It’s incredible how naive you can be sometimes. For some reason, I had managed to convince myself that Niagara Falls was going to be a thing of wild beauty, stuck out in the wilds somewhere and with little trace of man’s touch surrounding it.
This, of course, is not the case. Part of the reason Niagara is the world’s most famous waterfall (well, waterfalls if we’re being strictly accurate) is that it’s easily accessible. It’s right on the US/border, on one of the major crossings between upstate New York and Southern Ontario. It has also been a popular honeymoon and tourist destination for well over a century.
So instead of walking through trees and scenic rock formations to get to the falls, you go past giant casino resort towers and worldwide tourist trap staples such as a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and a Hard Rock Cafe.
The second surprise is that, by the standard most of us measure waterfalls by – height – the falls at Niagara really aren’t all that big. Importantly, however, none of this matters. Niagara Falls isn’t about the height. It’s not one of those dainty little waterfalls that trickles down from above like a waiter showing off as he pours wine into a glass. It’s a big, bulky, thunderous beast. Think stampeding elephants rather than graceful gazelles.
You feel the falls before you see them. The spray isn’t neatly confined to the gorge – it spits out, soaking anyone who tries to get close at the Table Rock viewing area. There are three sets of falls, of which the Bridal Veil Falls is diddy. The American Falls is bigger, and simpler. It’s easier to photograph, it looks prettier as the waters crash over onto the rocks at the bottom. But the Horseshoe (or Canadian) Falls get 90% of the 168,000 cubic metres of water that crash over every minute. And just watching it go over is mesmerising.
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In a way, there’s more power to the rapids on the Niagara River as it approaches the falls. The water looks troubled, agitated and tense as it is hurried forth, and an impending sense of drama brews. It’s all about the imminent doom. But when it does pour over the top, it does so in a violent, apocalyptic rage. It looks like a thick, continuous element – a little like unkempt dreadlocks on the back of a head, or pyroclastic flows from a volcano. And then it crashes and explodes in the churning mess beneath. Despite all the attractions around the Falls, I could happily sit and watch this for hours, no matter how wet I get in the process.
Niagara Falls travel tips:
1. The Maid of the Mist boat tour – which takes you right down to the foot of the falls – is fantastic, even if you’re sharing the experience with others. Do it, and hang the expense (only $16 anyway).
2. Take a camera that you’re not too precious about. It will get wet, and you’ll spend a decent proportion of your time trying to get the lens dry.
3. The best photos actually come from further away and up the hill. Tour buses drop off at Table Rock, which is about as close to the Canadian Falls as you can get, but trying to get a good shot from there is an exercise in futility. You’ll just get mist, spray and a wet camera. You need to get above the mist, not down beside it.