When my daughter and I made plans to drive out west from New Hampshire the first thing we both decided was that we had to see Niagara Falls. Neither of us had ever been, and even though we have seen many photos we wanted to check it out for ourselves. We thought it would be something like this: Get out of the car, go look at the pretty waterfall, take a few photos, get back in the car and drive on. Maybe an hour, or hour and a half tops?
Then I started looking through the AAA Tour Book and I thought, What is all this stuff? There seems to be endless ways to look at the waterfall – how do I choose, where do I start, what should I do, how much does it all cost? Although the AAA book was overwhelmingly full of opportunities, it was not easy to find the cost factors or to understand the logistics of everything. There was no separation between American side or Canadian side in the book, and we really had no idea what to expect.
We visited my cousins on the way there and they told us the views from the Canadian side were better. But we still had no concept and thought we would just have a look on the American side and then drive over the border to look from the other side, still expecting to be able to do it in a couple hours.
Sounds reasonable, until you get there. Fortunately it was not a weekend. Official parking was expensive so we drove around the town of Niagara a few times until we found a free spot. Then we walked a couple miles, across a bridge and onto Goat Island where the falls can be viewed from several places.
Many paths lead to the falls
There are 3 sections, the American and Bridal Veil Falls being right next to each other (separated by the small Luna Island) can be viewed together. But Bridal Veil looks better from Luna Island. Horseshoe Falls, the largest part, can be viewed by walking about a 1/4 mile to the left of the top viewing area for the American Falls. Most of Horseshoe Falls is actually on Canadian territory and the view of it from the US side was not that great, especially because there was construction going on to create a better viewing area.
So we really enjoyed these views (not so much Horseshoe) and did quite a bit of walking around. We thought seriously about taking the elevator down the Cave of the Winds for the up close and damp view, but then decided on the boat ride instead. To do that we needed to go to Canada.
My Canadian ancestors are finally appeased now that I can officially say I’ve been to Canada, but we almost turned around and drove back because we couldn’t find a parking space. We could get a pretty good glimpse of the falls just driving along the busy road, but the fantastic viewing areas and the hoards of people just made us itch to stop and see more. Finally after much road touring of the Disneyland-like streets, we finally found a spot that was not 10 miles away.
Canada has a lot to offer, maybe too much. I suppose you have a choice; close up and cozy on the US side for nature lovers, or tourist attraction supreme on the Canadian side for – well, tourists! Personally, I think we made a good choice by seeing both sides because they are each a very different experience. We loved the sculpted gardens and walkways of the Canadian side and the views were spectacular. However it was also amazing to be at the top and within touching distance on the American side. My daughter’s preference was definately Canada but I am holding out on the decision.
The problem on the Canadian side was that we spent so much time driving around looking for parking, and then walking the length of the view, that we never got to go on the boat ride. We needed to leave by 3 PM at the latest to get to our next destination in Ohio. We had originally planned to leave by noon.
So, I will be going back again to take that boat ride with my hubby (he doesn’t know my scheme yet). If we’re on a roll we’ll do the Cave of the Winds tour, Skylon Tower and a helicopter ride as well! Why not see it from every angle while we’re there? Pictures can not give you the experience, words can not describe it, you just have to go and something magical happens.
You want to keep looking, keep snapping shots, keep walking until you drop. You just can’t pull yourself away from the majesty, power and grace of this spectacular place, no matter which side you’re on.
- Plan to spend at least a whole day
- Get a Passport card ($30) instead of a full Passport
- If you have kids and you’re on a tight budget stay on the American side
- If you have kids and you want to really splurge go to the Canadian side