Sometimes I forget about the nice stuff near home. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. I just don’t think about it because I’ve seen it enough times that my thoughts are on faraway places like the Tetons and the Grand Canyon. So in today’s post, I’d like to honor an international destination that I always visit as a daytrip: Niagara Falls. It really is a nice place, especially the Canadian side with its beautiful gardens and great views of the falls. So, I thought I’d give my idea of the 10 best things to do in Niagara Falls.
- See the lights on the falls. If you don’t do anything else, this is an amazing experience that shouldn’t be missed. It doesn’t sound exciting: just lights shining on the falls. But believe me, it’s awe-inspiring, and well worth staying up ‘til 10pm to see (and then driving home, which gets you to bed in the wee hours of the morning). The cost is free, too, which makes it doubly a must-do! The lights are best seen from Canada, but the bridge and the American side both have nice views, as well.
- Cave of the Winds. If you’re going to pay for one attraction, this is the one worth doing. And the payment is pricy ($14 for adults and $11 for children ages 6-12 (free for children 5 and under)). But you get to go down to the base of the American Falls and stand for as long as you want under the falls…getting soaked to the skin, pounded by water, and generally having a thrill you won’t get in most other places.
- Walk the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. For Americans and Canadians, it’s a fairly simple procedure to walk across the bridge between the two countries. A dedicated pedestrian walkway gives awesome views of both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls, and border crossings usually aren’t too stressful (be prepared to say where you’re going, though, including specifics such as the name of the restaurant you’re going to if that’s why you’re there – we were just going to see the falls, so that’s what we said we were doing). It’s $0.50 to cross from Canada to the US, free in the other direction.
- The Observation Tower. If you have to stay in the US, at least go out on the Observation Tower to see the American Falls. There is a fee ($1/person), but you can also ride the elevator to the bottom of the gorge and take a short trail part way up the side of the American Falls…even if the viewpoints are quite a ways further from the falls than they were 20 years ago! The tower’s views are fairly similar to the views from Rainbow Bridge, however, so if you are in the US and can cross into Canada, that is the better way to do it (and if you’re into this whole free business, if you walk from the US across the bridge, turn around, and come back, you won’t have to pay the $0.50 fee!)
- See Fireworks over the gorge. There is a summer schedule for fireworks, and it’s just so worth it to stay up late and enjoy the show! Fireworks displays by non-Americans tend to be great, and this is no exception.
- Walk the Canadian Side of the gorge. This is a fairly long trek (maybe 1.5 miles each way), but it’s a nice one. The sidewalk goes right along the edge of the Niagara River Gorge, with the American Falls across the way and Horseshoe Falls at the head. The street is far enough away to make you feel pretty safe, and the gardens and the flowers in the summer are gorgeous. It’s interesting to compare the flowers in Canada to those in the US: American flower beds are a mishmash of this and that tastefully tossed together, while the Canadian beds are much more minimal and single-focused, yet are the nicer for it. It’s worth walking all the way up to the brink of Horseshoe Falls (which brings us to…)
- See the Brink of the Falls on the Canadian Side. Standing at the very brink of Horseshoe Falls is an incredible experience. And I really mean Incredible. It’s the kind of view that makes me want to hold on to my glasses even though I’m safely standing on a concrete sidewalk behind a none-too-shabby railing. It’s almost like you’re going over the falls yourself!
- Take the Maid of the Mist Boat. Because of the expense ($17 for adults and $9.90 for children 6-12; free for children 5 and under), this isn’t as worthwhile as it might be, although it’s still pretty cool to take one of the boats up the river gorge into the mist of Horseshoe Falls. If you decide to do it, here’s an insider tip for you: take the boat from the Canadian side. The Canadian Boats (which apparently are now referred to as Hornblower Boats) get closer to the falls and stay longer in front of the falls. That said, on a busy day, the wait for the Hornblower Boats is also longer, so it may be worth the time to do the American Maid of the Mist if the line is significantly shorter.
- A visit to the American side of Niagara Falls wouldn’t be complete without walking across the rim of Bridal Veil Falls to have a look at the American Falls. It’s more impressive from the Canadian Side, but this is nice too…and you can look down on the brave souls on the Cave of the Winds boardwalks below!
- And last, and perhaps least, although still impressive: Walk on the American side down to the rim of Horseshoe Falls. The view here really isn’t that good, compared with Canada, but it’s impressive enough to be worth walking to. In the mid- to late summer the flowers here are often quite nice (if very American; see above).
So there you have it…the 10 best things to do in Niagara Falls!
Fees: Technically none, except for specific attractions and parking. There is free parking available, but it’s difficult to find and usually there’s quite a bit of walking from there to the Falls. So, suit yourself trying to find free parking (like we do!) or pay for parking on Goat Island or in Canada.
Facilities: Restrooms and snack shops occasionally on the American side; almost nothing on the Canadian side until you get to the brink of the falls (it’s a big joke in our house about how Canada has a dearth of public restrooms!)
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Full of insider tips and local knowledge, this book will take you to and through some of the Niagara Region’s best attractions.
Mon Dec 11
Snow likely. Lows overnight in the upper 20s.
Tue Dec 12
Snow during the morning will give way to lingering snow showers during the afternoon. Morning high of 31F with temps falling to near 20. Winds WNW at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of snow 80%. Snow accumulating 1 to 3 inches.
Wed Dec 13
Cloudy skies early will become partly cloudy later in the day. A few flurries or snow showers possible. High 22F. Winds WNW at 15 to 25 mph.
Thu Dec 14
Partly to mostly cloudy. A few flurries or snow showers possible. High 23F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph.
Fri Dec 15
Cloudy. Snow showers developing in the afternoon. High 28F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 40%.