Carol Rogers says she wishes there was a bumper sticker that read: “The Gorge is gorgeous.”
The environmental educator for the New York State Parks Department wishes more people would venture into the Niagara Gorge.
Perhaps they don’t because they think the trails are too challenging.
Maybe they don’t even know there are trails.
Rogers says she meets people from all over the world when she’s hiking in the gorge, but not as many locals as she would like.
“There’s a lot of local people that miss out on such beautiful trails,” she said. “The wildflowers throughout the season are awesome and I never get tired of the views,” she said. “Every once in a while I’ll see a bald eagle,” she added. “It’s wonderful.”
Those who take the time to explore the gorge are not likely to be disappointed, no matter what their level of fitness. The trails are accessible in a wide variety of ways, offering a wooded escape from the noise of the city and views of the lower rapids that are breathtaking and unforgettable.
For those who think now might be the time to consider taking time to explore the most beautiful area of Niagara Falls, here are a few ways to obtain more details about their potential adventures.
• Online: The Niagara Falls State Park website, www.niagarafallsstatepark.com, provides an explanation of the trails so beginners can be safe and happy and veteran hikers can be challenged and satisfied at the results of their efforts. There are also maps available for download.
The state park website reports that many of the Niagara Gorge hiking trails begin at the Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center, near the Discovery Center at the start of the North Robert Moses, now called the Niagara Scenic Parkway, which offers both easy trails to follow and challenging sections of trails that have steep stairs to climb and rocks to scramble over.
The site notes that hikers should be aware that conditions are ever-changing in the Niagara Gorge, and hikers should be prepared with sturdy footwear as well as water. In addition, the site notes firmly that hikers must stay on marked trails and avoid entering the water.
The park offers guided park and gorge hiking tours mid-May through October through the Niagara Region Interpretive Programs. Call 282-5154 for group rates and information. Please note that there is a five-person minimum for tours.
Here’s a breakdown of the difficulty level:
• Great Gorge Scenic Overlook Hike — This easy, one-hour round trip hike begins at the Trailhead Building. There is no age requirement for this trail, and it is recommended for beginners.
• Upper Great Gorge Hike — Another great trail for beginners, this easy, two-hour round trip hike begins at the Trailhead Building and follows the Great Gorge Railway Trail. There is no age requirement for this trail.
• Devil’s Hole Rapids and Giant Rock — As a more moderate trail, guests hiking Devil’s Hole Rapids and Giant Rock must be at least 8 years of age. The trail begins at Devil’s Hole State Park and is a moderate level 2.5-hour hike round trip.
• Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike — One of the most challenging trails that Niagara Falls State Park has to offer, the Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike is recommended for experienced hikers, who are at least 8 years of age. The trail begins at Whirlpool State Park, and is a three-hour hike round trip, where you can expect some boulder hopping.
Guided Niagara Gorge hiking tours are offered mid-May through October. Call 282-5154 for group rates and information. Please note that there is a five-person minimum for tours.
• Walk with a councilman: Niagara Falls City Councilman Chris Voccio is an avid hiker and regularly leads groups into the gorge. His next trip starts at 2 p.m. June 8. Hikers are invited to meet him at the Whirlpool State Park main shelter at 2 p.m. The hike will travel along the rim of the gorge to Devils Hole Sate Park and back, in a walk that should take about two hours. “The June hike will be accessible for most people in decent physical condition. We’re not going down the stairs to the base of the gorge for this hike,” Voccio said.
• Take an elevator: There is also a free elevator into the gorge, owned by the Maid of the Mist Corp.
Currently closed, it will be open during the tourist season. Call the Niagara Falls State Park Discovery Center at 278-1070 to make sure the elevator is operating.