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Spotlight: Niagara Falls

Feel the power of an iconic spectacle

Photos simply don’t do Niagara Falls justice. Six million cubic feet of water gush over Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the river every minute of every day. The roar is deafening, the view visceral. The power of the falls is so vicious that behind the mesmerizing veil of plummeting, tumbling, raging water the 12,000-year-old Niagara Escarpment rock shelf is being chewed and chipped away at a rate of 12 inches per year.

This is nature unleashed. And it’s a sight to behold.

If this is your first visit to the Niagara Falls region, you’ll want to orient yourself to the area. As the Niagara River flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, it forms part of the international border between Ontario and New York State. Halfway between the two Great Lakes the river is split and divided into three massive waterfalls—Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the New York side. The best views of all three are found on the Canadian side of the river, and the Canadian falls carry nine times more water than their American counterparts.

As such, most visitors to the Niagara area aim for the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario, which offers an abundance of waterfall-themed attractions to truly enhance and expand the experience far beyond a simple act of sightseeing.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Exploring the Falls

Queen Victoria Park serves as the doorstep to the falls themselves, running along the shores of the river and providing direct access to Horseshoe Falls. Five different Welcome Centers are located throughout the park and it’s worth your time to stop at one of them if you plan on visiting any of the other attractions in the area, such as Journey Behind the Falls, White Water Walk or Niagara’s Fury. Passes can be purchased in advance, and in some cases, guests can reserve timed-ticket access to popular attractions.

If you’re short on time, then Journey Behind the Falls is the absolute must-do activity. The self-guided walk winds below and behind the roaring waters of Horseshoe Falls via a series of open-ended tunnels. Safety rails are in place to prevent visitors from getting too close to the edge of the tunnels, past which water falls from a height of 13 stories at more than 40 miles per hour. An observation deck at the very foot of the falls outside offers the closest and most riveting views available though the deck is more than a bit misty, so mind your expensive camera.

Having seen the power of Niagara Falls up close, head for Niagara’s Fury next. This high-tech immersive experience tells the story of how the Niagara River Gorge and its famous waterfalls were created over the course of 12,000 years. The floor will tilt, water will spray and snow will fall as you’re taken on a wild ride that showcases the incredible power of the natural world.

If you prefer indoor pursuits, checkout the Niagara IMAX Theatre, which brings the thundering falls to life with state-of-the-art projection and sound. Learn about the area’s rich history of human habitation, and get acquainted with some of the brave souls who floated over the falls at the Niagara Daredevil Exhibit. You can even touch the sturdy craft that carried these larger-than-life characters through the white water and into history. Of particular note is Annie Edson Taylor, a charm-school teacher from Bay City who, in 1901, became the first person to go over Horseshoe Falls in a barrel and live to tell the tale. The feat earned her the nickname, “Queen of Niagara Falls.”

The quintessential Niagara Falls experience, however, isn’t found inside a 4D theater or from the relative comfort of an observation deck. For that, you have to head out on a Hornblower Niagara Cruise. These world-famous catamaran boat tours take guests straight into the pluming mists of all three falls, bringing poncho-covered guests up-close to Bridal Veil Falls, American Falls and straight into the thundering crosshairs of deafening Horseshoe Falls.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Butterflies and Birds

When you’re ready for a change of pace head a few miles upstream to White Water Walk. Here the power of the Niagara River is on display with a stretch of some of the roughest whitewater rapids in the world. This section of the Niagara River Gorge acts like an acceleration chute, channeling the water toward the falls at upwards of 30 miles per hour. Visitors can explore the rapids by way of a scenic quarter-mile boardwalk, reached by a trip down to the riverbank in an elevator.

Niagara Falls (the city) isn’t all about fast-flowing water and struggling to keep your hair dry, though. Two of the most popular attractions on the Canadian side of the river are the Butterfly Conservatory and Bird Kingdom.

At the Butterfly Conservatory, visitors enter a world of more than 2,000 tropical butterflies living and floating about in a lush rainforest setting. Ponds, waterfalls and walkways weave through the conservatory, and tours are self-guided.

At Bird Kingdom, located just a short walk from Horseshoe Falls, visitors enjoy an experience that’s one part show, one part tour and one part zoo visit. The experience is designed to bring guests back in time to the age of fearless explorers, navigating a world of exotic plants, animals, birds and reptiles. The experience culminates with an entry into the world’s largest aviary, home to a 40-foot waterfall, living jungle and free-flying exotic birds.

For More Information

Tourism Partnership of Niagara
800-563-2557
www.visitniagaracanada.com
Ontario Travel
800-668-2746
www.ontariotravel.net