The geographic area where the Niagara River traverses north from the falls for 11 kilometers / 6.8 miles is known as the Niagara Gorge. The Niagara Gorge trails are the true hidden gems of the area where you can view the geologic beauty and most visitors don’t even know these trails exist. Not only are they scenic but they’re away from the throngs of tourists and even on the busiest days of the tourist season you will be lucky to encounter more than a just few people.
In Niagara Falls Canada you can always take the easy way down into the gorge by stopping at the “White Water Walk” and take the elevator to the bottom of the gorge. That’s fine if you are short on time but for the best experience a hike down into the gorge is the best way to experience the area.
About 4 kilometers/2.5 miles north of the White Water Walk you can enter the “Niagara Glen” gorge trail and hike down to the river and view the Whirlpool. This is a great trail and easy to access. There is parking located across the street from the Whirlpool Golf Course.
On the New York side of the river the Whirlpool trail is spectacular as you can walk all the way up river from the whirlpool to view the rapids. The Discovery trail is much more leisurely and the shorter of the two trails.
Niagara Gorge Trail Map at bottom of page
The American Falls Trail & the Great Gorge Railway Trail: These two trails are really one trail. You can enter from the north at the Great Gorge Railway Trail from Whirlpool Street right next to the Whirlpool Bridge or from the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. This two mile trail area is very beautiful, quiet and peaceful. Starting at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center head north for a slow incline descending into the gorge. It’s about a twenty minute walk until you reach the end of the trail and you are almost directly underneath the Whirlpool Bridge near the waters edge. If you are short on time you can park in the lot right next to the Whirlpool Bridge off of Whirlpool Street and take the stairs down to the river. It’s about a ten minute walk down and you can see how the river sculpted its way over the last 15,000 years. On a scale of 1 to 5 this hike is a 1 in difficulty. The entrance to the Great Gorge Railway trail is pictured below.
Enjoy the canopy of green and the gorge walls where the falls once stood.
The Whirlpool Rapids & Devils Hole trail: The Niagara Gorge area from the Whirlpool Bridge to Devils Hole Park has to be one the best hikes in all of New York state. From either Whirlpool Park or Devils Hole you can descend stairs down to the river. Both staircases are about five hundred steps each way.
If you want to enter the gorge from Whirlpool Park, park at the far end of the lot and then walk to the trail heading north along the gorge. About five minutes later you will see a very non-descript entrance to the stairs on your left. They are very poorly maintained but if you take your time you will be fine. Once you reach the trail at the bottom you can turn left and hike towards the giant whirlpool and the rapids or turn right and walk to Devils Hole. The hike to the whirlpool and rapids is the recommended route. If you walk about ten minutes towards the whirlpool until you are just upstream of the whirlpool there is easy access to what locals refer to as “butterfly rock”. This is a beautiful spot to rest and soak up the scenery! On a scale of 1 to 5 this hike is a 3 in difficulty.
Trekking upriver any further than here requires a higher skill level and children are not recommended on this trail. The next one mile of trail is at the narrowest point of the entire Niagara River and the water flows at over 35mph and at depths to 175 feet. This section of the river has the largest white water rapids in the northern hemisphere and are known as the “Himalayans of whitewater”. Use extreme caution in this area. It takes about forty five minutes to reach the end of this trail starting from the Whirlpool Park parking lot. On a scale of 1 to 5 this hike is a 4 in difficulty. The video below was taken at the end of the whirlpool and rapids trail.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Whirlpool trail and the Discovery trail are not connected.
Remember, if you don’t want to walk down into the gorge there is still a very nice trail which runs all the way from Devils Hole to the Falls along the rim of the gorge which is 4 miles/6.5 kilometers in length.
If you are looking for a slightly easier descent in to the gorge you can enter from the Devils Hole Park. If you are coming from the Falls take the Robert Moses Parkway north to the Devils Hole exit. The parking area is located right at the exit and there is a pedestrian bridge which crosses the parkway. Continue north for about five minutes along the rim of the gorge to reach the trailhead. The stairs here are in slightly better condition than the Whirlpool stairs but you still need to take your time especially if they’re wet. Once you reach the bottom of the gorge you can enjoy the views of the hydroelectric plants and the river and you may see a few anglers trying their luck at catching a variety of local fish. You can walk in the upstream direction for one mile and you will eventually reach the bottom of the Whirlpool stairs. From here you can either head further along the trail to the Whirlpool or take the steps out of the gorge to the top or simply turn around and back track your way to the Devils hole parking area.
1. Stay on the trail! Do not attempt to scale the gorge as much of it is loose shale which will crumble beneath your feet. Guaranteed every year some inexperienced thrill seeker leaves the trail and has to be rescued and carried out on a stretcher.
2. The trails are open from sunrise to sunset. Allow enough time to get back to the top of the gorge before the sun goes down.
3. Wear appropriate footwear, dress shoes and flip flops don’t cut it here folks. If you don’t have hiking shoes at least snug up the laces on your sneakers for better footing.
4. Bring some water and a snack and don’t forget your camera. Carry your gear in a knapsack to keep your hands free for hiking.
5. Remember that the river is as deep as the gorge is high and moving violently. No matter how a good a swimmer you are if you fall in the river there is a good chance you will not make it out. Do not under any circumstances go in the water (it’s illegal). The rocks along the edge can be as slippery as ice in winter so stay away from the edge!