Niagara Falls is another natural tourist attraction whose reputation precedes it. Located at the border of New York state in the U.S. and Ontario, Canada, it consists of three large waterfalls that demonstrate the sheer power and beauty of nature. The largest of them, Horseshoe Falls, sits right on the border between the two countries. The other two, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, lie securely within the United States. Formerly swarming with commercial tourist attractions and events—and known as a performance space for more than a few daredevils attempting to cross them on a tightrope or go over them in a barrel—it has since evolved into more of a sightseeing destination that also serves as a major source of hydroelectric power for Canada and the United States both.
That said, there are still a wide variety of attractions for tourists planning to visit Niagara Falls. Keep reading for more information about this prime destination and things you can do while you're there.
If you're coming from overseas, make sure to purchase
visitors insurance before you leave to protect yourself against any unexpected illnesses, injuries, or accidents that may occur on your trip.
Very occasionally, Niagara Falls are “turned off”—that is, the waterflow is restricted in a process known as dewatering—for maintenance purposes. The last time this happened was in 1969. However, as of 2016, it was slated to happen again sometime in the next 5-7 years to repair bridges within Niagara Falls State Park. A bid to make this happen in 2019 fell through, and an exact date has not yet been set. On one hand, visiting the dry Niagara Falls would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. On the other, it would be unfortunate to visit one of the most stunning natural tourist attractions in the world when they happen to be closed for repairs. Make sure to check for updates before you lock in your travel dates.
About Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is located on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The falls were formed at the end of the last ice age, when glaciers melted and water from the newly formed Great Lakes worked its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall on the continent as measured by flow rate. Combined, the three falls drop water at a rate of more than six million cubic feet (168,000 m3) per minute. The Horseshoe Falls drop about 187 feet (57 meters); the American Falls between 69 and 98 feet (21 to 30 meters), depending on large boulders lying at the base; and the Bridal Veil Falls about 181 feet (55 meters). The Niagara Falls area also has two islands: Goat Island, which separates Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls, and Luna Island, which separates Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls.
The U.S. Side
On the American side, the falls are contained within Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the United States. Founded in 1885, the park offers a number of scenic outlooks offering breathtaking views of all three waterfalls. The Observation Tower at Prospect Point, a 230-foot overlook, is the only U.S. location where people can see both the American and Horseshoe Falls at the same time. The base of the observation tower is also the launch point for the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which takes visitors on a round trip through the turbulent waters leading to the falls.
Other attractions within or near Niagara Falls State Park include the Cave of the Winds, a soaking-wet tour that leads you underneath and behind the American Falls to the Hurricane Deck; the Niagara Scenic Trolley, a quick half-hour guided trolley tour of the entire park; the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, which includes interactive displays and a multi-screen theater; and the Niagara Aquarium, which houses more than 1,500 aquatic specimens from a variety of ecosystems. Don't miss the Visitors Center, either, which offers park information, tickets to attractions, exhibits, gift shops, and refreshment opportunities.
The Canadian Side
The Canadian side of the falls has just as many draws for tourists. The Regional Municipality of Niagara in Ontario, Canada, is a tourist destination centered around Niagara Falls that also offers everything from dining to wineries to downtown shopping activities to outdoor recreation.
The Hornblower Niagara Cruises take visitors directly into the basin of Horseshoe Falls for an up-close-and-personal look at one of Canada’s most famous landmarks. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory contains more than 2,000 butterflies from more than 45 species. The Niagara Parks White Water Walk takes you along a 300-meter boardwalk to various observation decks where you can view the Niagara River’s Whirlpool Rapids, one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of whitewater and that has a Class 6 classification—the highest level of danger.
The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is known for its historical sites in an old-fashioned colonial style, its wineries, and its quaint downtown experience. Similarly, Twenty Valley is the largest wine-producing region in Ontario, featuring more than 50 vineyards. The city of St. Catharines is known for its slower pace, offering attractions like the Bruce Trail, Port Dalhousie (featuring a 111-year-old wooden carousel), and its downtown area's pubs, restaurants, and shopping. And the South Coast area, situated on Lake Erie, offers more of a beach vibe. Visitors can lounge at any number of individual beaches and participate in activities like wakeboarding, boating, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, and more.
If you’re considering participating in any water sports or adventurous activities,
please consider purchasing
hazardous sports travel insurance to keep you covered against any accidents.
Crossing the Border
No trip to Niagara Falls is complete unless you see it from both sides of the border. It's easy enough to cross one of the three bridges that lead from the U.S. to Canada, but as you're crossing an international border, there are certain restrictions in place.
Make sure to have the proper identification and paperwork with you. U.S. citizens must have a valid passport, passport card, enhanced driver's license, or a trusted traveler NEXUS or SENTRI card. If you're traveling with children, bring an original or certified copy of each child's birth certificate. You may also have to declare certain items that exceed Canada's duty-free or tax-free allowances.
For non-U.S. citizens, a Canada Border Services Agency officer may ask to see a passport and a valid visa, if necessary. Non-U.S. or non-Canadian citizens should contact their home government (or visit their home government’s website) to obtain specific and accurate passport and visa information. As of March 2016, visa-exempt foreign nationals who fly to or transit through Canada will need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travelers with a valid visa. Border agents may deem you inadmissible for reasons like involvement in criminal activity, human rights violations, organized crime, etc.
Niagara Falls Travel Insurance
Before visiting Niagara Falls, it’s highly recommended that you purchase visitor medical insurance or travel insurance as you’re planning your vacation.
Visitor medical insurance covers any unforeseen illness or injuries and can help recover financial losses caused by emergency medical expenses,
acute onset of pre-existing conditions, emergency medical evacuation / repatriation, return of mortal remains, and more common scenarios like loss of checked luggage.
Travel insurance protects against unexpected hiccups like trip interruption,
emergency medical evacuation / repatriation, lost baggage, flight delays, rental car coverage, and accidental death & dismemberment for both U.S. residents and non-U.S. residents.