Niagara Falls State Park is our oldest state park, and it’s located in New York. The Horseshoe Falls and American Falls draw millions of visitors per year. You can see these breathtaking waterfalls from either side of the Niagara River with a special glow at night. Find a space to park, hike the trails, and take as many photos of the falls as you can. Niagara Falls State Park is dog friendly and always open, although attractions are seasonal.
How to Get to Niagara Falls State Park
Hours of operation: Niagara Falls is open 24 hours.
Fees: The state park is free to enter, but most parking and other attractions are not.
Niagara Falls is on the northwest side of New York, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Buffalo is the nearest major city. Most likely, you will fly into Buffalo if you are coming to visit the falls. Niagara Falls is a short drive (17 miles) from Buffalo, NY.
To get to Niagara Falls from Buffalo, the most direct route should be I-190. Follow the interstate north, passing through Grand Island and exit at Niagara Scenic Parkway (heading west). You will drive across two sets of bridges on this tollway.
Niagara Falls BLVD (Route 62) is an alternative route leading you around Grand Island. It will take longer to reach the falls, but will save you on tolls. As you approach Niagara Falls State Park you will notice a few pay-to-park areas. However, we found one free parking area inside Goat Island.
There are many things to do at Niagara Falls State Park, but most of them are not free. If your only concern is visiting the falls, you can do so for free. However, you can expect a longer walk. Most of the nearby parking areas will cost between $5 and $10.
How to See Niagara Falls for Free
During our visit, commercial businesses were charging $10 to use their parking lots. That might scare off some customers! It will also cost you $10 to use the lot near the Visitors Center, or Niagara Falls. Street parking across from the Observation Tower is a whopping $5 per hour! These are the areas most people park, but you can find free parking if you look hard enough.
It’s free to park at Whirlpool State Park, which is three miles north of Niagara Falls. If you do not mind the distance, the trail provides some great views of the Niagara River from high above. The rapids swirl at this park where there is a 90-degree curve in the river. A cable runs over the whirlpool from one country to the other, with a trolley parked at one end. The trolley was not active due to the current state of things.
If you prefer a shorter hike, you could find street parking between the two state parks. However, the residential areas appear less than inviting. In fact, Niagara Falls has been recorded as the most dangerous place in New York. Yikes! We noticed a ton of boarded up homes, some of which seemed to have been torn apart by a natural disaster. Clearly, this town does not believe in remodeling.
Another free parking area is located in front of Three Sisters Islands. No doubt, this parking lot is mainly for visiting the islands because there is a time limit of 20 minutes. This may, or may not, be enough time to hike to the falls and back. The hike to the falls is about half a mile, so you will need to be quick. To find this parking area, bypass the first parking area and follow Goat Island Rd to the south-side of Goat Island.
Hiking at Niagara Falls State Park
The Niagara Falls Gorge Map displays trails which follow the Niagara River for up to 7.5 miles. There are also several other trails providing access to the gorge. These trails are dog friendly and you can hike or bike them for scenic views and exercise. The total trail distance is more than 16 miles, not including trails inside Niagara Falls State Park.
The Niagara Falls State Park Trail Map reveals the trails and attractions within the park. The map is full of details and easy to read. It shows hiking trails leading to the falls, and points of interest for taking photos. The total distance probably amounts to more than three miles. Of course, hiking is free at Niagara Falls and you can bring your dog.
All of the trails inside the park are easy to hike and hiking shoes are not necessary. Follow the Goat Island Loop Trail to see the Niagara River on every side, as well as Niagara Falls. Take the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to, or from, the island to see different views and attractions. The sight and speed of the rapids is intense as the water passes underneath and flows over the falls.
Finally, hike the River Trail on the north side of the park for a view of the American Falls. You can also head up to the Observation Deck to get another view. Many people will be crowding this area. Wait until dark and you can capture the falls with glimpses of light. Crossing the Rainbow Bridge to Canada may provide a “better” view of the falls, but this was not possible during our visit.
Niagara Falls FAQ’s
Many people have inquiring minds and ask questions about Niagara Falls. Millions of people visit this special site every year, and there may be millions of questions about it. Here are 10 of the most popular questions about the falls.
Which Side of Niagara Falls is Better?
This depends on how you would like to see the falls. Each country has an advantageous view. On the American side you can get close to the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls, but the view is from the side. On the Canadian side you can see all falls head-on, or gain a more elevated position. The better side is still up for debate.
Do You Need a Passport to Go to Niagara Falls?
You do not need a passport to see the falls from your own country. However, if you plan on gaining views of the falls from America and Canada, you will need your passport. Walk, or drive, across Rainbow Bridge to get a view from both sides of the river.
What’s the Best Month to Visit Niagara Falls?
This is another subjective question. Summer is peak season at Niagara Falls. Boat rides and other attractions will be open, people will be swarming, and prices will be highest. At least the weather should be decent.
In the winter, prices will be lower, but it will be brutally cold and fewer attractions will be available. Statistics may be inflated and do not reveal monthly numbers, so it’s difficult to say which month is most popular.
Personally, I’m fine with some cooler weather, especially if I can avoid crowds and higher prices. May and September would fit that criteria. You may need to wear a hoodie, but attractions should be open and available.
Can You Swim in Niagara Falls?
No. Swimming is not allowed. The rapids are some of the most dangerous in the country. In the past, stuntmen used to go over the falls. Some survived and others did not. Eventually, it became illegal, with potential fines up to $10,000. If you long to get wet at Niagara Falls, take the Cave of the Winds Tour.
What City is Closest to Niagara Falls?
Buffalo is the nearest major city to Niagara Falls. This is where you will arrive (most likely) before visiting the falls. It takes approximately 20 minutes to reach Niagara Falls from Buffalo.
Is Niagara Man-Made?
No. It is one of the natural wonders of the world. Niagara Falls is not one of the tallest, but it is the most famous natural waterfall in North America and has the highest flow rate.
Will Niagara Falls Disappear?
Yes, but not in our lifetime. It will take thousands of years for Niagara Falls to disappear due to erosion. The erosion rate is about three feet per year.
Does Niagara Falls Get Turned Off at Night?
No. The falls do not get turned off at night, but the water flow is drastically reduced to generate power. Water flow is cut in half after dusk during the tourist season. The rest of the year, the water flow is cut in half the entire day, leaving the Maid of the Mist out of commission.
Is Niagara Dangerous?
It is unknown whether this question refers to the falls, or the town of Niagara Falls. In each case, the answer would be yes. The Niagara River is treacherous, and people have died going over the falls. The town of Niagara Falls has been number one on the list of dangerous places in New York. It has been flipping spots near the top of the list with Buffalo for years.
What Happens if You Go Over Niagara Falls?
You will get hurt, and you might die. Many have died going over the falls, including stuntmen. Wikipedia claims more than 5,000 people have died going over the falls, but most are unknown. Currently, there are 17 named survivors (some went over twice), and 13 fatalities.
Niagara Falls State Park at Sunset
More Places With Waterfalls
Niagara Falls may be the most well-known spot to see waterfalls in the nation. However, many other parks around the country have waterfalls worth seeing on a hike. It would be nearly impossible to list all of them, but here are a few honorable mentions we have visited.
Starved Rock State Park is about 95 miles southwest of Chicago, IL. Here you can hike right up to several different waterfalls throughout the park. It’s free to visit, and dog friendly, but it gets crowded.
Snoqualmie Falls is nearly 30 miles from Seattle, WA. The trails are not up against the falls, but you can see them from an upper viewing deck, as well as the lower area. Two separate parking areas will get you close to the 270ft falls.
Colorado Bend State Park is 100 miles northwest of Austin, TX. Here you will find miles of trails, armadillos and the 70ft Gorman Falls. The Colorado River runs alongside this beautiful park, but the ride is a long one.
A couple of small waterfalls can even be found along the San Antonio Riverwalk. Amazingly, the San Antonio River mostly runs on recycled waste water. We hiked the entire 15-mile marvel and enjoyed every minute.
I’m not sure what is so attractive about waterfalls, but people love seeing them. What are the best waterfalls you have seen?