Recently, my family and I decided to visit Niagara Falls. Having never been, we had no idea what to expect, either from the more than seven-hour drive, or from the destination itself.
In researching our adventure, we discovered that the hotels that had the best views of the Falls were in Canada. My wife and I would need a passport, but we could take our children’s birth certificates to get them across the border.
Driving across Rainbow Bridge, which spans Niagara River and serves as the main border between the U.S. and Canada, we got our first good look at the Falls off to our left. It was an incredible sight, more than 150,000 gallons of water per second pounding down onto the river 176 feet below. Niagara Falls consists of three separate waterfalls: American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side and Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. When you see pictures and images of the falls on TV or postcards, more often than not, you’re looking at Horseshoe Falls.
First, we took the Falls Incline Railway down to the visitor’s center to don yellow slickers for the Journey Behind the Falls. An elevator took us down into the rock and we explored old concrete tunnels that led to three openings behind Horseshoe Falls. From the first opening you reach a large outdoor platform just to the side of the waterfall, where you can stand in the never-ending spray of Niagara Falls. Walking out of the second or third opening, you find yourself actually behind the falls, separated by a safety railing, mere feet from the thundering water.
After journeying behind the Falls, it was time for dinner at any of the high-priced but suitable restaurants. Later, up in our hotel room overlooking the Falls, we enjoyed another Niagara Falls-specific attraction – The Niagara Falls Illumination. The Falls are bathed in colorful light starting at dusk and the effect is truly magical, fortunately the Illumination is offered 365 days a year, so you can’t miss it.
We started the next day by experiencing the legendary Maid of the Mist. This boat tour has been in continuous operation since 1846 and is an intense ride into the mists of the Horseshoe Falls. Because of its intensity, our 5-year-old begged out, but our 8-year-old loved it.
After the Maid, it was already time to leave, but we made one more stop before reentering the U.S. at the Butterfly Conservatory. Located next to the river just 10 minutes north of the Falls, the Conservatory offers a self-guided tour through winding paths in lush rainforest flora where there are more than 2,000 freely floating butterflies of every size and color. Wearing a white T-shirt, I was a particular magnet for the fluttering denizens, who landed on me three different times, much to my family’s delight.
Two More Tips
After our visit we traveled back over Rainbow Bridge into the U.S. While it was the end of our trip, there are two other attractions that we did not visit that I should mention. The first, on the Canadian side, is Skylon Tower, which offers panoramic views from its indoor and outdoor observation deck 775 feet above the Falls.
The other is the Cave of the Winds on Goat Island, on the U.S. side of the border. The Cave of the Winds is similar to the Journey Under the Falls, but it brings you down 175 feet and out onto the Hurricane Deck, where you stand 20 feet behind Bridal Veil Falls, with an almost constant supply of rainbows visible day and night.
We enjoyed our trip to Niagara Falls more than we thought we would. It was a truly spectacular place, a perfect getaway for the entire family, even with the long drive.
David Neilsen is a frequent contributor to Westchester Family.
Getting There Can Be Half the Fun
Niagara Falls – www.niagara-usa.com
Travel time from Westchester to Niagara Falls by car is a tad more than seven hours. That’s a long time for children to sit quietly without driving themselves and their parents insane. Unwilling to spend the drive hearing “How much longer?” Visit WestchesterFamily.com for tips on how to keep the kids happy during the ride and recommended directions.