Niagara Falls


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Niagara Falls isn't exactly off the beaten path, but it is a spectacular place to explore, geocache and letterbox.  There's history here too.  On our most recent trip, we found some things that you won't see in the tourist brochures - hence this page. We couldn't decide if it belonged in Parks or Cool Places.  Prospect Point Park on the American side and Queen Victoria Park on the Canadian side certainly fall into the first category. So we compromised and linked to both.

Out geocaching son at a virtual cache near The Maid of the Mist.
Bravo Lima at Lookout Point with his all-in-one tourist pass.  You can see the Maid of the Mist docking down below and the looong blue line of passengers waiting to board.  I thought the cutesy little poncho they give you wasn't very manly, but you sure need it. There's a virtual geocache here.

Here are some "falls fast facts " about Niagara. We came across most of these while doing virtual geocaches along both sides.

  • The word "Niagara" is derived from the Iroquois Indian word "Onguiaahra"   meaning "the strait".
  • The Falls are on the Niagara River, which is only 36 miles long.  Running south to north, it is the outlet from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

  • The Niagara River is young by geological standards - about 12,000 years old.

  • Unlike most rivers, it doesn't have a small source and get bigger gradually. It is wide and fast the whole way.

  • Commercial ship traffic is transported up and down the Niagara escarpment via the Welland Canal.


  • The depth of the river at the brink of the falls is only about three feet. Looking down from nearby overlooks, you can easily see the river bottom.

  • The depth of the river in the lower gorge below the falls averages a little over 50 feet.

  • The depth of the whirlpool is 125 feet.

  • The deepest part of the river is right below Horseshoe Falls at 150 feet.

  • The height of the American Falls is 176 feet although the rock fall at the bottom rises up almost 100 feet.

  • The crest line of American Falls is 1100 feet and the average flow is 75,000 US gallons per second.

  • The height of Horseshoe Falls is 167 feet.

  • The crest line of Horseshoe Falls is 2600 feet and the average flow is 600,000 US gallons per second.

  • The speed of the rapids above the falls averages 25 mph but has been clocked as high as 68 mph.

  • In November 1966, the water flow was reduced from 60000 cubic feet of water per second to 15000 through water diversion with dams and the hydroelectric plant.  Then 40 workers waded out into the channel 500 feet above the brink of the American Falls to remove trees and debris

  • Water has completely stopped flowing over the entire falls only one time - March 29, 1848 due to an ice jam up river. 

  • During that several hour stoppage, adventuresome tourists walked out on to the river bottom to hunt for souvenirs.

  • The American Falls were dry from June to November 1969 after engineers dammed up the Niagara River so they could remove rock  from the bottom of the falls.  Major rock slides in 1931, 1954 and 1959 along with subsequent erosion had piled up rock so high that it threatened to turn the falls into a rapids.

  • Here are some amazing photos of a dry American Falls.

The American Falls seen from the Canadian side while dry in 1969.   The very top of the dry American Falls in 1969.
Both of these pictures were discovered in 2010 by American Russ Glasson. His in-laws had taken them while on vacation in 1969 and stashed them in an attic for 41 years.  The picture on the left shows the dry American Falls from the Canadian side.  The photo on the right is taken from the brink of the northeast corner of the American Falls. Goat Island is in the distance. Nine years earlier on this spot, on July 9, 1960, a human chain reached out and plucked  17 year old Deanne Woodward  from the river just as she started over the falls.  Her seven year old brother Roger went over Horseshoe Falls and lived - the only person to ever survive an unprotected drop over either of the falls.  He was rescued by the Maid of the Mist. The family friend who took them out in his boat that day also went over the Canadian falls and was killed.  Here's a link to an article written on the 50th anniversary of that extraordinary event.
  • The Thunder Alley web site contains extensive information on the history, heritage and sites of the falls including an excellent page on the 1969 American Falls engineering project.

  • The Great Lakes contain 20% of the world's fresh water.

  • The water from four of the Great Lakes - Huron, Michigan, Erie and Superior - flow over the Falls into Lake Ontario.

  • Time for a drop of water to travel from Lake Superior to the Falls - 400 years.

  • Geologists estimate that due to erosion, the falls will be a series of rapids in 50,000 years.


Planning Your Trip

Scene on board the Maid of the Mist.
On the Maid of the Mist heading for the bottom of Horseshoe Falls.  It takes you close enough to reach out and touch them. You can see the water spots on the lens. After this point, picture taking is very difficult. This is the best attraction at the falls, but be prepared to wait in line.

We spent two days on the American side and three days on the Canadian side.  Surprisingly, we preferred the American side.  It is much less developed and much more park-like with more places to explore like Goat Island and The Sisters.  The Canadian side is beautiful along the gorge, but two blocks up the steep hill it starts to look like Las Vegas.  There are lots of high-rise hotels, casinos, restaurants and some schlocky tourist attractions like Dracula's Wax Museum.  The conventional wisdom has always been that the American side is bit run down and the Canadian side is nicer and safer.  We found that to not be the case. The two sides are very different and offer something for everyone.  There's lots of security and we felt safe on both sides at all times.


There are three things you should be aware of in planning your quest.  First, all people 16 and up need a passport to cross the border from either direction.  This new requirement has been bad for business on both sides but it isn't going away. Be prepared for some real scrutiny and long lines. The days of being waved across the border are over.

Second, if you are traveling with minor children who have a different last name, have some sort of documentation that they are yours and/or you have permission to take them into Canada or the US.

Third, the traffic during peak season is really bad on either side and parking is very scarce. Both sides have very good transportation systems, so you should plan to park somewhere, buy a tourist pass for all the attractions and ride the shuttles. Taxis are reasonable too.  We combined shuttle bus, taxi and walking to see everything easily.

There are four bridges that cross the river between the US and Canada - Peace, Rainbow, Whirlpool Rapids and Lewiston/Queenston.  You can check current bridge condition at the Niagara Falls Bridge website.  The Rainbow Bridge is the most crowded.  It's not uncommon to have 30-60 minute delays at Rainbow and much less on the other three. The Peace Bridge has its own website.   All have tolls. Cars average about $3.00 USD.  Bikes and pedestrians are 50 cents.  Tolls are paid one way - into Canada.

For History Buffs

There is a little known but important battlefield on the Canadian side just north of the Floral Gardens and not too far from the Spanish Aerocar attraction. The Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812 was the first major land battle of the War of 1812 and the most important battle ever fought on Canadian soil.  The Americans invaded Canada by crossing the Niagara River below the whirlpool gorge.  Their mission was to take out an artillery position that was targeting Lewiston, NY and to establish a permanent beach head on the Canadian side to open a northern front before the onset of winter.  At first, things went well, but reinforcements didn't arrive and a determined British counter attack resulted in total defeat of the American force, which suffered  over 1,000 casualties. That was the end of the Niagara northern front, although there was fighting throughout the region for the rest of the war. There was even a naval war on Lake Erie. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won a decisive victory for the United States at the Battle of Lake Erie giving the Americans control of the lake and opening a path for the Queenston Heights invasion.  "Don't give up the ship" and  "We have met the enemy and they are ours" are famous quotes from that campaign.

There is an extensive multi-cache called The Battle of Queenston Heights which will take you all over the battlefield. Additionally, there are at least a half dozen traditional geocaches nearby on some great hiking trails along the bluff with views of the Niagara gorge.

The Spanish Aerocar over the whirlpool gorge.

The Spanish Aerocar over the whirlpool gorge.  Off to the right, you can see the jet boats that take you around the whirlpool.  Just to the left of the aerocar is a concrete slab that serves as a helicopter pad for emergencies.  Right around that pad are a couple of geocaches and letterboxes. We didn't get to them this trip.  Next time for sure.


Geocaching at Niagara Falls

There are geocaches and letterboxes galore on both sides.  They run from above the falls all along the gorge down to the whirlpool  and beyond.  There are several down in the whirlpool gorge itself and three on Goat Island just above Horseshoe Falls right next to the river. There are virtuals, traditionals of all sizes, urban caches and caches in the wild throughout the area.  Ditto for letterboxes. If you do some planning, you can tour the whole area, pick up a couple dozen geo-hides and see things that the regular tourists would miss. Here are a couple of our favorites.





Alpha6 and KidsRN at the Green Cascade virtual cache.

The Green Cascade virtual geocache



The Green Cascade - This is a virtual geocache that takes you to a geological feature on the far edge of the Three Sisters Islands.  Only about 400 yards from the brink of Horseshoe Falls, you have to practically step into the river to get the right camera angle. It looks like there's a 20 foot wall of water bearing down on you, which there is. But then it hits the remains of an ancient canyon left by the glaciers and flows away into the main channel of the river and over the falls.  Very cool.



Ground Zero of The Other Sister geocache.  The picture is a bit fuzzy, but you get the idea. That's the river on the left. Watch you step!

Ground Zero of the Other Sister geocache.




The Other Sister - This is a traditional geocache in the same area as the Green Cascade.  It is an ammo box tucked away in the rocks just a few feet away from the river.  It's a bit difficult to find and has lots of DNF's but it's there.  You do have to be a bit nervy to find it and to retrieve it. If you miscalculate and end up in the river, you're going over the falls.  If you like geocaches with a bit of a pucker factor, this one will do nicely.

While doing this cache, you can also pick up the Goat Island letterbox, which is nearby. The link takes you to the clue page on Atlasquest. You'll also need a compass.

We plan to head back to Niagara Falls soon.  It's close,  safe and we don't need to go through the indignities of airport "security".  There are lots of trails, caches and parks we didn't get to, especially in the lower gorge.  Maybe we'll see you there.

The GPS coordinates for the center of Rainbow Bridge are 43.090135, -79.067686.  Click on the coordinates to bring up an interactive Google Map.

Cheers....The Cachemanian Devils