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Best Things To Do In Niagara Falls State Park (The US Side)

Best Things To Do In Niagara Falls State Park (The US Side)

Niagara Falls State Park is one of the most famous state parks in New York, but it often gets confused with the Canadian side of the falls.

This local’s guide features the best attractions and things to do on the American side of Niagara Falls which is also home to Niagara Falls State Park.

We aim to show you what you can do at Niagara Falls without having to worry about bringing your passport (unless you are visiting from another country). In our detailed guide, we will explain:

  • Where to find Niagara Falls State Park
  • Entrance fee and parking information
  • Must-see waterfalls at Niagara Falls
  • 14 best things to do at Niagara Falls State Park
  • Pros and cons for visiting in each season
  • Where to eat and stay nearby
  • Tips for your visit

Now, let’s explore Niagara Falls State Park!

Our Niagra Falls State Park Experience

Kristen not only grew up in the nearby NY Finger Lakes region, but she received her undergraduate degree from SUNY Buffalo and also purchased her first home in this part of New York.

After living in and near Buffalo for almost a decade, Kristen is an expert when it comes to western NY and we hope to help you enjoy the highlights of this area.

Since Mark moved to the US in 2019, we have visited Niagara Falls State Park numerous times and this park is special to us because it was one of the first trips we ever took together!

The photos in this guide are from an April visit when the weather was not cooperating, but that’s just how it goes when you visit Buffalo in spring!

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

What Can You Expect From This Guide?

This comprehensive first time visitors guide covers everything you need to make the most of your visit to Niagara Falls State Park in upstate New York.

You will find information about parking and entrance fees, hiking trails as well as nearby hotel and restaurant options.

Our main focus is to help you plan the perfect trip along the stunning American Side of Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, NY.

Niagara Falls State Park Factfile

  • State Park: Niagara Falls
  • City: Niagara Falls
  • State: New York
  • Address: 332 Prospect Street
  • Telephone: (716) 278-1794
  • Campgrounds: 0
  • Pavilion: 1
  • Area: 400 acres
  • Things To Do: Hiking, waterfalls, observation tower, Cave of the Winds
  • Major Waterfall: Horseshoe Falls (173 ft or 53m)
  • Open: All year
  • Annual Visitors: 9.4 million

Established in 1885, Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States. This park helped create the foundation of the New York State Office of Parks we now know today.

The United States and Canadian border runs straight through Horseshoe Falls which is the largest of the three main waterfalls making up Niagara Falls.

Personally, we believe the views of Niagara Falls are better from the Canadian side, but in this guide we are only going to focus on the American side of the falls which makes up Niagara Falls State Park.

Love waterfalls? Don’t miss our popular guide featuring the best New York State waterfalls and how to find each one.

Where Is Niagara Falls State Park?

Niagara Falls State Park informational board and map
Map featuring things to do at Niagara Falls State Park

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.

Niagara Falls State Park Google Maps Location.

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

Driving Distances And Airports

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

Niagara Falls distance from nearby major 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)

Flying into Niagara Falls State Park? You might like to read our expert tips on how to find cheap flights.

Niagara Falls State Park Entrance Fees And Parking

Woman looking through the viewfinder at Niagara Falls State Park
Kristen looking through a viewfinder at Niagara Falls State Park

Visitors do not pay an entrance fee and you do not need a reservation to enter Niagara Falls State Park.

But most New York State Parks charge a vehicle usage fee to enter each facility. So while Niagara Falls is free to enter, you will pay US$ 5-15 for parking your vehicle depending on the time of year.

This Niagara Falls State Park parking fee is collected in both parking lot 1 and lot 2:

  • 3/1 to 5/26 – $10.00 daily
  • 5/27 to 10/9 – $10.00 (mon-thurs) and $15.00 (fri-sun)
  • 10/10 to 12/31 – $10.00 daily (free saturdays in Dec)
  • 1/1 to 2/28 – $5.00 daily

Parking lot 1 is the closest option to the waterfalls as well as the popular things to do in Niagara Falls State Park near the Rainbow Bridge to Canada.

Parking lot 2 is located on Goat Island (also called Goat Island parking area) near Top of the Falls Restaurant and Cave of the Winds.

An additional parking lot (known as lot 3) is located on the southern side of Goat Island near Three Sisters Island.

Local Tip: You can typically find a few parking spaces located in the Rapids Parking Area (called River Way Parking Area on Google Maps) and parking is free after 5pm in the cold months.

Three Waterfalls At Niagara Falls State Park

When visiting Niagara Falls State Park, you can visit the three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls. The show stopping waterfall everyone pictures when they think of Niagara Falls is Horseshoe Falls.

But what makes Niagara Falls State Park special is the fact you can get up close and personal with all three waterfalls including Horseshoes Falls, the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Here are the three stunning waterfalls you must visit at Niagara Falls State Park:

1. American Falls

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

The American Falls (sometimes known as Rainbow Falls) is the larger of the two waterfalls located on the American side of Niagara Falls. You can find the American Falls between Prospect Point and Luna Island.

American Falls is impressive because it is 830 ft (253m) if measured straight across the brink. But it becomes 949 feet (29m) if measured along the 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).

2. Bridal Veil Falls

Close up view of Bridalveil Falls at Niagara Falls State Park
Bridal Veil Falls view from Cave of the Winds
  • Waterfall Height: 181 ft (55m)
  • Waterfall Crest: 56 ft (17m)
  • Waterway: Niagara River

The smaller of the two falls on the American side of Niagara Falls is Bridal Veil Falls and this waterfall is also sometimes known as Luna Falls or Iris Falls.

If you plan to walk through the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls, you will get the chance to walk directly by this powerfall waterfall.

3. Horseshoe Falls

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

Horseshoe Falls is the largest waterfall out of the 3 falls making up the massive Niagara Falls in upstate NY. This waterfall stretches from the US border all the way to the Canadian border.

If those facts don’t dazzle you, Horseshoes Falls pushes through about 600,000 gal/sec or 90% of the water flow of Niagara Falls. However, most of this waterfall is located along the Canadian side.

Want more New York State waterfalls? Don’t miss our popular guide to hunting the best waterfalls in the Finger Lakes.

Best Things To Do At Niagara Falls State Park

After you take in the amazing views of the waterfalls within Niagara Falls State Park, there are many additional activities you can do in the area.

Use our interactive map at the end of this guide to find your bearings or you can use this official Niagara Falls State Park map to plan your trip.

Without further ado, here are the popular attractions in Niagara Falls State Park (on the American side):

1. Niagara Falls Visitor Center

The visitor center at Niagara Falls State Park has been undergoing serious renovations to include a new $46 Million State of the Art Welcome Center.

When we last visited in April 2021, this visitor center was still under construction, but it scheduled to open in May 2023.

The 28,000-square-foot visitor center will include:

  • Ticketing and information desks
  • Interpretive museums including natural, industrial and Indigenous American history
  • Concession spaces
  • Rooftop solar array with green roof elements

We are looking forward to seeing this new space open soon!

2. 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

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

After an elevator ride down 175 ft (53m) into the Niagara Gorge, visitors then step out onto the Cave of the Winds which features a series of redwood decks often called the Hurricane Deck.

As visitors explore the deck, they have the chance to come within a mere 20 feet (6m) from the rushing waters of Bridal Veil Falls drenching them with spray of the thundering waterfall.

We love Cave of the Winds because you can often seen a rainbow and there is nothing quite like standing next to one of the world’s largest waterfalls.

The catwalk and the Hurricane Deck are removed every fall and then rebuilt in spring. You can expect the deck to reopen around the last weekend in May.

Cave of the Winds à la carte tickets are only available at the attraction on Goat Island at Cave of the Winds Plaza. Or you can purchase your tickets as part of a larger tour:

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

Travel Tip: The name Cave of the Winds originated in the 1800’s when there was a rock overhang (similar to a cave) allowing visitors to stand under the falls. In the early 1900’s, the cave collapsed, but the name stuck.

3. Niagara Falls Observation Tower

Bridge to Canada with Observation Deck in background
Observation Tower at Niagara Falls State Park

The Niagara Falls Observation Tower is one of the first structures you notice along the Niagara Gorge when you visit Niagara Falls State Park.

At the top of the USA Observation Tower, visitors can experience panoramic views of all three Niagara Falls as well as both the US and Canadian side of the Niagara Gorge.

Elevators at the Observation Tower provide visitors with access to the base of the gorge and the boarding site for the Maid of the Mist boat tour.

From the base of the tower, you can also head to a series of stairs to climb the Crow’s Nest for additional stunning 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 many different gull species.

4. Maid Of The Mist

Entrance to maid of the mist and observation deck
Entrance to Maid of the Mist and Observation Tower

Maid of the Mist is another must-do activity when visiting Niagara Falls State Park and this world famous boat departs from the base of the Observation Tower at Prospect Point.

Since 1846, the Maid of the Mist has been whisking visitors by base of the American Falls and then onto the basin of Horseshoe Falls for stunning views they won’t see from the top of the gorge.

Be sure to put on your rain poncho because this is one activity at Niagara Falls where you will definitely wet, but we can guarantee it is one you will always remember.

The Maid of the Mist season is dependent on ice conditions on the river, but the season typically runs from April to November. So keep in mind if you visit in winter, the Maid of the Mist is not running.

2023 ticket rates for Maid of the Mist:

  • Adult – $28.25
  • Child (6 to 12 years) – $16.50
  • Child (5 and under) – Free

You can purchase tickets directly online through the official Maid of the Mist website or you can purchase tickets as part of a multi-attraction ticket.

Maid of the Mist Tour Tickets: Get Your Guide | Viator

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

5. Niagara Scenic Trolley

Green scenic trolley waiting for visitors to board
Recognizable green and yellow Niagara Scenic Trolley

For those looking to learn about Niagara Falls State Park, a ride on this state of the art scenic trolly is the perfect activity to check out the best of the park.

The Niagara Scenic Trolley is eco-friendly and runs on natural gas. It is alo heated in the cooler months as well as air conditioned in the summer to ensure comfort for everyone.

Niagara Falls State Park is ADA-compliant and the trolley is great for those those with limited mobility to explore the park with a three mile 30 minute guided overview featuring the highlights of the park.

2023 ticket rates for the Niagara Scenic Trolley:

  • Adult – $3.00
  • Child – $2.00

Keep in mind the trolley closes for part of the winter season so always check the schedule before visiting if you plan to ride.

6. Niagara Falls State Park Hiking Trails

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 during times of the year for safety reasons.

The best time to hike at Niagara Falls State Park is mid-May to November and rock falls are common in winter or early spring.

Here are the eight Niagara Falls hikes (distances are one way):

  1. Robert Moses Recreation Trail – Easy, 3.2 miles
  2. Niagara Gorge Rim Trail – Easy, 6.2 miles
  3. American Falls Gorge Trail – Moderate, 1.0 mile
  4. Great Gorge Railway Trail – Easy, 1.1 mile
  5. Whirlpool Rapids Trail – Difficult, 1.3 miles
  6. Devil’s Hole Trail – Moderate, 1.25 miles
  7. Artpark Gorge Trail – Easy to moderate, 1.3 miles
  8. River’s Edge Trail – Easy, 0.6 miles

Use this Niagara Falls State Park trail map here to find new trails.

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.

7. Niagara Aquarium

Visitors will find the Niagara Aquarium located near the Discovery Center in Niagara Falls State Park. In this aquarium, you will 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 Niagara Aquarium can be purchased at the door, but to avoid long wait times, you should purchase tickets online via the official Aquarium website prior to visiting.

8. 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 view

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 do not see moon rainbows today because the falls are lit up at night.

The only way to access Luna Island is by Goat Island and visitors will have the chance to stand only a few feet away from the top of thundering American Falls and smaller Bridal Veil Falls.

From this vantage point, you will also be able to look down onto the Cave of the Winds and see the Canadian side of the Niagara Gorge.

9. Goat Island Pedestrian Bridge

Pedestrian Bridge and American rapids views
Stone pedestrian Bridge to Goat Island

There are a few ways you can get to Goat Island, but once of the best ways is to park your vehicle in lot 1 (off Prospect St) and walk above the raging American rapids via the Goat Island pedestrian bridge.

According to AllTrails, the entire loop around Goat Island is 1.8 miles. Check recent comments to see what others are saying about trail conditions.

After you cross over the Goat Island pedestrian bridge, you will 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.

If you don’t want to walk across the Niagara Falls State Park Goat Island 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.

10. Top of the Falls Restaurant

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

Goat Island offers visitors 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.

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.

Even if you don’t stop for a meal here, be sure to check out the area because you will find Terrapin Point and a Tesla monument nearby. Top of the Falls is open seasonally from May to September.

11. Three Sisters Islands

American rapis 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 visitors can experience a unique view 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 visitors to access the third island.

During this time, there was no bridge to the islands and they were only able to cross the rapids because ice formed a walkway along the water channel due to an ice jam upstream.

12. Niagara Gorge Discovery Center

The Niagara Gorge Discovery Center is also known as the Schoellkopf Geological Museum and it serves as one the main trailheads for many of the hiking trails in the park.

In this discovery center, visitors will find interactive displays, a 180° multi-screen theater experience and an impressive rock climbing wall complete with fossils and geological formations.

The goal of this center is to showcase the natural history of the falls and Niagara Gorges as well as document the history of the Great Gorge Route trolley line.

Today, the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center stands in place where the Schoellkopf Power Station, one of the United States first hydroelectric plants, once stood until 1956 when it was destroyed by rockfall.

Are Dogs Allowed At Niagara Falls State Park?

Yes, dogs are allowed at Niagara Falls State Park along the green spaces and footpaths including the areas within view of the falls.

But New York State maintains only household pets may travel to Niagara Falls State Park and they must they must be on a leash no more than 6 ft in length.

Proof of rabies vaccination may also be required if asked by park staff and pets are not permitted inside attractions or buildings at Niagara Falls.

Is Swimming Allowed At Niagara Falls State Park?

No, there is no swimming in Niagara Falls State Park for obvious reasons, but you can take the kids swimming at the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark nearby in Canada.

Best Time To Visit Niagara Falls State Park

Bare vegetation at NIagara Falls State Park in the early spring
Bare vegetation in early spring at Niagara Falls State Park

There is no wrong time to visit Niagara Falls because every season will offer something different. But there are certainly ways to beat the crowds or make the most of each season.

Having visited Niagara Falls State Park in every season, here are the pros and cons to each time of the year:

Spring season (March, April, May):

Pros – Snowmelt makes the waterfalls their strongest, minimal crowds

Cons – Weather unpredictable and typically overcast (snow even possible), Cave of the Winds not fully open

Summer season (June, July, August):

Pros – Best time of year for weather, Maid of the Mist running full service

Cons – Busiest time of year to visit, more expensive to stay at hotels nearby

Fall season (September, October, November):

Pros – Cooler weather great for hiking, fall foliage visible along the Niagara Gorge

Cons – Section of Cave of the Winds removed, waterfalls at their weakest

Winter season (December, January, February):

Pros – Niagara Falls possibly frozen over which is amazing to see, minimal crowds, cheapest parking fee with free parking after 5pm, cheapest hotel prices

Cons – Coldest time of year to visit, Maid of the Mist not running, Cave of the Winds limited

When Should You Visit Niagara Falls State Park?

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.

What Hours Is Niagara Falls State Park Open?

Terrapin Point with Horseshoe Falls and visitors taking in the views
Visitors taking in the views along Terrapin Point

Niagara Falls State Park technically does not close because it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. This means you can visit Niagara Falls State Park any time you want.

Take advantage of this because most NY State Parks close at dusk. We love visiting Niagara Falls at night because the waterfalls are illuminated every night from dusk until midnight in different colors.

Fireworks are also common at Niagara Falls throughout the year to celebrate certain events. For example, the Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights (Canadian side) includes fireworks from November to February.

Where To Eat Near Niagara Falls State Park

Snack bar near Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls State Park
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 in the park are only open seasonally so if you are visiting in the off season, you will have to find something else.

The next best option is to try one of the top rated 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.

Here are top rated and popular restaurants near Niagara Falls State Park:

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 State Park Hotels

Your best option for accommodation when visiting Niagara Falls State Park is in the city of Niagara Falls which is adjacent to the park.

Here are the best hotels options closest to Niagara Falls State Park:

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.

Niagara Falls State Park Interactive Map

Click on the interactive map to move around Niagara Falls State Park to find all recommended restaurants, hotels and points of interest.

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

Or you can access our Niagara Falls interactive map view this link here.

Niagara Falls State Park FAQ’s

Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about Niagara Falls State Park in upstate New York.

Is Niagara Falls State Park worth visiting?

Yes, Niagara Falls State Park is worth visiting because not only is this the oldest state park in New York, but this park also features one of the largest waterfalls in the world.

What is the best thing to do in Niagara Falls State Park?

If this is your first time visiting Niagara Falls, you should ride the Maid of the Mist and walk the Hurricane Deck at the Cave of the Winds.

How long should you visit Niagara Falls State Park?

You can easily visit Niagara Falls in just a few hours, but if you want to experience the popular attractions and hike a few of the gorge trails, you should plan to spend 2-3 days at the park.

More New York State Guides

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 Niagara Falls State Park or upstate New York in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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