14 Fun Things To Do In Niagara Falls State Park



Niagara Falls State Park Where Are Those Morgans

Niagara Falls State Park is located on the American side of the falls in upstate New York and it often gets confused with the Canadian side. There are so many activities for the entire family including the famous Maid of the Mist, numerous viewpoints and standing near the top of Horseshoe Falls.

In this guide, we’re going to show you how to make the most of your time when visiting Niagara Falls State Park including tips from a local.

Our Niagara Falls Experience

Three people posing for a photo in front of Niagara Falls
Kristen, Mark and Kristen’s mom at Terrapin Point

Kristen not only grew up in the nearby Finger Lakes region, but she received her undergraduate degree from SUNY Buffalo and purchased her first home in this region of western NY. She has visited both the American and Canadian side of Niagara Falls several times in all four seasons throughout the years.

Since Mark moved to the US in 2019, we’ve visited Niagara Falls State Park a few times and it was one of the first trips we ever took together. The photos in this guide are from an April 2022 visit when the weather was very grey and overcast, but that’s just how it goes when you visit western NY in spring. Read more about us.

What Is Niagara Falls?

Terrapin Point with Horseshoe Falls and visitors taking in the views
Visitors taking in the views near Horseshoe Falls
  • City: Niagara Falls
  • State: New York
  • Campgrounds: None, but 1 pavilion
  • Biggest Waterfall: Horseshoe Falls (173 ft or 53m)
  • Activities: Hiking, waterfalls, boat tours, viewpoints
  • Open: All year
  • Annual Visitors: 9.4 million

Niagara Falls is a famous group of three waterfalls located on the south end of Niagara Gorge. These waterfalls span between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York. The international border runs straight through Horseshoe Falls which is the largest of the three waterfalls.

You can visit either the American or the Canadian side of the falls. Personally, we think the views of Niagara Falls are better from the Canadian side, but in this guide we’re only going to focus on the American side which makes up Niagara Falls State Park.

Established in 1885, Niagara Falls is the oldest state park in the United States. It helped to create the New York park system we now know today. The park stretches over 400 acres with almost 140 acres under water.

The park itself is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. We love visiting Niagara Falls because the waterfalls are illuminated every night from dusk until midnight in different colors. Fireworks are also used to celebrate certain events such as the Winter Festival of Lights.

Dogs are allowed in the state park along the green spaces and footpaths including the areas within view of the falls. However, there is no swimming, but you can take the kids to Fallsview Indoor Waterpark nearby in Canada.

READ: Best New York state parks

Directions To The Park

Information board and map showing various attractions and hiking trails
Maps can be found all through the park grounds

Niagara Falls State Park is located in the city of Niagara Falls within Niagara County of western New York state about 20 miles northwest of downtown Buffalo.

  • Address: 332 Prospect St, Niagara Falls, NY 14303
  • Location: Google Maps

If you’re coming from somewhere nearby, the easiest way to visit the park is to enter via Interstate 90 or fly into the Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF).

Let’s take a quick look at driving distances and times from nearby major cities as well as the closest airports for you to consider if you’re visiting from further afield.

Niagara Falls distance from nearby cities:

  • Buffalo, NY – 20 miles (25m)
  • Rochester, NY – 90 miles (1h 30m)
  • Syracuse, NY – 170 miles (3h)
  • Albany, NY – 300 miles (4h 45m)
  • Binghamton, NY – 235 miles (3h 45m)
  • Erie, PA – 120 miles (2h)
  • Toronto, ON – 85 miles (1h 30m)

Search for your flights using the best search engine, Skyscanner. We love this platform because it compares prices on all flight platforms to find you the best deal. The same goes for renting a car when you get to a New York airport. Get a benchmark price using Rental Cars then see if you can beat it.

Here are the closest airports near Niagara Falls State Park:

  • Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) – 25 miles (30m)
  • Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) – 85 miles (1h 30m)
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) – 80 miles (1h 15m)

READ: How to find cheap flights

How To Find Parking

Woman looking through a viewfinder to see the American falls
Kristen looking through a viewfinder at the American falls

The good news is you don’t have to pay an entrance fee and you don’t need a reservation to enter Niagara Falls State Park. However, you’ll pay $5-15 for parking your vehicle depending on the season.

There are multiple places to park in the city of Niagara Falls, but we like to park at the official state park because it’s closer to the attractions and it’s often the cheaper price. The parking fee is collected within the parking lots of the state park. Here are the current rates per day:

  • 3/1 to 5/26 – $10.00
  • 5/27 to 10/9 – $10.00 (Mon to Thurs) and $15.00 (Fri to Sun)
  • 10/10 to 12/31 – $10.00 (free Saturdays in Dec for Jingle Falls)
  • 1/1 to 2/28 – $5.00

But depending on what you want to see, you might want to park in a certain lot. Here is a breakdown of both parking lots:

  • Lot 1 – Closest option to Prospect Point, Maid of the Mist and the Observation Tower. It’s near the Rainbow Bridge to Canada.
  • Lot 2 – Located on Goat Island, this is near Top of the Falls Restaurant and Cave of the Winds.

Parking lot 3 is located on the eastern side of Goat Island near Three Sisters Island. It’s about a 10 to 15 minute walk from the waterfalls. There is sometimes no fee to park here, but we wouldn’t recommend it for a first time visit. However, it’s a good option if parking lots 1 and 2 are full during the busy summer months.

Travel Tip: You might be able to find a few parking spaces located in the River Way Parking Area and parking is free after 5pm seasonally.

14 Best Things To Do At Niagara Falls State Park

We like Niagara Falls because there are many unique activities in this state park. Additionally, you’ll find both free and paid attractions so you can visit on the cheap (which Kristen often did as a student) or you can make an entire day of it with the entire family.

So without further ado, here are the popular things to see at Niagara Falls State Park on the American side:

1. Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls view as seen from Terrapin point
Top of Horseshoe Falls at Terrapin Point
  • Waterfall Height: 173 ft (53m)
  • Waterfall Crest: 2,200 ft (670m)
  • Waterway: Niagara River

There are three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls and the show stopping waterfall everyone has seen in photos is Horseshoe Falls. This is the largest waterfall in the park pushing through about 600,000 gal/sec or 90% of the water flow for Niagara Falls and it stretches from the American to the Canadian side.

Most of Horseshoe Falls is located along the Canadian side, but you can get up close an personal with it from the American side. Head towards Terrapin Point to see the best view of Horseshoe Falls. If this is your first time in the park, this is one spot you should not miss.

2. American Falls

Side profile of Niagara Falls with American, Bridalveil and Horseshoe Falls
Side profile of American Falls
  • Waterfall Height: 183 ft (56m)
  • Waterfall Crest: 830 ft (253m)
  • Waterway: Niagara River

The American Falls is the larger of the two waterfalls located completely on the American side. You can find this waterfall between Prospect Point and Luna Island and you can see it from two vantage points.

American Falls is impressive because it’s 830 ft (253m) if measured straight across the brink. But it extends to 949 feet (29m) when measured along the exact zig-zag brink. This waterfall has a flow rate of 140,000 gal/sec and only makes up about 10% of the total flow of Niagara Falls when combined with Bridal Veil Falls, the next waterfall on this list.

3. Bridal Veil Falls

Close up view of Bridalveil Falls from the Cave of the Winds
Bridal Veil Falls view from Cave of the Winds with snow and ice during spring
  • Waterfall Height: 181 ft (55m)
  • Waterfall Crest: 56 ft (17m)
  • Waterway: Niagara River

The smaller of the two falls completely on the American side, Bridal Veil Falls is sometimes known as Luna Falls or Iris Falls. It’s located next to Goat Island near Stedman’s Bluff. As you can see from our photo above, it’s a small thin waterfall, but it packs a big punch.

Later in our guide, we’ll discuss Cave of the Winds. If you plan to visit this attraction, you’ll get to walk directly by Bridal Veil Falls.

READ: Best waterfalls in the Finger Lakes

4. Niagara Falls USA Visitor Center

  • Address: 10 Rainbow Blvd
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Price: Free

Having recent undergone a serious renovation, the Niagara Falls Visitor Center is a state of the art welcome center for everyone. It’s open 7 days a week from 8:30am to 3:00pm, but it’s closed on major holidays.

If you’re new to the area, you should stop in because they have area maps and brochures as well as public restrooms and photo opportunities. Sadly, the new visitors center was still under construction during our last trip, but we’re looking forward to checking it out next time we’re in town.

Travel Tip: Complimentary 30-minute parking for the visitors center is available at the corner of First Street and Rainbow Boulevard.

5. Cave Of The Winds

Hurricane deck at Cave of the Winds with visitors in bright yellow ponchos
Visitors exploring Cave of the Winds in early spring
  • Address: 10 Goat Island Road
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Price: $8.00-$14.00

Cave of the Winds is one of the best activities at Niagara Falls State Park. Kristen has so many memories of this as a child. So if you’re visiting with kids, this is something they’ll never forget!

After an elevator ride down 175 ft (53m) into the Niagara Gorge, you’ll step out onto the wooden walkways that leads almost to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. In our photo above, you can see the of series red walkways which are known as the Hurricane Deck.

As you explore the catwalk, you’ll come within 20 feet (6m) of the thundering waters of Bridal Veil Falls which will drench you with spray. We love Cave of the Winds because you can often seen a rainbow and it’s a cool experience to stand next to one of the world’s largest waterfalls.

Historically, the wooden walkways were removed every year in fall and then rebuilt in spring, but now the Cave of the Winds is open year round. You can purchase timed-entry tickets on Goat Island at Cave of the Winds Plaza and tickets are not sold online. Here are the current rates:

  • Adults – $14.00
  • Youth – $10.00
  • Group – $8.00

You can also purchase tickets as part of a daredevil tour:

>> Cave of the Winds Tour Tickets: Get You Guide | Viator

Travel Tip: The name Cave of the Winds originated in the 1800’s from a large overhanging rock which allowed visitors to stand under the falls. In the early 1900’s, the cave collapsed, but the name stuck.

6. Niagara Falls Observation Tower

The observation tower filled with visitors in spring
A popular observation tower at Niagara Falls State Park
  • Address: 332 Prospect St
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Price: Free

The Niagara Falls Observation Tower is a popular spot at the Niagara Gorge. At the top, you can see panoramic views of all three Niagara Falls as well as both the US and Canadian side. We like the tower because it’s a free activity you can enjoy in the park.

Elevators provide visitors with access to the base of the gorge and this is where you can board for the Maid of the Mist boat tour. From the lower gorge, you can also head to a series of stairs to climb the Crow’s Nest for additional views of the American falls.

Travel Tip: Birdwatching is a popular activity in this location of the park and you can sometimes spot peregrine falcons, bald eagles or various gull species.

7. Maid Of The Mist

Entrance to maid of the mist and the observation deck
Entrance to Maid of the Mist and Observation Tower
  • Address: 1 Prospect St
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Price: Varies

The Maid of the Mist is another must-do activity when visiting Niagara Falls State Park. Since 1846, this world famous boat brings visitors to the base of the American falls and then to the basin of Horseshoe Falls for stunning views you won’t see from the top of the gorge.

Boats depart from the lower gorge at the base of the observation tower and tickets include the classic blue ponchos to help you stay dry near the waterfalls. The Maid of the Mist season is dependent on river ice conditions, but it typically runs from April to November. So keep in mind if you visit in winter, the Maid of the Mist will not be not running. Here are the current rates:

  • Adult – $28.25
  • Child (6 to 12 years) – $17.75
  • Child (5 and under) – Free with paid adult

You can purchase tickets directly online through the official website or at the ticket office onsite. It’s important to know tickets are not sold as timed-entry options and passengers are boarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can also purchase tickets as part of a tour:

>> Maid of the Mist Tours: Get Your Guide | Viator

Travel Tip: The Maid of the Mist operates on the American side, but Niagara City Cruises operates on the Canadian side so when booking tickets, make sure you have the correct cruise line on the side you plan to visit.

8. Niagara Scenic Trolley

Green and yellow scenic trolley car waiting for visitors to board
Recognizable green and yellow Niagara scenic trolley
  • Address: 332 Prospect St
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Price: $2.00-3.00

For those looking to learn about Niagara Falls, a ride on this state of the art scenic trolly is the perfect activity. The Niagara Scenic Trolley is eco-friendly and it runs on natural gas. The ride includes a three mile 30 minute guided tour to showcase the highlights of the state park.

It’s also heated in the cooler months and air conditioned in the summer to ensure comfort for all riders. The trolley is ADA-compliant and great for those those with limited mobility. Here are the current rates:

  • Adult – $3.00
  • Child – $2.00

If you don’t want to walk to all of the activities we list in this guide, you can purchase an all day trolley pass to ride for the entire day. However, the trolley closes for the winter season so always check the schedule before visiting if you plan to ride.

Travel Tip: The Discover Niagara Shuttle is another hop-on, hop-off shuttle showcasing 25 attractions throughout the county of Niagara. It’s free to ride and runs from May to October.

9. Hiking Trails

Not as well known as some of the other activities on this list, the Niagara Gorge trail system is comprised of a series of hiking trails running parallel to the Niagara Gorge. All trails vary in difficulty and often close various times the year for safety reasons. The best time to hike at Niagara Falls State Park is mid-May to November, but rock falls are common in winter or early spring.

Here are popular Niagara Falls hikes (distances are one way):

  • Niagara Scenic Parkway Trail – 4.3 miles, easy
  • Niagara Gorge Rim Trail – 5.4 miles, easy
  • Schoellkopf Power Station Trail – 0.8 miles, moderate
  • Great Gorge Railway Trail – 1.2 mile, easy
  • Whirlpool Rapids Trail – 1.7 miles, difficult
  • Devil’s Hole Trail – 1.5 miles, moderate
  • Artpark Gorge Trail – 1.3 miles, easy to moderate
  • River’s Edge Trail – 0.7 miles, easy
  • Shoreline Trail – Varies in length

We like hiking at Niagara Falls State Park because you can also visit Devils Hole State Park and Whirlpool State Park with a little bit of planning. Use this trail map here to plan your hike.

10. Luna Island

View of American Falls from Luna Island with an Observation Tower in the background
Luna Island view with both American and Bridal Veil Falls

One of our favorites places in Niagara Falls State Park is Luna Island because this small piece of land is tucked away next to the north side of Goat Island in between both American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Luna Island acquired its name in the 1800’s when lunar rainbows were seen above the island on bright moonlit nights. Unfortunately, we don’t see moon rainbows today because the falls are lit up at night.

The only way to access Luna Island is through Goat Island by foot and you’ll be able to stand a few feet away from the the top of thundering American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. From this vantage point, you’ll also be to look down onto the Cave of the Winds and see the Canadian side of the Niagara Gorge.

11. Aquarium Of Niagara

  • Address: 701 Whirlpool St
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Price: $19.95-$14.95

The Aquarium of Niagara is located past the observation tower and the hiking trails on the north side of the park. In this aquarium, you’ll find more than 1,500 aquatic animals ranging from the Great Lakes to coral reefs. With over 30 educational exhibits, kids can learn about California sea lions, rescued seals, Peruvian Humboldt penguins, seahorses, coral reefs, sturgeon and more.

Tickets for the aquarium can be purchased at the door, but to avoid long wait times, you should purchase tickets online via the official website prior to visiting in summer.

12. Goat Island Pedestrian Bridge

Pedestrian bridge and American rapids view from a hiking trail
Stone pedestrian Bridge to Goat Island

There are a few ways you can get to Goat Island, but one of the best ways is to park your vehicle in parking lot 1 and walk across the Goat Island pedestrian bridge over the raging American rapids. After you cross over the bridge, you’ll have access to Luna Island, Top of the Falls Restaurant, Cave of the Winds, Three Sisters Island and amazing views of each waterfall in the park.

According to AllTrails, the entire loop around Goat Island is about 2.0 miles. Check recent comments to see what others are saying about trail conditions. If you don’t want to walk across the pedestrian bridge, the Niagara Scenic trolley stops on Goat Island or you can also drive to this portion of the park via the American Falls Bridge.

13. Top Of The Falls Restaurant

American flag flying outside Top of the Falls Restaurant
Top of the Falls restaurant exterior view

Goat Island offers a unique dining experience at Top of the Falls Restaurant because this is the only place you can enjoy a meal with panoramic floor to ceiling windows overlooking Horseshoe Falls. Even if you don’t stop for a meal here, be sure to check out the area because this is where you’ll find Terrapin Point.

Top of the Falls offers modern American classics such as beef on weck, park inspired burgers as well as fish and chips. Gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, and dairy free menu items are also available. It’s open seasonally from May to September.

14. Three Sisters Islands

American rapids view with water flowing fast in upstate New York during early spring
American rapids view from Three Sisters Islands bridge

Three Sisters Islands are a series of small pedestrian only islands where you can see views of the upper rapids before they make the descent to Horseshoe Falls. The trio of islands are named after the three daughters of General Parkhurst Whitney, an American commander during the War of 1812.

Legend has it Whitney took his three daughters, Asenath, Angeline and Celinda Eliza to the islands in the spring of 1816 and they became the first known visitors to access the third island. During this time, there was no bridge and they could only cross the rapids due to an ice jam.

Best Time To Visit

Bare vegetation at the Niagara Gorge in the early spring
Bare vegetation in early spring at the Niagara Gorge

There is no wrong time to visit Niagara Falls because every season offers something different. Having visited in every season, here are the pros and cons to each time of the year:

  • March to May – The spring season is when the waterfalls will be at their strongest as the snowpack melts in upstate NY. There will be minimal crowds, but weather is unpredictable as you can see in our photos with most days overcast and gray.
  • June to August – Summer is the peak season at Niagara Falls because it’s warm and all the attractions are open. However, the park is packed and hotels prices are inflated.
  • September to October – Fall offers cooler weather perfect for hiking and the beautiful fall foliage is visible in the Niagara Gorge. However, this time of year the waterfalls are at their weakest and some attractions may be limited.
  • December to February – Winter is a unique time of the year because the falls often frozen over which is amazing to see. There are also minimal crowds with cheaper parking and hotel prices. However, it’s very cold and many of the attractions are not open.

If you want to take advantage of beautiful weather and all of the attractions in Niagara Falls State Park, visit in summer when everything is open. But prepare for expensive accommodation and larger crowds.

Or if you want to see Niagara Falls at its strongest, visit in the spring season when the snowmelt helps to fill the river, but plan for unpredictable weather.

Where To Eat

Snack bar near Cave of the Winds closed for the season
Cave of the Winds Snack Bar

There are two food options located directly within Niagara Falls State Park including Top of the Falls Restaurant and the Cave of Winds snack bar which serves light bites. But these food options are only open seasonally so if you’re visiting in the off season, you’ll have to find something else.

The next best option is to try one of the restaurants nearby in the city of Niagara Falls. Or you can head to one of the restaurants in the popular Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino. You’ll find a few chain options around, but we always recommend you eat at a local spot to support the community.

Here are top rated and popular restaurants nearby:

Travel Tip: If this is your first time in Buffalo and you don’t mind driving, we recommend you check out the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (now one of Mark’s favorite restaurant since moving to the US) or Anchor Bar which is home to the original buffalo style chicken wing.

Niagara Falls Hotels

Your best option for accommodation when visiting Niagara Falls State Park is the city of Niagara Falls which is adjacent to the park. Here are the best hotels options:

However, if you don’t want to stay in Niagara Falls, you can also search for hotels in and around Buffalo. Search for Buffalo hotels here.

Interactive Map

Click on our Niagara Falls State Park interactive map to find all of our recommended restaurants, hotels and points of interest. Or you can access our map via this link here.

  • Light Red – Best things to do in the park
  • Light Blue – Parking lots
  • Dark Blue – Hotel recommendations
  • Purple – Restaurant recommendations

You can also use this official state park map to plan your trip.

The Morgan Conclusion

The American side of Niagara Falls features a beautiful state park filled with nuermous activities and one of the largest waterfalls in the world. It’s a very popular tourist destination in the summer months.

But is Niagara Falls worth visiting?

Yes, we think Niagara Falls State Park is worth visiting because it’s a majestic world wonder. The park is also free to visit minus the small parking fee and it’s open 24 hours a day. While we think the Canadian side of Niagara Falls has the best views, the American side has the best activities. We highly recommend you ride the Maid of the Mist or walk through the Cave of the Winds if this is your first time in town.

You could easily visit Niagara Falls State Park in one day, but if you want to see everything we list in this guide, we recommend at least two days. If you had the time, you could even head to the Canadian side to see both vantage points on the same trip. But the Canadian side is very tacky and touristy so you’ll only need a few hours to take in the views.

More From Upstate New York

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Want more New York content? Head over to our New York Travel Guides to explore the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and the best of NYC.

We hope this guide to Niagara Falls State Park helps with planning your visit to upstate New York!

Please let us know if you have any questions planning your visit to the falls or New York in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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