Matt Northam / flickr
IntroductionFrom conventioneers to honeymooners to families on vacation, people of all walks of life—millions of them—travel each year to Niagara Falls chasing the heady rush of a carnival-style thrill ride, the tranquility of a garden path or more recently, the suspense of a dice roll or spin of a roulette wheel. But ultimately, they all come for one thing—to experience the cool mist, the thundering roar, the utter violence of a half million gallons of water crashing into a rocky gorge every second. It's not just a spectacular scene; it's a spectacular scene in unrelenting motion.
Inspector 16 / AAA
Ivan Grynov / flickr
In DepthYoung in geologic time, Niagara Falls were created by the recession and melting of a mammoth ice sheet. As the ice retreated some 50,000 years ago the land rose behind it, forming such ridges as the Niagara Escarpment. The melting ice formed a vast lake in what is now Lake Erie and its surrounding lowlands; the lake overflowed about 12,000 years ago, creating Niagara Falls.
The falls originally formed 7 miles north in what is now Lewiston. Due to erosion they are currently about midway between lakes Erie and Ontario on the Niagara River, a 37-mile-long strait that is bisected by the international boundary. The cities of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ontario, are connected by bridges across the river.
The Canadian, or Horseshoe, Falls are 177 feet high with a deeply curving crest of about 2,200 feet. The American Falls, higher at 184 feet, have a shorter, fairly straight crest of about 1,075 feet. The third and smallest of Niagara's falls, Bridal Veil, is separated from the other falls by Luna and Goat islands.
Untouched, the combined flow of the water over the falls would be about 1.5 million gallons per second; however, one-half to three-quarters of the river is diverted for the generation of electricity before it reaches the falls. Most of the siphoning is done at night. The water flow is reduced to about 700,000 gallons per second during the tourist season and to less at other times.
The first people to gaze upon this natural spectacle were ancestors of the Seneca Indians. They were the area's first inhabitants some 2,000 years ago. One of the earliest Europeans to view the falls was French priest Father Louis Hennepin in 1678. History recounts that upon seeing the spectacle Hennepin fell to his knees in prayer, saying of the falls that “the universe does not afford its parallel.”
In the next few years the French built and rebuilt several forts at the mouth of the river. Old Fort Niagara was to play key roles in the major wars of the next 90 years. In 1759, during the French and Indian War, the British captured the fort. They held it until 1796 when they withdrew to Fort George in Canada.
The War of 1812 was the most devastating to hit Niagara Falls. Many small settlements on both sides of the river were looted and burned. Niagara Falls witnessed the Battle of Lundy's Lane, the war's bloodiest, on July 25, 1814. Neither side could claim victory in that fierce conflict. Five months later the Treaty of Ghent ended 2.5 years of fighting and reinstated the boundary line.
After the war Niagara Falls entered a new era of peace and prosperity. Settlement began in earnest, and by 1892 Niagara Falls was incorporated as a city. With the arrival of steamships in 1820, the Erie Canal in 1825 and the railroad in 1840, the town became accessible to tourists. An old saw predicts that “the love of those who honeymoon here will last as long as the falls themselves.”
A different type of romance lured daredevils to the falls in the 1800s and early 1900s. The first stuntster was Sam Patch. He survived two dives into the waters below the falls. The first person to go over the falls in a barrel was Annie Taylor in 1901. William Fitzgerald took the plunge in 1961. He was arrested as soon as he surfaced, because stunts on the river and falls had by then been outlawed.
In 1895 the world's first commercial hydroelectric plant was built at the falls. The Niagara Power Project opened in 1961 with 13 generators and a total installed power of 2,190,000 kilowatts, one of the largest hydroelectric facilities in the world. But the power won't last forever; the falls are eroding about an inch per year. For the next 2,500 years, however, the falls will look much the same as they have since Father Hennepin's visit.
By CarTraffic arriving from the south can connect with a part of the New York State Thruway (I-90), which interchanges with both I-290 and I-190. I-190, an expressway spur, leads across Grand Island to Niagara Falls, connecting with the major arteries to downtown. For the most direct and scenic route to the falls from I-190 take the Robert Moses Parkway and follow the signs to Niagara Falls State Park.
From points east, access is primarily via I-90, which collects traffic from across the state. From the Rochester area, however, SRs 31 and 104 each offer an alternate route to the city.
Approaches from the west are via any of several highways in Canada, with three bridges funneling traffic stateside: the Rainbow Bridge in the southwest part of the city near Prospect Park; the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge in the northwest just below Whirlpool State Park; and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge in Lewiston, which connects the northern end of I-190 with Canada's Hwy. 405.
Street SystemIn Niagara Falls the streets are laid out in the traditional grid pattern. Numbered streets run north to south, from First Street on the western edge of the city to 102nd Street on the eastern boundary. Named streets generally run east to west. Avenues run east to west, and roads and boulevards run north to south or diagonally.
Robert Moses Parkway parallels the river as it runs along the extreme western and southern edges of Niagara Falls, while Niagara Expressway (I-190) bypasses downtown traffic as it hugs the eastern edge before crossing into Canada.
ParkingParking is plentiful on the U.S. side of the river and ranges from on-street parking to free or pay lots. State-owned lots are in Prospect Park and on the east and west ends of Goat Island. Pay lots average a minimum of $10 per day.
About the City
Sales TaxThe sales tax in Niagara Falls is 8 percent. An additional 8 percent is levied for hotel/motel rooms, and 14.75 percent is added for rental cars.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(716) 286-4547
HospitalsMount St. Mary's, in Lewiston, (716) 297-4800; Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, (716) 278-4000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersNiagara Falls has one daily paper, the morning Niagara Gazette. The Buffalo News, as well as such metropolitan dailies as the New York Times and the New York Daily News also are available.
RadioRadio station WBEN (930 AM) is an all-news/weather station; WBFO (88.7 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationNiagara USA Official Visitors Information Center 10 Rainbow Blvd. NIAGARA FALLS, NY 14303. Phone:(716)282-8992 or (877)325-5787
For parks information contact the New York State Parks Commission in Prospect Park at (716) 278-1770.
Air TravelThe nearest airport offering major domestic flight service is Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF), at Genesee Street and Cayuga Road in Cheektowaga, just outside Buffalo; take I-190S exit 16 to I-290E exit 51 heading east, then straight on Axis Street. Shuttle buses run between the airport and major hotels; phone (800) 551-9369. Taxi service is available with fares averaging $90. Short- and long-term parking is available at The Parking Spot at 4099 Genesee St.; phone (716) 633-6040.
The Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG), 2035 Niagara Falls Blvd., serves charter and private flights; phone (716) 297-4494.
Rental CarsHertz, (716) 297-1800 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServicePassenger rail service is available at the Amtrak station at 27th Street and Lockport Road; phone (716) 285-4224.
BusesConnections by bus may be made at Portage and Ashland roads; phone (716) 285-9319. A Greyhound bus station is at 240 First St.; phone (800) 231-2222.
TaxisCab companies include Airport Taxi, (716) 633-8294, AA Taxi and Blue United Taxi, (716) 285-3333. Rates are $2.50 for the first half-mile, then 50c for each additional sixth of a mile.
Public TransportationThe Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (Metro) offers bus service within the city and outlying areas, including connections to Lockport and Buffalo. Service is generally from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fares are $2; $1 (ages 5-11, ages 65+ and the physically impaired); phone (716) 855-7300.
Mitch Barrie / flickr
EssentialsSample the spectacular views along the scenic Niagara Parkway from the Rainbow Bridge to Table Rock, and choose your favorite vantage point along the Niagara River from which to behold the three waterfalls—American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe—known collectively as Niagara Falls .
Stroll across the footbridge over the roiling American Rapids to Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park (1 Prospect St.), New York's oldest state park, for an up-close, awe-inspiring look at the river as it plunges 184 feet into Niagara Gorge.
Cruise past the American and Bridal Veil falls aboard Maid of the Mist (1 Prospect St.) for a drenching, deck-rocking rendezvous with the seething cauldron of river water churned up at the base of the massive Horseshoe Falls.
ccarlstead / flickr
Wander among the game-packed arcades, neon-lit souvenir shops, themed restaurants and carnival midway-style rides that crowd the Clifton Hill area on the Niagara River's Ontario side, just a short walk from your best view of the American Falls. Experience an array of fun activities day and night.
Feel your spirits lift along with your body as you ride a glass-walled elevator to the top of Skylon Tower (5200 Robinson St.) for a fantastic bird's-eye view of the falls, the gorge and the countryside for miles around, including—on clear days—the skyscrapers of Buffalo and Toronto. Dine and shop at the tower, too. The revolving restaurant rotates 360 degrees in one hour, allowing for a myriad of views. Stock up on souvenirs and gifts at the tower shops. For the kids, there's Skyquest, an indoor arcade with rides, high-tech video games, foosball and air hockey.
Hike along the scenic Niagara Gorge Rim Trail, which extends 6 miles north from the Horseshoe Falls through three state parks, connecting to seven other trails along the way.
Glide 250 feet above the slowly revolving whirlpool formed at a bend in the Niagara River and enjoy views of the churning rapids courtesy of insubstantial-seeming steel cables supporting the Whirlpool Aero Car (3050 Niagara Pkwy.), a ride that has been safely carrying passengers between cliff edges since 1916.
iStockphoto.com / CHBD
Inhale fragrant botanicals as you amble languorously through the exquisitely landscaped gardens at Queen Victoria Park . Plantings vary with the seasons, but in warm months, you'll likely see daffodils, lilacs and roses as well as cherry and magnolia trees. Enhancing the experience: The falls are visible from the park. Treat yourself to the relaxing and informative Horse & Carriage Rides at Queen Victoria Park (6345 Niagara Pkwy.), where you can rest your weary feet while your driver describes the entrancing surroundings.
At Bird Kingdom (5651 River Rd.), discover a completely different environment than the one outdoors. The tropical rain forest inside this former 1907 corset factory is the dwelling of more than 400 birds, who flit, fly and glide in a natural habitat that features a 40-foot waterfall.
Take a seat in a log cabin and enjoy a range of Canadian music, including maritime folk and pop, at Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Show (8585 Lundy's Ln.), where a hockey player, Anne of Green Gables or a Mountie serves you comfort food like Alberta Grade Eh? Roast Beef.
Mitch Barrie / flickr
ShoppingSouvenirs of the falls can be found downtown on Main Street, just a few minutes from the Rainbow Bridge. Three Sisters Trading Post , 454 Main St., offers gifts, souvenirs and Native American crafts. A 1-mile strip of Pine Avenue/Niagara Falls Boulevard known as Little Italy is lined with unique shops, Italian eateries and an open-air market. Choose from such souvenirs as Hard Rock Niagara Falls polo shirts, collectible pins and jewelry at the Hard Rock Cafe, 333 Prospect St.
For those on a budget or just looking for a good deal, Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA at 1900 Military Rd. offers savings on such items as clothing, glassware, jewelry, shoes, accessories and toys; stores include Banana Republic, Bass, Kate Spade and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Visitors to the Canadian side can shop for discounted merchandise at the Niagara Duty Free Shop , 5726 Falls Ave. Duty Free Americas , a tax and duty free store, is located in the Rainbow Bridge Plaza; phone (716) 284-9736.
Note: Visitors to Niagara Falls, Ontario, should be aware that currency exchange rates vary by merchant and are sometimes lower than the official rate offered by banks. U.S. Customs regulations limit or prohibit the importation of certain goods (such as sealskin products) from Canada; further information is available at customs offices or in the Border Regulations section of the Canadian TourBooks.
Michael William Thomas / flickr
Performing ArtsTheatrical and musical performances can be found in nearby Buffalo and at Earl W. Brydges ArtPark State Park , 7 miles north on Robert Moses Parkway in Lewiston.
Amir Zaidi / flickr
SightseeingSightseeing is what Niagara Falls is all about, and there is an amazing array of ways to view the falls. Information about guide services and sightseeing companies is available from your local AAA club or from Niagara USA Official Visitors Information Center. The New York State Parks Commission, (716) 278-1770, also has area sightseeing information.
Bus and Van ToursMajor tour bus companies include Gray Line of Niagara Falls; phone (716) 285-2113 or (877) 285-2113.
Michael Foley / flickr
AttractionsIn a destination with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for Niagara Falls as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Frank Swanson
The awesome sight of water from four of the five Great Lakes pouring over a 170-foot-high precipice at the rate of 600,000 gallons a second has fascinated visitors to Niagara Falls for well over a century. Unsurprisingly, most attractions on both the fall's Ontario and New York sides focus on this natural wonder—and most are AAA GEMs.
If Niagara Falls were an award-winning play, then Niagara Falls State Park would be a front-row seat. No other spot allows you to get as close to the brinks of all three falls: Terrapin Point on Goat Island overlooks the Horseshoe Falls, and tiny Luna Island sits between the American and Bridal Veil Falls. Paths wind within woodlands and along both the American and Horseshoe rapids as well as the Niagara Gorge's rim on either side of Rainbow Bridge.
Across the border, Queen Victoria Park offers a more formal, manicured version of its wilder American counterpart. The falls are at their most picturesque from this angle thanks to a sharp turn in the river. Strategically located benches dot the park's broad lawns, which are bordered by trees, shrubs and seasonal flower beds. Old-fashioned street lamps enhance the area's charm, as do the horse-drawn carriages passing along Niagara Parkway.
The Maid of the Mist departs from docks on either side of the river for a brief voyage past the American and Bridal Veil falls into the spray-filled basin at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls (Note: On the Canadian side, the attraction is called Hornblower Niagara Cruises). Thundering sheets of water nearly surround you when you're this close, so you'll want to wear one of the free plastic rain ponchos distributed by the crew. The alternative is sopping wet clothing.
Speaking of wet, the only way to get closer to the falls would be to step into them, which is exactly what you do at the Cave of the Winds Tour with the help of an elevator down to the river and a boardwalk at the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. Water actually splashes across sections of the boardwalk, which is why you receive rubber sandals after buying your ticket.
Similarly, Journey Behind the Falls on the Canadian side transports visitors down through 150 feet of rock to an outside observation platform. Tunnels lead to portals where the attraction lives up to its name by offering views from behind the thunderous Horseshoe Falls. Just a couple miles downstream on the Canadian side is White Water Walk, which conveys visitors via elevator down into the gorge—in this case arriving at a 1,000-foot-long pathway along the Niagara River's white-water rapids.
If being packed into an elevator gives you the heebie-jeebies, then the nearby Whirlpool Aero Car might be your cup of tea. This Canadian open-air gondola carries passengers from one cliff to another while the river's whirlpool lazily turns 250 feet below.
You're also unlikely to feel claustrophobic riding in the glass-walled elevator up to the observation deck in Skylon Tower —though you might experience a touch of vertigo. The unmistakable profile of this Niagara Falls landmark, a 525-foot-tall concrete mast that flares toward its base, dominates the skyline on the Canadian side. The panorama from the outdoor observation deck is unforgettable.
On the American side, 260-foot Prospect Point Observation Tower would stand out more if its base weren't inside the Niagara Gorge. As it is, less than half its height juts above the gorge's rim, yet its proximity to the American Falls combined with an observation deck that projects out over the river commands a superb view of all three falls.
You can enjoy very different views of the gorge downstream at Power Vista, perched atop the massive Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant near Lewiston, New York. Filled with kid-friendly exhibits that explain power generation, this visitor center has a large observation deck from which you'll see no fewer than three gargantuan concrete-and-steel power plants: the Robert Moses, and the Sir Adam Beck I and II on the Ontario side.
Other attractions have sprung up catering to tourists who have somehow had enough of Niagara Falls' spectacular scenery. On the Canadian side, the Clifton Hill district—within sight of the falls—is all about carnival-style amusements and attention-grabbing themed restaurants. Anchoring the boisterous fun here is the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, part of the chain famous for its collection of oddities. Statue of Liberty made of matchsticks? Check. Kitten born with two faces? Check. Three-thousand-year-old mummified falcon? Check. In recognition of its location, one museum exhibit recounts the exploits of Blondin, the 19th-century tightrope walker who crossed over Niagara Falls carrying a man on his back.
Also on the Canadian side, Marineland displays a dual personality. On the one hand it's an animal park with exhibits like Friendship Cove, where you can see killer whales up close from below the water as well as above, and Arctic Cove, where you can touch and even feed beluga whales. On the other hand, Marineland offers theme park-style rides, including the Sky Screamer tower drop and the Dragon Mountain rollercoaster.
Though somewhat removed from Niagara Falls, consider visiting Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site in Youngstown, N.Y. French, British and American flags have flown over this strategic position where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. Take the self-guiding tour and you can tramp along the wide, brick-reinforced earthwork walls, climb up one of two squat towers called redoubts and enter the fort's centerpiece: the “French Castle,” a formidable three-story stone citadel built in 1726.
Also within the New York vicinity lies Lockport, where you can board the Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises for a 2-hour round-trip journey on the historic Erie Canal. You'll float through original sections of the 19th-century waterway, which was dug by hand to connect the Hudson and Niagara rivers. A highlight of the narrated trip: passing through locks that raise and lower boats to compensate for the Niagara Escarpment's 50-foot elevation change.
See all the AAA recommended
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 48
as told to Frank Swanson
A short walk from the state park, The Red Coach Inn has stood guard over the Niagara River rapids since 1923. This historic English Tudor-style B&B features one of Niagara Falls' oldest and best dining establishments: The Red Coach Inn Restaurant. Warm up to a delicious meal in the Grill Room with its natural stone fireplace or relax and unwind with a book or a cocktail in the Fireside Room. Open seasonally, the patio offers the best view of the rapids. Whether you're in the mood for seafood delivered fresh from Boston or succulent prime rib, a relaxing meal awaits at this historic landmark.
Michael's Italian Restaurant on Pine Avenue is a stand-out for Italian-American cuisine. This small bistro diner serves consistently great Italian comfort food made from family recipes. You'll have a difficult time making up your mind when faced with the menu's myriad choices; there are more than 45 sandwich combinations alone. The mainstay pastas—lasagna, gnocchi, rigatoni, and linguine—are all offered with your choice of well-balanced sauces and accompaniments. Michael's beans and greens are some of the best, and everything comes in belly-busting portions. Come early or be prepared to wait, although even a long wait would be worthwhile.
Within a half-hour drive from Niagara Falls, you have the much larger choice of restaurants offered by Buffalo. Although there are too many to list here, one in particular is worth a visit: Anchor Bar & Restaurant, birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing. Inside the 70-year-old landmark the décor is eclectic: Harley-Davidson memorabilia mixed with family portraits and photos of celebrity diners. Patrons chow down on more than a ton of spicy chicken wings every day; all servings come with a few celery sticks—to keep up the pretense of healthy greens—along with a side of cooling blue cheese dip. A few dos and don'ts: Do forget the diet; do bring a big appetite; do try the Suicidal Wings (but at your own risk); don't wear a white shirt or any dry-clean-only outfit; and do dig in with both hands and enjoy what are undeniably the best wings on the planet.
Back in Niagara Falls, on the Ontario side of the river, two restaurants combine good food with outstanding views of the falls. The dining room at Elements on the Falls Restaurant directly overlooks the Horseshoe Falls and offers a relaxed family-oriented setting. The menu at this popular tourist pick operated by the Niagara Parks Commission features traditional fare such as prime rib, steaks and seafood enhanced with fresh local and regional ingredients. The views are wonderful, especially each evening when the falls are lit with colorful lights.
The second restaurant offering stunning views of the falls sits high atop the landmark Skylon Tower, an attraction first-time visitors won't want to miss. Because it's the only revolving restaurant in the area, The Skylon Tower Dining Rooms is an attraction on its own. In season it's a very popular choice, so expect a bustling ambience with some close table spacing. The menu features such traditional fare as prime rib, steaks and seafood. As with most revolving restaurants, you pay a premium for the view and the ambience, but you are sure to have a memorable dining experience.
A short walk away from Skylon Tower, just off attraction-packed Clifton Hill, is the ever-popular Mama Mia's. No trip to Niagara is complete without a visit to this well-established, casual Italian eatery, which offers excellent value to diners—a plus in this busy tourist area. Fresh home-style cooking featuring such old-time favorites as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and homemade ravioli keep both tourists and locals coming back. The décor is comfortable and inviting, and the central location makes it convenient to stroll down to the falls after a hearty meal.
A couple miles south of the falls, Betty's Restaurant offers the perfect place to escape the tourist frenzy and get some good, down-home cooking. Well-known for its fish and chips, Betty's has a loyal local following and is a good value for tourists. It offers a simple diner-style setting and friendly, personable service.
About a half-hour drive north of the falls is the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. If you decide to take this worthwhile side trip, be sure to visit The Olde Angel Inn, a historic pub embodying the charm and local character the town is known for. There's even talk of a resident ghost. You're likely to find locals at the casual bar sipping their pints of beer alongside a mix of tourists from all over the world. The restaurant offers a fine assortment of pub fare including fish and chips and ploughman's lunch as well as a more substantial dinner menu available in the back dining rooms. Arrive at the right time of year, and you can enjoy selections from the “peach menu,” which lists an interesting mix of dishes using fresh-picked Niagara peaches.
Any visit to the Niagara region should include a drive through scenic wine country to experience the wonderful variety of local wines. A perfect way to cap off this day trip is a meal at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that enjoys an outstanding setting with spectacular views. The chef here has created an innovative tasting menu featuring dishes paired with the vineyard's extensive wine selection. Because Peller Estates is popular with visitors and groups, make reservations and expect a sometimes boisterous atmosphere as fellow diners delight in the wine.
Nearby, acres of vineyards surround the elegant RiverBend Inn Vineyard Restaurant, the perfect choice for a refined meal. In season you can enjoy spectacular outdoor dining on a large terrace in a quieter setting than the ever-popular winery restaurants. The dining room is located within a country inn featuring fine artwork and elegant chandeliers. The chef has created a menu that highlights fresh local and regional cuisine to complement the local wines.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
If you're a theater-lover, then head to nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, for the Shaw Festival , showcasing the plays of George Bernard Shaw, but also including the work of his contemporaries and plays set during Shaw's long lifetime: 1856-1950. The season lasts from April through October and draws around 270,000 theatergoers annually to three downtown venues.
During the French and Indian War Encampment , orchestrated in early July in nearby Youngstown, N.Y., roughly a thousand re-enactors gather at Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site , a AAA GEM attraction, to re-create the 1759 British siege of what was then a strategically located military post. Mock battles and living history camps are part of the educational fun.
While the falls may be the big draw, increasing numbers of visitors come to sample the products of the region's wine country. In late September, the Ontario town of St. Catharines celebrates the industry with the Niagara Wine Festival , during which connoisseurs and others enjoy tours and tastings offered by more than 30 area wineries. Entertainment, parades, wine appreciation seminars and a gourmet food fair round out the festival's schedule.
In late October, nearly 3,000 runners compete in a 26.2-mile footrace from Buffalo, N.Y., to Niagara Falls, Ontario, during the Niagara Falls International Marathon . Organizers describe it as the only marathon starting in one nation and ending in another. The route passes through downtown Buffalo, across the Peace Bridge and along the picturesque Niagara Parkway to a finish in front of the Toronto Power Generating Station, providing athletes with a variety of scenery to enjoy.
Perhaps the area's most popular happening with well over a million attendees is the CAA Winter Festival of Lights , held from early November through January in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Each year festival organizers transform a 5-kilometer-long stretch of the Niagara Parkway into a winter wonderland with millions of lights and more than 100 whimsical displays, including animated displays created by The Walt Disney Co. Nightly fireworks along with nighttime parades, concerts and stage shows round out the entertainment, and everything happens against the backdrop of the beautifully illuminated falls.
The Winter Festival of Lights reaches a boisterous and nationally televised crescendo with New Year's Eve in the Park , a free outdoor concert held in Queen Victoria Park. Of course a fireworks spectacular heralds the New Year's arrival.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Eric Parker / flickr
Niagara Falls TicketsThe Niagara Parks Commission Passes provide savings for guests interested in visiting Niagara Falls attractions.
The Niagara Falls Adventure Pass Classic includes admission to four attractions—Journey Behind the Falls, Hornblower Niagara Cruises, Niagara's Fury and White Water Walk—as well as two days transportation on the WEGO buses. The pass also includes discount coupons for other Niagara Parks attractions like the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory and Whirlpool Aero Car. The passport is available April through October. Fee $56.95; $36.95 (ages 6-12).
The pass can be purchased at all Niagara Parks attractions and Welcome Centers and many participating local hotels.
Niagara's Changing FaceBy Frank Swanson
The relentless forces that carved 7-mile-long Niagara Gorge and gave Niagara Falls its current photogenic shape are still at work today. For the most part change comes gradually—occurring over hundreds and thousands of years—but every now and then the process turns violent as undermined rock strata yield in a sudden, landscape-altering instant.
One storied Niagara attraction that fell victim to the ever-shifting rock was the Great Gorge Route, a round-trip electric trolley ride that descended into the gorge at Niagara Falls and followed the river just a few feet from the violently churning whirlpool rapids before emerging at Lewiston, N.Y., where it crossed the bridge into Ontario. From there the tracks ran along the cliff verge back to Niagara Falls.
The views from the open-air cars were spectacular, and the excitement generated by such a remarkable engineering feat made the route a tourist draw in itself. But rockslides plagued the tracks on the American side from the beginning, and as automobile travel grew in popularity, the Great Gorge Route became less and less profitable. Finally, when a particularly large avalanche destroyed the rail bed near the Whirlpool Bridge in 1935, the line ceased operations.
An even more destructive rockslide occurred in 1956 when the cliff wall behind the 19th-century Schoellkopf Power Station collapsed, taking most of the station with it. Amazingly, of the 40 men working in the building at the time, only one perished. Look closely at the area just north of the Rainbow Bridge's American end, and you can see vestiges of the station's 100-year-old brick walls.
Another rockslide made headlines 2 years earlier when tourists noticed a large crack in the Prospect Point observation area next to the American Falls. Within hours a huge section of the point—nearly 200,000 tons of rock—plummeted into the gorge. Engineers later blasted several more tons away to stabilize the area.
If you've ever taken the Cave of the Winds Tour and wondered, “What cave?” you're not alone. A natural cave behind the falls once existed, but instability forced its closure in 1920, and the 1954 Prospect Point rock fall and subsequent dynamiting removed its last traces. Likewise, the landmark stone ledge on the Canadian side known as Table Rock fell away in huge chunks throughout the 1800s, and in 1935 its remnants were deemed unsafe and sheered off with explosives.
After the dramatic 1954 avalanche changed the face of the American Falls, public fears that erosion would obliterate the falls entirely led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to undertake an extraordinary project: divert the Niagara River and shut the falls off. For several months in 1969, the American and Bridal Veil falls were temporarily “dewatered” as geologists studied the exposed riverbed to see how erosion could be minimized. Since then engineers have installed steel rods, cables and bolts to strengthen the rock and drilled holes to relieve water pressure. Instruments around Luna Island and Prospect and Terrapin points now measure rock movement to avoid further surprises.
And slowing erosion at the falls even more: the tremendous volume of water both Ontario and New York divert to produce electricity. During the summer tourist season, 50 percent of the river's flow bypasses the falls, and in winter that number increases to 75 percent. Before water was rerouted, the falls receded a few feet every year; now erosion is measured in inches.
At that rate, you'll be able to snap photos of Niagara Falls for another 50,000 years, give or take a millennium.
Places in Vicinity