Niagara Falls, if not the most, is certainly one of North America’s most dramatic water features (and we have a LOT of water features!).
Niagara Falls is on the border of western New York and southern Ontario. While it’s not a wilderness state park, the highlight of both sides of the international border is the dominating natural feature—the falls.
I think every American—and Canadian, for that matter—should visit Niagara at least once in their lifetime. It’s a sight to behold that needs to be experienced first-hand to be fully appreciated.
What Makes Niagara Falls So Amazing?
My sister, Lisa, and I went on a road trip together in August 2020 to bring her son to college in New York. As part of our scenic route back to Minnesota we planned a stop at Niagara Falls State Park.
I love waterfalls of all kinds, and I knew Niagara Falls would be impressive. But I wasn’t prepared for just how impressive these are!
No photo or video can prepare you for their immensity and beauty.
The Niagara River
The Niagara River is impressive in itself, even without the falls. First, it’s a gorgeous green color, and very clear.
It’s not a long river, just 36 miles from its source in the eastern tip of Lake Erie to where it spills into Lake Ontario (flowing north). But the volume of water it carries over the falls is incredible!
The flow is controlled according to a treaty between the two countries. More water is allowed over the falls during the tourist season—late spring to early fall. An astonishing 2,832 metric tons of water flows over per second (or 100,000 cubic feet).
In the map below you can see the layout, with Niagara Falls State Park on the right, which includes Goat Island. American Falls is on the north side of Goat Island and Horseshoe Falls (on the Canadian side) to the southeast. Queen Victoria Park is on the Ontario side:
American Falls are, of course, on the American side of the river. There’s trail access to both sides of the brink of these falls for hikers, both on the mainland and on Goat Island.
You can also take a trail or an elevator down to the base of the falls, don a rain poncho and get almost under them for a good dousing if you choose (We didn’t do that, but I will next time!).
American Falls plunge between 70-110 feet to the rock pile at its base, with another 70-100 feet to reach the river itself. These falls are about 850 feet across.
Canada’s Horseshoe Falls
Much to our disappointment, the international border was closed due to Covid when we went in 2020. So we couldn’t visit the Canadian side to see Horseshoe Falls from the top.
We got a pretty darn good view from the east tip of Goat Island, though, so we were happy about that!
So for sure take the foot bridge from the mainland over to Goat Island for some of the best views of both of these falls. You also get beautiful views of the Niagara River as it speeds up in these last few hundred feet before spilling over.
Horseshoe Falls drops about 188 feet into the Niagara River and is 2,200 feet wide (that’s almost half a mile!). The deepest part of the river is right under the spillway of these falls, about 100 feet deep.
(By the way, all these stats about Niagara Falls are from NiagaraParks.com)
Don’t Visit Niagara Falls Without Taking the Boat Tour
Your best view of both American Falls and Horseshoe Falls are from the Niagara River (below the falls) on one of the tour boats.
One company handles the American side and another company handles the Canadian side, but they both do essentially the same tour. Both take you by American Falls and inside the horseshoe at Horseshoe Falls.
You’ll get a rain poncho as part of your admission ticket. You’ll want to have it on and your hood up, unless you want to get thoroughly soaked! And beware, the winds billowing around you at Horseshoe Falls will blow your hood right off unless you’re hanging onto it!
It was challenging to attempt to stay somewhat dry, while trying to get a few photos or videos, and still be able to see! Mist flies everywhere, so protect your camera or phone.
Some tips for the boat tours:
- You can buy tickets online ahead of time. That’ll save you from having to wait in Line #1. Line #2 is to get on the boat.
- Arrive as early in the day as you can. Both lines will be shorter.
- Wear your rain poncho unless you want to get soaked! You can keep it if you want to.
- The experience is definitely worth the price.
For information about the boat tours see Maid of the Mist for the American side and Niagara City Cruises for the Canadian side.
About the Hiking Trails
If you have limited time, you’ll probably want to start with the hiking trails that give you the best views of the famous falls.
On the Canadian side, Niagara Glen takes you right into Niagara Gorge and alongside the Lower Niagara River. This river carries Class III-V rapids here, so stay on the trails and away from the water’s edge! There’s a network of about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of trails. Click here for an overview of the trails and for a PDF map.
On the American side, you have lots of trail opportunities. Since Lisa and I only had half a day at Niagara, we opted for the boat tour, then the section of Niagara Gorge Rim Trail to the west of Rainbow Bridge (shown in the image below circled in purple):
If you have the time, there’s a LOT more hiking to do. Here’s an overview of the trails on the American side, in Niagara Falls State Park.
Helpful Visiting Info
There’s no entrance fee into Niagara Falls State Park, but there’s a $10 parking fee (2020 prices) if you leave your vehicle in the park’s lot.
Free street parking is available in Niagara Falls (the city). We opted for the convenience of leaving our packed lunch in the car and the proximity to the park.
If you use the paid parking lot, you’ll have easy access to gift shops and restaurants across the street.
A Spiritual Lesson from Niagara
You can’t stand there at either the top or bottom of these falls and not be in awe of the immense power of all that water. Tons and tons of it go down the river and over their brink every second. And the water just keeps coming and coming.
When was the last time you read the book of Amos in the Bible? It’s the message of a man called Amos who shared the words God told him to share with the people of Israel, in the mid-700s BC. He warned them of coming judgment if they wouldn’t repent and turn back to God and His ways.
In Amos 5:23-24 he says, “Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like rivers, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (World English Bible, public domain)
Our worship means nothing to the Lord if our lives don’t line up with what He cares about, and with His ways.
Just like Niagara’s waters roll on in this mighty river and over these mighty falls, He wants justice and righteousness to keep coming in our thoughts, words and actions. His justice and His righteousness.
What does that look like to for me? For you? Maybe as a church, a state, or a nation?
Is that justice and righteousness so powerful in our lives it’s the prominent feature that both God and others see…like a mighty river?
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