What is Niagara Falls?
Niagara Falls is a collection of three waterfalls that straddle Canada and the United States of America. Each side offers many experiences that allow you to explore Niagara Falls. In the Canadian side, we have the Canadian Falls or Horseshoe Falls, due to its shape. In the American side, are the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
The name Niagara is thought to originate from the Iroquoian word “onguiaahra“. Scholars have debated on its meaning. But there are generally two beliefs one which means “a thundering noise” which is in reference to the sound of the falls. The other interpretation is that it means “the neck or strait” in reference to the Niagara river.The falls at Niagara are over 12,000 years old. The water is derived from the Niagara river with approximately 85-90% flowing down Horseshoe Falls and the remaining 10-15% over the American and Bridal Veil Falls.
Although there are over 500 waterfalls worldwide that are taller than Niagara Falls, it is considered the largest waterfall in the world by volume of water siphoned (an average of 750,000 gallons each second).
How to Explore Niagara Falls
If all you want to do is see the falls, it is possible to visit both falls in one day. The City of Niagara Falls in Canada is connected to the United States via three principal border bridges: the Rainbow, Whirlpool, and Queenston-Lewiston bridges.
Access to both falls is free. However, there is no parking directly adjacent to the Canadian or American falls, so the major expense would be parking fees if you are arriving by car. There are pathways that provide views of the falls from various angles. From the Canadian side, both the Canadian and American falls can be seen.
Tip: For Canadians citizens visiting the United States, a passport or enhanced driver’s license is required. For American citizens, you will need a Passport, a Passport Card or an Enhanced Licence to enter Canada. However, these can change so please check your local embassy for up to date information.
Horseshoe or Canadian Falls
The crescent-shaped falls is 54 M (177 ft) high and approximately 670 M wide. The falls have a flow rate of 168,000 cubic metres. It carries nine times more water than its United States counterpart. Because of the enormous amount of water going over the falls, about 10% of the water is redirected to drive large hydro-electric turbines that produce electricity for Southern Ontario and Western New York State.
Journey Behind the Falls
For a closer look at the Horseshoe Falls and to feel some mist on our faces, we decided to pay for the attraction called the Journey Behind the Falls. Tickets are sold at the Table Rock Welcome Centre. Then, you take an elevator down 45 M (150 ft). Upon getting off, you walk along old hydro dam tunnels that were dug through bedrock to two openings: the Cataract Portal and Great Falls Portal. Both give a view behind the massive sheet of waterfalls. It is also possible to access the foot of the Horseshoe falls via the Upper and Lower Observation Decks.
Tip: Proper footwear is required. The tunnel floors are wet and can get very slippery. Biodegradable rain covers are provided to protect your clothes from the strong mists coming from the falls.
For those that want an even more up close encounter with the Horseshoe Falls, it is possible to take a boat cruise. Hornblower Cruises offers daytime and nighttime cruises that explore Niagara Falls. The day cruise lasts about 20 minutes long and you will be able to see all 3 falls up close: Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil.
Tip: If you want to see the falls up close but do not want to get wet the boat does have a covered area wherein you can take shelter. So, you can have the view without being soaked.
The cruise at night is slightly longer at 40 minutes long. It is particularly spectacular when it coincides with the falls’ illumination or during the summer fireworks display. During the night cruises, there is music onboard and the bar is open with drinks and snacks for purchase.
Other viewpoints of Horseshoe Falls
There are several other spots in Niagara Falls, Canada where you can get amazing views of the falls. A couple of examples include the Falls Incline Railway and Skylon Tower. You may also choose to stay at one of the area hotels which offer in-room and / or dining experiences with a world class view.
American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls
The American falls is 56 M (180 ft) and approximately 328 M wide making it slightly taller than Horseshoe Falls. The falls have a flow rate of 75,000 gallons. Luna Island separates Bridal Veil falls from the American Falls. There is a lot of erosion occurring under the American Falls. As evidenced by the number of rocks seen at the base of the falls.
Cave of the Winds
Similar to the Journey Behind the Falls experience in Canada, the Cave of the Winds allows very close access to the falls. Actually, they allow a much closer access to the American falls compared to how close you get to the Horseshoe Falls in the Journey Behind in the Falls. What a way to explore Niagara Falls! The entrance is on Goat Island within Niagara Falls State Park. The elevator ride takes you down 53 M (175 ft) then you walk through a tunnel which leads to a view of the Niagara Gorge. Next, you ascend via a series of wooden steps. The higher you go, the wetter you get. C particular enjoyed the top level also known as the Hurricane level.
Tip: Biodegradable rain covers and specially designed sandals are provided as part of the entrance ticket. While you won’t need to worry about getting your shoes wet, the spray can still get into your poncho and get your clothes a little wet.
Every November, the wooden platforms are disassembled. This is why if you visit in the winter you won’t see them. Every spring, the platforms are reassembled for the new season.
Maid of the Mist
The Maid of the Mist boat tour offers the same experience as Hornblower Cruises. The only difference is that Maid of the Mist boards and disembarks at the Niagara dock in New York. You will first get a view of the American and Bridal Veil Falls. Then the cruise heads towards Horseshoe Falls.
Other viewpoints of the American Falls
There are two viewpoints to help explore Niagara Falls State Park; Both offer differing views of the falls. The first is the Observation Deck via the Observation Tower. It is close to the loading dock of the Maid of Mist. The Observation Deck is one of the best places to explore Niagara Falls and get a glimpse of some of the bird life that is in the area.
To access the second viewpoint walk along the gorge away from the Observation Tower and towards the falls. We climbed a series of steps that lead to the observation area called Crow’s Nest.
So, which side is better?
We have explored Niagara Falls from both sides of the border many times. Besides the main attraction of the falls, there are also numerous other attractions and a lot are especially kid-friendly. However, if you want the best view of the falls, the panoramic view provided by the Canadian side is supreme. It is definitely a bucket list destination! When it comes to the ambiance, though, we feel that Niagara Falls State Park in New York has done a better job of maintaining a natural landscape surrounding the falls. In summary, both sides of the falls offer a unique perspective. Why not visit both sides? You will not be disappointed when you explore Niagara Falls.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.
Latest posts by Christina Wagar (see all)
- Winterlude with Kids: How to shake off the winter blues - February 16, 2017
- A Day trip to Colonia del Sacramento with Kids - February 12, 2017
- Puerto Madryn with Kids: A wildlife safari in Patagonia - January 29, 2017