So, for an area of my world, I'm imagining three cities situated along the stretch of a river, running from a lake in the mountains onto relatively flat terrain (though still a bit above sea level) and finally emptying into the ocean via a series of waterfalls cascading over fairly steep cliffs. One of the cities is to be located close to these waterfalls, clinging to the surrounding cliffs and also spreading back inland. I'm also imagining the cliffs to be containing plenty of sea caves, some of which connect with larger cave systems inland.

Would this kind of arrangment be plausible, or would a geologist laugh at reading this description of the landscape? If it's off, what would need to change to make it more realistic? The orientation of the mountains, river and coast (i.e. which direction the river flows in, etc.), as well as the rock types of the area, are things I've deliberately not decided yet, as they don't matter much for me, and I'd be happy to adapt them to whatever makes the coast + river scenario the most plausible.

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    $\begingroup$ List of waterfalls that empty into an ocean. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ I'd ditch the flat terrain/plains for at least gently rolling hills or (more realistic) a slightly mountaneous area, like the upper Rhine valley. If you need to have a lot of agriculture there, go for terrace farming. This would be geologically plausible. The city at the mouth of the river/waterfall is not that plausible, but if you're writing fantasy, it can be handwaved. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 6:26

2 Answers 2


Lakes into mountain cavities are common, they happen either because of melted snow or rain.

Cascades are often born from those mountain lakes and create rivers which create cascades, see boite river as an example.

Or the hraunfossar cascades if you want them to be in a long series of cliffs

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the reference! I didn't realize "cascade" was actually a technical term for a type of waterfall, lol, I was just using it to mean the waterfall empties dramatically into the ocean. I'm very much a noob when it come to geology, unfortunately, but any and all real-world references are very helpful! $\endgroup$
    – devendoo
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 14:12

It will be difficult to have a port if the ocean is far below you.

One benefit to siting your town where a river meets the ocean is that you can use the ocean for trade. Boats and barges carrying materials from inland can arrive at your city, and either move their goods to an ocean-going ship or continue on out into the ocean and to distant ports. Having a waterfall in between will be inconvenient.

But if you were at constant threat from sea raiders this might be a good setup - stuff is hauled up and down the cliff to a beach below. When the sea raiders come they will be spotted from far away and the approach up the cliff is easily defended.

  • $\begingroup$ That's a very good point that it's not very convenient - however, I was mostly just worrying about my different terrain types being incongrous and such (waterfall + sea caves on the same coast, etc.). People settled at this location for a very specific religious reason. I am thinking the city might be built into the cliffs beside the waterfall, going all the way down to the beach (terraces and such), where an artificial harbor can be built. But yeah, they'll need some kinda primitive cranes or similar hauling apparatus. $\endgroup$
    – devendoo
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, if the city at least has a harbor on the ocean, then it could be the only way for commerce to travel between the river system and the ocean. They would make do with whatever nature (or the author) gives them. Waterfalls tend to dig into the cliff, and move upriver over time. (See Niagara Falls, which moved upstream about 5 feet per year, until modern efforts stabilized it at 1 foot/yr.) That movement might leave behind a handy harbor below. $\endgroup$
    – Brianorca
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 22:49

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