Routinely (and wrongly) assumed to be a single waterfall, Niagara Falls is actually three separate waterfalls. It consists 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 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 (Epic East Coast Road Trip. – you will find a section about the Falls in that blog, but I thought it deserved its own, far-more-detailed post). 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 a lot better.
But first, the hotel situation. We originally planned on staying in Amhurst, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. However, upon arriving to our “hotel”, we immediately knew we’d be leaving. If you’ve read 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” (this rule is, and always has been, situational), and both rules were birthed from this very hotel experience. This was a motel marketed as a hotel, with – and none of this is a lie or exaggeration – stolen Target shopping carts being used as motel carts, gianormous grey fairground-type trashcans right outside every room door, windows in the room made of plastic and not glass, and a smoke detector ripped out of the ceiling, leaving dangling exposed wires. We didn’t bother asking for our money back, simply calling it a wash, and leaving. (It was a Rodeway Inn, in case anyone was wondering…)
We ended up in Lewiston, New York, a small town about 10 minutes north of Niagara Falls. This town was lovely! I wish we had found this place first, saving us $90, because it really was wonderful. It’s a beautiful, old, little town, and claims to be one of the most northern stops on the Underground Railroad. It’s also supposedly haunted and I’m convinced our hotel was haunted, although I couldn’t find any historical information online about it. We stayed at the Niagara Crossing Hotel & Spa, located at 100 Center St, Lewiston, NY 14092, right on the Niagara River.
We couldn’t check in until 4pm, so it was off to the main attraction, Niagara Falls!!! 😄
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. This state park 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, men and women alike. Believe it or not, since 500 A.D., allegedly more than 5,000 people have gone over Niagara Falls (usually Horseshoe Falls), either on purpose (as a stunt or suicide attempt – last person to do this was in May 2021) or by accident. Super cool fact – 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.
I’ve dreamed about visiting the Falls for years, but if I could do it over, I would do things much differently. One, I would bring my passport so I could drive to the Canadian side, which offers an extraordinarily better view of all three falls. To this day, I kick myself for not doing so (Kristi didn’t have a passport, and I was trying to be a good friend/travel buddy). Two, I wouldn’t go in the middle of summer, no way, no how. This is when everyone and his parakeet is off from school or work and traveling, as well as international visitors pouring in. It was SOOO packed. Third, if I couldn’t go to the Canadian side, I would 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 would do Cave of the Winds. It’s touristy, pricey, and you have to wait a long time, but it’s a unique experience nonetheless.
However, like I said above, it was ridiculously packed, as should be expected in mid-July. It was very deceiving, because driving into the park and finding a parking spot was a breeze, so we wrongly assumed there weren’t that many people. Well, there were a bazillion people – whether it was in the gift shops, the 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 just to take an unencumbered picture, with tourists from all over the world and U.S. crowding our shot. It was easier getting a picture alone with the Lincoln Memorial than one with ANY of the 3 Falls. If you’ve ever been to the Lincoln Memorial in D.C., you will understand this!
Everything was well over an hour’s wait, and it was so hot and humid. Regardless of whether it’s the Maid of the Mist or Cave of the Winds, you must stand completely uncovered, with the sun glaring down on you, herded like cattle through the line. Also, as this was pre-Covid, they packed people like Sardines into the Maid of the Mist. It was super discouraging witnessing from above, as they give everyone a red raincoat thing, and it was just a wall of red on the boat. Again, this is why I soooo deeply wish I had brought my passport. This wouldn’t have even been an issue. 🤦🏻♀️
Speaking of the Canadian side, it was way, waaaay noticeably less packed than the U.S. side. This was wild to me since the view is so much better from their side. So, once again, go to the Canadian side, if you can!
The Niagara Scenic Trolley 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, Kristi 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. All we got was 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 more than a decade, so I can easily see myself one day heading to Toronto. Regardless if I stay in Canada or the U.S., I will come much earlier in the day, later (or earlier) in the year, and will bring my passport. In fact, I’d like to stay for a few days, either in Toronto or quaint, little Lewiston. I hope this blog doesn’t discourage anyone from visiting this natural wonder, as it really was a sight to behold, regardless of the reasons I stated above. I don’t regret our trip; I just wish we had done it a little differently. So, if you ever get the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls, take it!
One more time for good measure; BRING YOUR PASSPORT!!!