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Explore Niagara Falls: Should You Visit The Canadian Side Or The American Side?

Niagara Falls is one of the most iconic places to visit in the USA and Canada. But which side is better? Explore Niagara Falls with us and find out!

Niagara Falls Observation Tower with kids

About Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a collection of three waterfalls that straddle Canada and the United States of America. Each side offers many experiences that allow you to explore Niagara Falls. On the Canadian side, we have the Canadian Falls or Horseshoe Falls, due to its shape. In the American side, are the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Whether you are on a honeymoon or exploring Niagara Falls with kids, there is so much to explore here. Niagara Falls is incredible all year-round. Niagara in summer is alive and packed, Niagara Falls in winter is surreal and spectacular. But for this trip, we’ll focus on summer in Niagara. So pack your passport and bring your sense of adventure, because we’re going to explore which side of Niagara Falls is better.

Niagara falls showing the Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls (right to left) - Exploring Niagara Falls

The name Niagara is thought to originate from the Iroquoian word “onguiaahra”. Scholars have debated on its meaning. But there are generally two beliefs one which means “a thundering noise” which is in reference to the sound of the falls. The other interpretation is that it means “the neck or strait” in reference to the Niagara river.The falls at Niagara are over 12,000 years old. The water is derived from the Niagara river with approximately 85-90% flowing down Horseshoe Falls and the remaining 10-15% over the American and Bridal Veil Falls.

Birds fly over the lush bushes along the Niagara Falls shoreline while the horseshoe falls roars in the background - Exploring Niagara Falls

Although there are over 500 waterfalls worldwide that are taller than Niagara Falls, it is considered the largest waterfall in the world by volume of water siphoned (an average of 750,000 gallons each second).

How to Explore Niagara Falls

If all you want to do is see the falls, it is possible to visit both falls in one day. The City of Niagara Falls in Canada is connected to the United States via three principal border bridges: the Rainbow, Whirlpool, and Queenston-Lewiston bridges.

The rainbow border bridge between Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York - Exploring Niagara Falls

Pro-Tip: For Canadians citizens visiting the United States, a passport or enhanced driver’s license is required. For American citizens, you will need a Passport, a Passport Card or an Enhanced Licence to enter Canada. However, these can change so please check your local embassy for up to date information.

Access to both falls is free. However, there is no parking directly adjacent to the Canadian or American falls, so the major expense would be parking fees if you are arriving by car. There are pathways that provide views of the falls from various angles. From the Canadian side, both the Canadian and American falls can be seen. Niagara Falls isn’t just a summer destination though. You can read about all the amazing things to do during winter in Niagara Falls here.

Horseshoe or Canadian Falls

The crescent-shaped falls are 54 M (177 ft) high and approximately 670 M wide. The falls have a flow rate of 168,000 cubic meters. It carries nine times more water than its United States counterpart. Because of the enormous amount of water going over the falls, about 10% of the water is redirected to drive large hydro-electric turbines that produce electricity for Southern Ontario and Western New York State.

Top of the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls

Journey Behind the Falls

For a closer look at the Horseshoe Falls and to feel some mist on our faces, we decided to pay for the attraction called the Journey Behind the Falls. Tickets are sold at the Table Rock Welcome Centre. Then, you take an elevator down 45 M (150 ft). Upon getting off, you walk along old hydro dam tunnels that were dug through bedrock to two openings: the Cataract Portal and Great Falls Portal. Both give a view behind the massive sheet of waterfalls. It is also possible to access the foot of the Horseshoe Falls via the Upper and Lower Observation Decks.

A young couple stands next to Niagara Falls wearing yellow rain ponchos

Pro-Tip: Proper footwear is required. The tunnel floors are wet and can get very slippery. Biodegradable rain covers are provided to protect your clothes from the strong mists coming from the falls.

Niagara City Cruises

For those that want an even more up-close encounter with the Horseshoe Falls, it is possible to take a boat cruise. Niagara City Cruises offers daytime and nighttime cruises that explore Niagara Falls. The day cruise lasts about 20 minutes long and you will be able to see all 3 falls up close: Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil.

The Hornblower cruise heads towards the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

Pro-Tip: If you want to see the falls up close but do not want to get wet the boat does have a covered area wherein you can take shelter. So, you can have the view without being soaked.

The cruise at night is slightly longer than 40 minutes long. It is particularly spectacular when it coincides with the falls’ illumination or during the summer fireworks display. During the night cruises, there is music on board and the bar is open with drinks and snacks for purchase.

Niagara Falls Horseshoe Falls lit up in a rainbow of colours at night - Exploring Niagara Falls

Other viewpoints of Horseshoe Falls

There are several other spots in Niagara Falls, Canada where you can get amazing views of the falls. A couple of examples include the Falls Incline Railway and Skylon Tower. You may also choose to stay at one of the area hotels which offer in-room and/or dining experiences with a world-class view.

Hotels and a Casino overlooking Niagara Falls in Ontario - Exploring Niagara Falls

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

The American Falls is 56 M (180 ft) and approximately 328 M wide making it slightly taller than Horseshoe Falls. The falls have a flow rate of 75,000 gallons. Luna Island separates Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls. There is a lot of erosion occurring under the American Falls. As evidenced by the number of rocks seen at the base of the falls.

A rainbow on the side of a rocky American Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

Cave of the Winds

Similar to the Journey Behind the Falls experience in Canada, the Cave of the Winds allows very close access to the falls. Actually, they allow much closer access to the American falls compared to how close you get to the Horseshoe Falls in the Journey Behind in the Falls. What a way to explore Niagara Falls! The entrance is on Goat Island within Niagara Falls State Park.

The elevator ride takes you down 53 M (175 ft) then you walk through a tunnel which leads to a view of the Niagara Gorge. Next, you ascend via a series of wooden steps. The higher you go, the wetter you get. C particular enjoyed the top level also known as the Hurricane level.

Small waterfalls dart between pathways that lead up to the Cave of the Winds viewing platforms - Exploring Niagara Falls
Boy at the Hurricane Level of the Cave of the Winds - a wet way to explore Niagara Falls.

Pro-Tip: Biodegradable rain covers and specially designed sandals are provided as part of the entrance ticket. While you won’t need to worry about getting your shoes wet, the spray can still get into your poncho and get your clothes a little wet.

Every November, the wooden platforms are disassembled. This is why if you visit in the winter you won’t see them. Every spring, the platforms are reassembled for the new season.

A partially frozen Niagara Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

Maid of the Mist

The Maid of the Mist boat tour offers the same experience as Niagara City Cruises. The only difference is that Maid of the Mist boards and disembarks at the Niagara dock in New York. As of 2020, the Maid of the Mist is also running fully electric boats. The silence of these boats means that you get the full experience of the roar of the waterfalls without the sound of a diesel engine beneath you. On both tours, you will first get a view of the American and Bridal Veil Falls. Then the cruise heads towards Horseshoe Falls.

Things to do in upstate New York - Niagara Falls

Other viewpoints of the American Falls

There are two viewpoints to help explore Niagara Falls State Park; Both offer differing views of the falls. The first is the Observation Deck via the Observation Tower. It is close to the loading dock of the Maid of Mist. The Observation Deck is one of the best places to explore Niagara Falls and get a glimpse of some of the birdlife that is in the area.

A young family smiles up at a camera in front of the American Falls - Exploring Niagara Falls

To access the second viewpoint walk along the gorge away from the Observation Tower and towards the falls. We climbed a series of steps that lead to the observation area called Crow’s Nest.

Hikers make their way up to the Crows Nest viewpoint in Niagara Falls, New York - Exploring Niagara Falls

So, which side is better?

We have explored Niagara Falls from both sides of the border many times. Besides the main attraction of the falls, there are also numerous other attractions and a lot are especially kid-friendly. However, if you want the best view of the falls, the panoramic view provided by the Canadian side is supreme. It is definitely a bucket list destination! When it comes to the ambiance, though, we feel that Niagara Falls State Park in New York has done a better job of maintaining a natural landscape surrounding the falls. In summary, both sides of the falls offer a unique perspective. Why not visit both sides? You will not be disappointed when you explore Niagara Falls.

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