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Niagara Falls

Read about Niagara Falls, one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world.

Niagara Falls hosts about 12 million visitors each year. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Niagara Falls hosts about 12 million visitors each year.

Located in upstate New York and straddling the United States-Canada border, Niagara Falls is one of the natural wonders of North America. A marvel of natural beauty, Niagara Falls consists of three falls: Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls on the American side, and the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian half.

Niagara Falls is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world, spilling water at a rate of 3,160 tons per second, and about six million cubic feet of water per minute. Since European explorers first sighted it, Niagara Falls has been a prime destination for tourists, artists, geologists and naturalists alike. Today it's one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with about 12 million visitors each year.

History of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls was formed around 12,000 years ago, when the glaciers of the last Ice Age receded toward the North Pole. As the glaciers melted they released enormous amounts of water, which flooded the Great Lakes basins, rushed along the Niagara River, and spilled over natural cliffs which had formed millions of years earlier. This became Niagara Falls.

In 1678 Father Louis Hennepin, a French priest, became the first European to view the falls. His published writings upon his return to Europe popularized Niagara Falls in the European mind, and soon Niagara Falls became a popular destination spot for tourists, and especially honeymooners. In fact, it is said that Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother) and his bride were the first couple to honeymoon at Niagara Falls in 1803.

By the mid-19th century, however, Niagara Falls was in danger. Industrialists and capitalists moved into the area, eager to capitalize on the industrial and tourist potential of the natural wonder. Mills and factories sprang up, and the area surrounding the Falls started becoming heavily commercialized.

Recognizing that Niagara Falls would be irreparably damaged by these developments, a group of concerned citizens - led by Fredrick Olmstead, the designer of Central Park in New York - petitioned to have the land around Niagara Falls protected. In 1885, Niagara Falls State Reservation became the nation's first state park.

Throughout the 20th century, changes and improvements have been made to enhance the visitor's experience. Today Niagara Falls boasts multiple visitor centers, an observation tower, restaurants, gift shops and a variety of tours, including the famous Maid of the Mist tour.

Things to Do at Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls State Reservation offers almost 430 acres of hiking, camping and sightseeing.

A great place to start is at the Niagara Falls Discovery Center, where visitors can learn about the history and formation of the falls with interactive displays and theater presentations. Additionally, guided hiking tours of the gorges surrounding the falls are offered through the center in the summer season.

Another popular tourist spot is the Cave of the Winds. This guided tour gets up close and personal with the Bridal Veil Falls; visitors trek within 20 feet of the powerful falls (ponchos are provided).

The Maid of the Mist is the oldest and most popular tourist attraction at Niagara Falls. First started in 1846, these boat tours carry thousands of people each year to the base of the falls.

There is more to the Niagara Falls area than just seeing the Falls, however. Museums at Niagara Falls include the Castellani Art Museum at the Falls; the Aquarium at Niagara, which features a colony of endangered Peruvian penguins; and the Daredevil Museum, with exhibits about the many people who have tempted fate at the Niagara Falls, usually with disastrous results.

A wide variety of restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and golf courses cater to those seeking leisure activities, while three casinos in the area offer gambling and live entertainment.

A short trip across the Canadian border takes visitors into Ontario's Niagara wine country, an up-and-coming wine-producing region. True oenophiles will want to drive a few hours southeast from Niagara Falls and explore the Finger Lake wine region, which many consider to produce the finest American wines outside of California.

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