Niagara Falls: What to do if you’re a nature lover
Things to do in Niagara Falls
Any guesses how many bathtubs worth of water go over the largest of Niagara Falls’ waterfalls every minute? Over one million—and it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe as you stand beside this natural wonder watching such a torrential cascade of water churn the Niagara River below.
At the end of the last ice age more than 12,000 years ago, melting glaciers formed five massive freshwater lakes—called the Great Lakes—with one, Lake Erie, running downhill towards Lake Ontario. The rushing waters carved out the Niagara River in their descent and at one point in its path, the river goes over a huge cliff called the Niagara Escarpment, forming Niagara Falls.
The waterfall is slowly but steadily eroding back towards Lake Erie, and will cease to exist when it reaches the mouth of the lake. (That won’t happen for another 50,000 years though, so you’ve still got time to plan your vacation.)
As the waterfall recedes, it’s creating a narrow valley through which the Niagara River flows, known as the Niagara Gorge. Winston Churchill once called the ride alongside the gorge the “prettiest Sunday drive in the world”, and we agree that it’s breathtaking, so we’ve come up with our best recommendations for the things to do in Niagara Falls for someone who wants to experience all the beautiful natural attractions this part of Canada has to offer.
What is Niagara Falls & what are some things to do in Niagara Falls?
When most people talk about Niagara Falls, they mean the big waterfall causing all this erosion, but we think there are a number of distinct natural sites to see in the Niagara Gorge that make up the full Niagara Falls Ontario experience. And in this guide, we’ll provide all the information you need to ensure you get the most out of your trip to this incredible place.
The most famous things to do in Niagara Falls: See and explore the waterfalls
Niagara Falls is made up of three separate waterfalls: Two in the United States and one in Canada. The most impressive waterfall on the US side is American Falls, while the smallest of the three waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls, is named for the misty, veil-like appearance created by the strong winds and powerful spray of the nearby American Falls.
Across the border, the most famous site for Niagara Falls tourism that Canada has to offer is Horseshoe Falls. As you can likely guess, it’s in the shape of a huge horseshoe and at 167 feet is the tallest waterfall in Niagara—though there are over 500 waterfalls around the world that are taller. What Horseshoe Falls lacks in height it more than makes up for in power, however, with more water flowing over these falls than any other on Earth.
The three waterfalls together are truly one of North America’s most incredible natural wonders. There are many ways to explore the waterfalls, and to learn more you can check out our blog post on these fantastic and fun attractions.
We think there are many more things to do in Niagara Falls if you love nature, though, so we’ve devoted the rest of this post to sharing our best suggestions with you.
Things to do in Niagara Falls that you can’t miss: The Niagara Whirlpool Rapids and Niagara Whirlpool
Five kilometres downstream from the waterfall, the rushing Niagara River pouring down the gorge creates an aggressive set of rapids. Rapids are rated on a scale of one (easy) to six (most dangerous), and would you like to guess where the Niagara Whirlpool Rapids fall? Six—they’re some of the most dangerous rapids in the world, with water churning along at 35 kilometres (22 miles) per hour over a bed of huge rocks.
The rapids pour into a pool known as the Niagara Whirlpool. The speed at which the rapids flow into this circular bend in the river creates a natural swirling current. Together, the rapids and the whirlpool are two stunning attractions.
A few people have challenged the rapids over the years, but none are more famous than Red Hill Sr. He went through the rapids in a barrel not once, not twice, but three times over the course of his life. On his second attempt in front of a crowd of thousands of people, it took him just ninety seconds to get through the rapids, but the vortex at the whirlpool trapped him for over three hours before his friends were able to free him.
If you’re planning a Niagara Falls vacation focused on natural attractions, these two are not to be missed! If you want to see these two sites from above, Niagara Whirlpool Rapids and Niagara Whirlpool are best viewed from the lookout platform at 3500 Niagara River Parkway (Ontario). Have a look out at the rapids and swirling pool, and imagine being Red Hill inside a barrel spinning round and round for hours. To get more up close and personal with these sites, consider checking out the White Water Walk. You’ll take an elevator 70 metres down to the base of the Niagara Gorge to wander the boardwalk that runs along the shoreline. As soon as you exit the tunnel you’ll hear the roar of the crashing waves of the river, and will understand the raw power and peril of these Class 6 rapids.
As part of this self-guided experience, you’ll learn about the 450-million-year-old geology of the Niagara region, and the flora and fauna you might see on your trip!
There’s an admission fee for the White Water Walk, but a free option to get up close to the rapids is to hike into the Niagara Glen. Located on the Niagara Falls Canada side, exploring the glen is one of the most popular things to do in Niagara Falls, boasting four kilometres (2.5 miles) of rugged hiking paths that wind along the river and go right past the Niagara Whirlpool. Begin this hike at the Niagara Glen Nature Centre (3050 Niagara Parkway, Ontario), which also provides maps and information on the different trails and their levels of difficulty.
Other nature trails near Niagara Falls
If you’re looking to get away from the fury of the waterfalls and rapids, the Dufferin Islands are an oasis of tranquility south of Horseshoe Falls. This lush riverside area boasts a network of easy trails around the series of islands connected by picturesque footbridges. It’s an excellent place for birdwatching, a picnic, or simply to enjoy a leisurely stroll amidst the greenery. Around the holiday season, Dufferin Islands are lit up as part of the Winter Festival of Lights, so a wander through makes for a very romantic experience.
To learn more about some of the best things to do in Niagara Falls in winter, check out our blog post here.
For ambitious hikers or cyclists, the Niagara River Recreation Trail meanders through some of the most stunning countryside in Canada—and arguably in the world! Taking advantage of the beauty of Winston Churchill’s favourite Sunday drive, the trail begins in Niagara-on-the-Lake up on Lake Ontario and takes you 53 kilometres (32 miles) down to Lake Erie. The trail breaks up into four roughly equal sections: Niagara-on-the-Lake to the town of Queenston, Queenston to Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls to Black Creek, and Black Creek to Lake Erie.
Biking the trail is certainly doable in a day with enough time to stop and explore along the way. Ambitious hikers can likely do at least two legs but this won’t leave much time for anything else, so for a more leisurely experience, consider taking on just a single section. The section from Queenston to Niagara Falls is especially good for nature lovers, offering stops at the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory and the Botanical Gardens. The conservatory has over 2,000 colourful butterflies flying freely amidst abundant flowers and trees and trickling waterfalls, while the botanical gardens have a maze of manicured pathways through ever-changing seasonal displays managed by the students of the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture.
We hope you have an incredible time exploring one of our favourite regions, and be sure to keep check our other blog posts to learn more about the top things to do in Niagara Falls!