Experiencing the Excitement of United States Niagara Falls

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The perennially popular Niagara Falls not only draws visitors from across the United States, it is a magnet for travelers from around the world who seek to experience the intensity and power of the falls – from only inches away.

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Niagara Falls, established in 1885, was the first state park in the country. Today we consider it a national treasure, but that wasn’t always the sentiment of the country. In fact, the creation of Niagara Falls State Park pitted the early industrialists against early environmentalists.

During the early 19th century the Industrial Revolution was going strong and mills and factories lined the banks of the fast-flowing Niagara River to access its highly valued hydro-mechanical power. On the other side of the battle was the Free Niagara movement, led by Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of New York City’s famed Central Park), sought to preserve its natural beauty.

The Free Niagara group eventually won. Olmstead designed the Niagara Falls State Park with rambling network of footpaths through wooded areas, some shadowing the fast-flowing Niagara River.

Humans are fascinated by waterfalls – the sight, sound, and spray of crashing water can be irresistible. Niagara Falls even more so with its unique combination of breadth and height. The three waterfalls (which cross the borders between the USA and Canada) stretch 3,409 feet – almost 2/3 a mile in length, and drop 188 feet, reaching a velocity of 30 mph.

The river flows so quickly as it nears the drop off that there are signs warning boaters that they are nearing the point of no return – the point at which they simply do not have enough time to head for safety before crashing over the falls into the rocks below.

Feel the Power of Niagara Falls

There are two experiences that deliver up-close experiences of water hurtling downwards. The Maid of the Mist boat cruise takes visitors right next to the falls. So close that waves of spray pour down on the rain-coated boaters. Water thunders loudly enough to drown out all other sound. Although perfectly safe, you can hear and feel the roaring water and relentless spray. If you don’t want to be quite that close, the boat offers a roofed area to enjoy the spectacle from a few feet away.

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The Cave of the Winds is another way to get within inches of the thundering river. There is no cave involved – just steps leading closer and closer to the waterfall. The name is a relic of the past. There was a natural cave behind Bridal Veil Falls but a rock slide in 1920 made it unsafe for visitors, and the cave was completely destroyed in 1954.

Today, walkways and stairs bring visitors to the front of Bridal Veil Falls and lead you up almost into the falls themselves, the water frantically bouncing off boulders close enough to touch. It’s a self-guided route and visitors decide how close they want to get to the thundering waterfalls.

These two attractions are highlights for a reason – nothing will match becoming part, for just a moment, of the force of nature that is Niagara Falls.

Nikolai Tesla and the Birth of Hydro-electric Power

While at the entrance to the Cave of Winds take a moment to notice the statue of Nikolai Tesla. Tesla designed the first hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls. For years there was a rivalry between two different forms of electric current – direct (called DC) and alternating (called AC). Two inventive geniuses each came down on different sides of the controversy. Tesla touted Alternating Current and Thomas Edison was in favor of Direct Current.

Tesla won and he and George Westinghouse built the first hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls. Although closed to the public, Adam’s Power Station (Power House No. 3) is the only surviving remains of the Niagara Falls Power Plant – a beautiful old relic of times past. It’s elegant lines the result of Stanford White, one of the country’s renown architects of the turn of the century.

The building itself is not open, but there is a self-guided tour of part of the site of that complex . There isn’t much left, but it is an intriguing glimpse of some of the massive walls and the remnants of a massive rockslide. It begins by taking an elevator down to the bottom of the gorge (which is also part of the park’s trail system). A bit of sleuthing is required to find the entrance located near the Discovery Center.

Trolley and Trails

The paths that lead visitors throughout the park are paved and comfortable, but it’s also possible to take a trolley that makes several stops throughout the park. The informative ride takes visitors closer to the attractions while walking the scenic paths offers flexibility and lovely views.

Read more about the excitement of Niagara Falls: The State Park and the City at http://www.offbeattravel.com/niagara-falls-delivers-excitement-and-more.html
A lovely and popular walk is to take the trails and bridges over to Goat Island and then to Luna Island. You’ll definitely want to stand on the overlook on top of Cave of the Winds. You can also get there by taking the stairs up to the overlook from Cave entrance.

Observation Tower

Rainbow Bridge joins Canada and the United States and is open to pedestrians and cars, as long as everyone has a passport. But if you are traveling without a passport, Prospect Point Park observation tower on the American side provides very similar views.

In the evenings the falls are lit up in multihued light show that is free and beautiful.

Niagara Falls Beyond the Falls

As you’re exploring the city, wander towards 13th and Ontario in downtown where a normal house has been transformed into an outstanding example of folk art, this one with a religious theme.

Read more about the excitement of Niagara Falls: The State Park and the City at http://www.offbeattravel.com/niagara-falls-delivers-excitement-and-more.html
The walking tour illuminates hidden corners of Niagara’s history. Today the banks of the Niagara River are green and peaceful but at one time it was lined with mills taking advantage of the water power provided by the raging river to quite literally turn the wheels of industry, but it wasn’t a pretty sight

Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Society offers an excellent walking tour of the city. It’s a fascinating look at the development of Niagara Falls – the city and the park. Guides tell Stories of the houses and the people who lived in them along Buffalo Avenue adds another dimension to the city.

The area around the Falls is compact and easily walked, but the city also runs a seasonal bus (the 55-T) that shuttles between the hotels, fashion outlet mall, Niagara Falls park. Pick up a pass at your hotel, or stop by the visitor center at 10 Rainbow Blvd. Niagara Falls, NY 14303

The Giacomo

Luxurious inside, and fascinating outside, the architecture of the perfectly located Giacomo hotel is a rare example of Art Deco Mayan Revival.

Originally built as the United Building in 1929, it came with innovative architectural and decorative elements. The exterior stone is treated as a color scheme changing shades from darker to lighter as the it rises about the ground floor, and there are Mayan touches in the overall Art Deco design. The rooms are eclectic luxury with a much-appreciated small refrigerator and a Keurig machine. When time permits the staff goes from room to room with a serving cart of their delicious fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies (white chocolate with nuts). The cookies are also atop a side table near the elevators so you can pick one up at the desk or at the elevator. Make a cup of fresh coffee or tea, sink into the comfy mattress and enjoy the luxury.

The very top floor offers a welcoming lounge (bring your drinks up with you) and 360 degree views. In sum, eclectic doesn’t begin to described this European style luxury melange.

Great Places to Eat

Whether for lunch or dinner, Savor, at Niagara Falls Culinary Institute is a fun and delicious choice. They have an extensive wine list with NY State wines. Don’t miss the pasty shop with delicacies made by students and former students and the richly flavored creamy gelato.

Go to Wine on Third for tapas, wine, and a complete dinner menu. Their delicious tapas are inventive and hearty. The fish and the steak are excellent as well. Want to be able to enjoy some of their wine without concern about driving – they have you covered. They pick up and return diners to their local hotels in an adorable golf cart. Or, walk there to enjoy some window-shopping along Third Street and ride back.

Atmosphere meets history at the Red Coach Inn built as an old English Tudor style and opened in 1923. The menu is comprehensive and everything is well-prepared. Can’t go wrong with this choice for lunch or dinner.

Niagara Falls has some great local restaurants but you will also find familiar chains, including Hard Rock, but the Niagara Falls Hard Rock has a local twist. The walls of the Buffalo room are filled with tributes to and memorabilia of some of the great musicians of the area.

If You Go

Learn more about visiting Niagara Falls and the surrounding towns at Niagara Falls -- USA and the Niagara Falls Canada Style

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: February 16, 2016

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