Routinely assumed to be a single waterfall, Niagara Falls is actually three separate waterfalls. consisting of Bridal Falls, American Falls, and the biggest and most famous, Horseshoe Falls. The last waterfall is what people typically picture when thinking of Niagara Falls. I, embarrassingly, was one of these people, until I got to visit this iconic, shared American/Canadian natural wonder, and see it for myself.
Niagara Falls was one of our first stops on our 2018 East Coast Road Trip. I was more than ready to visit this famous location, as Americans hear and learn about it basically our entire lives. I am grateful I got to see it, however; as I will detail in this blog, the experience could’ve been better.
We originally planned on staying at the Rodeway Inn in Amhurst, N.Y.. however, upon arrival, we knew we’d be leaving. If you’ve read my SeeWorldNotSeaWorld’s 5 Rules for Road Trips., you’re aware of my road trip rules. For those unaware, Rule #1 is “don’t be cheap on the hotel” and Rule #5 is “don’t prebook your hotel” (Rule #5 is, and always will be, situational). Both rules were birthed from this very hotel experience. This was a motel marketed as a hotel – with stolen Target shopping carts being used as motel carts, ginormous grey fairground-type trashcans right outside every room door, windows in the room made of chipped plastic, and a smoke detector ripped out of the ceiling, leaving dangling exposed wires. It was very deceiving on Hotels.com (yes, I read the reviews). We didn’t bother asking for our money back, simply calling it a wash, and leaving.
We ended up in Lewiston, New York, a small town about 10 minutes north of Niagara Falls. This town was lovely! It’s a beautiful, old, smaller town, and claims to be one of the most northern stops on the Underground Railroad. It’s also supposedly haunted. We stayed at the Niagara Crossing Hotel & Spa, located at 100 Center St, Lewiston, NY, right on the Niagara River (recommed).
Officially the oldest state park in America, Niagara Falls State Park was established in 1885 as the “Niagara Reservation”. Beginning in the 1870’s, plans for the state park were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who also designed Central Park in New York City. It routinely boasts around 8 million visitors per year, and approximately 3,100 tons of water flows over Niagara Falls every single second. For some perspective, the average household swimming pool holds around 18 tons of water. The Falls were created by the Wisconsin glaciation about 10,000 years ago, which also created the five Great Lakes.
Going over the Falls has long been a favorite for daredevils. Allegedly, since 500 A.D., more than 5,000 people have gone over Niagara Falls (usually Horseshoe Falls), either on purpose, as a stunt or suicide attempt, or by accident. The first recorded person to intentionally go over the Falls was a schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor. She accomplished this amazing feat in 1901 inside an oak barrel. She (probably completely inadvertently) kicked off a craze that has lasted for 120 years. All survivors have gone over the Canadian side of Horseshoe Falls. However, following the death of a daredevil in 1951, this activity was outlawed and those who attempt it are subject to fines of up to $25,000 USD.
Truthfully, if/when I revisit the Falls, I will do things much differently. First, I will bring my passport so I could drive to the Canadian side, which offers an extraordinarily better and less crowded view. Second, I won’t go in the middle of summer. This is obviously the peak travel time for domestic and international visitors, making it incredibly packed. Third, if I can’t go to the Canadian side, I’ll take the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which is the only way to really see the Falls full-on if you’re on the American side. Fourth, I will do Cave of the Winds. It’s touristy, pricey, and you have to wait a long time, but it’s a unique experience, nonetheless. I regret not doing it.
While it was ridiculously pack, we honestly should’ve expected it in mid-July (so, our mistake). Be forewarned, it was very deceiving, because driving into the park and finding a parking spot was a breeze! Turns out, there were a bazillion people – whether it was in the gift shop, bathrooms, waiting in line for the boat or tram, lining the rails to catch a glimpse of the Falls, waiting in line for the Cave of the Winds, or just walking around. We had to wait and fight for our opportunity to see things or just to take an unencumbered picture. It was easier getting a picture alone with the Lincoln Memorial than one with any of the 3 Falls.
Everything was well over an hour+ wait, and it was incredibly hot and humid. Regardless of whether it’s the Maid of the Mist or Cave of the Winds, you must stand in a long line, completely uncovered from the sun glaring down on you. Also, people were packed like Sardines into the Maid of the Mist. Seeing the wall of bodies on the boat was super discouraging from above. Again, this is why I deeply wish I had brought my passport (bring your passport!). The Canadian side had noticeably less people than the U.S. side.
On the American side, there is the Niagara Scenic Trolley, which offers guided tours along American Falls and around Goat Island (the island that Niagara State Park is on). You can also take a helicopter ride. There is a casino and luxury hotel called the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, opened by the Seneca Native American Tribe.
On the Canadian side, there’s an observation deck on nearby Skylon Tower, which offers not only a different view of the Falls but also neighboring Toronto. Queen Victoria Park offers platforms of all three Falls. The Canadian side also hosts the Niagara River Recreational Trail, which runs 35 miles (56km) from Fort Erie to Fort George, including many historical sites from the War of 1812.
Around 10pm is when the Fireworks Over Niagara Falls begins. It comes from the Canadian side and runs nightly from June 18th – September 3rd (weather permitting). The fireworks were average to me, however, my friends loved them, so it’s a matter of preference! I’m sure it would have been more mesmerizing and beautiful from the Canadian side, since you’d be able to see them going off with Horseshoe Falls as your backdrop. We got the Toronto skyline.
Overall, I strongly believe that Niagara Falls is a place I will revisit in my lifetime. I’ve wanted to visit Canada for years, so I can easily see myself heading to Toronto one day. Regardless which country I’m in, I will come much earlier in the day, later (or earlier) in the year, and will bring my passport. I hope this blog doesn’t discourage anyone from visiting this natural wonder, as it really was a sight to behold. I just want you to be prepared and not make the same mistakes we did. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls, take it!
One more time for good measure… BRING YOUR PASSPORT!!! ☺️