How do you want to see Niagara? By car, boat, helicopter, horse & buggy, on your feet, a walking guided tour, in a bus filled with tourists, or sitting on a bench watching the world take in the spectacle? It doesn’t matter because after all, it’s you that Niagara Falls has to please. But let me give you a little (or a lot) of advice.
As a former (official) tour guide, plus someone who has lived here for 32 years at this writing, taken over 20,000 photo’s of Niagara Canada and Niagara USA, I do have some knowledge of this destination for millions of visitors each year. I’m going to break it down into interest groups because, surprise, there’s an awful lot to see and enjoy at Niagara Falls.
This post is to give you an idea of the tours available in Niagara, and there are many. This isn’t a definitive list of every tour service, just the one’s that I have some knowledge of their services.
Your own vehicle
Ok, you’re coming to Niagara by car and want to see it all, or at least a major part of the Niagara Region. Just a heads up, in some cases it may be (depends on the car) cheaper to take a conducted tour than try and find parking for your car and pay the fairly steep parking rates.
But having said that, let’s take a tour in your own vehicle. Vehicle in this case means car, truck, van, smallish motorhome and similar. You need two full days, or three if you want to get a glimpse of the entire region.
Then we need to discuss whether or not you’ll see both Niagara Falls Canada and Niagara Falls, USA. For that you will definitely need a Passport or Nexus Pass. The Canadian side is the really active side with the straight on views of the Falls. The U.S. side of the Falls is unique, but you are basically looking over the Falls, not getting the impact of the totality of the three Falls.
By Car – U.S. side
Don’t get me wrong, I love taking pictures and getting the perspective from the U.S. side, but it simply doesn’t match the total experience of visiting the Canadian side. The above picture tends to be the scene. But there are beautiful parks and walking trails, with several restaurants and shops nearby.
If you are driving you can then head away from the Falls for about a mile along the Niagara Gorge and take a very worthwhile boat trip on the Maid of the Mist. They’ve been doing this tour for over 100 years, and provide poncho’s because you will get wet when they take you almost under the Canadian Falls (the largest). The Canadian side offers the Hornblower boat rides. I’ll have more on this attraction later in this post.
Then to dry out you can take a leisurely drive up to Fort Niagara and a lot of history about the War of 1812 between Canada and the U.S. Worth the half hour drive and an hour or two at the Fort.
By Car – Canadian side
This is where it will take longer to see it all, but we’ll start with seeing the Falls and attractions around the Falls. The reality is, you don’t need your car. Park it and leave it if this is your focus of your visit. You have a hotel at or close to the Falls (even four or five miles away because you can take transit to the Falls) with free parking (I hope) and your feet will do the touring. The Falls area is scrunched into about 5 square city blocks. Up and down fairly steep hills, but good sidewalks and steps, so you shouldn’t have an issue.
Yes there is parking closer to the actual Falls, but you will pay the price for the convenience, if you can find a space. When I go down to take photo’s (because there’s always something new and different) I usually park 4 to 6 blocks away from the Falls and walk. This way the parking is almost always available and it’s under $5 for several hours or the day.
Lot’s of restaurants, so you won’t go hungry. Lots of park benches to sit and relax and enjoy a snack or a lunch if you brought one. You are never far from restrooms and they are clean and administered all days long.
The Niagara Parks department controls most of the area around the Falls and the oldest police department in Ontario, the Niagara Parks Police, police the Parks areas, backed up by the Niagara Regional Police (regular police services). You may see Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well at the various Falls lookout gathering areas. You can spot them easily because of their red uniforms. They are here representing Canada, not for policing duties, and you can talk to them and have your pictures taken with them.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are equivalent to the FBI in the U.S. in terms of their jurisdiction, plus they do standard policing in various communities across Canada and all federal facilities such as Airports.
While at Table Rock, that’s the building located at the Canadian Falls, also called the Horseshoe Falls, be sure to take in the “movie” of how Niagara Falls was created. It’s about 20 minutes, but it’s a wonderful experience. You get shaken by earthquakes, and see the creation of the Niagara River and the Falls in all around sound and movies.
Well worth the price. It’s in the Table Rock building.
While at Table Rock, you can take in the Journey Under The Falls. You head down in an elevator and can wander the tunnels under the Falls, looking out portholes at the water pouring over the Falls. You can also go outside on a platform right below the Falls.
You’ll need your poncho (provided) because you get wet.
It’s unique but it’s an open question as to how interesting it is. If you have time, take the tour. If not, don’t sweat it, just don’t go under the Falls.
The Table Rock building has a restaurant, a couple of Fast Food places (including a Tim Horton’s for Tim fanatics) and a great store for those looking for souvenirs.
For picture taking fans, you’re right at the brink of the largest of the three Falls at Niagara. Lots of pictures to be taken but be careful. Don’t go over the fence. Every year we seem to lose someone over the Falls because they were trying to get a closser selfie, or a see me, I’m over the fence. This is even more important in the winter because of the ice all around the Falls.
Above the Falls
While you’re at the Canadian-Horseshoe Falls, look up river to your right and you’ll see the rapids above the Falls. This is an interesting part of Niagara Falls. You can take a leisurely walk from Table Rock to the small park opposite the “old scow” in the river. Here’s the info on what you are looking at…
- From the control gates just above you on the river to the crest of the Falls, the water/river actually drop about 50 feet. This causes the river flow to speed up before going over the Falls.
- The average flow speed of the rapids above the Falls reach a maximum speed of 40 km/hr or 25 mph, with the fastest speeds occur at the falls themselves (recorded up to 68 mph.) The water through the Whirlpool Rapids below the falls reaches 48 km/hr or 30 mph.
- The Control Gates/Dam that you see above the rapids control the amount of water going over the Falls. In the daytime in summer, the amount of water allowed is 100,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) converts to 2,832 cubic metres per second (cms). This means that 2,832 tonnes of water per second is flowing over the falls. Overnight and in winter, the flow” is 50,000 cubic feet per second cfs, which converts to 1,416 cms, which means that 1,416 tonnes of water per second is flowing over the falls.
- The Falls is reduced for two reasons. First to slow the erosion of the Falls themselves. The more water that flows over, the more the bottom of the rock of the Falls is eroded letting the rock fall. This moves the Falls back up river, and slowly would cause the Falls to simply become rapids in the river. The second reason has a lot more to do with hydro-electric power. To power the generators to make electricity, the excess water is diverted around Niagara Falls (both cities) to the power stations down river. The water then flows through the generators and back into the Niagara River and out to Lake Ontario, then the St. Lawrence and then the North Atlantic Ocean. This control is done through an agreement with the International Joint Commission (USA and Canada) since 1910
- Since the first explorers saw the Falls about 450 years ago, the Falls have move about 400 feet back through errosion.
- The Niagara River is a remnant of the last Ice Age. The Niagara River is 35 miles long and connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. Some 18,000 years ago the area that is now southern Ontario was completely covered in sheets of ice. As they made their way toward the south, these sheets of ice proceeded to gouge out basins that formed the Great Lakes. Then when the glaciers melted, they released massive amounts of melt water into those basins.Around 12,500 years ago, the area forming the Niagara Peninsula was freed of ice.
- Following the Civil War, Niagara Falls was publicized by the New York Central railroad as a destination for honeymoon visits and pleasure. Following World War I, tourism continued and with the explosion of automobiles making it much easier for tourists to visit the Falls. Attractions and accommodation sprang up.
- The startling green colour of the Niagara River is because of the estimated 60 tons of dissolved minerals that are swept over Niagara Falls every minute.
- The Great Lakes is the world’s largest surface freshwater system in the world, containing about 18 percent of the world’s supply. If spread out, the volume of water in the Great Lakes would cover North America in about 1 metre (3.5 ft.) of water!
- Less than one percent of the water of the Great Lakes is renewable on an annual basis (precipitation and groundwater). Meaning that 99% The rest of the water in the Great Lakes is a legacy from the last ice age, or “fossil” water.
Now, what is the old scow you see out in the river, and what about the WW1 Sub-Chaser, Sunbeam. Here’s the story. When you click on it, a new tab will open, and when you’ve finished, just close that tab and you’ll be right back here. SPECIAL NOTATION: The website link I have provided with the history of the scow and the subchaser being stranded in the Niagara River just above the Falls is not able to show the story on mobile devices (like smartphones or tablets) which nearly everyone uses while visiting the Falls. Thus I have re-created the story on this site, which is mobile friendly. The link to the Story of the Old Scow and WW1 Sub-Chaser is here. Thanks to Rick Berketa, the webmaster of the original story site, also linked above.
The Niagara Gorge and the American and Bridal Veil Falls
Now you can take a walk back to the Table Rock building and beyond. Walking along the Niagara Gorge you’ll see the tour boats plying the waters below and across the river – in the USA – is Goat Island which splits the American/Bridal Veil Falls with the Canadian/Horseshoe Falls. Goat Island is also home to the first U.S. State Park. It’s here that you’ll find the Cave of the Winds and the “World Changed Here” Pavilion which offers visitors an educational and entertaining perspective on the history and historical significance of Niagara Falls through interactive exhibits including an immersive object theater media presentation.
It’s also where you’ll find the actual Cave of the Winds where you can explore beneath the American Falls, navigating under the Falls to the famous Hurricane Deck. Those rain ponchos you see aren’t optional – you’ll be surrounded by the thundering power of water cascading down. Save your footwear and take advantage of the souvenir sandals! This is what you see as you stroll along the rim of the Gorge on the Canadian side.
After a leisurely walk you’ll be in front of the American and Bridal Veil Falls Falls. In 1954, there was a big rock breakaway and all that rock you see at the bottom of the Falls is what fell into the river below. Then in 1969 the flow over the Falls was stopped (with a dam) and they did some repairs to the remaining American FallsFalls.
Some facts about the American and Bridal Veil Falls…
- About 10% of the water that flows over Niagara Falls flows over the American Falls
- The American and Bridal Veil Falls ae entirely in the U.S.
- There is a plan to stop the American Falls again so the two bridges that connect Goal Island to the mainland can be replaced.
- The height of the American Falls off the water is 180 feet (56 metres)
- The crestlineof the American Falls, including the 50 feet of the Bridal Veil Falls is 1075 ft (328 metres) wide.
- The estimated water flow per second is 75,000 gallons.
You can walk further to the White Water Park and Walk. The Class 6 rapids that are downriver about a mile from the American Falls. It’s a nice walk, past homes that are along the Gorge. The White Water walk is right down at the river’s edge. You talke an elevator down and enjoy a half hour to an hour walk along the river. It’s this section that stops boats from coming up river to Niagara Falls, and stops the tour boats at the Falls from going back down river.
You can also take transit that stops all along the gorge if you don’t feel like walking.
From there, you can walk about another mile or a little less to the Whirlpool. The is where the Falls existed some 5,000 years ago, before breaking loose and moving to the present location. Of course you can take transit to the Whirlpool.
You can take a ride on the Whirlpool Cable Car over the rapids. It’s an interesting ride and some great pictures can be had. For the rest of the tour, or should I say tours, you will need your car, but for now, take the transit back to Clifton Hill and have some fun and eats. From there, just head back to your hotel and I’ll see you on the next part of my tour of Niagara.
Your friendly guide to Niagara Falls and area. Be sure to take advantage of the comment section below. Love to hear from you, and be sure and tell us where you are from.