Niagara Falls is by far the most famous waterfall in North America. It has been the backdrop to many honeymoons, proposals, daredevil stunts, and even key moments in the history of the United States. If you haven't heard of this falls, it's time for you to get out and start exploring the world around you!
To Julie and I, we visited this waterfall with a lot of expectations. But after having seen it (twice), we'd have to say we were quite impressed by its power and size (so much so that it not only topped our Top 10 USA Waterfalls List but also made our Top 10 Waterfalls of the World). In fact, Niagara Falls is said to be the largest waterfall (by volume) in North America. The falls actually consists of three separate components - Horseshoe Falls (see photo above), American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Combined, the falls is said to have an average discharge of a mind boggling over 7000 cubic meters per second. It's said that over 90% of this volume is over the Horseshoe Falls.
The Niagara River marks the border between New York, USA and Ontario, Canada. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls lies on the American side while the Horseshoe Falls is considered Canadian even though my maps seem to indicate that the political boundary in the middle of the Niagara River also splits the falls. We felt the falls was easily experienced from both sides so it didn't really matter which side we were on (though waiting in line at the border control could be a total pain, especially heading into the American side). Click here to read about some of the trip logistics and nuances we had to figure out when visiting both sides.
When we first visited the falls during the early Summer month of June, we thought the water volume was probably either at its highest for the year or close to it. Then, when we visited the falls during the Autumn month of October six years later, we saw even more mist wafting up from the base of the falls. So we couldn't really say from our observations whether this could be explained by 2013 being a wetter year than 2007, or if the seasonal variations weren't as pronounced as we would have expected (Click here to read a writeup we did discussing the various seasons and conditions at the falls). Whatever the case, the volume and power of Niagara Falls were so evident that the mist from the Horseshoe Falls segment seemed to aggregate into its own clouds as the mist cloud would rise higher than the 167ft plunge itself (note I've also seen reported heights of 173ft and 176ft for the height of Niagara Falls' drop).
The falls is said to contribute a large amount of hydroelectric power to the power grid in the Eastern US and Canada. Perhaps in recognition of this heritage of hydroelectricity, we noticed a statue of Nikola Tesla at the falls. It was he who was credited with being the first to successfully turn the energy of falling water from Niagara Falls into electricity that was distributed for private and industrial use.
Hydroelectricity has been controversial in terms of the environment, and it is especially a bane for waterfalling due to inundation, interruption of waterflow, and collateral damage to the natural surroundings to support hydroelectric infrastructure. However, there's no denying the critical role it has played in allowing certain cities (and even whole economies) to be built up and thrive. In the case of Niagara Falls, human intervention has also meant that the flow of the Niagara River has been regulated in a way that actually slows down the erosion of the falls (roughly 3ft per year). Moreover, it has been said to play a critical role in the evolution of America into the country it is today.
We've been aware that the falls has been a tourist attraction since America's early years (the mid 1800s). So it wasn't surprising that over the last 200 years or so, the attraction has become heavily commercialized. This meant that we could experience the falls in numerous ways but we did feel that each waterfall "excursion" was like an amusement park or carnival ride where we paid to do a particular experience and then moved on to the next if we were so inclined. Indeed, like the tourists of days past, we got drenched at the Cave of the Winds as well as the Maid of the Mist, and we also got to hear and feel the power of the falls from its backside. You can read more about our experiences with these excursions here.
The commercialism at the falls also meant that for all intents and purposes, Niagara Falls was an urban waterfall. It was surrounded by plenty of concrete as well as high rises. Most of those high rises kind of reminded us of a Frankenstein-like hybrid of Las Vegas and a waterfall world wonder. In that sense, this falls had all the potential of rivaling the other waterfalls comprising what we called "The Big Three" in Iguazu Falls and Victoria Falls, but just didn't measure up to them when considering its unnatural surroundings.
No doubt about it. The falls can be experienced and seen in countless ways. We're living proof of that as you can see from the pictures and videos on this page. And with that said, I'm willing to bet there are even more ways to see and experience the one and only Niagara Falls than what we've done. So take a virtual tour by scrolling further to see more photos, videos, links, and more! See if this doesn't inspire your own trip to the Granddaddy of waterfalls in the USA!
Full rainbow spanning over Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls demonstrating just how misty it gets here
Double rainbow from Terrapin Point at the brink of Niagara Falls on the US side
Niagara Falls from the observation tower on the US side of the Niagara River
Crazy misty scene at the Cave of the Winds
Twilight at Niagara Falls seen from the Canadian side
Looking out of a hotel room with a view of Niagara Falls. This was taken in October 2013 - six years after our first trip here in June 2007
Our first look at Niagara Falls from a hotel room. Notice how the mist rises higher than the height of the falls itself! We also noticed how that mist cloud tended to break off into their own clouds, which pretty much acted like real clouds! I wondered if there was some kind of accelerated atmospheric effects being observed here...
Looking towards the American Falls from the hotel room
Looking down at the little ants peering into the Horseshoe Falls abyss
Now we're one of the ants peering into the Horseshoe Falls abyss
Expect to be sharing the falls with plenty of other onlookers
Looking downstream at American Falls and the Rainbow Bridge from the Canadian side
Looking down at people by the base of Horseshoe Falls as part of the Journey Behind the Falls tour
More distant view of the Horseshoe Falls
Looking across Niagara Falls towards Bridal Veil Falls
Comprehensive look at both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls from an elevated lookout deck on the Canadian side
Floodlit Horseshoe Falls
Floodlit American Falls
Looking back at Horseshoe Falls in white light with the Canadian skyline to the right
View of Horseshoe Falls from Terrapin Point on the American Side
Closer to the edge
Profile view of American Falls towards Rainbow Bridge from the American Side
Getting a serious drenching at the Cave of the Winds
Looking down at onlookers by the brink of American Falls
Looking over the brink of Bridal Veil Falls
Looking down at the Cave of the Winds walkway
Getting a very close look at the American Falls
Looking towards the Canadian side from the American side
In-your-face view of American Falls
In-your-face view of the torrent of Horseshoe Falls
Walkers dwarfed by American Falls
Full rainbow as seen near Horseshoe Falls
Almost in front of the thunderous wall of water
Behind Horseshoe Falls
So close to Horseshoe Falls that you can feel the ground tremble
Last look at Horseshoe Falls with bright rainbow before we called it a day
Looking down at Niagara Falls being floodlit at night on our last night
Another night view of the falls, except this one was taken in 2013