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Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls has inspired visitors for centuries, and the allure hasn't dimmed for those who want to marvel at this natural wonder.

Missionary and explorer Louis Hennepin described the falls in 1678 as "an incredible Cataract or Waterfall which has no equal." Nearly two centuries later, Charles Dickens declared, "I seemed to be lifted from the earth and to be looking into Heaven."

Countless daredevils have been lured here. In 1859, 100,000 spectators watched as the French tightrope walker Charles Blondin successfully crossed Niagara Gorge, from the American to the Canadian side, on a three-inch-thick rope. From the early 18th century, dozens went over in boats and barrels. Nobody survived until 1901, when schoolteacher Annie Taylor emerged from her barrel and asked, "Did I go over the falls yet?" Stunts were outlawed in 1912.

The depiction of the thundering cascades in the 1953 Marilyn Monroe film Niagara is largely responsible for creating modern-day tourism. And though the lights of the arcades, tacky souvenir shops, and casinos shine garishly bright for some, views of the falls themselves are unspoiled.

Night Lights

See Fireworks Over the Falls on Fridays, Sundays, and holidays at 10 pm from mid-May to early September (and on Friday during the Winter Festival of Lights).

Between early November and late January, the Winter Festival of Lights illuminates the Niagara Parkway, with 125 animated lighting displays and 3 million tree and ground lights. www.wfol.com.

Ways to Explore

By Air:

Niagara Helicopters Ltd.. Niagara Helicopters Ltd. does 12-minute sightseeing flights over the whirlpool, gorge, and all three falls, plus winery trips. 3731 Victoria Ave., Niagara Falls, ON, L2E 6V5. 905/357–5672 or 800/281–8034. www.niagarahelicopters.com. C$139/person.

National Helicopters. National Helicopters has 20-minute tours over the falls and wine country, plus romance and other specialty tours. Niagara District Airport, 468 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, L0S 1J0. 905/641–2222 or 800/491–3117. www.nationalhelicopters.com. C$149/person.

The Whirlpool Aero Car cable car crosses the gorge over the Niagara River whirlpool.

By Boat: The Maid of the Mist is an oldie but a goody, and still pulls in huge crowds. Adrenaline-fueled Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours in Niagara-on-the-Lake plow headfirst into the Class-V Niagara River rapids on an hour-long ride.

By Bus:

Double Deck Tours. Take an authentic, red London double-decker bus tour with Double Deck Tours. Fares include admission to Journey Behind the Falls, Maid of the Mist, and the Whirlpool Aero Car; the four-hour tour also includes the Floral Clock and Niagara Glen. Tickets and departures are next to the Maid of the Mist building. ON. 905/374–7423. www.doubledecktours.com. C$79. Apr–Oct. at 11 am; also 10:15 am and 1:15 pm in July and Aug.

By Foot: Stroll the Niagara Parkway promenade, stand on the Table Rock Centre terrace, and walk over the Rainbow Bridge. The White Water Walk is the closest you'll get to the rapids from land; Journey Behind the Falls is a walk through tunnels behind the falls.

Cave of the Winds. Worth a border crossing, Cave of the Winds takes you 175 feet into the gorge to an observation deck less than 20 feet from thundering Bridal Veil falls. You will get drenched; you are provided with a poncho and footwear for a reason. Departures from Goat Island, Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara Falls, NY, 14302. 716/278–1730. www.niagarafallsstatepark.com. $11. May–Oct. 9 am–7:30 pm.

In One Day

If you have only a day in Niagara Falls, walk the waterfront promenade and go on a Maid of the Mist tour. (Plan for wet shins and shoes.) Also consider the Whirlpool Aero Car, a cable-car ride over the whirlpool, or the Whitewater Walk, to see the rapids up close. Dinner within view of the falls, which are colorfully lit at night, is a relaxing end to a full day.

The American Side

Canada has the superior views and a more developed waterfront, with better restaurants. In contrast, the American waterfront is lined with parks, ideal for hiking and picnicking. Because you're behind the falls here, rather than facing them, views are limited. Stick to Canada for most of your visit, but if you have more time, cross the Rainbow Bridge on foot to get close to Bridal Veil Falls on a Cave of the Winds tour from Goat Island.

Updated: 2014-02-13

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