The geographic area where the Niagara River flows north from Niagara 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 they 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 able to enjoy the quietness of the area.
In Niagara Falls Canada you can always take the easy way down into the gorge by stopping at the “White Water Walk” and ride the elevator to the bottom of the gorge. That’s fine if you are short on time but for a better experience a hike down into the gorge is definitely the best way to enjoy the area.
About 4 kilometers/2.5 miles north of the White Water Walk you can enter the “Niagara Glen” gorge trail system and hike down to the river and view the Giant Whirlpool. This is a great trail and easy to access. There is fee based parking at the trail head located across the street from the Whirlpool Golf Course. $5/hr pay by phone or at the paystation.
On the New York side of the river there are four access points to the Niagara Gorge. Closest to Niagara Falls is the Discovery Trail which can be accessed from near the Power Plant Ruins Site. From the Ruins Site down to the river is a leisurely path and takes about twenty minutes to reach the end of the trail.
You can access the same location at the end of the trail by taking the trail from near the Whirlpool Bridge. This trail down is named the Great Gorge Railway Trail. There are stairs and pathways descending into the gorge and you can see how the river sculpted its way over the last 15,000 years.
You also have the option of walking along the rim of gorge on new greenspace established over the past few years. An enjoyable circular hike both above and below the gorge is now possible and takes about an hour to complete.
The entrance to the Great Gorge Railway trail is pictured below.
Enjoy the canopy of green and the gorge walls where Niagara Falls once stood.
The Whirlpool trail accessed from Whirlpool Park is spectacular with views of the giant whirlpool and the largest of the river’s rapids. From the parking lot to the Whirlpool is about a twenty minute walk. It is possible to hike upstream of the Whirlpool but it can be treacherous. The trail from the Whirlpool that leads along the rapids takes an additional twenty minutes to reach the end.
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. 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 2 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 of 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 caution in this area.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Whirlpool trail and the Discovery trail are not connected.
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 Niagara Scenic 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 the water is moving violently. No matter how a good a swimmer you are if you fall in the river there is a very 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!
View of the Niagara River from the Whirlpool Trail.