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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Niagara Falls is a series of three spectacular waterfalls along the Niagara River on the border of Ontario in Canada and New York State in the US. The city of the same name is built right on the falls and has a population of 82,000 people. The area is Canada’s leading tourist attraction with 28 million visitors in 2009.

  1. The Falls

The major attraction is the falls themselves. They were formed at the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago when glaciers melted and water had to find its way from the newly formed Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. On average, the equivalent of an Olympic sized swimming pool of water tumbles over the edge every second, increasing to one and a half Olympic pools each second in high flow.

Horseshoe Falls, or Canadian Falls, is the most impressive section, with 90 per cent of the water flowing over this part. The width of these falls is 2,200 feet or more than seven football fields end to end. With the force of the water and the constant erosion, the depth of the water at the base is 184 feet, more than the height of the falls which is 173 feet. In the middle, the water going over the edge is 10 feet deep. It is an incredible sight, although mist can restrict the view. The other major section is the American Falls which are 950 feet wide. They are less spectacular but viewers can get much closer to them.

  1. Maid of the Mist

Several of the top attractions at Niagara Falls are associated with the falls themselves. Maid of the Mist is a boat tour of the falls. The trip starts near Rainbow Bridge, well away from the falls. It travels past the American Falls and into the mist of spray within the arc of Horseshoe Falls, where passengers can appreciate the sheer volume of water and its impressive roar close up. Everyone receives a Maid of the Mist poncho. Maid of the Mist started as a ferry service across the river in 1846. A bridge was built soon after but the boat remained as a tourist attraction.

  1. Journey Behind the Falls

A tour that takes people to the bottom of the American Falls by elevator is called Journey Behind the Falls, or Cave of the Winds. Visitors can walk along decks and platforms until they are almost under the Bridal Veil Falls and experience the water crashing down from above and flowing rapidly under their feet. The original Cave of the Winds tour began in 1841 and took people behind the falls. It closed in 1920 after a rock fall made it too dangerous. The tour reopened in 1924 with decks and walkways in front of the falls.

  1. Niagara Scow

A famous landmark in the area is Niagara Scow, a small flat-bottomed boat used to dredge the river upstream from the falls. In 1918, a tugboat was about to tow it back to shore when it broke loose and floated quickly towards the falls with two men aboard, Gastave Luffberg and Frank Harris. The boat got caught on rocks 800 yards from the falls in a torrent of water with the men still on board. As a rescue by boat was impossible, the fire department tried to shoot a line from a grappling gun from the top of the Toronto Power House. After that failed, the US Coast Guard was called in. They used a heavier gun to send a lifeline to the barge. The men were rescued after 28 hours. But the incredible thing is that the scow boat still sits there more than 90 years later, firmly wedged on the underlying rocks. A plaque at the site tells the story.

  1. Skylon Tower

A tall structure built next to the falls in the mid 1960s, Skylon Tower offers panoramic views of the area. It is 520 feet tall or the height of a 50 story building. Three “Yellow Bug” elevators on the outside take passengers to the top in 52 seconds. It has two restaurants and an observation deck at the top. The Revolving Dining Room sits on a circular rail and completes a revolution every hour, allowing up to 276 diners to see the falls and the city from every angle during their meal.

  1. Niagara River Recreation Trail

The Niagara River Recreation Trail is a 35 mile walking and cycling track that follows the Canadian side of the river. It runs from Fort George on Lake Ontario in the north to Fort Erie on Lake Erie to the south. Sir Winston Churchill described it as “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” The trail has more than 100 plaques and markers pointing to various historical buildings and commemorating events such as the War of 1812. Two of its campaigns were fought alongside the river.

  1. Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens is a beautiful 99 acre setting just 10 minutes’ drive from the falls. It has a rose garden with more than 2,400 roses as well as azaleas, rhododendrons, perennials, and a formal parterre garden. The Butterfly Conservatory has hundreds of colorful butterflies from around the world. An arboretum has ornamental trees and shrubs regarded as among Canada’s finest.

  1. Niagara Fallsview Boulevard District

This district is a leading tourist area located just five minutes’ walk from the falls. It has many top hotels, world class restaurants, and numerous shops. There are luxury hotels with large suites and spas, and family hotels with plenty of games and videos. Dining options at Fallsview include upscale gourmet, steakhouses, ethnic eateries, and family oriented restaurants. The Skylon Tower and Konica Minolta Tower are both in this area, as are IMAX Niagara, Marineland, and Niagara Freefall Indoor Skydiving.

  1. Clifton Hill

Another popular tourist attraction at Niagara Falls is known as Clifton Hill. It is a street that is a famous promenade with hotels, restaurants, shops, museums, large arcades, rides, and five haunted houses. Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks has a model of falls’ tightrope walker Charles Blondin. Visitors can ride the Niagara Skywheel ferris wheel and play glow in the dark minigolf at Galaxy Golf.

  1. Winter Festival of Lights

Fireworks light up the night sky at Niagara Falls every Friday night at 9pm during the Winter Festival of Lights. The falls themselves are illuminated from 5pm to midnight in winter months. This event has its origins 150 years ago when the falls were lit up by 200 white and colored lights to celebrate the Prince of Wales’ visit in 1860. Electricity was first used to light up the falls in 1879 with lights equal to 32,000 candles. The lights became more powerful over the years, with the current 21 xenon spotlights each producing 250 million candlepower.

Niagara Falls has many more attractions. It is a beautiful part of the world. Take plenty of warm clothing if you visit in the winter months as the temperature can stay below freezing all day. In summer, temperatures are mild to warm but a jacket or pullover comes in handy in the evening.