Activities on the American Side of Niagara Falls

Updated on June 15, 2018
leahlefler profile image

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, Leah now enjoys writing about science, gardening, and travel.

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. | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Feet away from the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls on Goat Island.A footbridge leading to the Three Sisters Islands.The author's son watches the water thunder past and topple over the precipice.On the hike to the Three Sisters Islands, the power of the Niagara River is evident.The last of the Three Sisters Islands allows visitors to watch the Niagara River roar past.
Feet away from the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls on Goat Island.
Feet away from the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls on Goat Island. | Source
A footbridge leading to the Three Sisters Islands.
A footbridge leading to the Three Sisters Islands. | Source
The author's son watches the water thunder past and topple over the precipice.
The author's son watches the water thunder past and topple over the precipice. | Source
On the hike to the Three Sisters Islands, the power of the Niagara River is evident.
On the hike to the Three Sisters Islands, the power of the Niagara River is evident. | Source
The last of the Three Sisters Islands allows visitors to watch the Niagara River roar past.
The last of the Three Sisters Islands allows visitors to watch the Niagara River roar past. | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The entrance to the free, hands-on visitor's center on the Niagara River.The spillway is fascinating to watch, as energy is created from the mighty Niagara RiverA large-scale diorama of the Niagara waterways and electricity generation plants is in the center.Several hands-on exhibits allow visitors to understand how electricity is generated.
The entrance to the free, hands-on visitor's center on the Niagara River.
The entrance to the free, hands-on visitor's center on the Niagara River. | Source
Source
The spillway is fascinating to watch, as energy is created from the mighty Niagara River
The spillway is fascinating to watch, as energy is created from the mighty Niagara River | Source
A large-scale diorama of the Niagara waterways and electricity generation plants is in the center.
A large-scale diorama of the Niagara waterways and electricity generation plants is in the center. | Source
Several hands-on exhibits allow visitors to understand how electricity is generated.
Several hands-on exhibits allow visitors to understand how electricity is generated. | Source

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 leave from Lewiston, NY and 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".

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.

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.

Old Fort Niagara is located just north of Niagara Falls, on Lake Ontario.
Old Fort Niagara is located just north of Niagara Falls, on Lake Ontario. | Source

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

A
Niagara Falls State Park:
Niagara Falls State Park, Old Falls St & Prospect St., Niagra Falls, NY 14301, USA

get directions

Niagara Falls State Park includes an observation tower and access to Goat Island.

B
Goat Island:
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, NY 14303, USA

get directions

Goat Island allows visitors to get the closest possible view of the Horseshoe Falls.

C
Niagara Power Project Visitor's Center:
5777 Lewiston Rd, Lewiston, NY 14092, USA

get directions

This interactive (and free) exhibit allows visitors to learn how the Niagara River is used to generate electricity.

D
Old Fort Niagara:
Old Fort Niagara, Scott Ave, Youngstown, NY 14174, USA

get directions

E
Whirlpool State Park:
Whirlpool State Park, Niagara Falls, NY 14305, USA

get directions

Difficult hikes are available down the steep hillsides to the Niagara River whirlpool.

F
Devil's Hole State Park:
Devils Hole State Park, Niagara Falls, NY 14303, USA

get directions

Devil's Hole offers hiking trails to the rapids downstream of the whirlpool.

G
Jet Boat Tours:
115 S Water St, Lewiston, NY 14092, USA

get directions

The departure site for jet boat tours from the American side of the Niagara River.

H
Niagara Falls Aquarium:
Aquarium of Niagara, 701 Whirlpool St, Niagara Falls, NY 14301, USA

get directions

A small aquarium great for families with small children.

Questions & Answers

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      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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 profile image

        mknelson2012 

        5 years ago

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

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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).

      • Hyphenbird profile image

        Brenda Barnes 

        5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

        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.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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 profile image

        Healthy Life 

        5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

        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.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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!

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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 profile image

        shalini sharan 

        5 years ago from Delhi

        wow, your hub makes me want to visit the place

        really well written

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        5 years ago from Houston, Texas

        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.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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 profile image

        Om Paramapoonya 

        5 years ago

        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!

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

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

      • randomcreative profile image

        Rose Clearfield 

        5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        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!

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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.

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        5 years ago

        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.

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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 profile image

        cactusbythesea 

        5 years ago from Seattle

        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!

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        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 profile image

        Patty Kenyon 

        5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

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

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