Whirlpool Rapids

Niagara Gorge - Devil's Hole/ Whirlpool Rapids Loop (NY)

The Niagara River Gorge is a 300-foot deep, 7-mile long chasm cut out of the Niagara Escarpment along the US-Canada Border downstream of Niagara Falls itself. In fact it is the power of the falls which carved this impressive canyon as, over the last 12,500-years, they have been slowly and inexorably chewing their way forward through the limestone bedrock. Within the gorge the Niagara River rages. Powerful rapids, some of the most dangerous in the country, froth and tumble as all the power of the water flowing over the falls above is compressed and forced through the relatively narrow river channel at the floor of the gorge. From above it’s an impressive sight. My plan, though, was to get a bit more intimate look at the wild Niagara from right along its shore. To do this I’d make use of a small portion of a fine network of trails which run the length of the American side of the gorge to provide me with a nice short loop down along the river’s edge and then back along the rim of the gorge itself. The plan was to begin my loop hike at Devil’s Hole State Park, which is near the north end of a string of parks and greenways which extend northward from the falls along the American rim of the Gorge. From there I’d descend to the floor of the gorge and utilize the Devil’s Hole and Whirlpool Rapids Trail to head north along the river as far as the maintained trail would take be. I’d then backtrack slightly to the staircase back up to Whirlpool Rapids State Park and follow the Niagara Gorge Rim Trail back to the car. It promised to be a very unique Niagara experience.

So, starting out from Devil’s Hole State Park I picked up the paved trail heading north along the rim of the gorge and soon descended to a nice overlook of the river and the unsightly NY Power generating plant just upstream. From the overlook the real descent began as I dropped some 200-vertical feet in the next quarter-mile. Once at the river the trail makes a turn south and becomes wide and relatively level as it follows the route of a long-defunct railroad grade. The trail never really gets right up alongside the river on this stretch but there are a handful of places one can scramble down to the rocks on the river’s edge and see the Devil’s Hole Rapids up close. The power of the river is immediately impressed upon you as ten-foot waves crash by at incredible speeds. Awesome is definitely an adequate word to describe the experience. Continuing south I reached the junction with the Whirlpool Rapids Trail at around the one-and-a-quarter mile mark. Here the Rapids Trail drops from above (the way I’d eventually climb out of the gorge) and turns to form a continuation of the Devil’s Hole Trail heading south. Thus I kept straight ahead on the Whirlpool Rapids Trail. It doesn’t take long for the personality of the trail to change from wide and smooth to narrow, rocky, and occasionally steep. This is especially true after taking the lower split in the trail down to the shore of Niagara’s famous whirlpool. Scrambling over rocks and small ledges, this is the most rugged portion of the trail but it’s worth it. Standing on the edge of the whirlpool watching the entire Niagara River forced to spin its way through a sharp bend in the gorge is an amazing and powerful sight. From the whirlpool the trail continues up along the shore of the river and soon emerges right alongside the incredible Whirlpool Rapids. These rapids are the big boys of the Niagara River, and you can tell. Pictures hardly do them justice; I’m hoping a couple videos I took do slightly more. For the next half-mile the trail climbs high above the river with wonderful views of the gorge surrounding and the rapids below. Then, suddenly beside a large rock, the trail ends. The gorge is simply too rugged for any trail to continue farther south. A nice little platform here, however, provides yet another place to experience the nearby rapids from a safe and (mostly) dry distance.

At this point I simply had to retrace my steps back down the gorge, enjoying all the scenery surrounding me once again; back to the Devil’s Hole- Whirlpool Rapids Trail junction I had passed earlier. Now I had to climb back out of the gorge. Luckily for me, though moderately steep, the climb was greatly eased by the wonderful stone staircase built into the edge of the cliff. The craftsmanship is impressive, I give big kudos to those who built and/or maintain them. Before long I was back atop the rim and now turned north to follow the Niagara Gorge Rim Trail. At this point I was actually in another State Park, Whirlpool State Park, which adjoins Devil’s Hole State Park to the south. The Rim Trail was a pleasant way to end the hike as it was wide, well-graded, fairly flat, and sports plenty of wonderful views. Before I knew it I emerged from the trees back where I had started at the Devils’ Hole parking area.

Considering the crazy busy and brief few days I had to enjoy at Niagara Falls I’m simply pleased I had time to do a hike of any kind…never mind one of this length or level of beauty. Needless to say I feel pretty fortunate I was able to squeeze it into my itinerary as I feel hiking isn’t what most people think of doing on a visit to Niagara. Well, as this album is here to prove, there’s plenty of beauty to see around Niagara Falls on foot as well! So, without further adieu I present a wonderful loop hike down into the wild Niagara Gorge. As always…ENJOY!!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:   43.133114, -79.047318

Route Type:  Out-and-back               Difficulty:  CHALLENGING  (Petzoldt Rating:  5.80 )

Mileage Hiked:  5.0 miles                    Hike Duration:  2:00

Trailhead Temp:  55'F                          Trail Traffic:  25-50 people

Min. Elevation:  300'                             Max. Elevation:  600'

Total Vertical Gain:  400'                     Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  80'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Devil's Hole (unblazed), Niagara Gorge Rim (unblazed), Whirlpool Rapids (orange)


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  • Dave Kathy Weemhoff

    on July 26, 2018

    What a treat to see Niagara River from this angle -- so peaceful, powerful, calm, fast flowing -- and no crowds! Love it!