Most parents out there are probably familiar with the following scenario. Summer break is rapidly approaching. The school year, with all its chaos and mania, has been crazier than normal, leaving you with no time to plan a well thought out vacation. Suddenly, it’s two weeks before school is out and you have zero plans. Last minute airfare to that magical international locale you’ve been daydreaming about is ridiculously overpriced, and the only thing staring you in the face is a long, boring summer at home and a very energetic kid (or two…or three). Suddenly, all the walls of your Type-A, hyper-prepared, totally over-planned mom personality come crashing down and in a wave of reckless abandon you decide…ROAD TRIP! But, where? Well, Canada, of course! First stop, Niagara Falls!
I’m not going to pretend I’m a spontaneous traveler. You know the ones, with mantras of “Follow your feet” and “Go where the wind takes you.” Don’t get me wrong, I admire people who are able to hop in the car and go exploring, or throw a dart at a map on the wall and show up with nothing but a backpack and flip-flops. However, do these people have children? What happens when the wind takes you somewhere with no restrooms, or to the middle of the desert with no water? What if “following your feet” ends up in a rescue mission to save you from the middle of the wilderness because you’ve been hiding in a tree from a bear for thirteen hours? It happens. So, unplanned road trips are a novel idea for me. In fact, our Canadian adventure was the very first road trip for us both.
It took just around thirteen hours to drive to Niagara Falls, which was only thirty minutes longer than predicted by Google Maps. Y’all, we left at two in the morning. TWO. Surprisingly, once you have some caffeine in your system, two in the morning is actually a great time for interstate driving and we managed to avoid traffic for almost the entire thirteen hours. As soon as we arrived in Niagara Falls we hit the ground running. With less than 48 hours before heading to our next stop, we had no time to spare.
One of the most common questions about Niagara Falls has to do with which side is most worth visiting, the American side or the Canadian side. The general consensus (including my own opinion) is that the Canadian side undoubtedly offers the most stunning views and a much broader range of activities, nightlife, and fun. However, the American side should not be overlooked. If at all possible, the best way to experience Niagara Falls is from both sides. The way we accomplished this was by doing all of the American side activities before crossing the rainbow bridge into Canada later that night.
There are all sorts of activities on both sides, including jet boat and helicopter tours, hiking trails, casinos, and tons of restaurants. Our favorite attraction on the American side was, by far, Cave of the Winds. This attraction brought us closer to the falls than any other and riding an elevator 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge was quite an experience. Once we made it to the bottom, we put on our poncho and flip-flops and made our way to the “Hurricane Deck” only 20 feet from the massive Bridal Veil Falls. Yes, we were both soaked, and it was worth it. My guess is that the Cave of the Winds is a favorite among most kids that visit Niagara Falls. It certainly was for my son.
After getting drenched on the Hurricane Deck, we walked around town to dry off. Along the way we found a great activity area on Old Falls Street, filled with a giant chess and checkers board, ping pong tables, cornhole boards, a giant chalk board, and tables and chairs for relaxing. This was a very welcome break for both of us and we spent over an hour just playing games and having some down time.
Later in the evening, we finally made our way across the rainbow bridge into Canada. Our timing was perfect and we crossed the border with almost no wait. The Canadian side of the falls is a much more commercial area, with tons of restaurants, goony-golf, haunted houses (think, Ripley’s), and other touristy attractions. We focused mainly on the activities centered around the water but we couldn’t resist Hershey’s Chocolate World. I know, I know, we have Hershey’s chocolate everywhere. Trust me, it isn’t the same, and you have to go!
After getting chocolate wasted, we headed out for a boat cruise of the falls with Hornblower Cruises. There are two boat tour companies to choose from, Maid of the Mist on the American side, and Hornblower on the Canadian side. You can tell them apart by the color of the ponchos given to guests to wear, Maid of the Mist in blue and Hornblower in red. Both companies do the same tour so you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything on one versus the other. I was pretty impressed with how close they are able to pull the boat up to the actual waterfalls before turning back. Again, it is pretty likely you will get soaked, or a least a little misty. Hence, the ponchos.
Next up on our tour of Niagara Falls activities was zip lining over the falls. I solely did this for the kiddo, because standing in line for 213 hours to do a 1-minute zip-line was not on my wish list. However, he had a ton of fun and didn’t seem to notice how much we aged while waiting in line for our turn. At 220 feet high, the zip-line does offer a unique vantage point as you sweep through the air.
After zip-lining we did some walking around, met Elvis, and hung out with some falcons. You know, typical stuff. I love that there are so many people providing entertainment, especially geared toward kids.
Did you know that every night during the summer the falls are illuminated in a multi-colored light display, followed by a fireworks show? This was a great way to end the night while we were in Niagara Falls.
That pretty much sums up how we conquered Niagara Falls in two short days! Like I said, there are a TON of other things to do. However, with such limited time, we really had to choose wisely. Have you been to Niagara Falls? If so, what were YOUR favorite activities??
Know Before You Go- 8 Tips for Navigating Niagara Falls
- If you plan to do multiple attractions, save money by buying the Adventure Pass
- Niagara Falls consists of three waterfalls, the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls. The best views of the falls, without a doubt, are from the Canadian side.
- Hotels providing direct views of the falls are plenty, but can be very expensive depending on the time of year you go. If you can afford to splurge, go for it! When we went at the end of June, these hotels were as much as $400 a night. No, thank you. Since we were literally only in our apartment long enough to sleep, I was more than happy with the accommodations I booked through AirBnb.
- It is nearly impossible to get lost. There are signs everywhere! And, if there isn’t a sign, there’s a help desk.
- The border crossing into Canada, known as the Rainbow Bridge, is easy to find and cross, but can be busy depending on the time of day you choose to cross. We chose wisely and didn’t have to wait at all. You can also cross the bridge by foot.
- Yes, you need a passport.
- You will probably get soaked at one or more attractions. So, wear something light and waterproof that will dry quickly. Do not wear heavy cotton sweatshirts that take 17 hours to dry…like we did.
- Niagara Falls is probably one of the most touristy places I’ve ever been, with all the kitsch to match. It is still absolutely beautiful and the touristy stuff does not take away from the beauty and power of the falls. Have fun and don’t be afraid to be a tourist!