Does Niagara Falls Freeze?

For years, travellers have wondered – does Niagara Falls freeze?

The city itself sure does, as any resident will tell you. The community gets really cold in winter with all the water surrounding it. But the waterfalls themselves? Well …

Strictly speaking, the falls do not freeze. There’s simply too much water (six million cubic feet every minute, during peak season) and it’s going over too fast (up to 68 miles per hour) to freeze even in the coldest weather.

But the water at the bottom does freeze, and the formation of the ice bridge – which doesn’t happen every year, but likely will this year based on forecasts – is a highlight of the winter season for anyone interested in the natural beauty the falls presents.

And Niagara Falls really is a beautiful place in winter.

In the really old days, brave people used to find their way to the bottom of the gorge, bringing their boots and sometimes skates or toboggans to enjoy the miniature mountains and hills formed by the moving ice as it froze.  Of course it was dangerous (and it’s now illegal).

If you’re curious, check Google for images showing Niagara Falls in winter.  The views are frankly pretty breathtaking: Icicles hanging like swords from the rock cliffs. Fog rising from the open water where it touches the ice formations. The cracks that appear in the ice as the water below it continues to move.

According to NiagaraFrontier.com, the ice at the bottom of the falls can be up to 40 feet thick, as it accumulates the slush and ice chunks that arrive via the falls and the Niagara River above.

To see this, there is plenty of parking in the area, and you can stand within a few feet of the brink of the falls at Table Rock House. In a dangerous sort of thrill, from that vantage point it feels like the water is drawing you toward it.

But the beauty of Niagara Falls in winter extends beyond the water. You can see the plume of fog rising from the falls from miles away, and when a good Canadian winter really hits, the trees and lamp posts near the waterfront are coated in beautiful tinsel-like layers of ice. It doesn’t require a good photographer to find brilliant photos of the scenery, it’s all around you.

Of course, too, the whole area is supplemented at night by the annual Winter Festival of Lights. The bright colours of the Christmas and holiday displays that stretch from Dufferin Islands all the way past the falls along the Niagara Parkway bring the community to life in an eye-popping blast of reds, blues, greens and yellows.

It’s not a stretch to say Niagara Falls becomes an entirely different city dressed in the beauty of its winter colours. Nature, aided by man, makes the area come alive in a way that literally, no place in Canada or the U.S. can match.

Photo credit:  Niagara Parks

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