New York is home to many iconic destinations but few illicit the same response from throughout the world as Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls is located approximately 16 miles northwest of downtown Buffalo on the United States/Canadian border. There are viewing areas along both sides of the river, and while the views from the Canadian side tend to be better, I’m only going to be covering what you can see from the New York side.
Niagara Falls can be found within Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in America, and there are actually three large waterfalls that are together known as Niagara Falls. The most famous is Horseshoe Falls, which spans the Niagara River from the United States to Canada.
The other two waterfalls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, are both located on the American side of the border and are also on the Niagara River. Between these three waterfalls, islands offer both delineations for each and viewing areas.
While there are many popular attractions on the American side of the border including the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds, I’m only going to cover how you can walk to see the three large waterfalls in Niagara Falls State Park in this article.
Where to Park for Niagara Falls
Unlike many other New York State Parks, there is no charge for admission to visit Niagara Falls State Park. However, there is no free parking in the area, so you will have to pay for parking somewhere either in the park or in the city of Niagara Falls.
Without a doubt, the closest parking areas to the waterfalls are Lots 1 and 2 in Niagara Falls State Park.
Of the two, I’d recommend parking in Lot 2 as it’s the larger of the two and more centrally located on Goat Island (Lot one is near the Rainbow Bridge). Parking here will put you right in the middle of the three waterfalls and is the closest you can park to Horseshoe Falls.
Both lots cost $10 to park Monday-Thursday and $15 from Friday to Sunday. This is a one-time fee that will give you parking for the whole day and is in effect 24 hours a day throughout the year. Those with Empire Passes can park for free in these lots.
Lot 2 can be found at the following coordinates: 43.081205, -79.070286.
Lot 1 can be found at the following coordinates and is best used by those planning to walk across the bridge to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls: 43.087355, -79.064938.
There is also a third lot in the park that can be found on the southern end of Goat Island. This is the furthest lot from the waterfalls and is only open on weekends. I only recommend this lot if you have a larger vehicle (RVs have to park here) or if the other lots are full. However, this lot is a bit cheaper, only charging $10 to park on weekends (RVs are $20).
For those that would rather park elsewhere, there are many lots and garages in the city of Niagara Falls, New York. However, most of these lots charge at least $10 to park and require a much further walk to the waterfalls, so they only make sense if you are planning to explore the town too or if the lots in the park are full.
Of course, if you opt to get a hotel in Niagara Falls, many will have parking lots, so it may make sense to leave your car at the hotel and simply walk the short distance into the park since there is no admission charge.
How to See the Waterfalls at Niagara Falls State Park
As stated above, what’s known as Niagara Falls is actually three different waterfalls along the Niagara River which are separated by islands.
These three waterfalls are Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls, and all three can be seen from the viewing areas set up in the park.
The waterfalls are listed below starting from the south, though you can visit them in whatever order works best for you during your visit. Signs throughout the park point the way to each waterfall and the different viewing areas for them.
When people think of Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls is the waterfall that they are most likely thinking of.
This waterfall is 2,700 feet long and drops 165 feet into the gorge below, making it the largest of the three waterfalls in the park. Even more impressive, about 90% of the water of the Niagara River drops over this waterfall, and its flow rate makes it the most powerful waterfall in North America.
Horseshoe Falls gets its name from the curve in the face of the waterfall. Unfortunately, due to the shape of the falls, this is most easily visible from the Canadian side of the gorge. Nevertheless, if you stand back from the crest of the falls, you can get a decent look at this waterfall’s unique shape.
Nearly all of Horseshoe Falls is in Canada (only about 200 feet is in the United States, and the viewing platform is only about 100 feet from the border). Because of this, some refer to this waterfall as Canadian Falls.
There is a large viewing area at the crest of the waterfall that extends to the very edge of Horseshoe Falls. This provides great views of the waterfall and into the gorge. Make sure to look for the Maid of the Mist plying the waters of the gorge far below.
Signs throughout the park will lead you to this spot, so make sure to keep an eye out for those. Horseshoe Falls is located 1,600 feet south of the other two waterfalls in the park and is separated from them by Goat Island (where I recommended parking).
One thing worth noting is that there is often an incredible spray off of this waterfall. This not only makes viewing the far end of the waterfall difficult but also means that you are very likely to get at least a little bit wet if you stand anywhere near the crest of the waterfall. Make sure that any electronics you pull out, such as cameras, don’t get too wet.
It’s also worth noting that the viewing area here is 100% handicapped accessible, though it is a bit of a trek from even the nearest parking lot for those that have trouble walking long distances.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is the smallest of the three waterfalls in the park. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s actually part of American Falls because there is only a very small island, Luna Island, separating this waterfall from its neighbor.
Bridal Veil Falls is about 55 feet wide, which would make it a major waterfall almost anywhere else in New York, but it’s nearly an afterthought here. The total vertical drop is 181 feet, though the water “only” freefalls for 78 feet before hitting and cascading over large boulders at the bottom of the gorge.
The best free viewing area is on the northern side of the waterfall on Luna Island. This is part of the large viewing area where you can also see American Falls.
Better views of this waterfall can be had from the Cave of the Winds attraction (which takes you near the base of this waterfall) and from the Canadian side where the view is more distant but head on to the falls.
American Falls is the northernmost waterfall in Niagara Falls State Park.
It is 830 feet wide and has a total drop of 188 feet (though only 70-110 feet of that is a freefall drop, depending on the rock pile at the base of the falls).
There are several good viewing areas for American Falls including from Luna Island and from the viewing area near the Maid of the Mist store. You can also get a nice view of American Falls from the Nikola Tesla Monument on Goat Island.
Of the three waterfalls, this is the one that you can see best from the New York side.
Other Things to Do at Niagara Falls State Park
In addition to seeing the waterfalls of Niagara Falls State Park from the free viewing areas, there are many other fun things to do within the park. Paid attractions within the park include the Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, and the Niagara Falls Observation Tower. You can also find several shops and restaurants within the park.
There are also several miles of walking trails in the park, which offer the chance to see the beauty of the Niagara River upstream of the waterfalls. You can also go further downriver to see spots like the Niagara Whirlpool.
If you’re looking for places to visit near the park, there is great hiking along the Niagara Gorge downstream of the waterfalls, the historic Fort Niagara, and the Lockport Locks cruise on the Erie Canal.
You can also get an amazing distant view of Niagara Falls on a clear day from the observation deck atop Buffalo City Hall.
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