I have seen images of Niagara Falls since a very young age 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 was a totally unique experience.
Approaching the falls from a distance, I heard 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 crashed 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 admired the view, the wind brought a much-welcome spray of water to cool me down on this sweltering 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 Side?
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? Most travelers say staying on the Canadian side is safer and cleaner, but you can still have a wonderful 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 and 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. An excellent 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. Parking lots further away from the falls always have spaces available, but you must take a long walk or bus ride to get to the action.
One option is 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 reservations 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 close to where you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the falls. You can walk through a well-maintained park between the trail and the road.
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 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).
Walking south, you will get 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 Falls 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 schedule your visits.
Hornblower Niagara Cruise
If you have time for only one activity while in Niagara Falls, then you must do the Hornblower cruise. This boat ride takes you remarkably close to the base of the larger Horseshoe Fall on the Canadian side.
The fury of the waterfall creates fierce winds and a mist that drenches everyone on board, so it is highly recommended that you wear complementary smocks unless you really want to get drenched.
The views from the boat are awesome. Looking back, you can see the Rainbow International Bridge high above, connecting the Canadian and US sides. On 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 take the Aero Car across the river and above the action for a better view.
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.
You can stop at several platforms to admire the rushing water and take photos along the way.
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 pleasant view of the fall side and a glimpse behind it.
I would only recommend it if you had some time to kill and if it weren’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 still hear the thunder of the waterfalls, and you may get a few glimpses of the falls from afar, but once you have had your fill of nature, you can find lots of other fun attractions.
For an amazing view of the falls, visit the observation deck at Skylon Tower. You can get a 360-degree view of the whole area from the top. You can enjoy a magnificent view of the three waterfalls and the US towns across the river from one side. 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 as it climbs outside the tower, offering another splendid view of the falls.
Another way to enjoy the view is to dine at the rotating restaurant or the buffet level. Any dining reservation includes observation tower access. We tried the buffet during this visit and 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 the decor is grand indoors.
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 water park 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 three acres with sixteen rides.
It is connected to the Fallsview Resort, so you can book a room 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 wonderful 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 simulators, you get special FX, wind, and acceleration simulations.
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 fireworks.
During our visit, we grabbed a snack from the restaurant nearby and sat on the grass, waiting for the big event. We ended our visit to Niagara Falls with a bang.