A Short Hiking Trail into the Scenic Niagara Falls Gorge: Devil's Hole

The Niagara Gorge in summer time.
The Niagara Gorge in summer time. | Source
Looking south on the Niagara River Gorge from the Rim Trail near Devil's Hole State Park on a snowless December day.
Looking south on the Niagara River Gorge from the Rim Trail near Devil's Hole State Park on a snowless December day. | Source

Hike Overview

This short loop hike into the Niagara Falls Gorge is one of my favorite trails in Western New York. The scenery is spectacular and the climb gets your blood pumping. Venture down this trail midweek and you'll escape the crowds of Niagara Falls and even find some solitude.

  • Trailhead: Devil's Hole State Park
  • Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Intermediate - beware of steep uneven stairs and loose rock

A markerdevil's hole state park -
Devil's Hole State Park, Niagara Falls, NY 14305, USA
[get directions]

Along the Rim Trail in Devil's Hole State Park.
Along the Rim Trail in Devil's Hole State Park. | Source

The Rim Trail

Though this loop can be hiked either from Whirlpool or Devil's Hole State Park, I generally like hiking this trail from Devil's Hole. Start by parking in Devil's Hole then walk to the Rim Trail and walk South (head left - with the river to your right).

The Rim Trail runs along the top of the gorge from Devil's Hole right to the top of Niagara Falls. Along the way, there are some spectacular vistas of the Niagara Gorge and the river below. In itself, the Rim Trail is a fantastic hike with great views. However, on this hike you will only take the Rim Trail .78 miles to the Whirlpool stairs.

Top of the Whirlpool stairs
Top of the Whirlpool stairs | Source
Part of the Whirlpool stairs.
Part of the Whirlpool stairs. | Source

Whirlpool Stairs

There are many ways into the gorge, but the Whirlpool stairs is amongst the most popular. It is about 300 steps to the bottom of the gorge or about .2 miles.

Be careful walking on these steps as over the long years of use many have crumbled under the pressure of tourism. Just take it slow, watch your step, and take a break if you need one. If you do take a break please do so in one of the flat wide areas (aka switchbacks) so other people can pass.

As you near the bottom, you will pass several picnic areas with stone tables and benches. If you plan on having lunch down here bring a pad to sit on and remember to take all of your trash with you.

At the bottom of the stairs, there are two more tables, a clear view of the water and an intersection with the Devil's Hole and Whirlpool Rapids Trails. Be sure to take the trail to Devil's Hole to the Right to continue on with the short loop.

My shadow, my companion, along the trail in the bottom of the gorge.
My shadow, my companion, along the trail in the bottom of the gorge. | Source

The Great Gorge Railroad

Many of the trails in the gorge follow the route of the former Niagara Gorge Railroad. A trolley ran along the bottom of the gorge from Lewiston to Niagara Falls. Though occasionally the remnants of the old route are visible, it's hard to believe that a train ran down here from 1895 to 1935. After a few tragedies on the rail line and a steady decline of business, the railroad finally closed in 1935 after a rockslide near the Whirlpool Rapids bridge decimated much of the route.

Source

Even Calm Water is Dangerous

There are many spots along the trail where it is fairly easy to access the water. This is a popular area along the river for dedicated fishermen to practice their art. However, please pay attention to the signs and do not enter the water.

It seems like every year an unsuspecting person gets pulled in to the powerful Niagara River. Even if the the water looks calm, beware of strong undercurrents which will pull you into the rapids. So remember, when it comes to water you can look but don't touch!

At nearly two stories high, "Giant Rock" is a major landmark along this trail.
At nearly two stories high, "Giant Rock" is a major landmark along this trail. | Source

Giant Rock

After hiking on the level and easy to follow trail for about .3 miles since the stairs, you come to a gigantic stone jutting out of the ground.

This aptly named landmark is "Giant Rock" and is actually sticking into the earth and not popping out. During the eons of geological strife of the gorge this two story chunk of dolomite fell from the Lockport rock formation and buried itself in the earth. There is an interpretive sign nearby (one of the few) that tells about this interesting sight.

Icicles forming along the gorge walls.
Icicles forming along the gorge walls. | Source

Weather and Preparedness

As with anytime you go hiking, you should be prepared for all eventualities - including severe weather - before leaving your car. Niagara Falls creates its own microclimate so the weather changes rapidly and often.

Make sure you have the following:

  • Sturdy hiking shoes - sorry, no flip flops
  • Comfortable hiking clothing (preferably synthetic)
  • Additional layers for warmth
  • Rain gear
  • A cell phone for emergencies - yes they do work in the gorge
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight / Headlamp
  • Emergency whistle
  • Sun protection

Read about the 10 Outdoor Essentials you should carry on every hiking trip Here.

One of the many caves along the gorge route.
One of the many caves along the gorge route. | Source
The interior of the cave drainage
The interior of the cave drainage | Source

The Cave

After walking a total of 1.7 miles on this loop, you will come to a large opening in the bare rock cliffs to your right. This large cave and drainage is amongst the easiest of the gorge caves to access and walk into. Be careful though, as in all caves, for loose rock and slippery conditions abound. Also, you shouldn't venture away from the entrance unless you are confident and prepared for a spelunking adventure.

The bottom of the Devil's Hole stairs
The bottom of the Devil's Hole stairs | Source
The Devil's Hole Stairs.
The Devil's Hole Stairs. | Source

The Devil's Hole Stairs

After walking about 2.2 miles on this loop you will come to the Devil's Hole stairs that take you to the top of the gorge. In case you miss the stairs somebody spray painted "STOP" on a tree signaling the end of the official trail. Sure Niagara Parks could have erected a nice sign but orange spray paint is so much classier (sorry - one of my pet peeves).

It is .24 miles to the top of the stairs, which you'll notice are in better repair than the Whirlpool stairs. There are also several spots on this trail that are perfect for exploration and meditation. Walking up through Devil's Hole is a great experience, haunting even, especially when you ponder the history of the 1763 massacre and the legend of LaSalle. For me it is like walking through Tolkien's Rivendell with an intertwining of stonework and nature in perfect harmony.

After reaching the top of the stairs, turn right on the Rim Trail and walk toward the Devil's Hole State Park parking area. Be sure to walk to the side of the cliffs and overlook the journey you just completed.

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Comments 5 comments

cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

This is a great hub! If I ever make it to New York, I am going to hike this place! Voted up and several other things. :)


Outbound Dan profile image

Outbound Dan 4 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY Author

Thanks for the vote up! Yeah, everyone has to go to Niagara Falls at least once in their life. Of course I go about once a week. Most people spend their time at the Falls proper taking in the touristy type of sites, but there is a lot to explore off the beaten path.


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

I'm all for the road less traveled. I actually try to stay away from tourist traps when I go places - how are you really going to get a feel for the place when there are zillions of people indulging in consumerist market practices? :)


Wesley Meacham profile image

Wesley Meacham 4 years ago from Wuhan, China

Beautiful pictures here. I just Pinned the first one. I've never been to Niagra but would love to go. I'll have to make the trip one day once I'm back in the US. Voting up and sharing.


Outbound Dan profile image

Outbound Dan 4 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY Author

Niagara Falls is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime, of course I am a big fan of the hiking trails in the Gorge. I'll have a few more Hubs coming out on the area pretty soon.

Thanks for the compliments and for sharing Wesley!

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