People have always been fascinated by the sights and sounds of Niagara Falls. The views are incredible, and the roar of the falls is unmistakable.
But which country actually owns the falls, and what exactly happened during the Industrial Revolution?
Get ready to learn all about the fascinating history of Niagara Falls.
Let’s dive in!
About Niagara Falls
Situated between Niagara Falls, New York, and the Candian city of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Niagara Falls is a series of three waterfalls along the Niagara River. Between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the Niagara River also serves as the border between the US and Canada.
On the American side, we have American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. On the Canadian side is the grander Horseshoe Falls. Goat Island separates the two sides. And, except for a short time in the 1960s, the falls have flowed uninterrupted for the last 12,000 years.
How Niagara Falls Were Formed
Large ice sheets used to cover the North American continent. At the end of the last glacial age, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, the Wisconsin glacier carved out the Great Lakes and the Niagara River.
The glaciers melted and filled what we now call the Great Lakes. And erosion over thousands of years moved the site of the falls seven miles downriver from their current location.
The largest of the falls, Horseshoe Falls, stretches over 2,500 feet from end to end. The much smaller American Falls is only 1,100 feet wide. Bridal Veil Falls, much smaller, is only 52 feet wide. The water that passes over both falls is enough to power 3.8 million homes.
Preserving Niagara Falls
During the Industrial Revolution, industrial titans moved into Goat Island. Other natural areas were devastated by the Industrial Revolution, but Goat Island was different.
Free Niagara, a conservation movement that began in 1870, worked with artists and thinkers in the region. Their goal was to remove industry from Goat Island and preserve Niagara Falls for future generations. By 1885, Niagara Falls was a protected area by order of New York’s governor.
In 1906, Congress acted to preserve the falls again, reducing the amount of water that could be diverted from the river. More recently, development on the Canadian side has crept in and caused a change in the wind currents. There are now 68 mist days per year, up from 29.
Where Is Niagara Falls?
The falls are on the border between Ontario and New York, about 30 minutes north of Buffalo.
Niagara Falls State Park on the American side provides the most stunning view of all three waterfalls. Visitors have access to the Cave of the Winds, The Maid of the Mist boat tours, and an aquarium and dining options.
The Canadian side offers many more options for lodging, dining, and other attractions. If you have a passport, you’ll want to spend the night there.
Pro Tip: Heading to Canada to see Niagara Falls? While there find out Which Canadian National Park You Should Visit.
So, Who Actually Owns Niagara Falls?
Niagara Falls is one of the most iconic natural wonders in North America. It holds a meaningful place in movies, books, TV shows, and the national identity of both Americans and Canadians. The funny thing? There isn’t just one “Niagara Falls.”
The three falls that make up Niagara Falls are two-thirds in the United States. But, 90% of the Niagara River goes over Horseshoe Falls, 10% over American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
Canada has the most end-to-end falls in Horseshoe Falls if we go by distance. America lays claim to the most iconic views and spaces if we go by spirit. Get down to the details, though, and both countries own significant portions of the area we call Niagara Falls.
Have you ever been to Niagara Falls? We want to hear about your visit!
What Was Under Niagara Falls?
Earlier, we mentioned the only time water stopped flowing over the falls. In 1969, authorities decided that they needed to dewater the falls on the American side. Some say it was because of the buildup of rocks and debris from the current. At least, that was the official reason.
When the water finally stopped flowing, they found many rocks called talus. But they also found two corpses, which surprised them. They expected to see more because of the number of suicides over the falls. Engineers placed instruments in the rock beds to measure movement and restored water to the American side that same year.
Did People Really Go Down the Falls in a Barrel?
Like climbing Mount Everest “because it was there,” going over the falls in a barrel is a rite of passage for some daredevils. Annie Edison Taylor was the first to go over the falls in a barrel in 1901. Bleeding, she crawled from her barrel at the bottom and suggested that no one do it again.
Never one to follow good advice, Bobby Leach went over in 1911 and broke both kneecaps and his jaw. Years later, he died after slipping on an orange peel.
Not everyone who went over the falls had such a successful plunge. Charles Stephens went over in 1920, and all that remained in the barrel at the bottom was his arm. Greek waiter George Statakis suffocated in his barrel in 1930 before rescuers could reach him.
In 1984, the first Canadian over the falls was Karel Soucek. He survived the barrel but died trying to recreate the fall in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.
Pro Tip: After visiting upstate New York to see Niagara Falls, visit these 7 Best Small Towns in New York.
Best Hikes Near Niagara Falls
Goat Island Scenic Walk
Goat Island Scenic Walk on the American side of the falls is an easy 1.8-mile loop with spectacular views. It’s a popular spot to see the falls, and you’ll most likely see other folks on the trail.
Sections of the trail are stroller and wheelchair-accessible, but wheel-bound users should avoid the steep sections. Dogs are welcome but must be on leash on the trail.
Parking at the trail is $5, and the lot has several wheelchair-accessible parking spaces.
Niagara Gorge Rim Trail and Whirlpool Rapids Loop
Niagara Gorge Rim Trail and Whirlpool Rapids Loop is a more challenging hike recommended for experienced users. It’s 3.5 miles long and features grated metal steps to access parts of the trail.
Because of this, it’s not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers. Pets are allowed on a leash but be sure they can handle the stairs. This trail has fantastic views of the river and is worth the stairs on the way back.
Best Camping Near Niagara Falls
Branches of Niagara Campground & Resort
Branches of Niagara Campground & Resort is between Buffalo, New York, and Niagara Falls, New York. It’s a short drive from the campground to the falls.
They have cabin and yurt rentals plus RV sites with full hookups and some pull-through sites. All RV sites feature gravel pads. This site also features a full activity list with pools, zip-lines, laser tag, bike rentals, mini-golf, and a playground.
Niagara Falls-Grand Island KOA
If you prefer something a little more low-key, Niagara Falls-Grand Island KOA may be your place. Seven miles from the falls, the campground offers basic amenities with a few extras.
RV sites feature 50 max amps and 80’ max length. There are also some kid-friendly amenities and pet sitting options if you want to go fishing without Fido.
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