The Niagara Falls, located on the Niagara River draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, is the collective name for the Horseshoe Falls and the adjacent American Falls along with the comparatively small Bridal Veil Falls, which combined form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world and has a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m). Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall (vertical height along with flow rate) in North America. Niagara Falls forms the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York, also forming the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. The falls are located 17 miles (27 km) north-northwest of Buffalo, New York and 75 miles (121 km) south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.
Niagara Falls are composed of two major sections, separated by Goat Island: the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and the American Falls on the American side. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls are also located on the American side, separated from the main falls by Luna Island. The international boundary line was originally drawn through Horseshoe Falls in 1819, but the boundary has long been in dispute due to natural erosion and construction.
Niagara Falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation (the last ice age), and water from the newly formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment en route to the Atlantic Ocean. While not exceptionally high, the Niagara Falls are very wide. More than 6 million cubic feet (168,000 m3) of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow and almost 4 million cubic feet (110,000 m3) on average.
The Niagara Falls are renowned both for their beauty and as a valuable source of hydroelectric power. Managing the balance between recreational, commercial, and industrial uses has been a challenge for the stewards of the falls since the 19th century
The Horseshoe Falls drop about 173 feet (53 m), while the height of the American Falls varies between 70–100 feet (21–30 m) because of the presence of giant boulders at its base. The larger Horseshoe Falls are about 2,600 feet (790 m) wide, while the American Falls are 1,060 feet (320 m) wide. The distance between the American extremity of the Niagara Falls and the Canadian extremity is 3,409 feet (1,039 m).
The volume of water approaching the falls during peak flow season may sometimes be as much as 202,000 cubic feet (5,700 m3, 5.7 million liters) per second. Since the flow is a direct function of the Lake Erie water elevation, it typically peaks in late spring or early summer. During the summer months, 100,000 cubic feet (2,800 m3) per second of water actually traverses the falls, some 90% of which goes over the Horseshoe Falls, while the balance is diverted to hydroelectric facilities. This is accomplished by employing a weir with movable gates upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. The falls flow is further halved at night, and during the low tourist season in the winter, remains a flat 50,000 cubic feet (1,400 m3) per second. Water diversion is regulated by the 1950 Niagara Treaty and is administered by the International Niagara Board of Control (IJC).