Niagara Falls

4 minutes

Niagara Falls is a geological wonder that attracts visitors from all over the world. Said to be over 12,000 years old, the combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m). While not exceptionally high, Niagara Falls is very wide, with an average of almost four million cubic feet of water falling over the crest line every minute. Twelve million tourists from all over the world visit Niagara Falls every summer.

Niagara Falls consists of two primary waterfalls on the Niagara River, which marks the border between New York and Ontario, Canada. The American Falls is located on the American side of the border and Horseshoe Falls is located on the Canadian side. To the right of American Falls is a smaller waterfall called Bridal Veil Falls. Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and flow rate. Horseshoe Falls is 170 feet high, and about 2,500 feet wide. The American Falls is 180 feet high, and about 1,100 feet wide.


The formation of Niagara Falls began at the end of the Ice Age. Large amounts of water were released from the melting ice, and drained into what is now the Niagara River. This water plunged over the edge of a cliff, called the Niagara Escarpment. The force of the water wore away layers of rock and Niagara Falls slowly moved upstream, eventually reaching its present location. Every year, the freezing and thawing of Niagara Falls contributes to steady erosion and periodic rock falls. In order to slow down this erosion, large volumes of water are being diverted from the falls and used for hydroelectric power.

The first person to see and describe Niagara Falls was Father Louis Hennepin, in 1678. Overwhelmed by the size and significance of the falls, he published an account of his travels in "A New Discovery". The book brought Niagara Falls to the attention of the western world for the first time and inspired further exploration of the region. The development of the rail system in the 1800s opened up Niagara Falls to visitors and soon made it a primary destination for travels from all over the world. Originally established in 1885 as the Niagara Reservation, Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the U.S. Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect of Niagara Falls State Park, also designed Central Park in New York City.

Daredevils and the Falls

The wonder of the falls has inspired many people to try to conquer the falls. Since 1901 people have been making the plunge in various contraptions such as wooden barrels and rubber balls. Horseshoe Falls has always been the chosen falls because while the American Falls has less flowing water, it also has a dangerous and rocky bottom. It is crazy to think that only a few inches of wood or metal is what separates these people from the pounding rush of thousands of gallons of water. The river below Niagara Falls averages 170 feet deep. Daredevils who go over the falls usually hit the bottom of the river before popping back to the surface.

Here are a couple noteworthy stories of people who made the plunge:

Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over the falls in a barrel in 1901. The sixty-three year old teacher decided to try the stunt as a way to make more money. She made the plunge in a barrel she designed herself, and while "the heroine of Horseshoe Falls" was successful in her endeavor, she did not end up with the financial windfall she expected.

In 1960, a seven-year-old boy named Roger Woodward was accidentally swept over the falls after a boating accident. He was rescued by the Maid of the Mist and miraculously survived with only minor injuries. He became the first person to go over the falls and survive without any sort of protection.

Jeffrey Petkovich and Peter DeBernardi were the first pair to go over the falls together in 1989, in one barrel. Resting face to face, and both wearing hockey helmets, the two successfully completed their mission relatively unscathed. Petkovich also wore a neck tie and a pair of cowboy boots for the trip. As a reward, the two had to pay a $20,000 fine for their stunt.

Travel Resources 

Popular attractions include the Cave of the Winds Tour, Maid of the Mist, and hiking in the Niagara Gorge. There is also plenty to do in the surrounding area, including places to eat, shop and stay.

Niagara Falls State Park: This is a great place to start with the planning of your trip. Be sure to check out the FAQ page for answers to common questions.

Niagara Falls Tourism: This is a very comprehensive site on how to plan a visit to Niagara Falls, including information on restaurants, shopping and hotels.

Niagara USA: Another good resource that not only provides information on visiting Niagara Falls, but also other trips and activities to do while in the area.

Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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