Hiking the Niagara Gorge

By Ed Healy

Published on | Last Updated

The Niagara Gorge invites you to wander among the wonders

The relatively pristine landscape of Niagara Falls State Park is a tribute to the great American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted was the visionary behind the Free Niagara movement of the late 19th century that resulted in the creation of America’s first state park in 1885. Stroll the expansive grounds to begin your experience of the natural Niagara. Stop by Three Sisters Island, said to be Olmsted’s favorite spot in the entire park.

The wonders of Niagara don’t stop at Terrapin Point, however. Just downstream from the world’s most famous waterfall, you’ll find several miles of hiking trails that take you deep into the heart of the magnificent Niagara Gorge, far from the viewing platforms, souvenir stands and easily accessed attractions that command the typical visitor’s attention.

The gorge requires some exertion, but for travelers who enjoy a side of solitude and tranquility along with the legendary main course, it’s more than worth the effort.

For an easy hike with great views, stop by the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center on the northern edge of downtown Niagara Falls. Here you’ll find the start of the mile-long Great Gorge Railway Trail. Built on the route of the former Niagara Falls and Lewiston Railroad, a narrow-gauge electric rail line constructed in 1895, the trail descends gently into the gorge, offering stirring views of the Falls and the Whirlpool Bridge. You may not find a more spectacular rails-to-trail hike in the entire world.

Devil’s Hole State Park

From downtown Niagara Falls, it’s a short drive north on the Robert Moses Parkway to Devil’s Hole State Park. Take a moment to enjoy the spectacular vista before descending the winding staircase to the base of the gorge. As you walk upstream you’ll be struck by the ferocity of the current as the Niagara River makes its way to Lake Ontario. Step carefully and stay focused as you make your way along the edge of the river. There are no barriers or guardrails and at times the trail runs precariously close to some steep drop offs. You’ll be rewarded when you reach the Class Five rapids of the Niagara Whirlpool.

This stretch of unnavigable and untamed river is highlighted by striking rock formations, soaring canyon walls and, of course, the impressive tumult and turbulence of the river right at your feet. It’s hard to believe you are only minutes by car from one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire world.

Ed Healy headshot

Ed Healy

Ed Healy is the vice president of marketing for Visit Buffalo Niagara.