How Old is Niagara Falls and How Was it Formed?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: November 2, 2022
Image Credit YingHui Liu/Shutterstock.com
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Not many waterfalls in the world are as spectacular as Niagara Falls, one of North America’s natural wonders. Millions of tourists are drawn in by the deafening sounds the falling waters make as they go over the cliff. Some others are captivated by the different shades of color radiating in the waters as they flow under the evening spotlights. Niagara Falls is not only known for its electrifying beauty, but it is also a major source of hydroelectric power generation for a combined United States/Canada population. 

How much do you know about the famous Niagara Falls? How old is it? Is Niagara Falls man made? In this article, we’ll discuss how old Niagara Falls is, how it was formed, and everything else you need to know about this gigantic waterfall.

Where is Niagara Falls?

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is located on the border of Buffalo, New York, and Ontario, Canada.

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Niagara Falls is not just one waterfall, it is in fact a group of three waterfalls. The three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls are; Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. The combined falls are located in the Niagara River, spanning the border between the Ontario province in Canada and the state of New York in the United States. 

The largest of the three divisions, the Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls) straddles the border between Canada and America, though it is found almost entirely on the Canadian side.  The smaller divisions, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls lie wholly within the United States. Just 17 miles northwest of Buffalo, New York, and 43 miles southeast of Toronto, Canada, Niagara Falls is located at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, the 7 mile-long canyon carved by the Niagara River. 

How Old is Niagara Falls?

Although waterfalls like the Victoria Falls were formed more than 3 million years ago, Niagara Falls is about 12,300 years old.

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While it is known that some iconic waterfalls such as Victoria Falls were formed more than 3 million years ago, the Niagara Falls is rather young. Niagara Falls is estimated to be about 12,300 years old. Though before that time, different geological forces had started working to release large streams of water from the melting ice sheets when the Ice Age ended, draining the meltwater into the Niagara River to form what we now know as Niagara Falls. 

How Was Niagara Falls Formed?

The enormous waterfall did not exist since the beginning of time. Is Niagara Falls man made? No, it is not. The actually formed from melting ice, when glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age more than 12,300 years ago. As the ice sheet retreated, it left behind a large amount of meltwater that drained into the basins that the glaciers had carved, hence creating the famous Great Lakes. Water from the newly formed Great Lakes emptied into the Niagara River and then carved a path over and through the cliff over which the Niagara River drops off at Niagara Falls (known as the “Niagara Escarpment”), to drain into the Atlantic Ocean.

Till today, Niagara Falls is still undergoing changes. There’s continuous freezing and thawing of the Niagara River. But these periodic rockfalls wear away the rocks under the surface and lead to erosion. This is slowly moving the Niagara falls farther upstream at a rate of about 1 foot per year. Some scientists predict that in about 50,000 years, the Niagara river will completely erode back to Lake Erie, therefore making the Falls itself disappear finally.

Is Niagara Falls Natural or Man-made?

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is natural.

YingHui Liu/Shutterstock.com

The magnificent waterfalls of Niagara are all-natural, not man-made. It is therefore accurately referred to as one of the wonders of nature. But surprisingly, Niagara Falls may be artificial in some sense– because it is still somewhat manipulated by humans. It may surprise you to find out that the flow of water over the falls is controlled all the time, especially during peak tourist seasons. Also, as a way to reduce the wearing off and erosion of the falls, industrialists intervene by diverting water flow to preserve the Falls. Scientists have proposed that it is possible to reduce the erosion rate of Niagara Falls from 1 foot per year to 1 foot per 10 years by controlling its flow control and diverting the waters for the generation of hydropower and other commercial and industrial uses. 

How Tall is Niagara Falls?

Niagara Falls stands tall with a breathtaking view. The height of the fall is estimated to be between 167 feet and 187 feet, although the height of the falls varies based on the point it is measured from. One of the three falls that make up Niagara, the Horseshoe Falls is about 176 feet high, according to the World Waterfall Database. That is roughly equal to the height of the Old Faithful cone geyser in Yosemite National Park or described to be nearly the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy.

On the other hand, the height of the American Falls drops between 90 and 120 feet due to the presence of huge boulders at its base, while Bridal Veil Falls also measures about 90 to 120 feet. People who have visited Niagara Falls often say that nothing compares with the experience of watching the Falls rushing, and hearing the tremendous sound as the massive amount of water goes over and plunges from cliff to river. With its perfect combination of impressive height and volume, there are a few natural wonders in the world as astonishing as Niagara Falls.

How Wide is Niagara Falls?

Measuring the distance from the American extension to the Canadian extension of the waterfalls, the width of the entire Niagara Falls is about 3,950 feet. Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three falls and the most powerful, measures about 2,700 feet wide. American Falls measures 940 feet across at its crest. Bridal Veil Falls, which appears to be the smallest, is only 45 feet wide. The three falls combined form the second largest waterfall in the world, second only to Victoria Falls in Africa.

Looking at the volume of the Falls, more than 700,000 gallons of water pour over this stunning cascade per second. During daytime peak tourist hours, huge waters pour over the crest of the falls at a rate of over 5.9 million cubic feet every minute, at nearly 25 miles per hour. Going by these statistics, Niagara Falls is undoubtedly the largest waterfall in North America, both by volume and by width. It is the largest of all waterfalls in New York.

What is the Best Time of Year to Go to Niagara Falls?

The best time of year to go see Niagara Falls is June to August. This is the summer season in Niagara Falls when the weather is warm and all nearby tourist attractions are open. There are tour guides available throughout the year for visitors. Want to know the best part? Viewing Niagara Falls is completely free! More than 12 million people visit Niagara Falls annually from all corners of the world – to experience a natural wonder unlike any other! 

Niagara Falls

YingHui Liu/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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