State Parks: Niagara Falls

Explore Niagara Falls, USA

Niagara Falls State Park, America’s first state park, was established in 1886 and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted two years before creating Rochester’s Highland Park. Visitors travel far and wide to see Niagara Falls, and we are fortunate to drive there in 90 minutes. The falls are majestic year-round, and I highly recommend going at different times throughout the year to witness the uniqueness of each season.

While Niagara Falls, Ontario, has a falls-facing view, it can become overwhelming with many tourism-oriented distractions that cost time and money. On the New York side of Niagara Falls, activities focus on the natural world, with accessible pathways leading along the Niagara River. Make the most of your day trip by exploring Goat Island, Three Sisters Island, and Prospect Point, where you can enjoy the view of Canada across the river.

Niagara Falls State Park Trolley
Niagara Falls State Park trolley

Nothing beats the exhilarating experience of Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist on a hot summer day. The air-conditioned Niagara Scenic Trolley provides an all-day hop-on/hop-off service that transports visitors three miles around the park, stopping at all the attractions and parking lots. Purchase a trolley ticket ($3 per person at the time of publication) from the visitor center.

Best of Rochester - Day Trips Around Rochester book

Day Trips Around Rochester, New York

Plan Your Day Trip to Niagara Falls


Every town and village between Rochester and Niagara Falls has a local diner. Depending on your route, some options include the Blue Ridge Grill in Greece, the Millhouse Family Restaurant or the USA Brockport Diner in Brockport, the Country Club Family Restaurant or Rudy’s Soda Bar and Cafe in Medina, and Mom’s Family Restaurant in Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls Visitor Center
Niagara Falls State Park Visitor Center
Niagara Falls NY USA Terrapin Point Horseshoe Falls
Terrapin Point
Niagara Falls NY USA
Luna Island
take a walk cover niagara falls
Three Sisters Island


If you are visiting Niagara Falls on a weekend or holiday, or if the weather is delightful, you’ll have the best chance of finding parking by arriving early in the day. If the parking lots are full, you can park for free at Whirlpool State Park, located 10 minutes north of the falls, and take the free Discover Niagara Shuttle to the Niagara Falls State Park Visitor Center, which may be easier and cheaper than trying to find street parking.

Once at the falls, explore Goat Island, where a paved walkway connects Horseshoe Falls at Terrapin Point with Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls on Luna Island. To visit Three Sisters Island, enjoy a 1.5-mile walk around the perimeter of Goat Island or hop on the trolley.

Niagara Falls NY USA Cave Winds
Cave of the Winds under Bridal Falls, seen from Luna Island

Purchase a timed ticket for Cave of the Winds, where you follow a series of wooden walkways down 175 feet to the base of Bridal Veil Falls and experience what it must feel like in a hurricane. In the past, visitors were given a pair of souvenir sandals as part of the experience, but now you are encouraged to wear your own shoes to reduce waste. Sneakers or sandals that you don’t mind getting wet would be appropriate. At The World Changed Here interactive exhibit, you will learn about the history of the land and water that makes this region unique.


Pack a picnic to enjoy anywhere in the park that captivates you. There are food stands where you can purchase a hot sandwich or ice cream to complement your meal, though this is a popular option that leads to lines of people and swarms of bees. Or you could dine inside at the seasonal Top of The Falls Restaurant on Goat Island to enjoy stunning views of Horseshoe Falls through floor-to-ceiling windows. Or you can walk across the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to check out the Anchor Bar, Flip Burger, or SPoT Cafe.

More lunch options include Zaika Indian Cuisine, Mario’s Pizza, Donatello’s, Rainforest Cafe inside the Sheraton, and Parkway Prime inside the Doubletree.

Niagara Falls Observation Tower
Observation Tower – Entrance to Maid of the Mist
Niagara Falls
Crow’s Nest
Niagara Falls NY USA Maid Mist
Maid of the Mist
Schoellkopf Site Elevator Gorge Level
Schoellkopf Site


At Prospect Point, explore American Falls and the Observation Tower, which offers breathtaking views of the Niagara River gorge. Take the elevator to the river’s edge and join a half-hour Maid of the Mist boat tour. Even without a boat tour, you can still enjoy the views from the tower and gorge for $1.25 per person. Instead of boarding the boat, follow the trail and stone steps leading to The Crow’s Nest beside American Falls to experience the base of the falls close up. Bring a rain poncho from home if you are not going on the Cave of the Winds or Maid of the Mist tours, both of which provide ponchos you can keep. After you visit Prospect Point, walk a half-mile north, under the Rainbow Bridge, to explore the ruins of the Schoellkopf Power Station, where you can take an elevator down to the river for a close look. Walk another quarter of a mile north to find the Aquarium of Niagara, which specializes in rescuing seals and sea lions and offers daily shows, feedings, and presentations. While you can drive here, there is an additional parking fee.


Take a three-block walk down Old Falls Street—a playful, tree-lined cobblestone entertainment district with options for dining. Other choices include the Hard Rock Cafe, Red Coach Inn, or the two restaurants inside Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino: The Western Door Steakhouse and La Cascata.

More dinner options include Leon’s Italian Bistro & Pizza, Michael’s Restaurant, El Cubliete, Sawyer Creek Hotel, Buzzy’s Pizzeria, and Judi’s Lounge.


At sunset each evening, Niagara Falls is transformed by hundreds of multicolored LED lights that create a unique and stunning display. It is worth staying to witness this spectacle.

Niagara Falls from Airplane
Niagara Falls from my flight from ROC to Chicago

Fun fact: The amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls varies depending on the time of day and season. In the evening, after the tourists have left, hydroelectric plants on both sides of the river divert almost half of the water, with even more being diverted in winter.

More information about Niagara Falls

Cost: Fees for parking and attractions

Located in Niagara Falls, NY, roughly 90 minutes / 90 miles from Rochester (get directions)

More information: parks.ny.govniagarafallsstatepark

Google Map of Locations

View the map separately here.

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Where are your favorite places to visit in Niagara Falls, USA?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

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