Nostalgic Niagara Falls

RR October 5, 2010 3 Comments


Niagara Falls- more than a tourist destination  

When you grow up outside of the US, there are certain images that come to represent the country….icons that you always associate with USA. I guess it was like that for us. Having watched the falls in a number of movies and seen countless pictures, calendars and posters of the Niagara Falls, they became for us, a symbol. One we could recognize instantly, that enthralled us and filled us with awe.  

Niagara Falls at Dusk

Niagara Falls at Dusk

Not many places can do that before you even visit. The beauty of Niagara Falls lies in the fact that no matter how much you read and learn about it beforehand, nothing prepares you for your actual first encounter. Thank goodness for that!

Niagara Falls –American Vs Canadian experience

The unique aspect of Niagara Falls as a tourist destination is the fact that it can be viewed, experienced and enjoyed from two countries. I have only been to the American side of the falls and people are constantly telling us that the view from the Canadian side is so much better. I wouldn’t know, but if for some reason you’re unable to travel to the other side, rest assured that the American experience is plenty mind-blowing and awe-inspiring in itself.

 Planning your day at Niagara Falls

The Niagara Falls State Park is one of the most tourist-friendly places I’ve visited in the US. You can set your pace and pick what you want to do, spend anywhere from half a day to two or three and get the most out of it in your own way. There’s no package or itinerary you have to adhere to and you’re under no pressure to ‘be somewhere at a certain time or else…’ That said, there are some Must-do’s and Must-see’s you shouldn’t miss. But the good thing is you can plan to do almost everything in under a day at a reasonably relaxed pace.

Niagara Falls – American side

Plan to arrive at the Niagara Falls State Park after a wholesome breakfast so you can pack in some activity during the first half of the day.  

Enjoy the refreshing walk from the park entrance to the first view point – Prospect Point- taking in the beauty of the sights and sounds. This is one of my favorite parts of visiting the Falls. The few minutes leading up to the grand opening are filled with anticipation and suspense – you probably know what to expect from the pictures and videos you’ve seen but until the moment you actually see the falls, you’re not quite sure of the scale or the grandeur. So the sounds of gushing water at a distance and the glimpses of white that peek from behind the tree branches set the stage for the grand opening experience. Relish this pre-experience!   

The Grand First Encounter  

Once you get to the deck on Prospect Point, just let go of everything on your mind and enjoy the moment – that first experience of seeing and hearing Niagara Falls at close quarters is something you’ll cherish forever – embrace that moment.  The thundering roar of millions of gallons of water falling over a ridge is a sound no stereo system in the world can replicate. Take it in.     

Must-do’s and Must-see’s   

After spending a few minutes on the lower deck, head upstairs through the Visitor’s Centre for an even grander view from the upper deck of the Observation Tower. It could get chilly here, even in summer, when the wind’s blowing, so bringing hats or scarves especially for kids is a good idea.  The upper deck offers plenty of spots for great pictures – you can see the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, the Maid of the Mist ride and the Rainbow Bridge from here.  Plan to spend at least 30 minutes here, enjoying the views and snapping pictures before heading back downstairs.  

Maid of the Mist Boat Niagara Falls

Maid of the Mist boat

 American and Bridal Veil Falls

The highlight of your Niagara Falls trip will probably be the up-close view of the Falls…from the base. And the way to experience this is to take the Maid of the Mist tour. This lasts about 30-40 minutes depending on the wait time. Try to do this when it’s sunny and warm. After you purchase the tickets, the tour begins with an elevator ride to the base of the falls. You’ll wear the famous blue raincoats you’ve probably seen people wearing in pictures and wait to board one of the Maid of the Mist boats. Waiting in line here isn’t bad at all as you can enjoy views of the falls and get plenty of great pictures.  Once you’re on the boat, head to the front for the best views –there’s plenty of room on the upper and lower levels. Even if you’re stuck on one of the sides, don’t fret – the views are still good and you’ll get a 360 degree glimpse anyway when the boat turns around to head back. Once the ride begins, brace yourself for some thrilling moments. You will actually head towards the Horseshoe falls, passing the American and Bridal veil falls on your left…plenty of photo ops, but just be sure your camera is water-proof! I enjoy every moment of this ride every time I take it…and I’ve done it several times! When you approach the Horseshoe, you will feel the force of the water and it’s something you can’t describe. If there’s only one thing you have time for in your itinerary, I would recommend the Maid of the Mist ride. The ride doesn’t end when you get off the boat. You get to climb the steps on the side up to the American Falls and experience the force of the water, first hand.  

Tip: Wear water-proof shoes. Carry a water-proof backpack where you can store your cell phone, cameras and other gadgets. Keep your eyes open for rainbows – you’re sure to spot at least one close to the falls, above the water.    

Cave of the Winds Niagara Falls

Cave of the Winds

 If there’s one tour that takes your breath away(literally) at Niagara Falls, it’s the Cave of the Winds.  In this tour, you get to walk up the steps on the other side of the American Falls. And that’s where the fun begins.  If you’re ready to experience the force of the falls pounding down your back, and to feel the gushing water in your face… leaving you almost breathless for a few moments…to feel the sheer power and beauty of water at its mightiest – you’re in for the time of your life. Don’t be surprised if you return from this tour with renewed appreciation for the force of nature and recognition of the meekness of humans in the face of nature.  

Tip: The food court is right next to the Cave of the Winds tour, so this might be a good time to enjoy a hearty lunch and catch up on each other’s experiences.  

Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley   

After completing the two major highlights of the State Park, you now have the rest of the day to enjoy the various viewing spots at leisure. And there’s a very convenient way to do it. Buy yourself trolley tickets which are good for the entire day with unlimited stops. Use the map to pick a few of the spots you want to see. Goat Island is where you’ll get off for Cave of the Winds.  The Luna Falls viewpoint gives you a good view of the American and Bridal Veil falls. The Terrapin Point which offers the best and closest view of the Canadian Horseshoe from the American side, is also the location of the Top of The Falls restaurant…. So if enjoying a meal or a cup of coffee while taking in the view of the Niagara falls sounds good to you,  this is your stop.    

Tip: Spend as much or as little time as you want in each spot before moving on to the next but be aware when the last shuttle will take you back to the visitor center.    

Niagara Falls at Night

Niagara Falls at Night

 Niagara Falls by night  

If you thought that a full day’s tour of the Niagara Falls State Park ended your visit, you are wrong! No trip to the Falls is complete without a glimpse at the colorful, night-time transformation the falls undergo. The Falls are lit from the Canadian side at nightfall, flooding the area in magnificent rainbow-hued lights. If the milky, white falls capture your heart by day, the colorful spectacle at night is equally enticing.  And during the summer months starting from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, you will be treated to a display of fireworks at the Falls every night at 9 pm. Don’t miss this for the world – you may have witnessed countless fireworks, but this five-minute display that lights up the silent sky above and the roaring water below is a whole other experience. It also marks a grand, symbolic end to your Niagara Falls tour, which is well worth the wait until dark.    

If you have the time  

Although this pretty much covers a tour of Niagara Falls State Park, if you have more than a day to spare, there’s plenty more you can do.  If you go in summer, you might catch some free concerts and special events – we once witnessed a chainsaw carving competition which was like nothing we had seen before. If a thrilling water ride is your cup of tea, take one of the jet rides further up the river that are sure to leave you gasping for air and thoroughly drenched. For those interested in power generation and engineering, a visit to the Power Plant nearby is sure to be well worth their time.  As for hotels with a Falls view, the truth is, no hotel on the American side can compete in this aspect with their Canadian counterparts – geography is just on their side. That said, the good news is many of them are just a few blocks away from the Park and you get to walk by restaurants, shops and even a green house on your way – all sure to enrich your stay at Niagara Falls.  

Niagara Falls RainbowThere you have it, Niagara Falls for the newbie in a nutshell.   

I know many east-coasters who haven’t made it to this world-famous destination in their backyard yet. I also know people who travel across the globe to visit it every summer.  I guess it’s one of those travel experiences for which you don’t just need a plan, you need a calling.

avatarAbout the Author:

RR writes on intentional parenting, holistic living, travel and other topics. Visit her blog on reading to kids

Tags: Reviews
3 Comments to “Nostalgic Niagara Falls”
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