Niagara Falls in the background with a viewing platform in the foreground.

Whirlpools and waterfalls: 5 of the best experiences in Niagara Parks

Come for the falls, stay for the endless natural beauty, dramatic industrial architecture and colourful wildlife encounters.

Straddling the divide between the Canadian province of Ontario on the western bank of the Niagara River and the US state of New York to the east, Niagara Falls is a destination that needs little introduction. The thundering Horseshoe Falls — the largest of the three linked waterfalls — is undeniably the star attraction, with the waters of the Niagara River plummeting over a 188ft-high drop before exploding in clouds of billowing mist. It’s a scene that mesmerises millions of visitors every year, and while this immense natural phenomenon is indeed breathtaking, it’s by no means the only reason to visit the region. Explore further into Ontario’s Niagara Parks and you’ll find extensive natural beauty and a fascinating industrial history. Here are five of the best experiences not to miss on your next visit.

1. Journey behind the falls

Best for: the geographer Niagara Falls may have been pulling in eager-eyed tourists for years, but basking in their majesty the way you can today has not always been possible. Originally known as the ‘Sheet of Falling Water’, Journey Behind the Falls is an attraction at the western lip of Horseshoe Falls, documenting the geographical evolution of Niagara’s cascades, which have receded seven miles in 12,500 years. It also tells the history of Niagara Falls as an area, from its first Indigenous inhabitants to its position as a world-famous tourist attraction. In addition to getting the best spray-soaked views, visitors can follow the site’s progress first-hand — from the rickety wooden staircases built in the early 1800s and the first tunnels cut into the rock in the early 1900s, all the way through to today’s extensive viewing platforms, walkways, exhibitions and immersive experiences.

2. Take a white water walk

Best for: the outdoor enthusiast   Finding peace and quiet alongside racing rapids might seem impossible, but down on the banks of the Niagara River there’s a roar that blocks out all else. The power of nature becomes almost meditative when taking a turn along White Water Walk , a quarter-mile stretch of boardwalk at the edge of the frothing white-and-turquoise waters. From River Road, a lift descends 230ft to this riverside walkway, which juts out regularly into platforms to allow optimal viewing of the mighty rapids and the 410-million-year-old rock layers they traverse. Information plaques educate visitors on the geology of the gorge — from its 11,000-year-old Ice Age formation to its dolomite and shale-based rock bed — and give detail on the flora and fauna found in the surrounding park.

Two women stand on a boardwalk looking at rushing white water

3. Witness a whirlpool from above  

Best for: the thrill-seeker The power of the Niagara River can be felt far from the cascading tumult of Horseshoe Falls. Over three miles north, visitors will find Niagara Glen, a 125ft-deep pocket that was carved out of the river’s ancient banks around 5,000 years ago. Here, a surging whirlpool of water rages, created by an abrupt anticlockwise turn at the rapids’ end that results in a constant maelstrom of conflicting currents. For the best view, take the Whirlpool Aero Car , an antique but recently refurbished cable car that has been transporting visitors across the gorge for over a century. With capacity for up to 35 people, it soars 200ft above the Class 6 rapids for just over half a mile on a round trip, crossing the sharply angled border with the US four times in mid-air (no, you won’t need your passport). It’s a popular attraction, so consider visiting first thing in the morning to avoid queues.

4. Discover the world's butterflies

Best for: the nature lover Just a ten-minute drive from the Whirlpool Aero Car you’ll find the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory — one of North America’s largest butterfly conservatories. Its lush interior invites visitors to walk 600ft of pathways lined with tropical plants, with more than 2,000 butterflies fluttering under the glass roof. A self-guided tour lets visitors observe butterfly species from all over the world, such as the blue morpho, Low’s swallowtail, red lacewing and small postman, as they flit between trickling waterfalls and towering foliage. See them up close at strategically placed feeding stations, or if you’re lucky, witness newborns take their first flight after emerging from their pupa. Broaden your butterfly knowledge with interactive displays and video presentations, which show short films on the creatures’ life cycle.

niagara falls tour tripadvisor

5. Take to the tunnels

Best for: the historian   Feeling adventurous? Leave the surface behind and board a glass-walled lift to descend into the depths of the Niagara Parks Power Station , a former hydropower plant, built in 1905. As well as wandering the building’s soaring turbine halls where exhibits, artefacts and installations recall its history, guests can walk through the curved confines of its enormous spent-water outlet tunnel. The 2,200ft-long arched corridor transfers visitors from the depths of the plant to a dramatic exit point over the Niagara River, where a new viewing platform reveals the remarkable vistas of Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and the lower Niagara River. Created using only pickaxes, shovels and rudimentary dynamite, this passageway is just one part of an impressive architectural feature, all of which can be accessed for no extra fee (tunnel entry is included with regular admission to the power station site).

Related Topics

  • EDUCATIONAL TRAVEL
  • FAMILY TRAVEL

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