15 Best Things To Do in Niagara Falls, New York, USA

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The second largest waterfalls in the world, spanning both the USA and Canada, and the oldest National park in the USA (established 1885), Niagara Falls has definitely earned its spot on travel bucket lists. What most people don’t realise is that Niagara falls is actually made up of three waterfalls – Bridal Veil Falls, the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls, giving you even more bang for your visitor’s buck. Horseshoe Falls, with the main view from the Canadian side, is the biggest of the falls and therefore the one you see most commonly in pictures and on TV. However, the other two falls, which are both on the USA side, are also very beautiful.

In this guide, I’ll share the best things to do at Niagara Falls, New York. At the end, I’ll include details for how to cross the bridge to Canada if you want to add in the famous panorama of Horseshoes Falls. But don’t worry – whether you don’t have a passport or just want to focus on the USA side of the falls, you won’t be disappointed. I saw both sides and far preferred my time on the USA side of Niagara Falls. Shhh. Don’t tell the Canadians.

At the end of this article I’ve included a map of all of the attractions listed in this article. I also have a full guide for how to get to Niagara Falls from Buffalo.

Tours of Niagara Falls – Quick Book

If you prefer to take a tour, here are some quick-book links:

1. Pick up a map at the Niagara Falls Visitor’s Centre

The first thing to do when you get to the Niagara Falls State Park is head to the Orin Lehman Visitor’s Center where you can pick up a map (or download the map here).

One of the things I loved most about the USA side of the falls, and which is immediately evident from the map, is the number of walking opportunities. Although none of the paths are long enough to be considered a hike, it makes for a much more immersive experience compared to the concrete approach to the Canadian falls. On the USA side, there are lots of smaller waterfalls and tucked-away paths to explore. Add the lack of tourists and a lot of views that you won’t have seen on in glossy brochures, and it’s easy to see why many people come away preferring the USA side of the falls, like I did.

While you’re in New York State and ticking off the big attractions, here’s are some of my other New York Guides 10 Iconic Things To Do in New York for Tourists, Inside The Statue of Liberty – Are Crown Access Tickets Worth It? and How to Visit The Statue of Liberty.

2. Watch Legends of Adventure

If history’s your thing (I confess I’m history nerd), don’t miss the free 45 minute show Legends of Adventure in the Niagara Adventure Theatre in the Visitor’s Center. As well as providing the history of the falls, there’s some daredevil footage in there, including one woman throwing herself over the edge of the falls inside a barrel. ***SPOILER ALERT*** she survived. Thought I wouldn’t recommend trying it yourself.

3. Take the Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley

I’m including the Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley high up on the list as it’s a great way to explore Niagara State Park if you have difficulty walking, have small children with you, or are short on time. Or, like me, perhaps you just love a good old trolley ride (I swear I spent most of my time in Key West on the trolley). The train stops at several key points throughout the park. You can hop on and off or just sit and ride the entire 3-mile journey. As well as fun facts and a bit of history, you’ll be helping with the park’s clean energy initiative.

4. Cross to Green Island over the Pedestrian Bridge

Goat Island Road at Niagara Falls USA side

After the visitor center theatre, I suggest going on a wander around the State Park. Start by heading away from the visitor center and past Prospect Point. Tip: try to resist looking until you loop back – that way you build up to seeing the falls in order of increasing drama. Follow the path on the right of the visitor center and you’ll end up on a small pedestrian bridge (Goat Island Road) that will take you first to Green Island and then on to Goat Island. Green Island is so small you might not realise you’ve passed over it. The picture above is of Goat Island Road going onto Green Island – just look at the lack of tourists and those beautiful trees. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of water to come. There is also a bridge for cars if you’re driving. Head to Parking 2 or 3 in your GPS.

Green Island with fall trees and water

A few steps later and you’ll realise you’re leaving Green Island behind, passing to Goat Island.

5. Walk the trails of Goat Island

Goat Island is worth a pause – by the time you’ve reached it, you’re standing on an island within Niagara Falls. It sits between two of the falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Let that blow your mind for a minute then set about exploring this tiny island. And I mean tiny, the perimeter is only 1.5 miles. But that doesn’t mean there isnt anything to see there. The two main attractions on Goat Island are Terrapin Point and Cave of the Winds (more on both of those below). There is also a memorial to Nikola Tesla (the man behind the first hydro-electric power plan, nothing to do with the car), a picnic area and a restaurant with views, Top of the Falls.

Goat Island with fall leaves and white water

Although it’s tempting to rush to the sights of the waterfalls, simply wandering the trails on the island and immersing yourself in the lack of tourists is very calming. In fact, I had this little trail all to myself. I spent around 30 minutes exploring before heading onto the bigger sights.

Goat Island trail

6. Get a close up of Horseshoe Falls from Terrapin Point

As mentioned above, Horseshoe Falls is the most famous view of Niagara Falls, which most people only glimpse from ‘across the way’ on the Canadian side of the falls. However, head to the Terrapin Point viewpoint on the tip of Goat Island and you get pretty staggering side-on view of Horseshoe Falls close up.

7. Go inside Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls, New York State side

There are three attractions at the USA Niagara Falls that will get you close up with the falls. The first is Cave of the Winds that allows you to take an elevator down to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. There are a range of tours to choose between including exploring the 15 caves, family fun and adventure packages offering climbing fun for the kids. Most of all, get ready to get soaked as you stand behind the falls as they power down from above.

Cave of the winds is located on Goat Island. Do note, it’s a seasonal attraction with the below ground activities closing during the winter period, and closing Tuesday to Thursday. The above ground activities remain open throughout the year. It’s all subject to weather conditions. You can check opening times at Cave of the Winds website. You can buy skip-the-line Cave of the Wind and Maid of the Mist tickets including a guided walking tour.

8. View Bridal Veil Falls from Luna Island

Rainbow over Bridal Veil Falls

Carrying on your walk from Goat Island, take the short pedestrian bridge to Luna Island for impressive views of Bridal Veil Falls. The smallest of the falls at Niagara, Bridal Veil Falls is isolated by the geography of the islands. It’s separated from the American Falls by Luna Island, and separated from Horseshoe Falls by Goat Island. Enjoy the small, isolated waterfalls, that’s very often missed. No need for a map, follow your ears for the sound of water bucketing down. I was rewarded with a rainbow when I visited. I believe this is quite common so get your camera ready.

9. See the rapids from Three Sister’s Islands

If, like me, you like to tick everything off your list, then don’t leave Goat Island without taking a short walk from Goat Island over to the three small islands called Three Sisters Islands. The islands are named after the sisters Celinda, Angelina, and Asenath Whitney, daughters of General Parkhurst Whitney, one of the early settlers of Niagara. The islands offer a different perspective on the falls – you get to the see the rushing rapids before the water tumbles over the edge. The islands are also beautiful for local flora and fauna.

10. Get view of the American Falls at Prospect Point

Prospect Point in Niagara State Park view of American Falls

After seeing Horseshoe Falls side-on, and Bridal Veil Falls from Luna Island, it’s time to loop back towards the Visitor’s Center at Prospect Point and the grand views of the American Falls. The second largest of the falls, the American Falls are best viewed from Prospect Point. It’s here, at this viewpoint, that you’ll start to get a sense of the magnitude and power of Niagara Falls. And still there’s more to come.

11. Get fall views from the Observation Tower

Niagara Falls Observation Tower in the USA

The second of the three main viewing attractions on the USA side of the falls is the Observation Tower (with the third of the attractions, Maid of the Mist boat tour, just below). Officially named the Niagara Falls USA Prospect Point Observation Tower, the tower is the only way to get an unobstructed panoramic view of all three falls without crossing into Canada. The tower is popular for bird watching – keep an eye out for peregrine falcons, bald eagles and gulls galore. The Observation Tower is free.

12. Climb up to Crow’s Nest

For those with a sense of adventure, from the Observation Tower, you can take a lift to the bottom of the gorge and, from there, climb a set of stairs that will take you to the Crow’s Nest viewing site. Expect some spray because you’ll be standing on the very edge of the American Falls. Use of the elevator is $1.25 per person if you want to climb to Crow’s Nest. It’s the same elevator you take for boarding Maid of the Mist, details below. You can find out more on the Niagara Falls State Park Website.

13. Board the Maid of the Mist boat tour

Descend to the bottom of the gorge via the Observation Tower elevator and you’ll be at the boarding site for The Maid of the Mist boat tour. If you’re looking for the closest view of the falls, this is the attraction for you because the boat will take you right up to the American Falls and Horsehoes Falls. Of course, being that close to the falls, you can expect a good soaking in the process. It’s all part of the fun, promise.

This attraction has been in service for over 150 years which proves its popularity. The boat tour takes you past the American Falls and on, into the basin of Horseshoe Falls. It’s a dramatic journey taking you across foamy whitewater with giant rock formations and the weight of the falls powering down. Are you ready to “explore the roar”? You can pre-book official Maid of the Mist tickets here. The price is $25.25 per adult, which include the elevator fee of $1.25 and a souvenir poncho, which you’ll be very pleased to wear.

14. Cross Rainbow Bridge into Canada

Even if the focus of your trip is to visit the USA side of Niagara Falls, and even though it was my favourite side to visit, there is something enticing about being just a short walk away from Canada. Plus, it includes that oh so famous view of Horseshoes Falls that, I have to admit, does top everything you have seen on the USA side (yes, there’s good reason the Canadian view is the most famous one). So, I’m including a quick cross-border excursion on the list.

Getting to the Canadian side of the falls is a piece of cake – PROVIDED YOU HAVE YOUR PASSPORT (I watched one woman very upset as she got turned away at the border). Simply pass through the guards on either end of Rainbow Bridge, pay your money ($1 each way), present your passport and you’re through. It’s then a several minute walk to get to the part of the falls that gives the most front-on view. No directions needed – follow the sounds of water and head towards the mass of people.

You can find out more about crossing the bridge into Canada including cost and ID requirements (besides a passport) in my related article: How to get to Niagara falls from Buffalo.

15. See Horseshoe Falls from Canada

Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls viewed from Canada

I won’t lie – there can be a significant jostle to get closest to the water and good manners and patience won’t always get you where you want to be. And this was outside peak season. However, the scrum is absolutely worth it for the views.

There is, I’m sure, plenty to do on the Canadian side of the falls including the Table Rock Welcome Center which had a wealth of information, shops and restaurants. However, since I’d already enjoy the information and history of Niagara Falls on the crowd-free USA side and had only popped over the bridge to see the main view, I quickly said hello and goodbye to the Canadian falls, glad to have seen it, but very happy to return to the USA Niagara Falls State Park.

Niagara Falls Tours

If you do prefer to take a tour, here are my suggestions. All tours pick up from downtown Niagara USA.

Where to stay in Buffalo

I based myself in Buffalo for my visit to Niagara falls. It’s less than half an hours’ drive from the falls and is a fun city packed with restaurant, cafes, bars and hotels. The city has experienced a renaissance in recent years and is worth a couple of nights’ stay. Here are some of the best places to stay in Buffalo:

Map of things to do in Niagara Falls, New York

Here’s my Google Map of all the places mentioned in this article.

map of things to do in Niagara Falls

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Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.

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