. It is time, lol. My house sits on a very level yard but then with a somewhat steeper hill that you have, going down into our lower yard. It is so much steeper that I will have difficulty standing or squatting while I am digging. Any suggestions? I also have a fear of attracting snakes very close to my house, with all of the rocks. What has been your experience? I could very much see deer and bear also using it as a stair case, considering they are all around us, even though a highway is somewhat near my home, as well. We live in the mountains of Virginia.

    • Adele DuranGO
      on Dec 30, 2018

      I have many steeper areas around my property.. and the secret is to start on level ground and dig up -- in stairstep fashion.... that gives you the level ground you need to stand on every step of the way. Look at my other gardening posts, I think I've talked about it. I see snakes from time to time and move slowly, as do they. I don't think my setup attracts more of them. We are a wildlife habitat. Garden snakes are wonderful for keeping down mice and voles and gophers, so I welcome them. Do you have poisonous ones? As I mention in the post, I have observed a bear using it as a staircase and have been very pleased that damage has been nominal, and no tears or leaks, yeah!

      We grow this project slowly in phases, the earliest part is 15 years old. NO problems, even with all the hundreds of deer elk and occasional bears fox coyote.... snakes.... and more


Join the conversation

2 of 248 comments
  • Kathie
    on Dec 29, 2018

    this turned out amazing! Great job!

  • Barboakes Oakes
    on Dec 30, 2018

    If I was 61 I would do it, but I am 81 so I will just keep pulling up your web site. Beautifly done. I am sure all your hard work and credit to family will go a long way. Thank you for sharing. Barb

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