Niagara Falls is, if not the most, is certainly one of North America’s most dramatic water features. The hiking trail system in the state park there brings you up-close-and-personal to these amazing falls.
Niagara Falls is on the border of western New York and southern Ontario. While it’s not anything like 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 life. It’s a sight to behold that needs to be experienced first-hand to be appreciated.
What Makes Niagara Falls So Amazing?
My sister, Lisa, and I went on a road trip together last August to bring her son to college in New York, then took the scenic route back to Minnesota. Part of our trip back was a day trip to 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 the 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 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 on 🙂
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.
About the Hiking Trails
While the Niagara Falls area isn’t particularly known for its hiking, there are several trails worth taking.
If you’re 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 only the trails that gave us the best views of both falls.
There are plenty of others hiking trails to take, though, if you have the time. Here’s an overview of the trails on the American side, in Niagara Falls State Park.
Other Helpful Info
There’s no entrance fee into Niagara Falls State Park. But there’s a parking fee if you leave your vehicle in the park’s lot. There’s free street parking in Niagara Falls (the city) if you hate paying the $10 fee, but we didn’t mind. We liked the convenience of leaving our packed lunch in the car and the proximity.
There’s easy access to gifts shops and restaurants right across the street from the parking lot.
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Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.