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Dufferin Islands Have You Been?

Within earshot and a short walk from the roar of the Horseshoe Falls, and practically a stone’s throw from the gates of Marineland lies one of the nicest places in Niagara Falls you didn’t know existed.

At about 10 acres in size, Dufferin Islands is a quiet, lightly forested series of walking paths marked by creeks that gently snake through the property. There are walking bridges and the area is nestled at the foot of the heavily treed Niagara Escarpment.

With plenty of parking and its location right along the Niagara Parkway about a half-mile south of the falls, this is definitely a family-friendly place. And it won’t cost you anything to visit.

In the winter, Dufferin Islands is home to many of the displays in the world-famous Festival of Lights, a driving tour of spectacular Christmas-themed lighting displays. It’s so pretty, in fact, it’s hard to imagine that the Duff, as locals sometimes call it, is man-made.

A wide range of birds and insects live at Dufferin Islands, and the ducks and Canadian geese that stop on the waters there have been an attraction for photographers over the decades.

In the late 1700s, this site contained a grist mill and incredibly was also used as an iron ore mill. But the mills were burned by American forces during the War of 1812. 

At one point it was also known as the Burning Spring, a 19th-century tourist attraction. Niagara Falls historian Sherman Zavitz wrote that a natural gas well was uncovered during mill construction. Sniffing money in the air, the owner at the time capped the spring with a barrel, added a pipe to vent the gas, and lit it.

Voila – the Burning Spring was born!  Tourism wasn’t what it is now, and people flocked to see the man-made wonder which, alas, eventually ended in 1884 when all the gas was used up. That was before the Niagara Parks Commission took over what was then called the Cynthia Islands in 1887.

The water flow through the Islands was heavier than before some of it was diverted for hydro production at the nearby Toronto Power Station, and a series of islands and cascades were created to give it a more natural look.

The website AllTrails.com lists Dufferin Islands as a 2.3-kilometer loop trail that is wheelchair and kid-friendly, and a good place for hiking, walking, and trail running.

There is no charge for families to stop and enjoy time at the Dufferin Islands, and parking is free. It’s a nice rest stop or place for a family picnic amid the hustle and bustle of Clifton Hill, the falls, and the many other busy tourist destinations. It’s open year-round and is a popular spot for wedding photographs and family gatherings.

Dufferin Islands is also a great viewing area during the Winter Festival of Lights season that typically spans from mid-November to the end of January.