Rising between the Sichuan and Guangxi basins, the entire province is called the Guizhou Plateau topographically. Guizhou has 80 per cent of mountain areas, consisting of the Miaoling, Dalou, Wuling and Wumeng ranges. Part of the eastern rim of the second step down the country's topographical staircase, it is high in the west and slopes precipitously from the middle towards the east, north and south. Most of the western and central parts are 1,000-2,000 meters above sea level while the greater part of the east, north and south has an elevation of 600 metres. Owing to folds, faults and erosion, the plateau is intersected with mountains, hills, basins and valleylands, giving it a very rugged topography. In many areas limestone is found with numerous caverns and underground streams.
The area north of the Miaoling range is drained by the Yangtze River, whose larger tributaries are the Wujiang, Chishui and Qingshui rivers. South of the range is the Zhujiang valley, where there are the Nanpan and Beipan rivers, both headstreams of the Xijiang River. The spectacular Huangguoshu Waterfall over the headstream of the Dabang River, a tributary of the Beipan, is one of the country's best-known waterfalls. The largest lake in Guizhou is Caohai.