Niagara Falls: a majestic natural frontier

The Niagara Falls are a series of waterfalls located in the river of the same name, between Canada and the United States. We invite you to learn all about their discovery, origin, formation, characteristics and much more about this great wonder of nature.

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Discovery of Niagara Falls

Much of the historical background to the development of human life is known through written accounts or records that serve as evidence for future generations. There is some controversy about the discovery of Niagara Falls, but most agree that it was Samuel de Champlain who proved the existence of Niagara Falls in 1604.

There is even a woodcut from 1837, included in Roux de Rochelle’s text, which shows an image of the falls with an explorer on the edge of the cliff.

Other personalities, such as the naturalist Pehr Kalm, are associated with the discovery of these falls, and it is thought that he was the first to describe them, thanks to an expedition he undertook at the beginning of the 18th century.

However, as we have seen, the whole discovery has been shrouded in controversy, as some claim that Father Louis Hennepin, who travelled with René Robert Cavelier de La Salle in 1677, had already observed and described them, which would prove that they had been discovered long before the naturalist Pehr Kalm.

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Since the 19th century, the presence of tourism has made Niagara Falls popular, due to the fact that the area where they are located began to be industrialised; in fact, in the year 1848, a pedestrian bridge was built by Charles Ellet, as well as a suspension bridge in 1855 by John Augustus Roebling, for the access of people visiting the place.

In 1886, in response to the demand from the masses of visitors who flocked to see the falls, a steel bridge was built, reinforced in 1897, which now carries a railway line and is known as the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge.

This work has allowed the passage of vehicles, trains and pedestrians between the two nations to which Niagara Falls belongs. In 1941, the Rainbow Bridge was added as a third crossing.

The falls are considered to be among the most famous in the world, and most of their public knowledge is thanks to the cinema, since in 1953 the film Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe, was released, where these beautiful waterfalls became popular and became an important tourist destination, not only for the inhabitants of the United States and Canada, but for many visitors from around the world who want to know them.

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Origin and formation

The origin and formation of Niagara Falls is thought to be relatively recent, dating back only a few thousand years, as are the Great Lakes from which they are fed.

It is estimated that at the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, the land had an ice sheet that began to recede, giving way to what is known as Lake Agassiz, a glacial lake in central North America with a surface area larger than the five Great Lakes combined.

As this lake overflowed, it began to drain in four different directions, one going north-west across the Arctic Ocean, another northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, another eastwards also into the Atlantic Ocean and finally one southwards into the Gulf of Mexico.

This resulted in the formation of the five Great Lakes, which have remained connected and, with the help of the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of the same name, form a continuous freshwater flow that directs the water towards the Atlantic Ocean.

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All of this is a continuous flow of water, maintained over time, where rivers do not have to overcome large drops, with the exception of the Niagara River, which faces a drop of about 100 metres between the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario.

Over the last 10,000 years, this has created an enormous gorge, some eleven kilometres long, between Niagara Falls and the mouth of the Niagara River in Lake Ontario.

Research into the origins of these falls has shown that they were not always where they are today, but that erosion over the years has caused them to recede into Lake Erie, creating the gorge that now lies beneath the Niagara River.

It is also stated that these falls continue to recede at an average rate of about 30 centimetres per year, but to reassure many, it will take about 50,000 years for erosion to consume the entire 20 miles of the Niagara River all the way down to Lake Erie.

Where are Niagara Falls?

Now that we know how this important waterfall was formed, it is time to find out where in the world it is located. Niagara Falls is located in the north-eastern region of the United States, but in relation to Canada it is located in the south-eastern region, right on the border between the two countries, which is why it is located in the Ontario region of Canada and the New York region of the United States.

Anyone wishing to visit them, whether they come from outside these two countries or are simply in one of them, should simply follow some of the instructions below:

  • From New York in the United States, you can arrive by plane at Buffalo airport, which is just a few kilometres from the falls, and from where you can reach them, as it has a passenger terminal with several travel options.
  • In Toronto, Canada, one of the main attractions is Niagara Falls, which can be reached in an hour and a half by private car. It is also possible to take a bus, as there are two lines for this purpose, but in this case it will take two and a half hours to get there. A third option is to take the Via Rail Canada train.

The most important thing is that no matter where you come from, you will be able to see the impressive Niagara Falls, a tourist attraction that is a major reference point in the world.

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Features

Niagara Falls is formed by the waters of the five Great Lakes in North America, in the area between the United States and Canada, receiving water from four of them, identified as Erie, Michigan, Huron and Superior.

Their water flows down the Niagara River into Lake Ontario, then into the St. Lawrence River, and finally into the Atlantic Ocean.

Data on the hydrology of these waters originally indicated that about 5.5 billion gallons flowed out of them every hour, but today half of this amount is diverted to generate electricity for both the United States and Canada.

In the 1800’s these were frozen waterfalls, with only a trickle of water flowing over the cliffs, but as the earth’s climate has changed this has changed, and today they are an impressive spectacle of waterfalls, providing at least 20% of the drinking water of the United States, which, as mentioned, is of glacial origin.

This waterfall has a depth of 170 feet, which can be appreciated with a waterfall in the form of a block and with a total height of 54 metres, for a width of 945 metres and an average flow of 2,800 cubic metres.

Well, the name Niagara Falls identifies a group of waterfalls discovered by Samuel de Champlain in 1604, but it also has several others that have been identified as Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls, located on the international borders between the countries of Canada and the United States.

These waterfalls have an infinite number of fish that cross their torrential waters, where most of them manage to survive the impact of the strong fall, since, according to studies carried out by experts in the field, the foam cushions the impact of their fall.

Its 3 falls

This impressive natural monument is made up of three waterfalls rising from the Niagara River. Each is identified by a name, as shown below.

Horseshoe Falls

The name Horseshoe Falls is curious, but not without reason, as it has the shape of a horseshoe, pronounced “horseshoe”, and is considered the most powerful of the three falls. It is located on the border between Ontario and New York, with large dimensions, within which they have about 670 metres wide by about 50 metres high in terms of its waterfalls and also has its largest part within the territory of Canada.

Specifically, it is located at Terrapin Point on Goat Island, which belongs to the state of New York, and Table Rock House, which belongs to the city of Ontario; it has a depth of three metres and constantly produces a large amount of mist, which makes it difficult to observe.

American Falls

Of the three corresponding waterfalls, this is the second highest, with a width of 290 metres and a drop of 30 metres, of colossal beauty, located entirely on the territory of the United States, in the state of New York. It is worth noting that this waterfall is separated from Bridal Veil Falls by Luna Island.

Bridal Veil Falls

It is the waterfall identified as Bridal Veil Falls due to its appearance from below, and is considered the least identifiable of the three.

It is located on one of the sides, separated from the others by only a few metres, and has rather modest dimensions compared to them, being about 17 metres wide and 24 metres at its falls, being entirely within the territory of the United States, in the state of New York. It is separated from Horseshoe Falls by Goat Island.

The Islands

Niagara Falls has several small islands that are uninhabited but can be visited for an exclusive view of the falls, including Goat Island, Moon Island, Three Sisters Island and others. Some of these are described below:

Luna Island

This small uninhabited island is located between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, but it is also on the north side of Goat Island, at the edge of the Niagara Gorge.

It was known as Prospect Island, but in the 19th century it was called Luna because on bright moonlit nights the moon’s rainbow could be seen over it, but this is no longer seen today because of all the night lighting from the falls.

The island is made up of dolomite rock and used to be covered with white cedar trees. It was closed until 1972 because it was unstable and there were fears that it might move, but it was later stabilised.

Moon Island is an interesting place to see Niagara Falls as it is within walking distance of both Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls.

Goat Island

Goat Island is the oldest state park in the USA. Located in the middle of Niagara Falls, it has a bridge that leads to Moon Island and crosses Bridal Veil Falls.

It is also uninhabited and forms a natural border between Canada and the United States, although it belongs to both nations. It is generally visited by all tourists wishing to see Niagara Falls on the US side, where there are spectacular viewpoints such as Terrapin Point.

It is connected to the mainland by two bridges that can be crossed on foot, by car or by train. There are woods and beautiful walks and there is an elevator that takes you on foot to the falls and a mountain formation called the Cave of the Winds.

Three Sisters Island

This island is located between Canada and the United States. It is said that its name comes from the three daughters of General Parkhurst Whitney, one of the first colonists of these falls in 1810, whose names were Celinda, Angelina and Asenath.

The island was named in honour of the three sisters because they came to the area as children, making them the first settlers. But before them, Iroquois shamans performed sacrifices and rituals on the island to appease the spirits they believed lived in the cave shrouded by the mist created by the falls themselves. It is even said that if you visit the island and listen carefully, you can hear the voices of the spirits.

The Canadian side

Niagara Falls is a natural border between the countries of Canada and the United States, so it’s possible to see it from either side, although it’s ideal to see its splendour from both countries.

Each of these countries has good services and facilities to cater for all visitors to this waterfall, with many commenting that the Canadian side has great hotels and entertainment.

The most important thing to remember when crossing the border is to have your passport with you so you don’t miss the opportunity to make the most of your trip.

The Canadian side is generally more crowded, so parking is expensive and scarce, with good hotels, casinos, shopping malls and entertainment areas such as Clifton Hill, a place set up in the style of Las Vegas with gift shops, arcades, haunted houses and theme parks.

As for Niagara Falls, there are frontal and direct views of the medium-sized waterfalls on the American side, as well as the large horseshoe-shaped waterfall.

There is also a large, fully paved walkway along the Niagara River, which can be used by people with mobility problems.

The American side

When it comes to the appreciation of Niagara Falls from the United States, it is said that it has ample parking for vehicles and is even more accessible from an economic point of view, which makes some tourists leave their cars in this country and walk to Canada to observe the falls from there.

The area of the falls is complemented by a State Park in the US territory, which allows visitors to experience this natural waterfall in a quieter way, with large green areas, beautiful islands and many trails for hikers to explore.

A visit to the falls allows visitors to feel the force of the fall and the huge plume of foaming water created by the sharp drop, a refreshing experience with free water sprays from Niagara Falls.

In summary, most people say that a visit to Niagara Falls is cheaper on the American side, as entrance fees, parking, attractions and restaurants are cheaper, but in the end it all depends on the availability of time, place and resources of each tourist.

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Niagara Falls Fun Facts

Niagara Falls is a natural wonder with a number of interesting facts. We thought it appropriate to include them as they will help you learn more about these magnificent waterfalls, which may one day disappear, but can still be admired today. That said, let’s start the tour with a few points that may be of interest to readers:

  • Niagara Falls is located between the United States and Canada, but the border between the two countries is Goat Island, which belongs to the State of New York, a natural site and a special observation point for the falls.
  • These falls have a world record in terms of volume of waterfall, due to the fact that they are formed by three falls, which, as mentioned above, are known as Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
  • The erosion caused by the water is enormous, which is why it loses centimetres of height over time, something that happens very slowly.
  • It is fed by the Great Lakes, so its water is directly dependent on the state of the lakes.
  • Every year the falls are visited by over thirty million people, a wealth of tourism generated on both the Canadian and American sides.
  • The falls are a protected park because they are a natural paradise, home to endangered species such as the lake sturgeon, the peregrine falcon and the American bald eagle.
  • The falls are full of fish, although not all of them survive these powerful waterfalls, but it is thought that 90% survive because of the layer of foam that acts as a cushion to slow their fall.
  • These waterfalls are not the highest in the world, but they are the most famous and have even been chosen as the backdrop for many films.
  • About 20% of the drinking water consumed in the United States comes from these falls.

We end our tour of Niagara Falls by inviting you to visit them if you have the opportunity, either on the Canadian or the American side, the important thing is that you get to know this natural wonder.

If you liked the information in this article, we invite you to discover more through the following links:

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  • Lake Baikal
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