I have seen images of Niagara Falls since I was very young and always wanted to visit those amazing waterfalls. I finally got my wish in August of 2018 and was not disappointed with this natural wonder. The photos and video clips were amazing, but being there in person is a totally different experience.
Approaching the falls from a distance I started to hear the thunderous roar of millions of cubic feet of water (per minute), dropping from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Getting closer, I was stunned by the amazing view in front of me.
Three powerful walls of cascading water crashing into the rocks and river way below, the water rushing through the Niagara Gorge and throngs of people mesmerized by the force of nature.
Interesting fact: Although I would count Niagara Falls as one of the Natural Wonders of the World, the fact is, it didn’t make it in any official list. Niagara Falls did make it to the USA 7 natural wonders list.
As I stood admiring the view, the wind brought a much welcome spray of water to cool me down on this hot summer day.
Just watching from a distance is not enough for me. I wanted to be close to the action so I planned for some adventures around the Niagara area. Continue reading about a 2-day fun and wonder-filled trip to the falls.
Canada or USA?
After some research online, I decided to visit the falls on the Canadian side. Many visitors claimed that the Canadian side offers better views and attractions. I plan to go back to the US side and compare.
Why is the Canadian side better? The majority of travelers say it is safer and cleaner to stay on the Canadian side, but you still can have a great experience visiting the US State Park too.
If you do stay on the Canadian side, you can still enjoy the attractions on the American side like Goat Island and Cave of the Winds by crossing the border.
On the other hand, the Canadian side can be considered more touristy and commercialized. So you decide which you prefer.
Where to Stay
I stayed in Toronto then drove to the city of Niagara Falls. The drive to Niagara was interesting with great scenery of forests, farms and Lake Ontario, but traffic was bad. In hindsight, I should have booked a hotel in the city of Niagara Falls to avoid this drive and be closer to the action.
There are plenty of choices for accommodation. You can stay at a major Hotel chain like Embassy Suites by Hilton or Radisson Hotel & Suites with rooms overlooking the falls.
You can also find cheaper hotels and motels a little further away from the view. A good choice for families with kids is Skyline Hotel & Waterpark with an indoor water fun for the whole family.
Once you are in the city of Niagara Falls, getting around is easy. There is a bus system that goes around all the major attractions in the area (WEGO). If you buy a Niagara Parks adventure pass, then the bus rides are free.
If you decide to use your car to get around, you need to consider parking places. There are a few city parking lots along the main road, but on busy days they get filled fast. The lots further away from the falls always have spaces available, but you have to take a long walk or bus ride to get to the action.
One option, it to park inland, away from the falls and walk down to the main trail. During my visit, I parked at the Skylon Tower because we had dinner reservation later in the evening. It was a pleasant walk down some steps through a wooded area and a park.
Obviously, the main reason to visit Niagara is to see the falls, but there is more than one fun way to experience this wonderful force of nature. Here are a few suggestions.
Take a hike
Niagara Parkway is the main road running along the Niagara River and overlooking the waterfalls. A pedestrian trail paralleling the road gets you very close to where you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the falls. In between the trail and the road, you can walk through a very well-maintained park.
You can start your walk from any point along this trail, but for a better experience, start from the Hornblower Niagara cruise pavilion and head south. Across the river, from this point, you can admire the American Falls and maybe get a glimpse of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. You can also see cruise ships navigating in between the falls. Come back later to get on one of those cruises (or start with the cruise then take a hike).
As you walk south, you will start getting glimpses of the much larger Horseshoe waterfall. Parts of the fall are always shrouded in mist with a rainbow popping in and out of view.
Close to the Journey Behind the Falls welcome Pavilion, you can admire the top of the Horseshoe Fall and watch the water cascading down to the river.
If you feel up to it, you can start your walk further to the north and enjoy a hike close to the Whitewater of the Niagara Gorge.
Niagara Parks Adventure Pass
You can visit any of the attractions mentioned below and pay as you go, but for the best value, you can buy an adventure pass ahead of time. The pass includes free use of the shuttle system (WEGO) and several attractions. Once you arrive at any attractions, the ticket booth attendant can set up a schedule for your visits.
Hornblower Niagara Cruise
The fury of the waterfall creates strong winds and a mist that drenches everyone on board, so it is highly recommended that you wear the complementary smocks, unless you really want to get very wet.
The views from the boat are awesome. Looking back, you can see the Rainbow International Bridge high above connecting the Canadian and US sides. To one side, you can enjoy the American Falls.
Up ahead, you will glimpse the Horseshoe fall, which will soon surround you from three sides. The boat will then turn back and you can enjoy the whole adventure in reverse.
Whirlpool Aero Car
You can just walk along the trail and watch the rapids and whirlpool, but for a better view, take the Aero Car across the river and above the action.
The ride is basically a cable car that travels slowly above the whirlpool and crosses the border into the US. But you can’t disembark at the other end. It just turns around and allows passengers to view the scene from a different angle.
Most of the riverbanks in the city are blocked off to protect people and nature. So to experience the whitewater you must go through this official entrance and down to a boardwalk along the river.
Along the way, you can stop at several platforms to admire the rushing water and take photos.
Journey Behind the Falls
After long lines in stuffy and warm hallways, we took the elevator down to tunnels dug behind the falls. At 2 points throughout the tunnels, you get to glimpse the back of the fall through a small window.
The only good part about this tour is an observation platform at the beginning of the tunnels that affords a good view of the fall side and a glimpse behind it.
I would only recommend it if you have some time to kill and if it wasn’t too crowded.
Niagara Parks area offers many other attractions that I did not have time to experience during this trip. Some are worth mentioning:
Butterfly Conservatory: Walk through the gates and into a lush tropical paradise full of fluttering butterflies.
Niagara’s Fury: Learn about the history of Niagara Falls through a 4D 360-degree theater with a moving platform and multi-sensory experience.
Things to do away from the falls
Everywhere you go in the City of Niagara Falls you will probably still hear the thunder of the waterfalls and you may get a few glimpses of the falls from afar, but once you had your fill of nature, you can find lots of other fun attractions.
For an amazing view of the falls, go up to the observation deck at Skylon Tower. From the top you can get a 360-degree view of the whole area. From one side you can enjoy a great view of the 3 waterfalls and the US towns across the river. On the other side, you can see farms, lakes and the city of Toronto on a clear day.
The elevator ride to the top is an experience by itself, as it climbs on the outside of the tower offering another great view of the falls.
Another way to enjoy the view is to dine at the rotating restaurant or the Buffett level. Any dining reservation includes observation tower access. We tried the buffet during this visit and we were lucky to have a seat with a view. The food and service were very good but pricey.
Tip: There are 2 dining restaurants at the top of the tower. The buffet area does not rotate, so you may end up with a seat away from the view. The lower dining area does rotate providing a chance for all diners to enjoy the falls.
The basement of the tower also hosts a fun arcade for all ages.
The parking lot at Skylon is very convenient and always has some space available. It is a good place to park and walk down to the river trail closer to the waterfalls.
Fallsview Casino Resort
We really didn’t go to Niagara to gamble, but we paid this high-rise casino and resort a visit anyway.
The gardens and fountains outdoors are beautiful and indoors the decor is grand.
The best feature is the R5 Patio & Bar at the top, which overlooks the waterfalls and is the best place to watch the summer fireworks.
The Grand Buffett is a good place to have dinner and sample a variety of international cuisines.
Fallsview Indoor Waterpark
This waterpark in the middle of town is the perfect place to let the kids release their energy and be ready for bed later.
It is billed as the largest indoor waterpark in North America and covers 3 acres with 16 rides.
It is connected to the Fallsview Resort, so you can book a room right next to the fun.
During the summer months, a spectacular fireworks show is performed above the waterfalls. The show usually starts at 10 PM. You can see a schedule here.
The fireworks are visible from many spots along the main trail and Queen Victoria Park. Also, if you time your dinner reservations right, you can view the show from many restaurants.
Other attractions worth mentioning
SkyWheel: Another great way to enjoy Niagara Falls while Sitting in an air-conditioned cabin.
Wild West Coaster: A thrill ride with motion and special effects. They call it 6D because, in addition to 3D and motion simulator, you get special FX, wind and acceleration simulation.
Queen Victoria Park: This park runs along the main road, Niagra Parkway, and provides a great place for a picnic while viewing the falls and the fireworks show.
During our visit, we grabbed a snack from the restaurant close by and sat on the grass waiting for the big event. We ended our visit to Niagara Falls with a bang.