National Treasure #123: Horseshoe Falls

Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United States; more specifically, between the province of Ontario and the state of New York. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. From largest to smallest, the three waterfalls are the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. – Wikipedia

Fun Facts (well, Facts)

Quoting the Niagara Parks site (headings and photo added):

Height: The Canadian Horseshoe Falls drops an average of 57 metres (188 ft.) into the Lower Niagara River.

Width: The crest line of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls is approximately 670 metres (2,200 ft.) wide.

Depth: The plunge pool beneath the Falls is 35 metres (100 ft.) deep.

Flow rate of water: More than 168,000 cubic metres (6 million cubic ft.) of water go over the crestline of the Falls every minute during peak daytime tourist hours. The International Boundary Waters Treaty stipulates the minimum amount of flow over the falls during daytime, nighttime and the tourist season.

Speed of waterfalls: Niagara Falls has moved back seven miles in 12,500 years and may be the fastest moving waterfalls in the world.

Colour: The startling green colour of the Niagara River is a visible tribute to the erosive power of water. An estimated 60 tons of dissolved minerals are swept over Niagara Falls every minute. The colour comes from the dissolved salts and “rock flour,” very finely ground rock, picked up primarily from the limestone bed but probably also from the shales and sandstones under the limestone cap at the falls.

Full-frame photo of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls.

Other kinds of colour: Every evening beginning at dusk, Niagara Falls is transformed into an incredible, multi-coloured water and light masterpiece.

Horsehshoe Falls illuminated with coloured lights.

Low resolution photo taken with phone, but you get the idea.

Prognosis (American Falls, like we care): All things considered, scientists speculate that perhaps 2,000 years from now the American Falls could dry up.

Prognosis (Horseshoe Falls): The Horseshoe Falls will notch back for about 15,000 years.

Professional Opinion

Niagara Falls is historically famous as a honeymoon destination – these days more in a campy, maudlin kinda way – but it also attracts a range of visitors, especially families. . . . With the addition of a new casino resort in 2004, finer hotels and restaurants have followed, adding an iota of sophistication; however Niagara Falls is primarily touristy and uncultured in character. – Go Canada site

Personal Summary

OK, here’s the skinny, according to me.

How soon to go: There’s no need to hurry: the Falls will be around for a while.

When to go: Try to pick a better day than we did (overcast skies, intermittent rain, winds gusting to 80 km/hour).


Winds gusting to 80 (maybe 90) km/hour. Lovely.


Hotel sign warning of high winds

Notice in hotel elevator

Where to stand to take a picture: The best shot I got was from Floor 14 of our hotel, so I recommend going for a high vantage point. Having seen photos online taken from the Skylon Tower, I think that’s a good bet.

View of Horseshoe Falls from 14th floor of hotel

But, you know, it’s a natural wonder as well as a National Treasure, so you have lots of options.

Silhouetted tree in foreground; Horseshoe Falls in background.


This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, Through Canada and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to National Treasure #123: Horseshoe Falls

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    If you can choose a weekend that is not the national holiday weekend for both Canada and the U.S. (July 1 on Friday, July 4 on Monday; crowds that have to be seen to be believed) I also recommend taking one of the Maid of the Mist boats right up into the maw of the falls.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yes, I can believe the crowds are crazy. The tacky tourist stuff we saw isn’t driven by a few, select attendees. I’m pretty sure I was on the Maid of the Mist as a child, and figured I couldn’t take my camera anyway . . . If we go again, maybe we’ll do the Skylon Tower for the panoramic photo and the Maid for the up-close-and-personal experience.

  2. Marion says:

    From the age of nine to twenty-two I was fortunate to live within a fifteen minute drive of the falls and visited it countless times during that period and several times since then, when in the area. So I’ve seen it on blue sky days with puffy white clouds, under warm summer rains, and on cold, grey, sleety days, not to mention in the winter, when the water teems down to disappear into a jumble not of rocks but ice and snow. Whether taking visiting relatives to see ‘our’ backyard wonder, on a Sunday drive during childhood with my parents, or taking our own children on the Maid of the Mist, it’s always a winner. One could use a myriad of superlatives to describe the falls and the experience, but it’s a lot like watching a movie more than once: you see different things each time and so every visit is different, and it’s seen differently by each person there.
    It’s easy to get frustrated by the crowds, but they’re part of the experience as well. I think it’s great to see people from all over the world enjoying it. And over the years we’ve found that the best places to see a sight (the Grand Canyon South Rim viewpoint is another example) have usually been found and plenty of people have heard about it, so if there’s a crowd, you’re probably in a good place to see what you came for (not that there aren’t other good but less-crowded viewpoints.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marion – Funny, I don’t think of anyone having this within an easy drive, but clearly many do, as you did. It must be the Calvinist in me that wanted to work a little harder to see it (Hike, anyone?). Just driving up seemed too easy. I was more frustrated by the prices than by the people. I wonder what the municipal tax structure is like, because everything was sinfully expensive.

      • Marion says:

        Yes, the prices of everything have escalated enormously over the years. My earliest memories (late 50s probably) are of just driving up and pulling off by the side of the road and getting out to have a look. No parking meters, let alone parking lots. I think that’s accurate and not coloured in the golden haze of childhood memories. A lot of infrastructure development has had to be done since then, simply to be able to handle the numbers of people who visit. The wear and tear on everything is considerable and they have to keep it maintained at a high level, even just for safety’s sake. In my memory they’ve had to move the ‘edge’ railing back several feet because of erosion, as an example. In some places you can still see remnants of the old railings but a lot has fallen in.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Marion – That would be an entirely different experience. Before looking at things online I’d never thought about the falls eroding and moving upstream as they erode, but of course they do. I imagine it’s a job to manage development within that context. It makes me wonder about all other waterfalls – how long they last and what maintenance is required.

  3. Laurna Tallman says:

    Having spent seven and a half years of my young life as a resident of Niagara Falls, N.Y., I appreciate your focus on the Canadian side of the big attraction. In those days, the depth of the water at the brink was seven feet, a flow greatly decreased by the power projects on both sides of the cataract. In spite of the commercialism on both sides, the attention to landscapes and gardens from above the Falls all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake makes the experience on the Canadian side of the border more attractive for tourists and residents. I also liked it better when the only pandering to crass commercialism were a couple of shops for cheap souvenirs on the American side and an up-scale place for more expensive mementos on the Canadian side.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Sometimes I think the one lesson we still need to learn is that more is not always better. It seems plain that self-restraint is not one of our abiding virtues. At some point, I guess I have to just go with the experience for what it is, albeit not necessarily my favourite.

  4. Barry says:

    For our “tourist tour” for visitors we also include the Welland Canal. Niagara Falls (Horseshoe part) is very impressive to those visiting for the first few times. For a break enroute to Niagara Falls stop off at the Welland Canal Museum. This is a small museum not far off of the QE II on the north shore, but accessed from the south shore of the canal. Each time we have stopped the Authority has been kind enough to process a ship through the lock so one can get a real time appreciation of their works.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barry – Good tip! I’ve never even heard of it, but it seems pretty significant. With annual traffic of 3,000 vessels, it seems as if there would often be something to watch. I loved the Panama Canal, but am still trying to figure out how to take pictures that look like anything. Video can be better but sloooow.

Comments are closed.