(a 11 minute read)

Discover the Niagara River’s rich history, outdoor adventure, and scenic beauty at three awe-inspiring Niagara Falls USA attractions.

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I was a guest of Destination Niagara USA, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Niagara Falls USA Attractions

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Niagara Falls USA was the last stop on a two-week upstate New York road trip. En route to our final destination, Melody from Wherever I May Roam and I drove a scenic byway, embraced our inner hippies at Woodstock, toured Civil Rights sites of conscience, sampled Finger Lakes wine, encountered the spirits at Lily Dale Assembly, visited hotspots on New York’s Haunted History Trail, and explored Letchworth State Park.

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I first learned about Niagara Falls as a child, and in my mind’s eye it seemed so grand and far away.

It took me decades to make it there, but when I finally did, it did not disappoint.

The Niagara River flows 36 miles from its source in Lake Erie, through the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, and empties into Lake Ontario. Its northbound route creates a picturesque setting for the region’s rich history, outdoor adventure, and of course its star attraction.

My river itinerary carried me first into the past.

Old Fort Niagara

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Old Fort Niagara is situated within Fort Niagara State Park on the east bank of the river’s mouth on Lake Ontario.

The fort’s stone structures and costumed reenactors conspire to offer guests an authentic glimpse into the site’s 300-year history.

Fort Mississauga, another historical fortress, is located directly across the river on the Canadian side.

The 1872 Fort Niagara Lighthouse welcomes visitors from its position near the parking area. The historic light operated continuously until 1993 when it was deactivated due to tree growth that obstructed the beacon.

Note: Lighthouse fans may be interested in checking out additional Great Lakes lights from the Backroad Planet archive: the 1858 North Pier Light, the 1875 Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse, and others mentioned in the Great Lakes Circle Road Trip Itinerary.

The Fort Niagara visitor center features an introductory film and local artifact exhibits, including the fort’s original War of 1812 flag.

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The fort’s long and storied history has made it a central figure of the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil War.

French, British, and American forces, as well as the Iroquois Confederacy, were all key players in the quest for control of the region.

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A British drum and fife corps escorted our tour group from the visitor center down the path, across the drawbridge, through the headhouse, and into the fort proper.

Living history reenactors of various persuasions populated the grounds and actively engaged with guests at the fort.

In summer months, musket and cannon firing demonstrations are scheduled at set times throughout the day.

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Authentic experiences offer great ways to understand history, but when it comes to cannon firing, I recommend hands over the ears.

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Artisans and craftsmen in period dress showcase their skills in public presentations, as well.

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The most prominent surviving structure within the fort is the “French Castle,” constructed in 1726.

This stone “House of Peace” served as a trading post between the French and the Five Nations, but it also housed a military garrison complete with officers’ and soldiers’ quarters, storerooms, and a chapel.

Living history interpreters inhabit the castle and vividly bring the past to life for guests at the fort.

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Interpreter Jordan Smith from the Mohawk nation includes native music in his presentations.

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History aside, Old Fort Niagara offers stunning views of Lake Ontario, especially from upstairs windows of the French Castle.

Old Fort Niagara is open year round, except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Consult the fort website for updated hours and admission information.

Niagara Jet Adventures

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I have never been an extreme sport enthusiast, and my days of theme park thrill rides are over.

These days, soft adventure suits me fine.

That said, I jumped at the opportunity to take a jet boat ride on the Niagara River. A few months earlier, while on a Viking Cruise to Norway, Jerry and I had taken a jet boat ride through the Geirangerfjord and loved it.

I was pretty sure I would love this ride, too!

Located less than two miles south of Old Fort Niagara, Niagara Jet Adventures offers the perfect way to experience the river’s world-class whitewater in safety and comfort.

Tours operate in all four seasons, even in winter, except on days when ice is on the water.

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With guest safety as the “first priority,” all Niagara Jet Adventures boats are U.S. Coast Guard certified, and captains are highly-experienced, trained in navigating the swirling torrents of the Niagara River.

With the center aisle as their runway, tour guides orient guests, narrate the route, and pump up the volume with singing and dancing.

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Carefully curated tunes, both classic and current, provide a rocking soundtrack for the river adventure. I know I am old school, but the disco selections on the playlist perfectly paired with the ride.

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Navigating the Class 5 rapids of Hell’s Canyon is a highlight of the tour, and watching other river tour boats get soaked is great fun.

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The Niagara Whirlpool marks the mid-point of the tour. Located at a bend in the river within Whirlpool State Park, this natural vortex is the perfect spot for jet boat captains to flaunt a 360° spin maneuver called a “Cowboy.”

Boats are not allowed upriver beyond this point. Even though I knew we were below the falls, there was a part of me that kept wondering whether we might be in danger of going over.

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On the return trip, passengers are given the opportunity to experience the wet deck. A few brave souls volunteered to confront the elements.

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And I had a blast watching them get splashed from the comfort of my sheltered seat!

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A jet boat excursion will set you back a few dollars, but if you purchase tickets for a Tuesday, you can save ten bucks.

Either way, a breathtaking Niagara river adventure is great fun and well worth the splurge.

Niagara Falls State Park

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Historical sites and thrill rides are great, but there is no denying that the falls themselves are the centerpiece of all Niagara Falls USA attractions.

Straddling the border between the United States and Canada at the southern end of the Niagara Gorge, Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls collectively create the spectacular natural feature that is Niagara Falls.

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Saving the best for last, I toured Niagara Falls State Park on the afternoon of my last day in town. With a couple of hours to spare, I set off on foot from my hotel, equipped only with a printed map of the park.

I was immediately impressed with the park’s walkability and accessibility, as well as the inviting presentation of the well-maintained grounds.

Readers who enjoy exploring on foot like I do may want to download the Niagara Falls Walking Tour app for a self-guided tour of the entire park and viewing areas.

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I crossed the American Rapids Bridge to Goat Island. I was filled with wonder watching the aquamarine waters rushing inevitably toward the point of no return.

I headed to Terrapin Point at the westernmost edge of the park for a view of Horseshoe Falls.

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Clearly, the best vantage point for viewing Horseshoe Falls is on the Canadian side, but the American side allows guests to get up close and personal with the raging waters as they plunge over the precipice into the gorge.

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From my perch, I caught the legendary Maid of the Mist leaving the basin of Horseshoe Falls.

Time did not allow me to take advantage of the park’s paid attractions and tours. But upon my next visit, I plan to purchase a Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass, currently priced lower than a jet boat ticket.

I headed next to a viewing area overlooking Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls.

A statue of Nikola Tesla at this location recognizes the inventor of the alternating current induction motor used to harness the hydroelectric power of the falls.

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I know what you’re thinking, but you know you would be taking selfies, too!

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The footbridge to Luna Island carried me above Bridal Veil Falls, and I was again taken by the power of the mighty waters.

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The overlook on Luna Island, situated between Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls, is an immersive setting that allows visitors to experience the power of the elements all around.

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The Cave of the Winds attraction, 175 feet below, is visible from this vantage point.

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I moved on across the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge toward the visitor center and observation tower on Prospect Point.

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The observation tower provides a panoramic view of all three falls to the south.

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The iconic Rainbow Bridge, not to be confused with the one our pets cross into the afterlife, is located to the north of the observation tower. This is the route for pedestrians and vehicles to enter Canada.

I had left my passport at home, so I was not able to venture over for a view of the falls from the Canadian side. Hopefully readers will plan better than I did, and be sure to carry a dollar for the reentry toll collected upon return.

My self-guided walking tour of Niagara Falls State Park was brief, but I could not have enjoyed it more.

And it didn’t cost me a penny.

On the return walk to my hotel, I passed the former site of the first home in Niagara Falls USA, built in 1808.

As a huge fan of America’s Scenic Byways, I was happy to learn about the Niagara Scenic Parkway, as well.

The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area website offers a wealth of resources for outdoor adventurers and history buffs who prefer to cycle, hike, paddle, and otherwise explore the 13-mile region.

To help guests get around, the Discover Niagara Shuttle offers free transportation to 17 regional locations, including Old Fort Niagara and Whirlpool State Park.

Niagara Falls USA offers something for everyone. Start planning your adventure today.

Bonus: Becker Farms

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While in town, I attended a dinner reception at Becker Farms, located 30 miles east of Niagara Falls near Gasport, New York. If your itinerary has room for a day trip, it would be well worth your time to escape to the country for a few hours, especially in the fall.

The 340-acre working fruit and vegetable farm is also home to Vizcarra Vineyards and Becker Brewing.

Families will enjoy tractor rides, U-pick apples, and farm animals.

The manicured grounds are beautifully landscaped with ornamental varieties that include red crabapples, hops, and hollyhocks.

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Becker Farms also has multiple event venue facilities, a gastropub, and a bakery.

The best part of my visit to Becker Farms was sampling the chilled apple cider and homemade cider donuts that tasted every bit as delicious as they look.

Doubletree by Hilton Niagara Falls

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The Doubletree by Hilton Niagara Falls was the host hotel during my stay. The new facility is conveniently located within walking distance of the falls.

Rooms are large, clean, and feature the latest amenities to ensure guests enjoy a comfortable stay.

Click here to book your stay at the Doubletree by Hilton Niagara Falls on TripAdvisor!

Click here for additional Niagara Falls USA lodging options on TripAdvisor!

Design Your Own Upstate New York Road Trip

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Design an upstate New York road trip of your own with Backroad Planet’s suggested destinations and activities, plus our exclusive itinerary planning resources.

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We Would Love to Hear From You

We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you ever visited any Niagara Falls USA attractions? If so, we would love to hear about your experience. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!

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Howard Blount is founder and editor of the travel web site Backroad Planet. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with the likes of Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. Recently retired from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher, Howard enjoys spending his time on anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, restored classic movies on Blu-ray, HDTV, autumn, sandhill cranes, hot springs, Florida springs, rain and other gloomy weather, log cabins, cracker shacks, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, museums, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, scenic and historical sites, castles, cathedrals, the Civil War, cold sheets, National and State Park Passports, quotes, the Rambos, Dionne Warwick, Steely Dan, Doobies, Diet Pepsi, Fish City Grill, anything Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists. And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.