Let it be known: The Niagara Gorge is one of the most underrated day hikes in the United States. Photos can’t do it justice. Lush with vegetation that thrives on the mist and strewn with boulders deposited by the ravages of time, the landscape is constantly changing. On the New York side, a well-maintained trail threads alongside the river’s edge, where a scenic trolley ran from 1895 to 1935. Just feet from the path, the mighty greenish-blue Niagara River, freshly churned by the Falls upstream, roils and heaves as it races north toward Lake Ontario.
The gorge’s popularity is surging. In 2020, the much-loathed Robert Moses Parkway, which for 60 years divorced the residents of Niagara Falls from the stirring beauty of the Niagara River, was finally removed from the rim as part of a $42 million park expansion that restores the riverside as a 2-mile-long green space devoted to hikers and cyclists rather than cars.
There are several places where you can safely walk down to the river’s level, but our favorite is Whirlpool State Park about 2.5 miles north of the Rainbow Bridge. The park puts you in a forest alongside the formidable Class 6 rapids that spew from the churning field of whitewater north of the Whirlpool Bridge. Or you can stay in the shadow of downtown Niagara Falls by taking the free elevator at the Schoellkopf Power Plant ruins (a 3-minute walk north of the Rainbow Bridge) to a flatter, less bucolic riverside segment closer to the main falls.
Whirlpool State Park: Niagara Scenic Parkway; Whirlpool State Park
Schoellkopf Power Plant: elevator closed in winter; Niagara Falls State Park
Pictured above: Whirlpool State Park as seen from the Canadian side