A view of Horseshoe Falls and the abandoned Ontario Power Company ruins on the right
From sea to shining sea the Untied States is filled with breathtaking natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, the redwoods of California, and the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Lucky for us New Yorkers, one of America’s greatest natural treasures is right here in our home state. Less than a two-hour plane ride from JFK Airport, Niagara Falls is one of the most awe-inspiring sites in the world, and the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or a long road trip across New York.
Created by melting glaciers around 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, the falls poured over the Niagara Escarpment in what is today the nearby town of Lewiston, New York. Over time, the force of the water wore away layers of rock to bring the falls to their current location. The recorded sighting of the falls was by French explorer Father Louis Hennepin in December 1678, though Native Americans were likely aware of the falls before then. In the ensuing centuries Americans harnessed the power of the falls in the form of hydroelectricity and the site has became an ultimate tourist destination for travelers from across America and across the globe.
There is a prevailing sentiment that “The Canadian side is better,” but while we admit a drive across the border is worth it for a different perspective which encapsulates all three falls – American, Horseshoe and Bridal Veil Falls – in one sweeping view, we are partial to the New York side. Untapped Cites recently took a trip to Niagara Falls courtesy of Microtel by Wyndham to discover the best classic and off-the-beaten path adventures that will fully immerse you in the area’s extraordinary natural beauty and fascinating history.
Niagara Falls State Park
Looking down at the Lower Grove Trail at Prospect Point from the Observation Tower
Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in America, boasting 400 acres of lush landscaping designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the esteemed landscape architect who designed Central Park. This year marked the end of a five year nearly $70 million restoration project which used Olmsted’s naturalistic aesthetic while modernizing the park and making it more safe and accessible. The renovations also allow vistiors to get closer to the falls than ever before on new pathways and scenic overlooks.
All of New York’s Niagara Falls attractions can be found within the park land. Begin your adventure at the Niagara Falls State Park Visitor Center where you can pick up the vintage-style Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley. The trolley is a hop-on-hop-off mode of transportation that shuttles visitors around a 3-mile loop of the park, stopping at viewing spots and attractions along the way, with on-board guides sharing information, historical stories and fun facts. It is very helpful when you are trying to get from the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center to the Bridal Veils Viewing Area or Cave of the Winds and don’t want to walk the nearly mile and a half between them. The park is open everyday of the year, twenty-four hours a day and contains multiple gift shops, food stands, restrooms and picnic areas that will serve your needs.
We like the emphasis on natural wonder that the New York side displays as opposed to the more ostentatious Canadian side which feels a bit like Times Square, immediately bombarding you with large signs for casinos, chain restaurants and attractions like a haunted house and wax museum. New York has its fair share of entertainment and nightlife beyond the scenic park too! After a day spent soaking in the majesty of the falls, head down Old Falls Street for restaurants, public spaces filled with giant interactive games, concert venues and public art.