Our first stop was the Visitor Center (very crowded) on Prospect Point. Staff at the information booth are available to answer questions. There are various displays and brochures that describe the various attractions in the park and the surrounding area.
Be sure to pick up a map of the Niagara Falls State Park here.
Access to the park is through the Visitor Center and down a flight of steps to the walkway below. We had our sweet doggie, Sadie, with us (leashed dogs are permitted in the park) and they told us to just bring her in the building and down the steps along with the rest of us. There are exhibits on the lower level about the cultural and geological history of the area. Also, the theatre is located on the same floor.
We learned that Niagara Falls is actually three falls: the American Falls, Bridal Veil (smallest), and Horseshoe Falls (largest) and primarily in Canada. We first headed south on the walkway to see the American Falls. Of course, you can hear the roar of the water crashing over the falls before you can see it.
From this location you can see the two boat tours at the Falls: the Maid of the Mist on the American side; and, the Hornblower Cruises on the Canadian side.
The Maid of the Mist boarding docks are located at the base of the Observation Tower. Also shown, is Skylon Tower (Canadian side). Checkout the exterior elevator.
Beautiful landscaping could be seen throughout the park.
We followed the banks of the American Rapids to the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to Goat Island. The water level was very high due to heavy rain the days preceding our visit. The birds didn't seem to mind...
Continuing along the path on Goat Island, we made our way to tiny Luna Island. From the overlook, there is a great view of the American Falls to the north and the Bridal Veil Falls directly in front of the overlook. The Cave of the Winds attraction can be seen at the foot of the Bridal Veil Falls and is accessed from Goat Island.
Sadie was very curious about all of that water!
We explored Goat Island where there are hiking, biking trails, picnic areas, two places to eat, and overlooks. Goat Island is also accessible by car (over the American Rapids Bridge) and there are two parking lots on the island. The bronze statue is of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) the inventor of the alternating current induction motor. The stone arch was the original entrance to the Adams Station, the world's first hydroelectric power plant (dedicated in 1895).
The American side of the Horseshoe Falls can be seen at Terrapin Point. There was so much spray from the waterfall that you could barely see it! Below is a photo from the overlook at the Canadian side of the falls. In 2012, famed aerialist, Nik Wallenda, walked across Horseshoe Falls and the Niagara Gorge (1,500') on a 2" steel cable in 26 minutes. He is the only person who has ever attempted this!
We continued on the trail that follows the banks of the Canadian Rapids to the Three Sisters Islands.
The Three Sisters Islands are named after the daughters (Asenath, Angeline, Celinda Eliza) of decorated War of 1812 veteran, Parkhurst Whitney, in 1816. The Islands were once submerged beneath the rapids but have increased in size in recent history due to diversion of water upriver to hydroelectric plants. Below are the rapids between the islands.
You can get a close up view of the rough water of the Canadian Rapids from Celinda Eliza. Intense!
We completed the loop trail on Goat Island and returned to the mainland across the American Rapids on the Pedestrian Bridge. The American Falls Bridge for vehicles can be seen in the second photo.
Below are several monuments in the park. The first is a monument to Civil War veterans from the State of New York.
The second is a memorial for those lost in the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, and other conflicts (Berlin Air Lift, Iran, Beirut, Grenada, Libya). The bronze statue is of Chief Clinton Rickard (1882-1971), founder of the Indian Defense League of America. He was of the Tuscarora Beaver Clan and his Native American name was RO-WA-DA-GAh-RA-DEH (meaning "loud voice.")
At the northern end of the park is the Discovery Center and Aquarium. We did not spend any time there, but there is lots to see and do in that area.
Lots of people that visit Niagara Falls State Park purchase the Niagara USA Discovery Pass that provides a discount (over 30% compared to individual admission rates) to the major attractions in and around the park. It includes Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara: Legends of Adventure Movie, 1-day transportation on Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley), and discount Admission to Old Fort Niagara. We chose not to do any of these activities (except visit Old Fort Niagara) for several reasons: we love seeing the natural beauty of the area by hiking; there were long lines everywhere, and we had our dog, Sadie, with us. The commercialization here is a little shocking, but walking around the park was a delight (wear your hiking footwear!)
There are loads of tour companies that provide transportation from hotels/campgrounds to various attractions on either the US or Canadian side. I found the number of options a bit overwhelming.
If we want to see those attractions at a future date, we will visit again during a time of year when it is not so crowded. Seeing the power of the falls, was the biggest attraction for us. And it is as amazing as you would imagine it could be!!
For additional information about the park, go to www.niagarafallsstatepark.com. Details about the Discovery Pass can be found there as well.