14 Top-Rated Attractions and Things to Do in Niagara Falls, NY
Niagara Falls is one of the world’s most impressive and famous falls. They are located along the U.S./Canadian border in the extreme northwest of New York State, formed by the Niagara River.
Here, the waters of Lake Erie fall more than 200 feet to flow into Lake Ontario, which attracts more than 12 million visitors annually.
There are three waterfalls total Bridal Veil Falls, American Falls, and Horseshoe Falls widest. Downstream, the river passes through a narrow passage into the Niagara Gorge and then churns into a giant whirlpool.
There are several ways to view the falls, from dry land and directly up in the spray. Once you soak up the spectacular waterfalls, there are plenty of things to do in this lovely upstate town and across the river in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Plan your next trip with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Niagara Falls, New York.
- Niagara Falls State Park
Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in New York, opened in 1885 and is home to a trio of impressive waterfalls and five islands on the Niagara River.
The park covers 400 acres, including nature and bike trails, picnic facilities, and beautiful photo ops.
For those whose feet need a break, the park’s old-fashioned trolley brings visitors to the park’s main attractions, such as the Observation Tower, with panoramic views of all three falls.
Sightseeing tours are also available, including boat tours and other up-close experiences like Made of the Mist.
The park’s visitor center also offers plenty, including historical exhibits, a gift shop, several restaurants, and the Adventure Theater.
Here, visitors can enjoy a 40-minute “4-D” presentation that combines film and sensory effects, such as a fall spray, to provide an immersive experience for the whole family.
Maps, area information, and tickets to park attractions and top places to visit can also be found at the visitor center. The waterfalls are lit at night, and fireworks are displayed throughout the year.
The Niagara Falls American Side Highlights Tour is a great way to see the highlights of the falls while enjoying door-to-door service.
This five-hour guided tour includes admission to Niagara Falls State Park, the Maid of the Mist Tour, and tours of the Cave of Winds, the Niagara Falls Observation Tower, and Goat Island.
Official Site: http://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/
Prospect Point Observation Tower
The best way to admire the full magnificence of the falls is from the Prospect Point Observation Tower, Niagara Falls, NY.
Sometimes located close enough to the falls to enjoy its refreshing spray, the tower is accessed via an extensive observation deck that extends from the tower and over the water. From here, tourists can see the mesmerizing rapids and all three falls, including the American Falls.
The boarding area for the Made of the Mist tour is located at the base of the tower, accessible by a high-speed lift from the observation deck.
The tower’s base also provides access to Crow’s Nest, a small observation tower close to the falls. The Crow’s Nest can be reached via a trail and stairs.
This short hike is located within an Audubon Important Bird Area, home to various gulls, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles.
The tower is located on the former High Banks Industrial Mill site, now considered part of the Historic Mill District, which was active between 1861 and 1918.
Like many riverside towns, the rapid growth in manufacturing also led to hasty growth. Pollution. The New York State Reservation Park was established in 1885 to preserve some of the area’s natural beauty.
Still, the hydro-power and industrial businesses flourished until the early 20th century, when pollution became too bad to ignore. By the 1940s, most of the mills had been dismantled.
- Maid of the Mist
The Maid of the Mist, in operation since 1846, is the longest-running boat tour of the falls. This is the most popular attraction in Niagara Falls State Park for a good reason.
Tourists start at the base of the Observation Tower, donning a blue cape and setting off on a double-decker boat across the river to Niagara Gorge.
The 30-minute tour visits American Falls and Horseshoe Falls, riding close to the base where hundreds of thousands of gallons of water crash every second.
This unforgettable tour lasts from April through November, and tickets are purchased at the state park’s visitor center.
Goat Island’s Wind Cave
From Prospect Point, one path crosses a bridge over small Green Island, in the middle of rapids just above American Falls, and then over another bridge on Goat Island, between American and Horseshoe Falls.
On Goat Island, at the foot of American Falls, is the entrance to the Cave of the Winds, with a boardwalk leading down to the falls.
Before descending 175 feet into the gorge, visitors to the Cave of Winds are provided with ponchos and souvenir sandals—which isn’t necessarily the case for anyone who doesn’t want to spend the rest of the day in wet shoes.
Nicknamed the “Hurricane Deck” for its constant state of stormy conditions, the wooden platform stands only 20 feet from the falling waters of Bridal Veil Falls.
Tourists can also access Luna Island by gangway from the northern tip of Goat Island. A network of walking routes provides additional opportunities to see both American Falls and Horseshoe Falls from a different perspective.
- Whirlpool Rapids
Three miles below American Falls, the river turns again, forming a whirlpool in the great cauldron created initially by tectonic movements, then turning northeast toward Lake Ontario at the Lower Rapids.
These rapids are some of the most dangerous in the world, with 100,000 cubic feet of water flowing through the narrow Whirlpool Gorge every second.
From the New York side of the river, visitors can hike a series of paths and stairs to an observation point that was once a stop on the Great Gorge Railway.
A more navigable way to see whirlpools and rapids is the Whitewater Walk, which is wheelchair accessible but requires a visit to Niagara Parks in Ontario, Canada.
The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is also a popular way to view the waterfall from above, spanning the Niagara River between the United States and Canada.
Niagara Gorge Trail (Rim Trail)
The Rim Trail offers a variety of stunning views, running from south to north along the top edge of the gorge. It is designated as “easy”, offering a healthy gravel base, although it includes several steep steps.
The trail is a 6.2-mile-long one-way, beginning at the Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center (by the Discovery Center) and ending at the Robert Moses Power Plant.
At the northernmost end of the trail, hikers can access Artpark State Park for another 1.3 miles (easy to moderate difficulty) on the Artpark Gorge Trail, which is north of the Lewiston–Queenston Bridge.
The River Edge Trail is also located in this park, and as its name promises, it offers hikers the opportunity to see the river at its level.
This easy trail is only 1.2 miles and is an excellent option for those who may have difficulty on the most challenging waterside trails.
Alternatively, hikers can double back and then diverge on the Robert Moses Recreation Trail (easy level), which traverses Devaux Wood State Park or the more challenging Devil’s Hole Trail.
The Robert Moses Trail is fully paved and allows winter cycling, skating, and cross-country skiing. It is 3.2 miles long and extends from its junction with the Rim Trail back to the Niagara Gorge Trailhead. The park offers guided tours from May through October, weather permitting.
Visitors looking for shorter trails that depart from the Trailhead Center have other options to explore the Niagara River Gorge.
The Great Gorge Railway Trail (Easy) is approximately 1.1 miles one-way, ending in a stairway leading up to the Rim Trail; Hikers can proceed up the stairs and double-back for a total hike of about two miles.
The trail descends slowly from the trailhead and offers spectacular views near river level, as well as beautiful views from the views.
The American Falls Gorge Trail (Medium) can only be accessed via a railway trail, which extends over the water to the Rainbow Bridge. It is about a mile journey and offers excellent views of the Skoelkopf Power Station.
- Devils Hole State Park and Devils Hole Rapids
Devils Hole State Park is named for its position along Devils Hole Rapids, located downstream from Whirlpool and Whirlpool State Park.
The Devil’s Hole Trail is rated moderate; However, it involves many stairs, and the risk of some rock falls as it travels down the embankment and into the gorge near the water’s edge.
This 1.25-mile trail is accessible via the Niagara Gorge Trail (Rim Trail), either directly at its northern end or south via the Whirlpool Rapids Trail.
Its proximity to the water at Devil’s Hole Rapids makes it an excellent place to appreciate the vastness and power of the water.
The Whirlpool Rapids is the most difficult of the trail system’s trails, consisting of a steep staircase, some areas with narrow passageways, and some boulder hopping.
It totals 1.3 miles one-way but is not joined by any other route at its southern end. Those on the Devil’s Hole Trail can continue upstream on this path and enjoy views of Whirlpool and Whirlpool Rapids and then double back via the Rapids Trail Ladder to return to the Rim Trail.
Aquarium of Niagara
The Aquarium of Niagara is a fun diversion for families and an excellent option for cold or rainy days.
Here you will find over 200 species of aquatic animals as well as 30 educational exhibits. Aquarium presentations include a sea lion show, harbour seal presentations, and penguin feeding.
Visitors can also opt for an animal encounter with a view of seals and Humboldt penguins’ care, training, and social life. The aquarium also serves as an animal rescue center for injured wildlife.
Address: 701 Whirlpool Street, Niagara Falls, New York
Official Site: www.aquariumofniagara.org
Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University
The Castellani Art Museum was established in 1976 by the Castellani family to advance the study and appreciation of art at Niagara University and the region.
The permanent collection includes more than 5,600 works in a wide range of media from the 1850s to the present.
Examples include paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and pre-Columbian ceramics. The bulk of the museum’s collection focuses on artwork created since the 1970s and features prominent and emerging contemporary artists. The museum is located on the Niagara University campus.
Address: Niagara University, 5795 Lewiston Road, Niagara Falls, New York
Official Site: www.castellaniartmuseum.org
Old Fort Niagara
Old Fort Niagara allows visitors to explore one of the most important 18th-century forts, essential in maintaining access to the Great Lakes during the colonial wars. T
he visitor center and many of the fort’s restored original buildings include exhibits and artifacts. During the summer, there are live interpreters of history who demonstrate what daily life is like, from routine work to working artisans.
Guided tours are also available in season, and during the off-season, visitors are encouraged to enjoy an orientation video and self-guided exploration of the grounds. The fort also hosts special events, including re-enactments and hourly Muscat performances.
Address: 102 Morrow Plaza, Youngstown, New York
Official Site: www.oldfortniagara.org
Touring Canada’s Sites
One of the best things about Niagara Falls is its proximity to its twin, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Here you will find a variety of tourist attractions, including some unique ways to enjoy the natural wonders of the river and waterfalls.
Tourists can look at the bottom of Horseshoe Falls from portals carved into the rock below, accessed by tunnels dug more than 130 years ago.
For a thrilling view of the whirlpool, the old 1916 aerial cable car, the Aero Car, offers unparalleled views from above.
Visitors will also enjoy Clifton Hill Amusement Park, with many entertainment options from midway games to bowling, arcade, and coaster-track go-karts.
It is also home to the Niagara Skywheel, Canada’s most giant observation wheel, which offers spectacular views of the falls and the Niagara Gorge.
Three Sisters Islands
Located on Goat Island above Horseshoe Falls, this group has four smaller islands. The eldest of the three was named after the daughter of General Parkhurst Whitney (Asenath, Angeline and Selinda Eliza), and the fourth is Little Brother Island or Solon.
The three larger islands can be accessed via a footbridge from Goat Island; The way to the bridge is located near the Terrapin Point viewing area.
Like a peaceful oasis, the islands feature picturesque stone pathways and bright foliage, offering visitors a unique view of the Upper Falls area.
Schoelkopf Power Station Ruins
Niagara Falls was home to several hydroelectric power stations during its industrial heyday. Construction on the Skoelkopf Power Station began in 1905 and continued until 1924 when it was the largest of its kind in the world.
It gained notoriety on June 7, 1956, when a small leak was detected in the morning, which collapsed by the end of the day, mainly destroying two-thirds of the plants.
The station was not rebuilt, and today the site is a testament to water’s impressive and enduring power.
The ruins can be viewed from the American Falls Gorge Trail, accessible via the Rim Trail and the Great Gorge Railway Trail.
Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA
After a day of sightseeing or when the weather isn’t cooperative, a trip to a fashion outlet is a great diversion.
Located near the airport and over the river from Canada via the North Grand Island Bridge, it is a convenient location for both shopping and dining.
Unlike many other outlet complexes, this bar features an indoor setting that allows shoppers to move from store to store without braving the elements.
In addition to offering several well-known clothing brands, shoppers will find outlet shops for big-brand accessories, footwear, personal care, and nail and hair salons.
Dining options include full-service restaurants, quick-bite kiosks and speciality shops.
Address: Fashion Outlet Boulevard, Niagara Falls, New York
Official Site: www.FashionOutletsNiagara.com
Where to Stay in Niagara Falls for Sightseeing
While there are many things to see and do in Niagara Falls, the waterfalls’ main attractions, the best option is to find a hotel within walking distance of the falls and Niagara Falls State Park or along the river.
This is where the best hotels are found. Below is a list of some highly rated hotels in convenient locations.
The Red Coach Inn Historic Bed and Breakfast Hotel is a charming and romantic 1923 English Tudor-style inn with a great location overlooking the rapids and just a short walk from the Falls and Goat Island shores.
With a more modern feel, The Giacomo is a boutique hotel set in a 1923 Art Deco tower, within easy walking distance of the Falls and the Cave of the Winds.
A bit further back, but still within walking distance, the Sheraton of the Falls has an indoor pool and is close to many good restaurants and cafes.
Just a short walk from the falls and Goat Island is the Hampton Inn Niagara Falls, which has an indoor pool and a complimentary breakfast.
The Comfort Inn at Pointe is in a great location, just steps from Niagara Falls and close to the Aquarium and Rainbow Bridge.
For something a little more comfortable, the Bedum Hall Bed & Breakfast features tastefully decorated guest rooms with private bathrooms, while top-rate amenities include free Wi-Fi, a mini-fridge, and hot tub access; Rates include a freshly cooked breakfast.
Within walking distance of the falls, the Roadway Inn & Suites Niagara Falls is a good-value hotel with some rooms featuring microwaves and fridges.
In a slightly better location, closer to the falls, Howard Johnson’s is a pet-friendly hotel with a pool and complimentary breakfast.
Further up, Gorge View is a popular hostel with a wide variety of accommodation options for those on a tight budget.
Most frequently asked questions
When is the best time to visit Niagara Falls?
The summer months are the most popular time for tourists to visit Niagara Falls, and as a result, this is the time when hotel prices will be highest.
Visitors can get better rates during late spring and early autumn. Most outdoor tours, including the Made of the Mist boat, operate from early May to late October, with the winter and early spring months usually proving too cold to enjoy some of the attractions.
Is it easy to cross the border to see the waterfalls from Canada?
The falls have three bridges crossing the Niagara River in Canada, two of which have pedestrian lanes.
The most important thing to remember is that the border crossing here is just as strict as any other, so be sure to have a valid passport.
Those traveling with children must have a valid I.D. and all appropriate paperwork showing permission, if necessary.
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