What makes Niagara Falls so special? Why is it on so many different peoples bucket list, regardless of whether they are “outdoorsy” or not? I think the reason is likely different for everyone, but it has a lot to do with the fact that being there is awe-inspiring. Seeing the amount of water that flows over the falls each moment, experiencing the spray from the water, and hearing the power that the water has, is unlike anything else that most of us will ever experience.

A few other things that added to all of that, for me, was 1) learning about the history that surrounds Niagara Falls, and all of the colorful characters that are involved; 2) seeing something that is slightly different each and every day, because the water is constantly changing the land surrounding it; and 3) knowing that this is a place that is accessible to just about anyone who wants to go see it; which isn’t always the case with natural places like this. 

Did you know that Niagara Falls is actually made up of three different waterfalls?

I didn’t know this until we went. I knew that there were two separate sections of the falls, the American and the Horseshoe, but I didn’t realize that those were two separately named waterfalls; much less that there are technically three waterfalls that make up the whole. The three are the American and Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side and the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

A view of the American side of Niagara Falls from the 48th floor of a hotel on the Canadian side.
The wider part of the falls, on the left, is the American Falls. The smaller section on the right is Bridal Veil Falls.
A view of the Horseshoe Falls in Canada, and the Niagara River beyond it, from the 48th floor of a hotel room.
And this is Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

The water that flows over all of them is supplied by the Niagara River, but because of the lay of the land only 10% of that water goes over the American and Bridal Veil Falls. The other 90% flows over the Horseshoe Falls. That 90% adds up to about 681,750 gallons of water per second. Per second!!!

To compare, a standard sized swimming pool has about 18-20,000 gallons of water in it. So that’s about 34 swimming pools full of water. That’s crazy to think about, much less to see in person.

I think this one fact is why, when people ask me which side of Niagara Falls is better, the Canadian or the U.S. side, I will always say the Canadian side. BUT, consider this before leaving the U.S. side out of your trip entirely:

While the U.S. side of Niagara Falls has long been known for not being the best side, they are making major efforts to update Niagara Falls State Park and make it better for everyone who visits. When we were there, they were in the process of building a nice Visitor’s Center and several paved pathways. It wasn’t open yet, and some of the pathways were still being constructed, but it looked like you were going to be able to get a better view of the falls than ever before.

A view of the American side of Niagara Falls to the left, and the tall hotels on the Canadian side of the border to the right.

The park has several other walking trails, the Cave of the Winds tour behind the U.S. falls, and the infamous Maid of the Mist boat tour.

If you follow the bridge over to Goat Island, there is an observation deck and several other places to view the falls. It’s also a great place to see the Niagara River rapids that surround it. These rapids get faster and faster as you get closer to the falls, and you can feel the energy build as you follow their path.

A view of the Niagara River, with rocks at the bottom along the shore and trees in the distance along the other shore. Blue sky at the top.
A view of the Niagara River in New York, with the towering Canadian hotels in the distance.
A view of the Niagara River rapids, just a bit before they flow over the American side of Niagara Falls. Trees in the distance.

The biggest difference between the two sides is that…

On the U.S. side you are standing more on top of, or to the side of, the American and Bridal Veil Falls, and you can’t get as close to the Horseshoe Falls. On the Canadian side, you can see the American and Bridal Veil Falls straight out in front of you and you can walk right next to the Horseshoe Falls.

A view of the Niagara Falls lit up at night, with all of the city lights around it, from a hotel on the Canadian side.
If you stay in a hotel on the Canadian side, you can get a prime view of the falls all lit up at night. This is from the 48th floor.

So yes, I think the overall views from the Canadian side will always have the advantage, just because of the nature of the land itself and how the water flows, but personally, I enjoyed seeing both sides. You get two different perspectives of where the water that flows over the falls is actually coming from. And there is a lot to do in the parks that surround both sides as well.

The best way to get the full Niagara Falls experience in Canada, is to take a tour with City Cruises.

If you have the time and the ability, I would highly recommend doing the full walking tour. This tour combines the regular boat tour, that takes you into the falls, with a walking tour of the area along the shoreline. You get to hear all about the history of Niagara Falls and the surrounding buildings and park area.

My favorite things though, were the stories about all of the different people who had tried to “best” Niagara Falls by going over them. Like Annie Edson Taylor, the first person who successfully went over the falls in a barrel in 1901. (She took her cat with her in the barrel…and it survived too.) Or a man named Kirk Jones, who chose to go over the falls in 2003 without anything surrounding him but his clothes and managed to survive. (Likely due to the amount of alcohol that was in his system.) A few people have even crossed over different parts of Niagara Falls on tight ropes.    

The ship that is stuck near the top of the Horseshoe Falls (as of 2023) has a really interesting story as well.  

In 1918, the “Iron Scow”, as it’s known, was being towed by a tug boat up the river from Niagara Falls. Suddenly, it broke free and got caught in the rapids flowing towards the Horseshoe Falls. There were two men on board, Gustav Lofberg and James Harris, who managed to open the doors to the bottom compartments, allowing water to flow into the bottom of the ship. This water slowed the vessel down, finally causing it to get stuck on the rocks below, keeping it from tumbling over the falls.

Their quick thinking saved them from crashing over the Horseshoe Falls, but then they were stuck. It took U.S. and Canadian authorities until the next morning to rig a rope from the shore to the ship, and one very brave soul – Mr. William “Red” Hill Sr. – to inch his way out to rescue both men.  

Since that time, the ship hadn’t moved until Halloween of 2019. That day, heavy winds and rain caused the vessel to shift about 164 feet closer to the edge of the falls. Then in 2022 it broke into two bigger pieces, but didn’t seem to move other than that. When we were there, it was still lodged in that same spot. What’s wild to think about though, is that all of it could break loose at any time. And if it does, it could shift a few feet, or it could get swept over the falls into the waters below.

This story also makes the people that went over the falls that much more daring to me because it illustrates just how dangerous these waters really are.

In any other touristy type spot, this ship would likely be removed so that it can’t possibly cause any future damage. But here, trying to remove it would be more dangerous for anyone involved than it would be to leave it; even when you factor in the risks associated with it going over the edge one day. The good news though, is that it’s being closely monitored. So, if it starts to move, or looks like it might, the authorities will do what they have to do to keep people safe.

Oh, to be the person that is standing at Table Rock Visitor’s Center videoing when it does break loose though. WOW!

After the walking tour, we took the elevator down and got onto the boat for our journey to see the falls up close and personal. 

And when I say “up close and personal”, I mean that if you don’t sit on the inside of the boat, you will get wet. We wore waterproof jackets, pants, and shoes because we were worried that it would be super cold outside, and getting wet then being in freezing weather would be no fun at all. We still got wet, but luckily it turned out to be a fairly warm day.

It probably didn’t help that I just decided to embrace it and I had my hands up dancing around while we went through the thickest part of the spray.

 A view of the American side of Niagara Falls from a boat. Most of the falls are obscured by mist.
It was difficult to get good pictures right in front of the falls because of the mist (caused by the wind and the power of the water hitting the rocks).
A view of the American side of Niagara Falls, with a tour boat going by it. Tall hotels off in the distance.
This is where you are when you’re on the boat.
A view of the Canadian hotels at Niagara Falls from a boat. A rainbow is created because of the mist from the falls.
On the plus side, the mist creates beautiful rainbows around you as you go.
A partial view of the Horseshoe part of Niagara Falls from a boat. The falls are mostly obscured by the mist that comes off of them.
Just before we went into the thickest part of the mist.

It. Was. Crazy. The roar of the waterfall and so much water surrounding you that you can’t see half the time. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and it was so much fun. Nearly impossible to get pictures.

A view of Horseshoe Falls from the observation deck at the Table Rock Center in Canada.
This is a view from the top of Horseshoe Falls (from the Table Rock Center in Canada). We were right in the middle of that spray when we were on the boat tour.

I have to say this though, the people who wore ponchos fared a lot better than I thought they would. =)

The last part of the tour was the Journey Behind the Falls, that takes you into the underground tunnels near Horseshoe Falls.

This part, honestly, I was slightly disappointed in. I’m not sure what I expected exactly, but this felt a little underwhelming. It was still a neat perspective, if you have the time, but be prepared to stand in line in the tunnel to get to the viewing spots, and then get just a couple of minutes to snap some pictures and move on.

A sign posted on a concrete wall that reads "Great Falls Portal" This is in the Journey Behind the Falls tour in Canada.
When you are looking out of the two “portals” behind the falls, you are standing where the two white spots are in the middle of this sign.
A "window", or portal as they call it, behind the Horseshoe Falls. A concrete surrounding with a square-ish "window" that water is flowing over and somewhat into.
A view of the Horseshoe Falls from the Journey Behind the Falls tour - which looks like a side view of the falls. It's not really "behind" the falls.

The Journey Behind the Falls tour is located in the Table Rock Center. So, after you take a peek behind the falls, you can go back up to the viewing area and watch the water flowing over the Horseshoe Falls. This is also the best place to see the Horseshoe Falls if you’re not into tours, or if you don’t have the ability to take one. I could have stood there all day just watching the water flow. It was somehow both peaceful and exhilarating all at the same time. 

A view of the Horseshoe part of Niagara Falls from the Table Rock Center in Canada.

Overall, Niagara Falls is absolutely WOW!

I don’t think there’s a better way to say it. Even though I was there, staring at it, it’s almost unreal. The sheer size and the amount of water flowing over those falls is unfathomable, and beyond gorgeous. Knowing the way that nature can change over time, or even suddenly if some of the bigger rocks at the top decide to break loose, I’m really happy that I got the opportunity to experience it, and I hope that you do as well.

If you are thinking about taking a trip to Niagara Falls, or if you’ve already gone, find me on Instagram – @thenovelturtle – and let me know. I’d love to hear what you’re most looking forward to, see your pictures after you return, and hear about your reasons for visiting as well.

* The tallest waterfall in the world is Angel Falls in Venezuela.

**The biggest waterfall by volume is Inga Falls on the Congo River.