Niagara Falls is one of North America’s most impressive natural attractions, and, one that literally separates the United States and Canada, it happens to be the name of two cities; one in the state of New York and one in Ontario just over the border.
Niagara Falls is actually made up of three separate falls, two of which lie on the NY side. Canada may have been blessed with a more impressive panoramic view, but you can easily get up close and personal with the falls from either side. The American side is also packed with a number of attractions besides just the Falls.
While there’s much debate about which side is better, today we’ve partnered with Hotels.com to introduce you to the American side of Niagara Falls.
From exploring America’s oldest state park to enjoying a fascinating aquarium, gorgeous golf courses, great shopping, and a delicious wine region, Niagara Falls New York offers something for everyone.
And, there are plenty of great Niagara Falls hotels that are within walking distance of Niagara’s top attractions and just a short drive from many more of the hidden gems.
Niagara Falls New York: More to See and Do Beyond the Falls
Niagara Falls State Park
While I want to shed light on more of the things to do and see besides the falls in Niagara, the falls themselves will of course be the main highlight for most visitors. The place to start is at Niagara Falls State Park. Open 365 days a year, it offers free access to view the falls along with great hiking trails and a number of paid attractions.
Niagara Falls wasn’t easily accessible until the Niagara Reservation established the State Park in 1885 (making it the oldest SP in America). The park contains the three separate falls including American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and a section of Horseshoe Falls (Canadian Falls).
Here there’s also access to a number of attractions like the Maid of the Mist boat tours, Prospect Point Observation Tower, and Niagara Gorge.
You’d be wise to purchase a Discovery Pass if you plan on visiting a number of attractions since the pass allows you to enter several for a cheaper rate than if you chose to pay for each separately. It also offers discounts for other nearby attractions mentioned below.
Here are some of the attractions to experience at Niagara Falls State Park:
American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls
These are the three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls, with Horseshoe Falls (aka Canadian Falls) being the largest and most impressive.
The second largest set of falls is American Falls (pictured above) which lies entirely within the U.S. but can still be viewed from the Canadian side. American Falls can be viewed from several vantage points including along the Niagara River and Goat Island.
The smallest of the falls is Bridal Veil Falls which is similar in appearance to American Falls and also located on the American Side. You can experience the base close up by way of the Cave of the Winds on Goat Island (more details below).
While the falls are impressive during the day, they are equally beautiful at night when they are artificially lit and they often flow beneath a sky of firework displays which are held at various times throughout the year.
Niagara Gorge & Discovery Center
Head to Niagara Gorge and its Discovery Center to explore miles of hiking trails along with thrilling jet boat rides.
The Discovery Center teaches you a bit about the geology of Niagara Falls and offers up family fun in the form of interactive exhibits, a rock climbing wall, and a 180° multi-screen theater experience focusing on the falls.
The many different hiking trails of Niagara Gorge begin at the Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center, with trails suitable for all abilities. Some are quite leisurely strolls while others will require a bit of fitness and endurance. You can enjoy the hikes by yourself or join a guided tour from spring to fall.
Hikes include an easy Scenic Overlook hike, a 2-hour round trip Upper Gorge hike, the Devil’s Hole Rapids hike in Devils Hole State Park, and the somewhat challenging Whirlpool Rapids adventure hike within Whirlpool State Park.
These last two state parks are connected by a looping trail and both parks offer picnic facilities as well as opportunities to fish in summer and cross-country ski in winter.
Image credit: Bruce Guenter (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Prospect Point Observation Tower
Prospect Point Tower is the only place on the American side of Niagara Falls where you can get a panoramic view of all three falls.
The tower overlooks Niagara Gorge and also provides an elevator that will take you down to the base of the gorge. This is where you can hop aboard one of the Maid of the Mist boat tours that will get you up close and personal with the falls.
If you don’t have time for a boat tour, at least make an effort to climb the stairs located at the base of the gorge that will take you to the crow’s nest where you can feel the spray of the falls and watch for the many species of birds that frequent the area.
Maid of the Mist is the longest-running boat tour of Niagara Falls, having begun operations in 1846. It’s so enjoyable that even world leaders, British royals, and movie stars have jumped aboard (think Marilyn Monroe, King Edward VII, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Princes William and Prince Harry pre Kate and Meghan).
The two different double-decker boats take upwards of 600 people on a 30-minute voyage past all three sets of falls. The tour starts and ends from the American side of the falls, but you will actually get to spend a brief period in Canadian waters.
The tours operate from April to November and there are plans for the construction of new state of the art, earth-friendly boats that will be electric and emission-free.
Cave of the Winds
If you really want to feel the true force of the falls, you need to head to the Cave of the Winds on Goat Island. This paid attraction allows you to get within 20 feet of the rushing waters of Bridal Veil Falls.
You’ll definitely want to wear a poncho and hold onto your hat because you’ll get wet and wind-blown with tropical storm forced winds. You can also expect to be greeted by a rainbow.
If you’re handicapped or experiencing the falls with small children, there is also a separate observation deck 150 feet from the falls which is safer and a bit drier.
If you have time, be sure to check out the very close-by Tesla monument. Not a monument to the eccentric Elon Musk and his visions for commercialized space travel, but rather the great Nikola Tesla who once worked with Thomas Edison and made groundbreaking contributions to the way we use electricity.
Tesla’s system of alternating current enabled electric power to be transmitted from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, New York. The bronze statue of Nikola Tesla was gifted to the U.S. by Yugoslavia.
Image credit: Northfielder (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Aquarium of Niagara
When you get sick of chasing waterfalls, you can head over to the Aquarium of Niagara were you can chase penguins instead!
Ok, you may not be allowed to actually chase the adorable Humboldt penguins they have there, but they do offer penguin feeding demonstrations and hands-on interactions with them.
Fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Aquarium of Niagara also has California sea lions and harbor seals in which they also offer hands-on interactions with.
You can observe eels, piranhas, reef sharks, octopus, clownfish (aka Nemo), and an unusual creature called an Axolotl or Mexican walking fish.
Travel back in time at Fort Niagara whose history spans more than 300 years. The fort has played a role in many wars and was controlled by three different countries over its lifetime.
Originally created by early French colonists, the fort would fall to the British during the French and Indian War and then eventually handed over to the Americans after the War of 1812
Today, you can tour the fort’s restored 18th century buildings and watch reenactments of the historical 18th century battles that took place at the fort. They also host a number of musket demonstrations throughout the day.
Niagara Falls Culinary Institute
Students come to the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute to learn the latest techniques in cooking, hospitality, wine and beer making, and other culinary arts. As a visitor, you can also attend a very hands-on and mouths-on cooking class experience where you will learn how to cook like your favorite chef.
Even if you fail to create a true culinary masterpiece, you still get to eat your art so it’s a win in my book!
If you know you can’t cook, simply head to the institute to sample delectable dishes in their student run fine dining restaurant called Savor. Student chefs show off their newly learned talents using a wood-stone oven in an open kitchen that allows you to watch them in action and really puts the young chefs to the test.
You’ll also want to visit their French inspired pastry shop called La Patisserie as well as their very own unique Barnes & Noble bookstore that focuses on cookbooks, kitchenware, and everything else a foodie would love.
Adams Power Plant Transformer House
Why this landmark isn’t yet a tourist site I don’t know, but you should take a moment to pass by the building despite not being able to go in.
The Adams Power Plant Transformer House is an abandoned limestone building, the last remaining structure of what was an incredible historical site. It dates back to 1895 when it became the world’s first alternating current electric generating plant in the world which was able to harness the power of Niagara Falls and transmit commercial electricity over large distances, something that Nikola Tesla long dreamed of.
The power plant was named after Edward Dean Adams who was president of the company that built the first power station at Niagara Falls. There is talk that the site may become some sort of Tesla museum in the future.
Image credit: Lvklock (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Old Stone Chimney
One of the first things you see when entering Niagara Falls and one of the last things you see when you leave is something you may not expect.
Many scratch their head at why there is a giant 30-foot-tall chimney weighing 60 tons standing next to the Niagara River along the bike path that follows the river!
Known as the Old Stone Chimney, this landmark dates back to 1750 when it was originally constructed. It has survived multiple wartime fires (not including the ones it was intended to burn) and has been relocated three different times brick by brick.
Its final resting place (hopefully anyway!), is now well within view between the Niagara River and the Robert Moses Parkway where it can finally be appreciated by visitors.
Look for the Old Stone Chimney just east of the Adams Slip and appreciate the $1.5 million and 5 months of labor it took to relocate it here.
Image credit: Arthur Kogutowski (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Niagara Golf Courses
Golfers will be glad to know there are some great courses in Niagara Falls NY. Hyde Park Golf Course is open to the public and walk-ins are welcome. The course originally began its life as the Niagara Falls Country Club back in 1901.
The public Hyde Park Golf Course now offers 27 holes of golf including a rather challenging 18 hole North Course and a somewhat easier 9 hole White Course. Remember to bring your own clubs, as they aren’t offering rentals at this time, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Not too far away is a Robert Trent Jones II designed course called Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course. Also open to the public, this well manicured course was once named one of the Top 10 Best New Golf Courses when it first opened.
Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls
Lastly, if you’re in need of some new threads, head to the Niagara outlets!
The Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls is regarded as one of America’s largest outlet centers. Recent expansion has seen the outlets now offer 750,000 square feet of shopping with over 200 stores and a great selection of eateries.
Enjoy savings of up to 75% off merchandise from brands like Nike, Under Armour, Disney, Calvin Klein, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, and Samsonite in case you need a spare empty suitcase to accommodate all your outlet purchases.
As you can see, there is much more to do and see at Niagara than just the falls, but regardless of what you decide to do, you may find yourself falling for this beautiful region much like the billions of gallons of water that pass through it every day.
Niagara Falls State Park is currently open, along with their outdoor facilities like restrooms and information booths. Though it’s important to remember safety and social distancing being that you’re exploring a public park.
While you might think that the gushing gallons of water might blow away any germs, each surface is only as clean as the last person who touched it. So please travel responsibly and within regulation as any travel is at your own risk.
The State Park Guidelines from Niagara Falls for safe and responsible travel while in the park are as follows:
- Try to keep at least six (6) feet of distance between you and others. If you can not, you must wear a mask.
- Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, and kissing.
- Wash hands often or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
- Avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs, handrails, and playground equipment.
We additionally recommend checking official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures and status of local businesses, and booking a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
We hope you have an amazing time exploring Niagara New York, beyond the falls!