Niagara Falls is both the name of a city in Canada, and the three large waterfalls that border Canada and New York state in the U.S.A. It’s not to be mixed up with Niagara-on-the-Lake which is a small town 23 miles/37 kilometres away. Niagara Falls is also one of the largest sources of hydroelectric power in the region.
Niagara Falls is one of the most popular vacation destinations for travellers to Ontario, Canada, and is an essential tourist destination. You can visit the Falls for a day trip, or spend a few weeks of vacation time here. Besides the Falls, there are many related activities, and other experiences for you to enjoy during your stay there.
While you can cram a lot of activities into one day trip, it’s best to plan on staying here for at least an extended weekend.
How Were the Falls Formed?
Niagara Falls was formed during the last ice age. As glaciers slowly melted and receded, they carved a path through what is called the Niagara Escarpment. This process took thousands of years to occur. This path led to the Atlantic Ocean, forming what is now the Niagara River.
The waterfalls may not be record-breaking in height, but they are certainly wide, and spectacular, as there are three in a row. Today, over 6 million cubic feet of water passes over the hills and into the valley below.
If you check a map, Niagara Falls is located about center on an arm between two seas, with Niagara-on-the-Lake in the north, and Buffalo, New York to the south.
Niagara Falls Names
Each of the three waterfalls actually has a name. They are: American Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. It’s the Horseshoe Falls that divides Canada and the USA. The American Falls and the Bridal Falls can actually be visited from the USA side. Even though Americans can see parts of the Falls on their side, it’s generally agreed that the Canadian side has the more spectacular views of the waterfalls, plus the popular Maid of the Mist voyage, and many other sites and activities to enjoy.
The Climate of Niagara Falls
The region has a mild climate due to the proximity to the water, and the waterfalls that release moisture into the air through their mist. January is perhaps the coldest month at −0.4 °C (31.3 °F), and July being the hottest month at around 27.4 °C (81.3 °F).
It rains frequently here, and since it rains nearly every month, there is no way to base your trip on this value. It’s best to have an umbrella with you during your visit, but if not, one of the many shops along the Niagara Falls walkway will have what you need.
The Maid of the Mist
The Maid of the Mist is one of the best paid experiences you’ll get at Niagara Falls. For an entrance fee, you get to don rainwear and enter a motorboat that will take you directly up to the Falls. The water will splatter you, so be aware and perhaps not wear your best shoes or dress. You’ll have the opportunity to take some spectacular photographs before the boat returns to dock.
Whether you visit the Canadian or the American side, there is The Maid of the Mist boating service. Hornblower Niagara Cruises operates the one on the Canadian side. This tour has been running since 1846, and there have been a few different boats since that time.
The boat ride lasts 30 minutes and runs from April to October. It doesn’t operate during inclement weather conditions, so if it’s a really important component of your trip, call or check the website first to see if it’s running that day.
What’s to See and Do at the Falls?
There are activities for the entire family to enjoy at Niagara Falls, but many singles and newlyweds also head to Niagara Falls for a vacation.
The Butterfly Conservatory offers a tranquil experience inside a conservatory with many beautiful plants and butterflies. Here are many tropical plants and lush vegetation, surrounded by much smaller waterfalls. You can take a self-guided tour after viewing a video presentation at the entrance.
The Cave of the Winds is located in Niagara Falls State Park. You’ll have to wear a rain poncho, as you can be blasted with a lot of water, but it offers a really up close and personal experience. You’ll make your way to the entrance deck, along a network of wooden walkways. For this reason, you may wish to leave younger children with a sitter, while the adults go on their adventure. Once you arrive at the Hurricane Deck, you’ll have a fantastic view of the gorge.
The Aquarium of Niagara houses a vast collection of fish and rescue marine mammals. If you’re planning your trip for 2018, wait until the fall when there is a new penguin exhibit starting. There is also the opportunity to actively interact with some of the seals and other animals here.
If you’re into wax museums, you’ll enjoy how there are over five in Niagara Falls. Movieland Wax Museum focusses on all your favourite shows, while Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks is like your traditional Madame Tussaud’s. If you enjoy music history, the Rock Legends Wax Museum will be of interest to you. For local history, the Niagara Wax Museum of History will teach you about the history of the region. The Castle Dracula Wax Museum offers a spooky experience.
When you’re on vacation, it’s sometimes frustrating to spend a lot of money on entrance fees. Fortunately, viewing the Falls is free, and the Glen Nature Reserve is too. For those who enjoy hiking, the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve is located about a ten minute drive from the Falls. This is not for the faint of heart, as it involves some steep paths, so if you’re afraid of heights, you may wish to stick to the main walkway at the Falls.
Another low-cost activity to enjoy is walking the Rainbow Bridge. There is a minimal 50 cent fee to walk across. This connects the Canadian side to the American side. You are allowed to walk the bridge and head to the park on the US side. After your visit, you can walk back to Canada. Note that you will need to have your passport on you, as you must still go through US and Canadian borders, and there is no “halfway point”, as you must complete the full trip. The bridge offers a spectacular vantage point for taking photographs.
You can purchase a special Adventure Pass that will save you money off the combined admission of many attractions.
Hospitality and Restaurants
If you plan on spending any length of time in Niagara Falls, it’s great knowing that you have a comfortable hotel to stay at. The Seneca Niagara Casino is both a hotel and a casino. When you tire of the outdoor scenery, you can sip a drink and do some gambling. There are also restaurants on site of the resort, and a showroom that holds world-class entertainment.
There are also some restaurants, gift shops, and washrooms along the main part of the walkway along the Falls so if you get tired, you can take a break.
If you have some cash to burn, the Skylon Tower is a fantastic spot to view the Falls from a height. Tickets vary from $15-$20 depending on whether you want to watch the IMAX show too. There is also a revolving dining room, and the Summit Suite Buffet. Note that if you dine here, you get to ride the elevator up for free. However, lunch menus start at $40, so be prepared!
What You Need to Know Before Crossing the Border
Whether you’re American crossing the border into Canada, or you’re Canadian crossing the border into the USA, you’ll need a passport. Even though it can be tempting to pack a lunch, you won’t be able to bring over any meat, dairy, fruit, or vegetables, and it’s not worth having your car searched and receiving a fine just because you wanted to save $10. Likewise with bringing weapons across the border—so just leave them at home.
Most major businesses will take both types of currency, in case you haven’t had time to visit the bank or currency exchange. Credit cards will work anywhere.
Canada operates on the metric system, so gas is purchased by litre rather than by gallon, and is generally more expensive. Americans may want to fill up their vehicles in advance of crossing the border.
The American dollar is much stronger than the Canadian dollar, so Americans will find great value when eating at the restaurants or shopping for souvenirs or gifts to bring home.
Niagara Falls is truly Canada’s treasure and is the best wonder of the world. There is so much to do here that you should really plan on more than a day trip. But if you only have a day, walk along the Falls, take the Maid of the Mist, and head up the Skylon Tower to have a great vantage point for some amazing photographs. Your friends and family back home will be jealous that you had such an amazing experience!