. Awash in a Whirlpool: the secret Niagara Falls hiking trail : Budget Travel Adventures

Awash in a Whirlpool: the secret Niagara Falls hiking trail

As I sat on the rocky shores, I stared at the turquoise waters as they swirled and sloshed like a spin cycle set in slow motion.  Nature’s  hand carved a serene, rhythmic masterpiece through the river.  Underneath, it’s fury raged with currents and forces that could kill a man in minutes.

I was paralyzed by curiosity and awe.

I had come here at the end of my day just to see this place.  I lingered here longer than I planned and left wishing I only had more time.

Just down the road, thousands of people spent the day gazing at Niagara Falls, getting soaked by the mist that glistened in the sun.  Yet here was a Niagara Falls secret known by the locals, hidden in plain view.

As I remember the feelings and experiences from my time here, I struggle to type the name of this place.  I don’t want to give away the secret known only to locals.

However, it’s too beautiful to keep to myself.

Whirlpool – a secret of Niagara Falls hiking destination

Early morning views of Niagara Falls and a few hours of golf meant I had a couple of hours to go hiking.

Sore feet and slightly sunburned skin weren’t ideal companions for some Niagara Falls hiking.  A hundred stairs and some ankle soaking mud made me wonder if this was worth it.

I passed by a local fisherman and asked him how far it was to the bottom.  “15 minutes” he panted, out of breath from his climb up the stairs.

On my way down, I left Niagara and returned to the land of ewoks.  The trail became a dense lush forest of green harkening me back to my Mt Tamalpais hike in the hills above San Francisco.  No one would expect scenery like this in Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls hiking forest Whirlpool trail

On the lookout of Ewoks!

My feet slipped and slid over mud and dirt.  Leaves fell like rain from the sky as branches crackled.  I was caught between rocks and hard places as I struggled to watch my footing below and take in the scenery above.

As I got closer to the end of this short trail, the sound of water came closer and closer.  I struggled to catch a glimpse through the trees as I hurried along the trail.

As the trees opened up, the sight of Whirlpool made me stop and stare as I made audible sounds of exclamation and awe.  I set my bag down on a concrete lookout and made my way down to the shore.

Whirlpool Niagara Falls hiking

My first look at Whirlpool!

For nearly thirty minutes, I watched a fisherman wade his boots into the water.  He cast his line over and over with a graceful rhythm that even the fish could appreciate.

Just beyond Whirlpool’s bay of concentric chaos, I could see Class 6 rapids crashing as they flowed just downstream from Niagara Falls.

Whirlpool rapids gondola Niagara Falls hiking

Class 6 rapids flow below the gondola and into Whirlpool

Over head, the Niagara Falls Whirlpool Aero Car (aka gondola) glided slowly from one side of Whirlpool to the other.  A few minutes later a Whirlpool jet boat slammed into the waters, twisting and contorting to soak every passenger from head to toe.

Whirl Jet Boat tours Niagara Falls hiking

Whirlpool Jet Boat tours

Whirlpool Aero Car Niagara Falls hiking

Niagara Falls Whirlpool Aero Car

Watching from the shores, I knew I wasn’t the only one who knew about Whirlpool.  People could see it from above or get splashed by its waters from within.  After a few minutes, they were gone.  I was still here and everything was quiet and beautiful.

The waters of Whirlpool invited me to stay a little longer.

I snapped photos and stood at the edge of the waters watching and waiting until my body and soul let me know they were ready to leave.

After a long silent chat with nature, I returned to the concrete overlook to gather my things.  Enjoying the views was Jim, a local who grew up in the area around Niagara Falls.  I sat down beside Jim.

As we talked, Jim told me that most tourists didn’t know about this place.  It was a favorite among locals but the trail isn’t really well marked.  We talked about life, his family, faith, and a passion for travel.  He pointed out the trails, talked about the area, and shared his love for this place that went back to his childhood days.

For nearly twenty minutes Jim and I talked, joined only by a couple sitting near the water.  On a hot spring day in early June, the four of us came here from different places yet I felt connected to these people I didn’t even know.

As we talked, tourists glided by overhead and zoomed in and out on Whirlpool boats.  This place was full of life yet there weren’t many people who were here long enough to truly experience it.

I said my goodbyes to Jim and began the muddy ascent through the Ewok forest.  A muddy hike turned into a quad burning workout as I climbed the last few steps before reaching the top.

green forest Whirlpool Niagara Falls hiking

Gorgeous scenery on the hike back from Whirlpool

The Niagara Falls hiking trail of the locals

Back on the path, people walked and rode bikes, played golf at Whirlpool Golf Course, and sat at the picnic tables.  How many of them knew what lies at the bottom of this trail?

On the bus to Toronto, a tired, sunburned grin appeared as my eyes rested and reflected on my day.

I discovered the hidden secret of Niagara Falls with miles of trails along the river and rapids.  Memories of Whirlpool swirled in my head as I smiled knowing I had a Niagara Falls secret I couldn’t wait to share.

Interesting facts about Whirlpool

1.  From the Falls, water is pushed into a narrow gorge creating the Whirlpool rapids – class 6 rapids that are a mile long with speeds up to 20 mph.

2.  The whirlpool is a basin created by the right turn in the Niagara river.  It is 1700 feet long, 1200 feet wide, and 125 feet deep.

3.  The flow of the water from the rapids rotates in a counter clockwise motion when it enters the basin.  Pressure builds when the water tries to exit and is forced under the incoming water flow creating a vortex.

4.  When water flow is low, the whirlpool waters rotate in a clockwise rotation (as seen in the video below) and exit the outlet down to more rapids below.

Read more interesting facts about Niagara Falls.

Directions to the Whirlpool hiking trail

Whirlpool hiking entrance Niagara Falls hiking

The entrance to the Whirlpool hiking trail

1.  The Whirlpool hiking trail is on the Niagara River Recreation Trail located along the Niagara Parkway.

2.  From Niagara Falls (Canadian side), drive down the Niagara Parkway towards the Whirlpool golf course.  The Niagara River Recreation Trail runs parallel to the road.

3.  Approximately two miles from Niagara Falls, the Whirlpool hiking trail is across the street from the Whirlpool golf course (hole #2).  A number of picnic tables are located just a few steps from the trail entrance.

4.  The trail is marked by a metal gate, a warning sign about the trail, and a set of steps leading down the trail.

5.  A number of parking lots are located beside the picnic tables making it an easy walk to the trail.

6.  Please note that heavy rains may cause the trail to be muddy and slippery.  Wear appropriate hiking shoes and be careful on the trail.

Check out this video I took of Whirlpool where the waters are dangerous yet calm.  To see how dangerous Whirlpool can be, check out this Whirlpool rescue video where a woman fell into the waters while hiking.

Have you been to Niagara Falls?  What’s the most surprising place you discovered while traveling?

If you love hiking check out my northern California hiking guide as well as my Yosemite in Winter photography book!

Jeremy Branham Whirlpool Niagara Falls hiking

Hanging out at Whirlpool in Niagara Falls

Thanks to Holly Goertzen of Niagara Parks for letting me in on this Niagara Falls secret.  A few minutes at the Falls, a round of golf, and this Niagara Falls hiking trip provided by Holly and Niagara Parks.  The unforgettable experience and descriptions of this account were all mine.  There’s so much more to Niagara than just the Falls!

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  1. Jan Ross says:

    We saw that area from the gondola and I wondered how in the world those fishermen got down there. Now I know!

    • Jan, I would have no idea how to get there if it wasn’t a local telling me where this was. The trail is unmarked so unless you know it is there, no one is going to go down there. And they surely wouldn’t expect this at the bottom of the trail! :)

  2. Steve says:

    I visit Niagara Falls in 2002. It was on the Canadian side of the falls. My memory was the small town of Niagara which bore no relation to the Niagara Falls which was a bit tacky in opinion.

    • Steve, this was the first time I visited Niagara Falls since 1988. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. The town of Niagara is very different from the Falls. I thought the Falls were beautiful. However, if that’s all people come to see you can do that in a few hours or a day. However, it’s gems like this that make Niagara worth a little extra time. If I had more time, I would have spent a lot more time hiking around Whirlpool. I think it’s the stuff other than just the Falls that makes Niagara interesting.

      I think the Canadian side is much more beautiful than the American. However, along with this trail I also enjoyed a little golf (granted, I played horribly on this day).

  3. Every well known destination has its secret spots if you are willing to explore or even better, get the inside scoop from people in the know.

  4. Tammy says:

    My first hike there was over 30 years ago and I continue to hike there often. As a local I didn’t realize it was thought of as a secret but thinking about it now I don’t recall ever seeing many tourists on the trail so I can see why it might be. It is a really beautiful trail!

    • Thanks Tammy. From all the people I talked to on the trail, did seem like it was all locals. I am sure some tourists find it by wandering around or talking to someone (like I did). However, I do think it is a bit of a secret. It is a great trail. Just wish I had more time to hike around the area.

  5. Of the various cities in the world you will find the city of Niagara Falls to be one of the most spectacular cities to visit. Definitely, a must see though it kind of expensive but the sighting will pay it off as it is truly breathtaking and unparalleled.

    • Niagara Falls can be expensive, especially a place to stay any time during the busy summer travel season. However, I want people to see that as beautiful as the Falls are, there’s so much more to see and do here than just that. I had no idea there were awesome trails like this in Niagara!

  6. Deb says:

    Beautiful post, Glad you found the hiking trails, I love going there. There’s some great bouldering at Niagara Glen too. It’s such a contrast from the regular tourist stuff of Niagara Falls (Which I also love)

    • Being the natives that you are, you should let more people know about these trails :)

      Yes, this was a highlight. The Falls were awesome but I love off the beaten path places and connecting with locals. I got both in this experience. Seems like the Niagara area can be quite the destination for those who love the outdoors. It isn’t just a place to see the Falls. I enjoyed my round of golf as well although I played horribly :)

  7. James says:

    WoW! There’s only one thing in my mind right now, its envy! I’d love to go this place, I wish that it could sooner. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • I hope you get a chance to go James. It had been many years since I’ve been to Niagara Falls (over 25 years). So see the Falls but also realize there’s so much more to do here as well!

  8. I’ve been to Niagara Falls a couple of times, but failed to observe this trail ever. Your post acted as an eye opener for me as I am desperately waiting to visit it again for this secret trail. The Whirlpool along with the Class 6 rapids add a dash of adventure to these stunning sights!

    • This was my first trip to Niagara Falls in over 25 years. Like you, I had no idea trails like this existed. Glad you enjoyed the experience Mellisa. I hope more people will visit and see more than just the Falls. I want my story to paint a picture of the experience and inspire people to see these kind of things for themselves. However, just note class 6 rapids are illegal. No one is allowed to do these. And stay out of Whirlpool too! Awesome to admire but no need for any rescues from the river :)

      If you go back check out the trail. There’s more than one trail around this area so you could spend a lot of time hiking here.

  9. We visited the falls on a day trip from Toronto and were a little disappointed with the over indulgent tourism of the Canadian side. While the falls themselves were stunning I wish we had been able to enjoy them from a natural setting such as this. Great insider knowledge!

    • I saw the Falls as well. However, I was there right at 9 am before it got too crowded. Lots of people visit there every year and it can be overrun with people. Seems like it can become a tourist trap. However, I think that’s why it’s important to experience more than just the Falls while in Niagara. I’m glad I had that opportunity.

  10. We were there only a few weeks ago. Can’t believe I missed this. We just did the touristy bit, but this looks a lot more intimate with nature.

    • Nicole, everyone who goes to Niagara has to do the touristy part. The real travel stories and memories for me come from getting off the beaten path. So glad someone told me about this spot or else I never would have known it existed. Admittedly, I feel a little guilty giving away a local secret. However, I think so many more people should get a chance to do this easy hike and see this spot. I only wish I had more time. Hope you go back and get a chance to explore more of the area.

  11. Lois Pike says:

    That makes the Niagara adventure even more exciting. The Gondola is the best! It can let everyone see the whole aerial view.

    • I had no idea the Aero Car/gondola existed until I saw Whirlpool. Would love to see things from above. That would be a great view! Have you hiked to Whirlpool before? From the gondola, did you know there was a trail down there?

  12. sanchezmark says:

    I visited Zadar last year, after several locals suggested it saying it was the best in Croatia. I actually trusted them and went there and found it very nice, but a little bit disappointed because i built too many expectations!

    • I love Croatia. However, I’ve only spent time in the outdoors at Plitvice. I would love to see more of the outdoors there. What is Zadar like? What disappointed you about the place?

  13. After reading this adventure full article, I realised that every tourist have to go for the secret Niagara Falls hiking trail.

  14. The whirlpool looks stunning. I could look at it all day!

  15. […] after browsing for some trails to go hiking on in and around Niagara Falls, I stumbled upon a post discussing one of the lesser known nature trails in Niagara Falls, taking hikers down to the […]

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