The facts behind the ‘Frozen Falls’ — plus where to go to capture the Falls in all their frosted glory.
If you’re looking for a real-life winter wonderland, you’ll find no greater wow factor than the natural phenomenon known as the Frozen Falls! Each year, thousands of visitors descend upon Niagara Falls, New York in the hope of witnessing the awe-inspiring wonder. But do the Falls actually freeze over in winter and what are your chances of experiencing them? Here are five frozen facts to inspire your next Niagara Falls adventure!
1. Yes, the Falls have really frozen over!
You’ll have to go back in time to find when the Falls truly froze over — to 1848, in fact. During a frigid snap that March, high winds shifted massive ice fields across Lake Erie causing millions of tons of ice to block the source of the Niagara River. With both the volume and speed of the water tanking (along with some polar temperatures causing a chill) the Falls were brought to an icy standstill and a frozen cascade was created over the Falls! The Falls remained frozen for 30 hours in total with reports at the time of people ice-skating and even riding horses over the basin. Once a shift in the ice dam allowed the weight of the water to break through, the Niagara gushed forward again and the Frozen Falls melted into a place in history.
2. However, they may not technically freeze again.
We may not experience the frozen Falls in a literal sense again. Historically, huge drifts of ice would float from Lake Erie along the Niagara River each winter, wreaking havoc to both power diversions and local infrastructure. But beginning in 1964, a massive floating device called an “ice boom” was created at the source of the river to not only to control any potential damage caused by floating ice, but also to put a stop to any more historic blockages along the river and the Falls. The 1.7-mile-long boom, which is located between Buffalo and Fort Erie (on the lake’s Canadian shores), is made of floating steel pontoons which all ensure the flow volume continues to rush down the Niagara River, preventing the likelihood of any epic big freeze at the Falls again.
3. The big freeze is all down to the flow.
Compared to a 50% flow during the summer, in the winter, 75% of the water flowing from Lake Erie along the Niagara River is diverted to hydro-electric stations before the Falls, flowing back into the lower Niagara downriver. But despite that decrease in volume, some 20 million gallons still swoosh over the Falls every minute — a phenomenal flow for Mother Nature to reduce to ice. Even when temperatures drop to 32 degrees, the kinetic energy created by the flowing water means the water stays fluid and would require an unprecedented temperature drop to truly freeze the Falls again.
4. The American Falls are your best spot to view the wonder.
We may be biased, but the best spot to experience the Frozen Falls effect is at Prospect Point, offering a view of the American Falls. As they receive less volume of water than the Horseshoe Falls (their Canadian counterpart), the American Falls are more likely to see icicles dangle over the cliff’s precipice as a frozen mist from the gorge shrouds the whole panorama in white. While neither of the falls truly freeze in winter, the American Falls also features a huge collection of rockfalls at its base (known as a talus), which, when covered in snow and ice, all build up the optical illusion of a magical frozen façade!
5. Head to Niagara Falls State Park for your best photos of the Frozen Falls.
With Niagara State Park’s trees shrouded in snow and the Falls themselves surrounded by icicles and frozen mist, it’s pretty difficult not to capture a spectacular shot of the frozen Falls. But for the best images: get up close! Head to some of the most dramatic viewings spots on the USA side of the Falls like the Observation Deck (weather permitting), Prospect Point, or the Cave of the Winds Gorge Trip, to see the Frozen Falls in all their glacial grandeur.