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Niagara Falls Travel Guide, New York

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How many ways can you view the relentless waters of Niagara Falls? If you're not a risk taker, you might promenade opposite the mighty torrent on sidewalks barely damp with spray.

Or...you might gape from the deck of a boat below the thundering cascade, peer out from the caves behind it, gaze from towers, ogle from a helicopter above... Yes, you can drink in the vista from every conceivable angle. Niagara Falls remains an awesome spectacle. A sprawling 182-foot-high cataract of roaring water, surrounded by towering clouds of mist and spray, it drains four Great Lakes into a fifth, Lake Ontario. Writers have long struggled to capture in words the immensity of the Falls. Mark Twain simply wrote: "Niagara Falls is one of the finest structures in the known world". Any vantage point can confirm Twain's view, but the most vivid experience involves the Maid of the Mist boat ride that celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. President Theodore Roosevelt called the ride "the only way fully to realize the Grandeur of the Great Falls of Niagara".

It is hard to imagine a more intense experience of the falls' power than this ride. You are at the captain's mercy as he expertly guides the boat past the American and Bridal Veil Falls and almost into the thunderous deluge of the Horseshoe Falls.

The roar of the cataract drowns out the drone of the vessel's twin 250-horsepower engines. Spray stings your face and hands and blurs your vision. The boat rocks as the engines fight for control in the current. There is a moment on the trip, just a moment, when your world seems to be coming to a watery end. Of course, it is perfectly safe.

The Cave of the Winds offers another perspective. Dress up in a yellow slicker and follow your guide through a tunnel in the rock behind the falls. A web of wooden catwalks and staircases will transport you to numerous points where the view is astounding. Prepare to get wet-the spray and mist are ever-present.

If you go:

- The Maid of the Mist, mid-May to Oct. 24. Adults, $7.75 plus 50 cents for the elevator ($9.55 Canadian); $4.25, children 6-12 ($5.90. Canadian); children five and under are free. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weekends, spring and fall; 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., from the third week in June through Labor Day.

- Other tours (Cave of the Winds, Journey Behind the Falls, Whirlpool Jet Boats) operate from May through October.

- Call 800-338-7890 for information on Niagara Falls, N.Y.; 800-563-2557 for Niagara Falls, Ontario. Be sure to bring proof of citizenship and a photo I.D. if planning to cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

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