Niagara Falls has a long and storied history as a tourist attraction. Some might argue that it was the first truly important tourist attraction in America-- it resulted in the first-ever state park to preserve and protect the amazing natural feature, and people began capitalizing on the tourism as early as the mid-1800's. Even though it's had a reputation for being totally commercialized and kitschy (it's honestly kind of the reason we have National Parks... people feared other natural wonders would be purchased and used for profit like Niagara Falls) it's still an absolute gem. When you visit, it's not hard to see why people still travel from all over to see it... the waterfalls are insanely massive, and even from a distance are quite impressive. Here's our guide to visiting the famed attraction!
The tradition of going to Niagara Falls for your honeymoon, and even your wedding, is a long-standing one... but how did it begin? According to legend, Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, Jermone, brought his new bride, fashionable Baltimorian Elizabeth Patterson, to Niagara Falls after their wedding. And since anything the French do (let alone French royalty) is automatically fashionable, many others began to trek to Niagara after their nuptials-- maybe not the best idea, since Jerome and Elizabeth's marriage didn't last long. Cue obligatory "fall" in love pun.
3,160 TONS of water flow over the falls every second. That's divided between American and Bridal Veil Falls, which use about 75,750 gallons per second, and Horseshoe Falls, which dumps about 681,750 gallons over the edge every second. Think about that-- if you spend one minute looking at Horseshoe Falls, you've watched roughly the equivalent of 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water rush down the falls. Dang. They put it to good use, though-- the falls can produce up to 4 million kilowatts of electricity, which Canada and America share. Of course, all that power comes with a price: the falls are eroding with mind-blowing speed. 12,000 years ago, the falls were seven miles further down the river-- even today, the falls can erode as much as 6 feet in one year.
Rainbow Bridge connects Canada and New York as it passes over Niagara Gorge. It was a replacement for the older Honeymoon Bridge, which had collapsed in 1938 after an ice jam. King George VI dedicated the site, and it was opened in 1941. It's $3.50 to drive across or 50 cents to walk. Walking is highly suggested, as it gives you the chance to really get a sense of the thundering falls... and there's usually less traffic, too! Take the classic photo op of you with one foot on either side of the international border, and enjoy the much smoother border patrol process along with the stunning views. Don't forget your passport!
Niagara Gorge Trail is perfect for outdoorsy hiking enthusiasts. It's actually a series of trails in the Gorge that offer different ways to view the natural wonder. Most are on the easy side and most are 2-3 miles round trip, but the Niagara Gorge Rim Trail is about 6 miles one way, and the easy hike offers views of the Whirlpool and Devil's Hole rapids. The many overlooks and abandoned power plants you can view from these trails are totally worth checking out on a trip to the falls.
Cave of the Winds was originally a tour that led visitors into the cave behind Bridal Veil Falls. The Cave of the Winds was covered by a rock slide in the 1920s, and in the 1950s, the dynamiting of an overhang led to the total destruction of the cave entirely... but that didn't stop Cave of the Winds from operating as an attraction. Today, they take you right up in front of the falls instead of behind it... and it's basically like being right in the middle of a tropical storm. Winds here reach up to 68 MPH and water is dumped onto visitors in buckets. Fun fact: each winter, the decks and platforms that make up Cave of the Winds are removed each fall to prevent winter ice from damaging them. They're not secured by bolts or onto the rocks, they're simply wedged into crevices each spring!
The Maid of the Mist, which takes you on a historic boat right up to Horseshoe Falls, is the best way to see the Canadian side of Niagara without actually going into Canada (not that there's anything wrong with that!), but be prepared to get kind of soaked. The boat tour starts off near Rainbow Bridge, in calm waters, and then makes its way right past American and Bridal Veil Falls, right into the dense spraying mist of the Horseshoe Falls curve, letting passengers get pretty wet, before returning to the dock.
Accessible from Goat Island are the Three Sisters Islands, named for Celinda, Angelina, and Asenath Whitney, the daughters of one of Niagara's earliest and most prominent citizens, General Parkhurst Whitney. Before settlers made their home here, the Iroquois performed sacrifices here and made offerings to He-No, the Mighty Thunderer who lived in the cave behind the falls. As a result, psychics claim that this is a good place to commune with spirits. Otherwise, you can hike the islands and view the rapids of the Niagara River, right above Horseshoe Falls.
This next bit is all about how to NOT tour the falls. It's human nature to look at something as majestic as Niagara Falls and decide, "That's big and cool. I'm gonna do something dumb to it." I really can't explain it, but there's no other logical reason you'll find so many people attempting to go over the thing in a barrel, or to cross it on a tightrope. For the record, the first person to successfully go over the falls in a barrel was a 63-year-old woman named Annie Edson Taylor, who declared, "No one ought ever do that again." Of course, no less than 13 other people have intentionally attempted to go over the falls in or on things-- and not all of them survived. If you do make it over the falls alive, you'll be slapped with a massive fine, since it's suuuuper illegal to attempt a stunt like that. There's even an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to "objects that have gone over Niagara Falls" (including people, both intentional and non-intentional). Crossing the falls over a tightrope was a huge trend at the end of the 19th century-- one woman even did it several times, once with her hands and wrists manacled, and another time blindfolded. Of course, that's now illegal as well, although famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda did it in 2012 after getting special permission from both the Canadian and US governments.
The best way to experience Niagara Falls, in my opinion, is from Goat Island, right in the middle of the whole ordeal. Thanks to the fact that it was added to the Niagara Reservation State Park (the oldest state park in the country!) it has remained mostly forested, and you can reach it via a bridge on train, car or foot-- plus it's connected to Luna Island by a pedestrian bridge. For the best views, head to Terrapin Point-- and while you're visiting, make sure to check out the statue of eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla!
Canada's Journey Behind The Falls is an amazing way to view the stunning Horseshoe Falls. A series of platforms and tunnels near the base offer a unique vantage point. Spot rainbows dancing in the mist and feel the rush of the water as it thunders over the edge of the falls. Just remember to wear your poncho, since it can get pretty wet this close to the waterfall! It is also open year-round, which is not common for attractions here. It's quite a site to see when the falls are decorated with ice.
The Tower Hotel is a quirky little boutique gem that is only 500 yards away from the Falls and offers panoramic views from its signature tower. The rooms are contemporary and fun and can come with views of either Niagara Falls or the city. They also have a restaurant that offers incredible stunning views as well!
But if you're looking to enjoy some of those old-school Niagara Falls vibes, there are also tons of little B&Bs and inns. A Moment In Time Bed & Breakfast is a picture-perfect Victorian home offering comfy rooms decorated with antiques... they even have suites and rooms with private bathrooms and luxurious tubs! The hosts cook a delicious breakfast each morning and you're only a 10-15 minute walk to the falls themselves!
Skylon Tower is an incredible way to see the falls from above. The exterior, glass elevator ride up to the top of the tower, 775 feet up. The indoor/outdoor observation decks offer views of the Gorge, the Falls, wine country, and the skylines of Buffalo, Toronto, and even New York. The best way to enjoy it? Take a ride up around sunset to watch the falls all lit up, and enjoy the buffet dinner as you take in the views.
Clifton Mill is a touristy spot with lots of kitschy attractions, but the Niagara SkyWheel is totally worth it. Enclosed gondolas mean that it's open year-round (once again, the Falls are incredible shrouded by ice) and the views from 175 feet up are killer. There's also dinosaur-themed putt-putt, a celebrity wax museum, an arcade, and tons more... so definitely don't miss out if you've got kids!
For those who aren’t content to simply enjoy the amazing views of Niagara Falls, there’s always the Whirlpool Aero Car. The tram has been suspending visitors 250 feet over the Niagara Whirlpool since 1916. Don’t worry, they have a perfect safety record. Created by inventor and engineer Leonardo Torres y Quevedo, the Aero Car has been gliding brave passengers across Niagara Fall’s whirlpool in exactly the same fashion as it did nearly 100 years ago.
The car hangs from six thick cables that glide 35 guests safety across the entire gorge, all while the water crashes around underneath their feet. The whirlpool, which is a naturally occurring phenomenon, happens when a very quick moving torrent of water changes direction abruptly. This creates a violent vortex of water that’s one part awesome and one part terrifying… in a good way, of course.
Summer is probably the best time to experience Niagara Falls, as many attractions close in the fall and winter. If you do just happen to be passing by during the winter, though, it's still worth it to visit what you can, since the frozen falls are a sight to see. On a related note, summer is also a stellar time to visit the nearby wineries, as well!