Whirlpool Rapids: a Walk on the Wild Side


A History & Pictorial


WHIRLPOOL RAPIDS GORGE is the section of the Niagara River Gorge located north of the Whirlpool International Bridge and  the south of the Whirlpool. It has an average width of 228.5 meters (750 feet) wide). This portion of the gorge is world famous for its rapids. The width of the Whirlpool Rapids Gorge narrows to approximately 150 yards (137m). Here the width of the river narrows to approximately 200 feet (60m) wide.

The depth of the Whirlpool Rapids is 10.7 meters (35 feet) and the speed of the water at the Whirlpool Rapids is 35.4 km/hr (22 mph). The speed is the result of the narrow width of the gorge, the rapid descent of the river and the volume of water (100,000 cubic feet per second). The descent is 15.8 meters (52 feet) in less than 1.6 kilometers (1.2 miles).

The rapids generated here are amongst the wildest, formidable and most dangerous in the world. The Whirlpool Rapids are rated 6 on a navigatable scale from 1 (easiest) to 6 (most dangerous).


There are two primary places from which to view the Whirlpool Rapids close-up. They are:

1. The White Water Walk - Niagara Parks Commission,  Niagara Falls, Ontario
2. Whirlpool State Park,  Niagara Falls, New York

The White Water Walk is the quickest and least strenuous method to view the Whirlpool Rapids. It is wheelchair accessible. Visitors are transported to the base of the Niagara Gorge by elevator. A boardwalk provides access to several viewing areas from which to view the rapids.

The Whirlpool State Park allow the more adventurous visitor to follow a series of stairways and paths to the base of the gorge. A marked path can be followed along the remnants of the former Great Gorge Route railway to an old observation station overlooking the rapids. This station was used as a way-point for visitors riding the Great Gorge Railway from which to view the Whirlpool Rapids. The hike is physically demanding but provides a view of the mighty rapids unparalleled from any other viewing area. The natural beauty of this area is majestic.



Sample the sights of the mighty Whirlpool Rapids through a series of 35 photographs of the Whirlpool Rapids and surrounding landscapes of Whirlpool State Park (New York) and the Niagara Parks (Ontario) - White Water Walk. 

The first fourteen (14) pictures showcase the Ontario Niagara Parks - White Water Walk Whirlpool Rapids boardwalk. 

The final twenty-one (21) pictures showcase the Whirlpool Rapids taken from Whirlpool State Park in Niagara Falls, New York. 





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The Niagara Parks - Great Gorge Adventure takes visitors by elevator to base of the Niagara Gorge at the mighty Whirlpool Rapids. Take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk to several viewing stands from which to experience the excitement and power of the Niagara River rapids.........................For those adventurous visitors wanting to "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE" - visit Whirlpool State Park and enjoy a hike into the Niagara Gorge. Follow marked trails along the rugged terrain beside the shoreline of the Whirlpool Rapids. Experience the rugged beauty and majesty of the river. Views are unparelleled.




The Great Gorge Adventure

a history


On October 31st 1876, the Canadian shoreline along the Niagara River Whirlpool Rapids was leased by Mr. John Drew from the Government of Ontario. The annual rental fee was $50.

Drew sub-leased this river bank property to Doctor W. H. Ferguson. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Government of Canada.

Doctor Ferguson realized the tourist potential of his site and developed it accordingly. He built a steam powered wood enclosed incline railway. Operating on wooden rails, the incline cars transported tourists to the base of the Niagara Gorge to the edge of the raging Whirlpool Rapids. Along the shoreline of the river, a stone path was created along the length the river rapids. Tourists for a fee could now visit the rapids close-up with little danger and effort.

In 1888, Doctor Ferguson sold the incline railway to the Whirlpool Rapids Company. This company was comprised of a number of American businessmen under the direction of J. T. Brundage.

With this new ownership came many improvements. The wooden rails of the incline were replaced with iron "T" rails. New cars operated by water ballast replaced the older ones.

The two new cars had water ballast tanks located in their rear area behind the seats. They could carry up to twelve (12) passengers along with 28,000 pounds (12,700 kilograms) of water ballast. Without passengers, only 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) of water added to the ballast tanks in the upper car was needed to change the balance between it and the lower car. The amount of water to needed to shift the ballast balance varied each trip and was dependant upon the number of passengers and their combined weight of each car.

When passengers were seated, the ballast tank in the car at the top was filled with enough water from a spring to counterbalance the weight of the lower car resulting in the mechanism of movement. After an additional 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) of water was added to the top car, the brake was released and the top car slid down the incline while the lighter lower car ascended. Once the cars reached their terminals, the brake was engaged to prevent movement. Without any passengers aboard, the ballast in the lower car was drained sufficiently to allow being counterbalanced by the car at the top.

In 1892, The Niagara Falls Park and River Railway purchased all the assets of the Whirlpool Rapids Company for $15,000. Property included the incline railway, a store and carriage shed at the top side of the gorge.

Soon afterwards,  the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway became part of the International Railway Company. This company was famous for the development of the "Belt Line" encompassing the Niagara Gorge and the "Great Gorge Route" which followed a rail bed along the base of the Niagara Gorge along the American shoreline.

The International Railway Company (IRC) converted the incline railway from water ballast operation to electrical operation.

In 1932, the International Railway Company suspended operations and had its Canadian assets taken over by the Niagara Parks Commission. This included the Whirlpool Rapids Incline Railway.

On May 5th 1934, the Whirlpool Rapids Incline Railway and buildings were completely destroyed by fire.

In 1935, the Niagara Parks Commission leased the property formerly occupied by the Whirlpool Rapids Incline Railway to Alonzo B. Robertson. Mr. Robertson was a self employed engineer and contractor. The lease allowed Mr. Robertson to operate a "Great Gorge Attraction".  The term of the lease was thirty (30) years, after which the property would revert back to Niagara Parks Commission operations.

Robertson built a 230 foot (70m) vertical elevator shaft through the layers of rock to the base of the gorge below. He also built a 240 foot (73m) long horizontal extension tunnel from the elevator shaft to just beyond the gorge wall and the edge of the river rapids. At the top of the gorge, Robertson built a stone building to house to enclose the elevator and provide a ticket office and souvenir store.

The old stone pathway was always being washed away and blocked by occasional rock falls. Mr. Robertson built the first boardwalk to alleviate this problem and increase safety.

In 1937, Mr. Robertson sub-leased this property to Niagara Concessions Company Limited. 

Since the early 1900's, new hydro generating power stations began drawing significantly more water for hydro-electric generation. This water diversion upstream caused the water level and water flow rates in the lower Niagara River to drop a great deal. To counter this water reduction, a wooden boardwalk was built along the Whirlpool Rapids just above the water level. Today this water diversion reduces the water flow rate to only half ()  to three-quarters () of the original flow through this canyon.

Today the remnants of the old stone path can be located above the level of the current  boardwalk.

In 1964, the lease between the Niagara Parks Commission and the Niagara Concessions Company was extended for three years.

On December 1st 1967, the Niagara Parks Commission took over ownership and operations of the "Great Gorge Trip".  Niagara Concessions Company again was given the rights to operate the Great Gorge Trip. The souvenir store was operated by the Niagara Parks Commission.

In 1969, Mr. Ralph Grant took over the remaining seven (7) years of the lease that Niagara Concessions had to operate the Great Gorge Trip. His lease included the selling of souvenirs as well. In addition, Mr. Grant created a Daredevil attraction with a number of barrels and other devices from a number of Niagara Falls daredevils that he had collected.

In 1978 and in 1983, the gorge wall above the Great Gorge Trip boardwalk was scaled to reduce the risk of accidental rock falls.

In 1989, the name of this attraction was changed from "Great Gorge Trip" to "Great Gorge Adventure".

Today the entire operation of this attraction is owned and operated by the Niagara Parks Commission.
















Date last updated: February 13, 2012




The preceding locations and facts about them are but a few of many famous sites & attractions to be found in Niagara Falls. The best of it is FREE to see...so think of Niagara Falls when planning your next vacation. If you have questions of a current or historical nature about the Niagara Falls area or suggestions feel free to e-mail Rick at: