Situated on the border of Ontario in Canada, and New York in the USA, Niagara Falls is one of the most famous natural spectacles in the world. Flowing directly from the Great Lakes, the Niagara River plunges over a sheer cliff in three separate waterfalls, dropping almost 170 feet straight into the waters below. At peak times, more than 2,800 cubic metres of water thunders over the falls every second!
On the U.S. side of the falls is the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. On the Canada side is the largest one of them all: the Horseshoe Falls, also known as the Canadian Falls. It has a height of around 167 feet and is more than 2,700 feet wide at its crest. The Bridal Veil Falls is the smallest, being 45 feet wide.
A brief history of Niagara Falls
Native Americans likely found Niagara Falls before it was officially discovered in 1678 by the French explorer, Father Louis Hennepin.
Going back to its origins, Niagara Falls was created at the end of the Ice Age, more than 12,000 years ago, when the ice melted into large torrents of water, forming the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The river eventually began to plunge over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment (where Lewiston, New York is today) to create the falls. Over the years, under the force of the water, the rocks have slowly eroded away, causing Niagara Falls to move upstream for around 7 miles to its current location.
Each year, the Niagara River freezes and thaws, effectively wearing away the rocks under the surface. It’s thought that one day, Niagara Falls will be lost forever! However, that day is likely to be around 50,000 years away. The falls are classed as a National Heritage area, and efforts are underway to help preserve the site.
There are several power plants at Niagara – engineers have been able to utilise the waters of the Niagara River to create hydroelectric power, which now supplies one-quarter of all electricity used in Ontario and New York.
The daredevils of Niagara Falls
Throughout Niagara’s history, several people have dared to take on Niagara Falls, either by walking across it on a tightrope or attempting to survive a plummet over the edge, which as you can imagine, most often ended in catastrophe.
One of the most famous Niagara Falls risk-takers and survivors was a penniless 63-year-old school teacher called Annie Edson Taylor, who became the first person to go over the edge in a wooden barrel back in 1901. The barrel was just 1.5 inches thick and was padded out with two cushions.
Niagara Falls trip – why visit?
Only a two-hour drive from Toronto, Niagara Falls is probably the best-known waterfall on the planet. Seeing and hearing its powerful, thundering presence in person is an experience to remember!
There are several ways to view to falls; via helicopter ride, the Skylon Tower in Ontario or via the Table Rock Welcome Centre. Niagara’s Fury is an excursion you can book onto at the Table Rock Welcome Centre, where you can feel the full wrath of Mother Nature and get within arm’s reach of Niagara’s great mists.
Another fascinating experience is Journey to the Falls, where you’ll descend 150 feet to view the falls from two outdoor observation decks and witness the roar of falls from two portals behind its incredible curtain of water.
Niagara Falls boat tour
Another exhilarating way to see the falls up close is to take the Maids of the Mist boat tour, which can be accessed from the New York side of the Falls. The Maid of the Mist tour has been in operation since 1846 when wooden steamboats were used. These days, steel boats take visitors directly to the base of Niagara Falls. The tour lasts around 20 minutes, and you’ll get a souvenir rain poncho to keep afterward.
A boat trip with Hornblower Criuses on the Canadian side of the falls is included as part of our Niagara and the Great Lakes Escorted Tour.
Outside of the falls, there are plenty of attractions to visit, such as the Niagara Skywheel, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and, Niagara-on-the-Lake, a pretty village with boutique shops and a golf course.
What to expect when you visit Niagara Falls
Here are a few things to note while planning your trip to Niagara Falls:
- The cost – Niagara Falls itself is free to visit. However, if you want to take part in the experiences or surrounding attractions, you will need to pay for these.
- Best time to visit – Niagara Falls is open all year round, but to see the waterfalls in all their glory, the best time to go is between June to September. Some of the attractions will close from October onwards.
- Which side to visit – the Canadian side of the falls is the best place to visit, as it’s generally prettier, but if you have time, why not do both?
- Parking charges – you’ll most likely have to pay for parking at Niagara Falls with prices varying from a few dollars per hour to as much as $30 per day. The closer you get to the falls, the more expensive it is to park. You’ll have more choice of parking spaces if you go early in the morning.
What to take with you
Pack comfortable walking shoes, casual clothing suitable for the time of year you’re going (it’s freezing in the winter months), a water-resistant jacket and a small umbrella. You may also want to take a hairbrush as it can get very windy at the Falls!
Take suncream and a hat if going during the summer months. If you’re visiting the Falls from both sides, remember your passport as you’ll need it to cross the border. Last, but not least, take a waterproof camera or put yours in a waterproof case.
Niagara Falls day trip
Visiting Niagara Falls is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience! A day trip here will make for some incredible memories. We offer a day trip to Niagara Falls and a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake as part of our escorted motorhome tour, Niagara and the Great Lakes.