Three giant cataracts – American Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls – line the southern end of Niagara Gorge, marking the Canada-U.S. border in spectacular style. Both sides of the border have their own merits when it comes to viewing the falls, and both can be easily visited in a single trip, but travelers will need a passport to cross into Canada.
There are many ways to get close to this world-famous natural wonder: by foot, by boat, by observation tower and by helicopter. Overlooking the gorge, the city of Niagara Falls is very walkable, and a pleasant place to stay for a night or two. Downstream from the falls are several more state parks, protecting scenic stretches of the Niagara River as it journeys on to Lake Ontario.
Niagara Falls is located in upstate New York. Buffalo-Niagara International Airport is about 30-40 minutes from the town and has flights to major destinations across the United States, as well as a shuttle to the town.
A boat tour that glides right up to the thundering base of the Niagara Falls, the Maid of the Mist passes both American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Even when crowded – which is most of the time – it’s an awe-inspiring experience, as the boat and its denizens are dwarfed and forced into silence by the crashing water. The Maid sails until 5 p.m. most of the year, and until 8 p.m. between June and August.
The Cave of the Winds gets you even closer to the falls than the Maid of the Mist. An elevator ride takes visitors down deep into the Niagara Gorge, then a winding redwood walkway follows the river to the Hurricane Deck, a water-drenched viewing platform a few feet from Bridal Veil Falls. The name comes from a vast cave that cut into the rock behind the water until it was covered by a rockfall in 1954.
Two miles downstream from Niagara Falls, the gorge suddenly narrows and the constricted water forms a swirling white-tipped whirlpool. The area around this event has been turned into Whirlpool State Park, which has great views from the rim of the gorge down onto the writhing river. Alternatively, a staircase climbs down to the riverbank and connects with a hiking trail running directly past the whirlpool. It’s a ferocious sight and the area is far less crowded than the falls themselves.
The Seneca Niagara Hotel, a short walk from Niagara Falls State Park, has three restaurants to choose between as well as a glitzy casino. The restaurants allow guests to choose their cuisine from all over the world: Koi is east Asian and La Cascata Italian. But the best is probably the most parochial, The Western Door which is an excellent steakhouse that also serves decent seafood and has a great selection of wine.
With its brown-hued English Tudor facade, luxurious rooms and location just 500 feet from Niagara Falls, The Red Coach Inn is the area’s most distinctive accommodation. There are a wide variety of rooms, including some with separate living areas, open fireplaces, and personal jacuzzis. Breakfast is superb, too, served in an elegantly furnished dining room and restaurant where guests are welcome to eat throughout the day.