If there is one tourist trap on the North American Continent that everyone should visit during his or her lifetime, Niagara Falls in western New York may just be it. Listed as one of Canada's Seven Wonders (Niagara is shared between the United States and Canada) and also the most visited, tourists have been amazed by the falls for over 200 years.
Although the vital statistics for the falls are amazing they earn Niagara only one, "best in the world," and even that feat is manmade. The American side of the falls is slightly higher than the Canadian, dropping 180 feet and over 1,100 feet wide. On the Canadian side the horseshoe shaped falls drop 170 feet and are more than 2,500 feet wide, almost a half mile. Every hour 2.5 billion gallons of water flows over the falls heading north to Lake Ontario. Around the world falls are taller, wider and have more volume - you don't even have to leave the state of New York to find a taller waterfall where Niagara ranks second in the state
The one record that Niagara does hold is for electrical generation. More power is generated from the rushing waters of Niagara than in any other place in the world (sorry folks, Coulee Dam in Washington generates the most power from a single dam). If the water that is diverted to generate power were allowed to rush over the falls again, Niagara would flow at five billion gallons per hour!
The Wisconsin Glacier created Niagara Falls about 12,000 years ago. The retreating ice left behind the rock ledge and water rushing out of giant glacier lakes crashed over the side. The falls aren't static but actually move northeast about four feet per year. Twelve thousand years ago they were more than seven miles to the south. The crushing force of water over the rocky ledge slowly chips away at it each year and the progress has been carefully monitored since 1790.
Depending on your viewpoint the fate of Niagara Falls was a good thing or a bad thing. Today the falls are surrounded by high-rise hotels with huge construction projects ongoing on both the US and Canadian side. For the last 155 years eight different boats named, "Maid of the Mist," have brought tourists to the edge of the falls and back with the Maid of the Mist VIII being launched in 1997.
If you visit Niagara Falls seeking an outdoor experience you're going to be in for an unpleasant shock. Restaurants, arcades, and family attractions crowd the streets around the storied falls. The larger shock came from expensive parking and overpriced food and services. Despite all of this a visit is still required.
If you want to save your hard earned dollars a visit from the top of the falls is still very rewarding, especially on the Canadian side. As you walk along the sidewalk that flanks the falls below mist is carried up from the deluge providing a constant soaking rain over the surrounding area. The result is an incredibly green carpet flanking the falls and roadway. As you head toward the main falls the roar continues to get louder until you exit the mist cloud (depending on the wind) and closer to the edge where the falls start. If you continue on even further you can actually move behind the falls and stare off into oblivion. It becomes easy to image an early sailor plunging off of the globe where the map says, "beyond here there be dragons."
Of course if you want to get closer to the base of the falls you can hike down on the United States side equipped with a yellow slicker raincoat or take the Maid of the Mist to base of the falls and back. If you plan to make a day out of it be prepared to spend a lot of money and for some of your franchise favorites to pull some punches. If you decide to eat don't make your choice based on your popular franchises menu and prices, you'll find both are different and one in particular (guess which one) can be very different.
Niagara Falls is a spectacular wonder to see. This average waterfall (in height) has advanced itself to the pinnacle of waterfalls in the world and millions of people visit her each year. Even if the thought of nine dollar parking, tour buses, and hoards of camera happy tourons makes your blood pressure rise we strongly recommend you take your blood pressure medicine and visit the majestic falls, at least so you can say you've been there.