Niagara Falls is estimated to be more than 10,000 years old, and is a direct result of the last ice age. The formation of the falls, however, started as far back as 18,000 years when ice sheets covered southern Ontario. These ice sheets were approximately 6000 feet thick! www.travelrows.com
The ice sheets moved further south over time, carving out the basins of what we now know as the Great Lakes. While this was happing, further north the ice was melting, and the melt waters of course eventually filled these basins.
Geologists estimate that the ice melted in what we know as the Niagara Peninsula about 12,500 years ago. As that water moved north, it flowed into a basin that we now call Lake Erie, as well as Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.
Niagara Falls on the map:
The water continued to flow towards the Atlantic through the St. Lawrence River. At one time, water spilled into Lake Ontario from Lake Erie in five different locations. Today, that has been reduced to one spillway at Queenston-Lewiston.
The actual falls themselves were created by a constant advancement and retreat of the ice. When the pressure from the ice was released, the land would rebound. The process would become interrupted, causing the melt water to go through northern Ontario. The falls were not restored to their full power until the waters were once again rerouted through Southern Ontario, about 5500 years ago.
The falls were not falls in the beginning, however. They were originally a violent, fast moving rapid. During the phase where the water had rerouted itself through Southern Ontario, it connected with a very old river that had been sealed during the ice age. When it was finished, in what many believe to be just a few weeks, it had created a 90 degree turn in the river. Today, we call this the Whirlpool, and in the United States, this is the largest collection of standing waves, called the Whirlpool Rapids.
After that miraculous creation, the falls continued on from the Whirlpool Bridge, making its way through solid rock. But erosion was also present, even then, in the form of Cavitation. Cavitation is a type of erosion that happens at most waterfalls. The water must move at a high enough speed to create bubbles close to rock to have an impact on it.
The water has increased power because it gains speed as it falls over, which of course causes a breakdown of internal pressure. When this happens, it creates air bubbles. These air bubbles are destroyed when they hit the bottom and the water falls on them. Think of very high pressured air. When the air bubbles are destroyed, they basically put a great deal of pressure on the rocks that surround them.
When you are viewing the falls, make sure that you consider how the last ice age gave you the beauty that you are lucky enough to behold. This entire area was once covered by pure ice sheets. Today, it is a place of astounding beauty that brings millions of visitors each year.
Where to Stay?
When you visit Niagara Falls, you will find that there is a wide variety of accommodation choices, from low end to high end, with every price range imaginable. Some accommodations will of course be much better than others – even if they are relatively the same price. Some places will offer better views as well. Unfortunately, it is often hard to know what you will be getting, especially in terms of views, before you arrive.
After you’ve narrowed down your choices, it is a good idea to call the hotels and resorts on your list personally. This is the best way to get a truer sense of what you will gain by staying at the locations in question. Be sure to ask about views, and also enquire as to whether or not you can actually reserve a specific room or suite (such as the ones with the best views), or if the assignments are made randomly.
Niagara Falls is a fairly large place, full of wonder and attractions. However, some attractions are located close to each other. Consider this when seeking accommodations, and try to get a hotel or resort that is close to the attractions that you are interested in. Clifton Hill is a major attraction area, and there are many hotels and resorts located here.
Note that whether a property is located on the Canadian side or the American side can be a bit confusing. Be sure to ask which side the hotel or resort is located on when you call. Remember that there is a Niagara Falls, New York, and a Niagara Falls, Ontario. While you will want to visit both, you may want to stay on one side or the other in terms of accommodations.
Consider what your interests will be while visiting the Niagara Falls area. Many hotels and resorts offer packages that include the cost of various tours. Be sure to ask about such packages when you call the hotels and resorts in question.
Many of the nicer hotels are owned by well known corporations, and these corporations have four and five star hotels in the Niagara Falls area. These include Embassy Suites Niagara Falls, Hilton Niagara Falls, Marriott Niagara Falls, Renaissance Fallsview, Sheraton Fallsview Hotel, and Sheraton on the Falls.
While you may prefer luxury on your trip to Niagara Falls, also remember that with the surrounding wonder and beauty, you will probably only be inside the hotel to sleep. If possible, spend less on the accommodations, so that you can spend more on the attractions. Take full advantage of packages and coupons that are offered as well. Many hotels offer coupons for local attractions.
Make your Niagara Falls reservations early. Remember that in the spring, summer, and fall, this is truly a very hot tourist spot, and lodging may not be available if you don’t reserve early.
Hot Spots of Niagara Falls
As if the wonder, beauty, and resourcefulness of the falls at Niagara Falls weren’t enough, there are many hot spots that naturalists should visit around the area. Because these areas obviously don’t offer a great deal of ‘excitement’ in the way of ‘attractions,’ they are not as well known as other areas, and if you aren’t seeking them specifically, you could very easily miss them.
One area that is well known is the Queen Victoria Park. Here, you will have the opportunity to view amazing gardens, and the Park in the winter time is equally as beautiful as well. Goat Island is another well known – and well traveled area – although thanks to preservation, it is the only area left in Niagara Falls that hasn’t been totally changed by industry. Make sure you visit these two areas, and then start seeking out the less well known areas.
Parks that the naturalist may want to visit include Beavers Dam Park, the Botanical Gardens, Buygoyne Woods, Dufferin Islands, King’s Bridge Park, Lakeside Park, Mather Arch Park, Mel Swart Lake Gibson Conservation Park, Mosaiculture Garden, Montebello Park, Ontario Jaycee Gardens, Queenston Heights Park, and of course Queen Victoria Park, mentioned above.
There are numerous hiking and walking trails in the Niagara Falls area. Don’t miss Terry Fox Trail, Niagara Glen, Bruce Trail, Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail, Merritt Trail, Niagara River Recreation Trail, Niagara on-the-Lake, and Welland Canals Parkway Trail.
Important Conservation Areas include Cave Springs, Mountainview Conservation, Mud Lake, Ball’s Falls Heritage Conservation, Short Hills Provincial Park, Stevensville Conservation Area, Beamer Memorial Conservation Area, St. Johns Conservation Area, Humberstone & Willoughby Marshland, Wainfleet Wetlands, and Rockway Conservation Area.
While there are numerous bird watching spots in the area, you should definitely seek out birds in the Beamer Conservation Area, Rock Point, Port Weller, the Adam Beck Generating Station, Queenston Sand Docks, Malcolmson Woods, Point Pelee National Park, and Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary. Don’t forget the Butterfly Conservatory, which has over 2000 tropical butterflies in a rainforest setting.
The Niagara Falls State Park, on the American side, also offers a great deal to nature lovers. The trail system here is amazing, with 14.5 miles of trails! Just choose your trail carefully, as some of these trails are difficult and not meant for those who were expecting a casual walk. One trail you don’t want to miss out on is the Gorge Rim Trail, which is near the Robert Moses Parkway Trail.
Other areas of interest include the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve, The Whirlpool, and Bruce Trail. Wildlife that may be encountered in the Niagara Falls area includes more than 300 species of birds, including cardinals, wood peckers, robins, blue jays, herons, finches, wrens, gulls, Canadian Geese, turkey vultures, hawks, owls, and more.
In the waters, there are more than 25 species of fish, as well as various species of ducks and blue heron. You will find 53 species of mammals and 36 species of reptiles as well. These include squirrels, skunks, raccoons, white-tailed deer, red fox, weasels, rabbits, muskrats, garter snakes, milk snakes, frogs, bullfrogs, painted turtles, and snapping turtles. At one time, there were timber rattlesnakes, black bears and mountain lions, but this is no longer the case.
While in the area, pay close attention to the escarpment. The natural erosion at Niagara Falls has actually relocated the falls themselves seven miles in the past 5000 years, and it is estimated that in another 50,000 these beautiful, astounding falls will be nothing more than a raging river!
The Preservation of Niagara Falls
Many people are not aware that we are slowly losing one of our most precious sources for beauty, awe, and of course power and water – the Niagara Falls. Niagara waterfalls have been eroding quite quickly over the past century, and despite man’s best efforts, it is still eroding today.
In fact, in the past 5000 years, the falls have actually moved seven feet due to erosion of the bedrock that lies beneath it. Geologists predict that at some point the Niagara Falls will no longer actually resemble waterfalls, but instead rapids, as they were before they became waterfalls.
Erosion isn’t the only real threat to Niagara Falls either. Industry is also a threat. In fact, both sides of the Falls are now lined with high rise buildings, cutting off the view for many. It was worse in the 1870’s, however, and there was even pressure to sell off and divide Goat Island, which afforded the last natural view of the Falls!
Later in the 1880’s, there was a conservation movement, called Free Access to Niagara Falls, in the United States. Those who participated in this movement were called Reservationists. There was a great deal of lobbying and cajoling, but by 1880, the most important document in Niagara Falls history was created: A report issued by the New York State Survey concerning what it would take to create a park at Niagara Falls. This report was written by Frederick Law Olmsted and James T. Gardner.
This report was actually important to conservationists in the future as well, since it was one of the very first conservation movements in the United States. This report proposed the New York State purchase several parcels of land to preserve the falls, and included reports of the deterioration, included photographs of that deterioration, and of course touted the beauty and majesty of the falls to compound why the falls should be saved.
Though the report was produced in 1880, it wasn’t until three years later, in 1883, that any action was taken on it. This is when New York Governor Grover Cleveland created legislation that would allow the purchase of land for a state reservation. Numerous prominent people got behind the legislation, and just two short years later, in 1885, the State Reservation at Niagara was established. That same year, in the province of Ontario, the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park was also established.
Today, there is a treaty that exists between the United States and Canada that makes both countries equally responsible for maintaining and preserving Niagara Falls. Despite this, however, lands that are privately held above the falls have had a negative effect on the area. Tall buildings have been built on the Canadian side, which has changed the air flow. This change in the air flow has created a thick mist of water that alters the view of the falls.
Scientists and geologists continue to test and measure erosion, and Canada and the United States continue to divert and re-divert water to slow natural erosion. This is an effort that will continue for all time to preserve this natural resource.