The Niagara River is a river that flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It forms part of the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the United States. There are differing theories as to the origin of the river’s name. According to Iroquoian scholar Bruce Trigger, Niagara is derived from the name given to a branch of the locally residing native Neutral Confederacy, who are described as being called the Niagagarega people on several late-17th-century French maps of the area. According to George R. Stewart, it comes from the name of an Iroquois town called Ongniaahra, meaning “point of land cut in two”

Image of the Niagara River. Flowing from Lake Erie in the south to Lake Ontario in the north, the river passes around Grand Island before going over Niagara Falls, after which it narrows in the Niagara Gorge.

The river, which is occasionally described as a strait, is about 58 kilometres (36 mi) long and includes Niagara Falls in its course. The falls have moved approximately 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) upstream from the Niagara Escarpment in the last 12,000 years, resulting in a gorge below the falls. Today, the diversion of the river for electrical generation has significantly reduced the rate of erosion. The total drop in elevation along the river is 99 metres (325 ft). The Niagara Gorge extends downstream from the Falls and includes the Niagara Whirlpool and another section of rapids.

Power plants on the river include the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Power Stations (built in 1922 and 1954) on the Canadian side, and the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant (built in 1961) on the American side. Together, they generate 4.4 gigawatts of electricity. The International Control Works, built in 1954, regulates the river flow. Ships on the Great Lakes use the Welland Canal, part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, on the Canadian side of the river, to bypass Niagara Falls.

The Niagara River also features two large islands and numerous smaller islands. Grand Island and Navy Island, the two largest islands, are on the American and Canadian sides of the river, respectively. Goat Island and the tiny Luna Island split Niagara Falls into its three sections, the Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls. Unity Island lies further upstream, alongside the city of Buffalo.

The Niagara River and its tributaries, Tonawanda Creek and the Welland River, formed part of the last section of the Erie Canal and Welland Canal. After leaving Lockport, New York, the Erie Canal proceeds southwest until it enters Tonawanda Creek. After entering the Niagara River, watercraft then proceed southward to the final lock, where a short section of the canal allows boats to avoid the turbulent shoal water at the river intake and enter Lake Erie. The Welland Canals used the Welland River as a connection to the Niagara River south of the falls, allowing water traffic to safely re-enter the Niagara River and proceed to Lake Erie.

The American Falls with Goat Island to its right

The Niagara River and Falls have been known outside of North America since the late 17th century, when Father Louis Hennepin, a French explorer, first witnessed them. He wrote about his travels in A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America (1698). The Niagara River was the site of the earliest recorded railway in America. It was an inclined wooden tramway built by John Montresor (1736–1799), a British military engineer, in 1764. Called “The Cradles” and “The Old Lewiston Incline,” it featured loaded carts pulled up wooden rails by rope. It facilitated the movement of goods over the Niagara Escarpment in present-day Lewiston, New York.

On the Canadian side of the river the provincial agency Niagara Parks Commission maintains all of the shoreline property, including Fort Erie, except the sites of Fort George (a National Historic Site maintained federally by Parks Canada), as a public greenspace and environmental heritage.On the American side, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation maintains several state parks adjacent to Niagara Falls and the Niagara River.

Niagara Glen features many rapids downstream of Niagara Falls

A Niagara River Greenway Plan is in progress in the United States. Beaver Island State Park is a New York state park located on Grand Island in northwestern Erie County, New York in the United States. It is situated at the southern end of the island on the bank of the Niagara River and served by the Beaver Island Parkway, a 2.72-mile (4.38 km) highway linking the park to Interstate 190.

The beach at Beaver Island State Park in June 2015. Fort Erie, Ontario is visible across the Niagara River.

Included within the park is the Beaver Island State Park Golf Course, a recognized championship 18-hole, par-72 public golf course. Broderick Park is a park situated along the Niagara River in Buffalo, New York, United States.

Fishing is a popular activity at Broderick Park, a small riverfront park on Buffalo’s West Side.

Buckhorn Island State Park is an 895-acre (3.62 km2) state park located in Erie County, New York in the Town of Grand Island. The park is on the northern end of the island of Grand Island.

Woods Creek is the west boundary of Buckhorn Island State Park.

De Veaux Woods State Park is a 51-acre (0.21 km2) state park located in Niagara County, New York, USA. The park is located off the Robert Moses State Parkway, north of the City of Niagara Falls. It is adjacent to Whirlpool State Park.

Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park (or Earl W. Brydges State Artpark) is a 108-acre (0.44 km2) state park located in the Village of Lewiston in Niagara County, New York. The park, which is officially named after former New York State Senator Earl Brydges, is generally referred to as Artpark. Fort Niagara State Park is located in the Town of Porter in Niagara County, New York, United States. Historic Fort Niagara is located within the park. The 504-acre (2.04 km2) park is northwest of Youngstown near the northern terminus of the Niagara Scenic Parkway and is in the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.

The Niagara River has a long history of both road and rail bridges spanning the river, both upstream and downstream of the Falls. This history includes numerous bridges that have fallen victim to the harsh conditions of the Niagara Gorge, such as landslides and icepacks.

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