With the greatest volume of water of any waterfall on earth, Niagara’s powerful beauty is arguably one of the most accessible major natural sites in North America.
This year I only visited once, however some years I am lucky enough to see the Falls four or five times.
Yes, the area around the Falls is very built up and yes there are waterfalls substantially higher elsewhere on our planet, but Niagara has – and deserves – a special place in our minds, hearts, and economy.
Firstly – what an outstanding natural border between two countries! Along the Niagara Parkway, there is a statue honouring General Brock and the British Fort George dating back to the War of 1812. Since that time, Canada and the United States have forged such a friendship that few of us could possibly imagine another conflict.
The Falls are young and vibrant. It is not difficult to draw parallels between North America and the power of Niagara. The Falls are geologically very young. They came to life only 10 000 years ago at the end of the Wisconsin Glaciation.
As the giant ice sheet melted and retreated, it revealed a landscape that would become Canada and the Northern United States. Billions of tons of water filled the many basins and filled the Great Lakes.
Southern Ontario began to physically rise up (isostatic or post-glacial rebound). *Incidentally this is now occurring in Greenland and Antarctica as those ice sheets recede.
As the land rebounded, water from higher Lake Eire rapidly flowed towards lower Lake Ontario.The volume of water must be seen to be believed!
Niagara Falls were born.
But of course the story is more complicated. The geology is fascinating and the human history intriguing.
Because the Great Lakes act as giant hot-water bottles, in an environment with very cold winters, the land around Niagara has always been extremely productive.
The Niagara region is now known for its orchards and vineyards, yet long before any European set eyes on the Falls, people lived – and thrived – in the area.
The First People – First Nations – of North America quickly inhabited the region after (and perhaps before) the last great glaciation. They travelled by water as did the first modern immigrants to North America.
When visiting North America, one must first consider this massive land from its waterways. For over 400 years invaders, traders and colonizers travelled the inland waterways and were required to build forts and settlements to manage through the frozen winter periods.
With the industrial revolution and establishment of Canada, trains (and eventually automobiles) replaced canoes and tall ships. Nevertheless, the Saint Lawrence seaway continues to provide an important trade route into the continent.
From the first narrowing of the mighty river in Quebec, huge containers ships continue past Montreal into Lake Ontario and through the Welland Canal locks (thereby avoiding the Falls), en route to the great industrial cities of Cleveland, Detroit and even Chicago.
The Falls are the best day trip from Toronto and certainly warrant two or three days if possible.
Any connoisseur of the Falls knows a winter visit is a must. When partly frozen, the Falls offer an otherworldly majesty. Watch your step – ice forms almost everywhere!
With a day around the Falls, I always suggest starting your visit at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This historic town is located close to Fort George, where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario. Worth a visit on its own merits, the 30 minutes drive down to the Falls along the Niagara Parkway is magnificent. Along the way, you will look across the New York State, see beautiful architecture and will be able to follow the path the Falls have eroded.
You will also see huge hydro-electric operations and beautiful golf courses. Before arriving to the actual Falls, you pass Niagara Helicopters – honestly worth the 10-minute ride!
Once you pass under the Rainbow Bridge – the busiest border crossing between Canada and the USA – the Americans Falls come into view. A little further along are the most famous Horseshoe Falls. From there, walk, eat drink and enjoy!