This is not a blog about kayaking the whitewater rapids at Niagara Falls. You can try that but there are a few problems – you may die, you will get arrested, you may be fined and you may go to jail. However, if you are a whitewater kayaker, you will find the blog interesting. Also, if you are just planning a visit to Niagara Falls, this blog will give you some of the more interesting places to visit that are away from the downtown area.
I’m going to start this blog with a little bit about the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and then get to the whitewater part. If you are going to go to Niagara Falls, you might as well make the most out of your trip.
Okay. Everyone has heard about Niagara Falls. These days, it’s quite fashionable to joke around about Niagara Falls – almost as much as it used to be to honeymoon there. If you want negative material, just start with the crass commercialism of the Canadian side. Look too closely at what’s happening just beyond the falls and you might find yourself wishing you’d stayed home. I think the images below say it all.
But if you know what to look for, you can (and will) have a great time.
The Niagara Falls area has a great bus system called WEGO. This state-of-the-art bus system connects accommodations and Niagara Falls tourist areas. A two-day pass is pretty inexpensive, the buses are clean and comfortable, and they operate on schedule. If you go, I strongly suggest you avoid driving into the area – the traffic is pretty insane.
The first thing you, and everyone else, will do, is walk around the perimeter of Niagara Falls and gawk at the falls. You won’t get bored, but you will eventually want to do something else. Be advised that the pathways are pretty crowded.
You may also see something you have never seen before unless, that is, you have worked in a big city like Manhattan – window cleaners way above the ground. Not a job I would want.
MAID OF THE MIST
The Niagara Falls Maid of the Mist tour takes visitors on an excursion into the basin of Niagara Falls State Park’s Horseshoe Falls. The Maid of the Mist boat tour in Niagara Falls, NY has been described by generations of visitors as one of the highlights of their trip. Looking from the walkway you might think, “How exciting can this be?”
Up close, though, you will have a different thought.
Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory features over 2000 exotic butterflies of the world in a tropical rainforest setting. There are over 50 different species of butterflies moving through a lush, climate-controlled environment. The entire time you are in the Conservatory, you will be walking through clouds of butterflies. If you are lucky, one or more butterflies will land on you. If you think that would be fun, note that butterflies are attracted to perfume and cologne, bright colors (so wear vivid clothes), and try to move very slowly.
After going through the Conservatory, take some time to walk around the gardens there. It was approaching fall in Canada, so a lot of the flowers were not in bloom, but the gardens were still pretty spectacular.
Okay – the floral clock is interesting but certainly not an adventure. It is a nice place to relax and have an ice cream sandwich.
However, you can walk back to the falls rather than taking the bus. From the sidewalk you can look down at the river flow below the dam.
We also saw some type of tourist boat going up the rapids toward the dam. We have no idea what it was but would have loved to booked a trip on it.
The walk is only about 1 ½ miles and a good way to get some exercise.
At last – I know.
After seeing the rapids from above, we wanted to get up close and personal with them. The way you do that is to take the White-Water Walk, a boardwalk situated on the very edge of Niagara’s whitewater. The White-Water Walk takes you down in an elevator 70 meters, through a tunnel, and then out onto the boardwalk. The boardwalk runs for 1000 feet and contains stairs and two areas to witness the rapids at full speed at the very edge of the river.
The water travels at different speeds along the length of the Niagara River. South of the Falls where the river is wide and slow, the maximum speed is about 25 miles per hour. Near the brink of the Falls, a speed of 68 miles per hour has been recorded. As the water travels through the Whirlpool Rapids at White Water Walk, it is traveling at about 30mph, creating the Whirlpool Rapids – a Class 6 white-water rapid.
The fee to use the White-Water Walk is about $10 per person. That’s pretty steep, but if you are a whitewater kayaker, it is worth the fee. There is a display at the bottom of the elevator that describes the numerous attempts people have made to float down that section of the river.
If you take the walk, this is what you will see. At first, you’ll think – no big deal. But then, well, just watch.
OTHER RECOMMENDED WHITEWATER VIDEOS
Chasing Niagara tracks the preparations of Mexico’s Rafa Ortiz, one of the world’s best and most daring big waterfall kayakers, to run the 167-foot Niagara Falls. Attempting it in a decked canoe in 1990, Jesse Sharpe died in the attempt. Training takes Rafa Ortiz, Rush Sturges and fellow kayak star Evan Garcia to the canyons of Veracruz, to the 189-foot Palouse Falls, where Ortiz makes the second descent, a height world record set by Tyler Bradt, who joins the team.
Chasing Niagara instantly transcends your usual whitewater kayaking video when the opening sequence involves a drowning (or near drowning) in Mexico. You’ll see real GoPro footage of Evan Garcia pounding on his friend Gerd Serrasolses’s chest and screaming his name in an effort to draw him back from death. The signal is clear: this is going to be a different kind of whitewater film.
When filmmaker Rush Sturges and big drop junkie Rafa Ortiz set out to document Ortiz’s dream of running Niagara Falls, they needed to delve a bit deeper into the story and the characters involved. Chasing Niagara turned into a film that tracks Ortiz’s personal journey as well as the story of his teammates. It’s the story of their collective successes and failures.
FYI – someone once actually tried to kayak over the falls. In 1990, Jessie Sharp, 28, of Ocoee, Tenn., paddled along the brink of the 172-foot falls at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday as dozens of tourists watched. Friends said Sharp believed he could survive the stunt and had even made dinner reservations for that evening. Sharp’s red kayak, bearing the name Rapidman, was recovered near the base of the falls shortly afterward intact, but with a large dent in the midsection. His body had not been found.
Below is a link to the video on Amazon where you can rent it or Chasing Niagara. It is something I would watch numerous times.
The Grand Inga Project
The Grand Inga Project chronicles kayak icon Steve Fisher as he and a team of the bravest and most talented paddlers on earth tackle a first descent of the Inga Rapids, a deadly stretch of whitewater in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There is a lot of background footage that I recommend you skip over (it is like they say – it is a great ½ hour video crammed into an hour and a half). But – then you get to some absolutely incredible footage that shows really terrifying rapids. Rent this – don’t buy it. Below is a link to the video on Amazon.
A Little Information about the Kayakers in the Videos
You might say that these guys know what the are doing.
Tyler Bradt is an American whitewater kayaker known for setting a world record by kayaking Palouse Falls.
Steve Fisher is an extreme kayaker who started whitewater paddling at the tender age of 6 (not 66 like me).
Ben Marr is a professional kayaker who was 9 years old when he started whitewater kayaking in a Perception Dancer.
Rush Sturges is a professional kayaker who won the Junior World Championships of freestyle kayaking in 2003.
Rafael Ortizis a well-known Mexican kayaker famous for descending huge waterfalls.
Evan Garcia is typically known for his legendary waterfall descents.
Aniol Serrasolses is one of the top athletes in whitewater kayaking who is constantly challenging the perception of what is possible in a kayak. Donna and I met Aniol when we were at the Otter Bar Lodge last year. He is a friend and business partner of Rush Sturges whose father, Peter Sturges, just happens to own Otter Bar. He was a very nice, quiet guy.
Make fun if you like, but a visit to Niagara Falls can be very rewarding. If you take the White-Water Walk, you will be inspired to get back on the water. By the way, we did everything I mentioned in a day. That includes going out for lunch (basic burger place at the Falls) and shopping for dinner items. We were, after all, in our travel trailer. The place to shop is FRESHCO on Kalar Road. It has an incredible international section.