Niagara Whirlpool Trail
The Niagara Whirlpool Trail in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is best known for introducing hikers to the spectacular, naturally occurring Niagara Whirlpool. The Whirlpool formed over 4000 years ago and is located in the Niagara Gorge, which unfolds downstream from the world-famous Niagara Falls. The 2.1 km out-and-back trail leads hikers on a steep descent into the plunging depths of the Niagara Gorge, along an undulating trail, toward the Niagara River. Surrounded by beautiful forest scenery, hikers will be beckoned toward the rapids by the sound of the rushing whirlpool, turbulently swirling in the distance.
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Route Description for Niagara Whirlpool Trail
The Niagara Whirlpool is a marvellous sight to witness and one of Niagara’s many natural wonders, discoverable on foot. This scenic 2.1 km hike leads you on a trail that unfolds between the mighty slopes of the Niagara Gorge, down to the banks of the Niagara River, from where you’ll be able to spot the Niagara Whirlpool swirling in the distance. Although the trail itself is not particularly long, its location in the Niagara Gorge makes for steep descents and ascents, which is why this trail is not recommended for children under the age of 8 years old.
From the parking lot, facing the woods, you’ll head right, along the path that lines the woods for about 50 m; you’ll then see an opening in the woods leading to a wooden staircase and signage for the Niagara Whirlpool Trail. Soon, you’ll be met by a lofty stretch of wooden stairs that unfurl deep into the belly of the Niagara Gorge, taking you down one step at a time as the staircase tapers off into the woodsy depths. Although the steps themselves are numerous and seemingly never-ending, they are relatively shallow and therefore not particularly strenuous on the way down.
The first 100m of the trail takes you down the wooden steps, eventually leading you to the floor of the gorge, where you’re sure to feel like a true stairmaster! The path comprising mostly of rock and dirt will then lead you between the towering slopes of the gorge, on an undulating trail surrounded by mighty oak, maple, and beech trees. 200 m in, you’ll cross a wooden bridge over the creek running down toward the Niagara River. Continuing the trail, you’ll be accompanied on your left-hand side by a narrow waterfall that carpets the floor of the gorge in a gentle slope, its flow, or lack thereof, determined by the season of your hike.
350 m along the trail, you’ll reach a metal bridge, and from this point, the sound of the Niagara Whirlpool becomes increasingly present on the walk. Continuing the path, you’ll enjoy the ups and downs of the rocky terrain that comprises the floor of the Niagara Gorge, surrounded by a symphony of birds and other cordial wildlife that call this idyllic slice of greenery home. Keep your eyes peeled for weasels, rabbits, red foxes, and the white-tailed deer (and many more!), all residents that could potentially make an appearance during your hike!
The trail becomes wider as you make your way towards the Niagara River, and at around 600m, you’ll begin to catch glimpses of the blue-green water through breaks in the hulking trees. A final descent towards the river starts around the 750 m mark, leading you to the pebbled shores that mark the end of the out portion of the trail.
You’ll see an elevated concrete square pavilion on your right-hand side, which is an excellent lookout point out over the river and onto the Niagara Whirlpool in the distance. You’ll likely find yourself in the company of several friendly fishermen who flank the banks of the river, casting their lines in hopes of a bite from a steelhead salmon or rainbow trout. The river is a great place to post up, relax and enjoy a snack, an experience made all the more magical by the sound of the rushing river and rapids.
Once you’ve caught your breath and enjoyed some downtime by the scenic riverbank, take the same trail back, leading you up and out of the gorge. The wooden stairs are more challenging on the way up, but a few small terrace-like points on the stairs allow you to rest and catch your breath if needed while allowing others to pass.
For those wanting a closer view of the Whirlpool, you can follow the riverbank on the right (when facing the river), along the shore towards the rapids. This is recommended for avid hikers only, as the terrain is very rocky with steep inclines and slippery underpasses.
Hiking Route Highlights
The Niagara Whirlpool
The Niagara Whirlpool is a naturally occurring whirlpool that straddles the Canada, U.S border, bridging the gap between New York State and the Canadian province of Ontario. Located downstream from Niagara Falls, the Whirlpool is found within the depths of the Niagara Gorge and is a well-known natural phenomenon on both the Canadian and American sides. The Whirlpool was formed over 4000 years ago and is thought to result from the upstream erosion of the Niagara Escarpment by the Niagara River. Varying conditions and changes in rock formation and water flow over thousands of years has resulted in a circular basin in which the whirlpool spins.
Frequently Asked Questions
How deep is the Niagara Whirlpool?
The Niagara Whirlpool reaches its greatest depth at 38 m.
Can you swim in the Niagara River or the Niagara Whirlpool?
Swimming is not permitted in the Niagara River and this includes the Niagara Whirlpool. Swimming in this area is extremely dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of the river and its rapids.
Are the wooden stairs on the trail safe and sturdy?
The wooden stairs that mark your initial descent into the gorge on the Niagara Whirlpool Trail are sturdy and in good shape, but depending on the weather, can be slippery at times. It's recommended to wear proper hiking boots on this hike.
How much does it cost to park at the Niagara Whirlpool Trail?
Paid parking is available near the trailhead and is enforced Monday to Sunday from 6am to 12am. The machines charge $2.50/hour and only accept credit cards, no cash or debit.
What fish are found in the Niagara River?
The Niagara River is home to Chinook salmon, rainbow trout and walleyes, largemouth bass, yellow perch and more, making it a popular year-round destination for fishing.
Insider Hints for Niagara Whirlpool Trail
- The best time to do this trail is between April and November; however, it can be done during the winter months, when ice is not heavy and the stairs are traversable.
- If the conditions on the stairs are not ideal (slippery and or icy), you can hike down the bank of the gorge alongside the stairs; however, poles and hiking boots are recommended for this, as you’ll face a fairly steep decline.
- Only a dozen or so parking spots are found here, so if the lot is full, continue along the parkway to additional parking lots (there are several), then make your way back to the first parking lot by following the parkway on foot.
- Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be leashed.
- Bring your credit card! The parking meters here do not accept debit or cash.
Getting to the Niagara Whirlpool Trail Trailhead
To get to the Niagara Whirlpool trailhead, from the QEW, take the exit towards 420, following signs for Victoria Avenue, then turn left onto Victoria Avenue. Follow Victoria Avenue until you reach the Niagara Parkway, then turn left onto the parkway. Continue the parkway for less than a kilometer before a sharp bend in the road will let you know to look out for the parking lot on the right.
Niagara Whirlpool Trail Elevation Graph
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Niagara Whirlpool Trail Reviews
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