Kirk Jones, 40, of Canton, Mich., is charged with illegally performing a stunt. He is the first person known to have plunged over the falls without safety devices and lived.
In a phone interview with ABC News, Jones said he had been depressed, but surviving the plunge made him want to live again.
"I honestly thought that it wasn't worth going on. But I can tell you now, after hitting the falls, I feel that life is worth living," he said.
Jones recently lost his job when his parents shut down the family business, which made tools for auto parts manufacturers. His father, Raymond Jones, told The Detroit News he had to lay off his son because of the economy.
Family and friends have said Jones had been considering the jump for years. One friend said Jones hoped to make a lot of money from the notoriety.
"He did tell me that he believed a man could go over that Falls and survive, going to a certain area of the falls," his father said Wednesday on CBS News' The Early Show, but he didn't take his son's comment seriously.
Eric Fronek, 21, also of Canton, told ABC that his friend had discussed going over the falls in the past, but was driven to act by depression.
"I think he just reached the point where whatever happened was the best plan for him ... If he made it, he might benefit with money. If he died, so be it," Fronek said. "That's what depression will do to you."
Jones said he made the jump on impulse, and immediately wished he hadn't.
Going over the falls was like "being in a giant tunnel, going straight down, surrounded by water," Jones told ABC. He said he "hit hard," was turned upside down in the water below, then pushed out far enough by the current to climb onto a rock.
Jones was not seriously injured and remained hospitalized in stable condition. He could be fined the U.S. equivalent of about $7,600.
Jones' parents said he had been suffering from depression, but his mother said surviving a leap from Niagara Falls had intrigued him for years.
"I said to him how foolish he was to do such a thing and he's lucky to be alive," Raymond Jones told Early Show co-anchor René Syler. "I have some admiration for him, although I was quite shocked."
"He said he always thought there was a spot you could jump and survive," Doris Jones, 77, told The Associated Press from her sister's home in Keizer, Ore. "We never agreed to it. We thought it was risky."
Suicides are not uncommon at Niagara Falls, although police are reluctant to give numbers. Since 1901, 15 daredevils have taken the plunge in barrels or other devices, including a kayak and a personal watercraft. Ten survived, said Niagara Falls historian Paul Gromosiak.
The only other person known to survive the trip with no protection was 7-year-old Roger Woodward in 1960, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod. The boy was wearing an inflatable ring when he was thrown into the water in a boating accident.
No one has ever survived a trip — with or without safety devices over the narrower and rockier American falls.
Niagara Parks Police Inspector Paul Fortier said police believe they have a videotape of the jump made by someone who accompanied Jones. That person has not been charged. Fortier said Jones was undergoing psychological tests.
Brian Merrett, chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission, called the stunt "stupid."
"Our people went down in the gorge and got him," Merrett said. "That's why we don't condone this. It puts all of our people — the fire department, the paramedics, everyone — at risk to do the rescues."
Water rushes over the falls at a rate of 150,000 gallons a second.
Lynda Satelmajer, of Brampton, Ontario, said she and her family watched the man as he entered the river and then went over the falls.
"He seemed a bit edgy, kind of jumping around," she said. "He walked over to where we were standing and he jumped and slid down on his backside and went over the brink.
"It was really freaky, actually. He was smiling."