Activities on the American Side of Niagara Falls

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about science, travel, and gardening.

The American side of Niagara Falls is best viewed from Goat Island, part of Niagara Falls State Park.

The American side of Niagara Falls is best viewed from Goat Island, part of Niagara Falls State Park.

While the Canadian side of Niagara Falls offers the best view of the American (Bridal Veil) Falls and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, the American side offers an amazing view over the precipice of the falls and the ability to walk alongside the raging Niagara River. Spectacular hiking, boating activities, and State Parks line the New York side of the river. Read on to discover a range of activities near the falls in New York.

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States. A visitor's center, discovery center, "Legends of Adventure" movie, and observation tower are located here. The observation tower rises up over both sets of falls to give visitor’s a birds-eye view for a nominal fee in the summer (the observation tower is free in the off-season). Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds are located within this park, as are Goat Island and a trolley to carry visitor's to the various sights. The Niagara Aquarium is located in close proximity to the State Park.

Goat Island

Goat Island received its name from a farmer who once kept animals on the island that splits the Niagara River into the Bridal Veil and Horseshoe falls. After a particularly harsh winter, only one goat survived – the island has been dubbed “Goat Island” ever since. Goat Island has several hiking paths and spectacular views of both falls. Cave of the Winds is located on Goat Island.

The hiking and bike paths on Goat Island have several “must see” locations. The most visited portion of the island is Terrapin Point, which juts out over the Horseshoe Falls. Visitors are able to watch the water rush past, inches away, and fall over the precipice.

Three Sisters Islands are another fantastic hike on the island. A series of footbridges leads guests to each of the three small islands in the Niagara River. If one looks downriver, the falls can be seen. It is an amazing feeling to stand next to the forceful river: do not enter the water, as several deaths have occurred as people are pulled away by the raging current. The Niagara River is not an ordinary stream – the current is exceedingly powerful.

Cave of the Winds

Frequently regarded as the best activity on the American side of the falls, Cave of the Winds is not to be missed. Visitors begin with an elevator ride 175 feet down into the gorge. Wooden decking provides access to the Hurricane Deck - a portion of the tour that is only open during the summer months. The Hurricane Deck is intense, with the full force and power of the American (Bridal Veil) Falls roaring past - rubber sandals and a rain poncho are provided with the cost of admission.

Niagara Power Authority

Nikola Tesla, along with George Westinghouse, built the world’s first hydro-electric plant in Niagara Falls. The original building, Adam’s Power Station, is a National Heritage site. A statue of Nikola Tesla graces the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park.

The Niagara River is still used to generate power for the state of New York – the Niagara Power Authority maintains a free, interactive visitor’s center. Exhibits include demonstrations of AC vs. DC power, resistors, and alternative energy sources. Viewing platforms are available outside the building and several hands-on exhibits help visitors learn about the generation of electricity.

This museum is entirely free to enter and visitors print out a photo name tag (also free) to keep as a souvenir. This museum also features a 4-D moving theater at no extra cost. This is a highly recommended activity in the area.

Whirlpool State Park and Devil's Hole State Park

Several hiking trails, a playground, and a spectacular view of the Niagara whirlpool are features of this state park. The water is very blue and this park is an excellent spot for a picnic – it is generally off the beaten path and visitors can watch jet boats take on the rapids from the overlooks. Trails lead down to the water from the state park, but be aware that the trails are very steep and may not be appropriate for young children or those who require the use of a wheelchair.

Devil’s Hole is located on the rapids downstream from Whirlpool State Park. Fishermen love this park, as the rapids offer excellent fishing. It is possible to hike from the whirlpool to Devil’s Hole. Hikes to the water require physical fitness, as the hike involves a long, steep set of stairs.

Maid of the Mist

The famous Maid of the Mist boats depart from both sides of the falls. This is an excellent way for visitors on the American side to get a good, frontal view of the Horseshoe Falls. Passengers on the boats will get soaked from the mist generated by the falls, and ponchos are provided.

Jet Boat Tours

Another activity available on both sides of the falls, the jet boats give a heart-pounding ride into the Niagara Whirlpool. All jet boat rides take place downstream from the falls, and class 6 rapids prevent the boats from going upstream. Children as young as four (or 40") may ride on the "Jet Dome" boats, though the open jet boats require a height of 44". Our family took a ride on the enclosed boat through Niagara Jet Adventures out of Youngstown, NY. Our younger son was eight years old and he absolutely loved the ride. There is a platform on the back of the boat for those who would like to have the full experience of getting soaked by the rapids. The tour lasts approximately one hour and is highly recommended for families with children ages four and up.

Niagara Jet Adventures offers a completely enclosed area of the boat to keep passengers dry.

Niagara Jet Adventures offers a completely enclosed area of the boat to keep passengers dry.

Aquarium of Niagara

The aquarium in Niagara Falls, NY is small, but a fun side trip. There are seals, sea lions, penguins, and other fishes inside the aquarium. Nighttime sleepovers are available and may offer a fun experience for families with young children. Sea lion shows are scheduled daily.

The new "penguin coast" exhibit offers a beautiful display of the birds at the aquarium.

The new "penguin coast" exhibit offers a beautiful display of the birds at the aquarium.

Old Fort Niagara

Located on Lake Ontario, Fort Niagara has the oldest buildings in the Great Lakes region. Visitors are able to learn about the struggle between the United States, France, and Britain to control the Great Lakes. First established by France, the fort passed into British control in 1759, and then into the hands of the Americans in 1796. An admission fee applies to adults and older children, but kids under the age of six are free. Events including Civil War re-enactments and an encampment of the French and Indian War occur throughout the summer months: check the official website for details.

Erected in 1726 by the French, the castle at Fort Niagara is fascinating to explore.

Erected in 1726 by the French, the castle at Fort Niagara is fascinating to explore.

Helicopter Rides

Rainbow Air, located on Main Street in Niagara Falls, offers helicopter rides over the world-famous falls. Basic tours and aerial weddings are performed, and while the cost is high for this sort of adventure, the memories will last a lifetime. The company does not perform tours in January or February due to the harsh winters in Western NY. Flights in November, December, March, and April are available on weekends only. Flights occur daily in the summer months.

Underground Railroad Heritage Tour

The Freedom Seekers tour run by Motherland Connextions is a unique way to visit Niagara Falls. The tour departs from Niagara Falls, NY or Lewiston, NY and includes a guide in period dress. Guests are led on a tour of the most important heritage sites on the Underground Railroad, and the conductors (guides) provide a rich educational background to the Niagara Falls area.

Niagara Falls, NY Activities

Questions & Answers

Question: How much for a helicopter tour at Niagara Falls?

Answer: In 2019, the cost of a helicopter tour of Niagara Falls is just over $200 per person.

Question: Is there a place to visit that makes blown glass at Niagara Falls?

Answer: There are several glass blowing studios on the Canadian side of the falls. As of 2019, there is not a local place to make blown glass on the US side. The closest location to the falls (in the USA) would be More Fire Glass Studio in Rochester, NY (approximately 1.5 hours from the Buffalo region). If you have a little more time, the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY is an amazing place to visit to create original works of art in glass! Corning is 2 hours and 40 minutes from Niagara Falls.

Question: What are the hours of all of these exhibits at Niagra falls?

Answer: As the hours of the exhibits vary dramatically by season on the US side of the falls, it is wise to check directly with the website directly associated with each attraction. Some buildings may close or have reduced hours in the offseason.

Question: Is there a boat tour available for the New York Side of Niagara falls?

Answer: There are several boat tours available on the NY side of Niagara Falls. Maid of the Mist, jet boat tours, and many others operate out of the United States.


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 19, 2012:

I love both sides of the falls, mknelson2012 - we are planning to do a Canadian trip soon as both our boys have never been across the border. The children don't have passports, but Niagara Falls, Canada isn't very far from Toronto - and the two areas would make for a fabulous summer road trip.

mknelson2012 on August 16, 2012:

Been to Niagara Falls on both the American and Canadian side. Very beautiful from both sides. Very informative article, and beautiful photos!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 28, 2012:

Oh, how gut wrenching that you were so close and didn't get to stop, Hyphenbird! You will definitely make it back some day - the falls are gorgeous. If you ever get a chance and are near the Finger Lakes region, stop by Watkin's Glen or Letchworth, too. They are just as spectacular, in a different way (gorges with beautiful waterfalls).

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on July 28, 2012:

I have always wanted to visit Niagara. I once was only a few miles away and didn't get to stop. I was heartbroken. But I will get there one day and you have helped me know what to do when I get there. This is a beautiful and interesting Hub.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 27, 2012:

Healthylife, the American side does get a bad rap. I think part of it is the inability to see the front side of the falls, because you are always viewing them from "behind," so to speak. The falls are still spectacular from this side, though, and the observation tower and Cave of the Winds are fantastic. A trip on Maid of the Mist will afford people a full view of the falls, too. There is also a lot of poverty and undeveloped land in the general region, which makes the area look a bit run-down outside of the state parks.

healthylife2 on July 27, 2012:

What a useful article. I went to Niagara Falls recently and numerous times growing up. The American side has such a bad rep so you did an amazing job showing people that there really are some fun and interesting things to do there. I've never spent time on the American side but will next time...my boys would love Cave of the Winds.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 27, 2012:

Shalini, it is definitely a place worth a visit! The falls are spectacular - if you have time, I'd visit both sides (the Canadian and the American). There are unique activities on both sides!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 27, 2012:

Peggy, we love making the day trip up to the area. It is so interesting to see the force of the Niagara River as it rushes past! We've never done the helicopter ride, but it is a great option for those who want the full experience!

shalini sharan from Delhi on July 27, 2012:

wow, your hub makes me want to visit the place

really well written

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 26, 2012:

Hi Leah,

I saw Niagra Falls as a kid and would love to revisit it someday. It was amazing seeing it from the perspective of that helicopter ride in the video. Thanks for this interesting hub. Up votes and sharing.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 25, 2012:

Vacations are a necessary part of life, Om - I hope you get to take one soon! I love seeing different parts of the world. We live in Western NY and certainly take advantage of living near Niagara!

Om Paramapoonya on July 25, 2012:

Thanks for the virtual tour, Leah. I'd be thrilled to be at Cave of the Winds and also take a helicopter ride. Seriously, this hub has reminded me that I need a vacation!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 25, 2012:

I hope you get back there some day, Rose - it is a beautiful place to visit!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 25, 2012:

I went to Niagara Falls as a kid and would love to make it back there someday. Thanks for all of the gorgeous photos and great information!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 25, 2012:

It is a really fun place to visit, teaches12345! The Niagara river/gorge is beautiful, too - it is a great place for hikes and picnics.

Dianna Mendez on July 24, 2012:

Leah, I have never been there but I imagine it would be a trip never forgotten. Thanks for posting information on what can be done while visiting this national treasure.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 24, 2012:

There are a lot of fun activities! The Canadian side has other fun things, cactusbythesea. You can go behind the Horseshoe falls on that side, and they have a new "4-D" theater experience there. It is a really fun place to visit!

cactusbythesea from Seattle on July 24, 2012:

I don't know when I'll make it Niagara Falls, but I really enjoyed taking a tour with this hub! I admit I had no idea there was so much to do there. Great hub and pictures!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 24, 2012:

Thanks, Patty! We live very close to the falls and there are a lot of fun things to do in the area - most people concentrate on the Canadian side, but the American side has a lot of fun activities, too!

Patty Kenyon from Ledyard, Connecticut on July 24, 2012:

Useful and Interestesting....I loved the pictures too!!!

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