Wade gasped, tried to stand up even though his seat belt was fastened, frantically tapped his brother on the shoulder and said, “Oh, David! You’re gonna want to see this!” His reaction to seeing Niagara Falls for the first time made the whole trip worth while.
But it’s fun. Even if downtown Niagara Falls, Ontario looks like mini a Las Vegas with bright lights, casinos and a wax museum, it doesn’t diminish the majesty of the second largest waterfall in the world.
Our boys loved visiting Niagara, because there’s an element of adventure. Taking a boat ride on the rough waters of the Niagara river, through mist so heavy it feels like driving rain, right to the base of the falls, while water roars so loud you can’t hear anything else is exciting!
We camped on the Canadian side, but drove across the Rainbow Bridge to the American side where we boarded the famous Maid of the Mist.
While we were on the American side, we also went on the Cave of the Winds tour. Now, the name is bit misleading. It sounds like you’re going spelunking, but you’re not. The Cave of the Winds is behind Niagara Falls, so it’s completely inaccessible unless you want to try to climb over slippery rocks through a wall of water moving at 22 miles an hour. No thanks! But you do climb up a wooden staircase that goes along the rock face right next to the falls where the cave is located.
At the top, you reach what’s called the Hurricane Deck.
You’re so close to the falls that the water pours over you, and it does feel like you’re in the middle of a hurricane. You can even reach out and touch the water as it rushes by.
This photo looks blurry, but it’s all the water in the air obscuring it. I don’t think this is even my kid in the picture. The water was coming down so hard around us, I couldn’t see what I was photographing. And I wanted to hurry and get my phone back in my pocket before all the water ruined it! I recommend taking a GoPro if you can.
We were totally soaked. In fact the water coming off the falls hit me so hard it stung a little. The boys commented that it was like being at an all-natural water park!
We also watched a movie about the history of Niagara Falls at the park. It included a story about a seven-year-old boy who went over the falls after a boating accident, and survived, wearing nothing by a life jacket! David and Wade are fascinated with the details of it, and have talked about it almost everyday since we returned home. I can just imagine those two scheming to go over the falls in a barrel. David would engineer the vessel while Wade egged him on chanting, “YOLO! YOLO!”
Back on the Canadian side of the falls, we went on The Journey Behind the Falls. You take an elevator to the base of the falls then walk though a tunnel where you stand behind Niagara falls and watch as the water thunders down in a sheet in front of you. It was dark, and those photos didn’t turn out.
The Niagara Falls attractions on the American side are all located inside a New York State Park. On the Canadian side Niagara Parks are managed by the province of Ontario. Both parks sell passes that include several attractions for one discounted price. You’ll also have to pay for parking separately. The attractions are spread out, but both sides also have transportation around the parks included in the passes.
We thought the falls attractions on the American side were more interesting, and on the day we went the lines on the American side were shorter. The falls can be viewed at a distance better from the Canadian side though.
If you want nightlife and other fun activities to do after you visit the falls, the Canadian side is the place to be. Clifton Hill road features a big Ferris wheel, virtual reality theater, wax museum, mini golf, bowling, amusement rides and lots of restaurants. You can purchase an inclusive, discounted pass for those attractions as well.
If you’re worried about looking glamorous on vacation, Niagara may not be the place for you.
Your clothes and hair will get wet, even though everywhere you go they give you a very unflattering rain poncho to wear.
At Cave of the Winds, they even give you a pair of waterproof sandals. You get to keep them afterward. Normally I’d be all about free shoes, but they’re not the most stylish footwear.
My boys thought they were great, however, and wore them around the rest of the week. Nothing says tourist like wearing your Niagara Falls water shoes!
If you’re an American visiting Niagara Falls, I recommend staying on the Canadian side, mainly for one reason. You’ll save money. The American Dollar is worth more than the Canadian Dollar right now, so anything you pay for in Canada with American money, you end up getting an almost 20 percent discount on after you adjust for the exchange rate. Gas, lodging and food is all cheaper if you buy it in Canada. Check with your bank or credit card company to be sure, but you should be able to use your American cards in Canada. You’ll get the best exchange rate and lowest fees that way.
A couple things you need to know. Americans traveling to Canada need either a full passport or a passport card to cross the border if you’re driving. A passport card is good only for car or boat travel between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico, but if you don’t plan on doing any other international travel, it’s significantly less expensive to obtain than a full passport. Children under sixteen will only need to present a birth certificate that shows proof of U.S. citizenship. If you’re flying, however, everyone will need a full passport.
If you drive, the bridges that cross between the U.S. and Canada charge tolls, and they only take cash. Going from America to Canada they will only take American money, but crossing from Canada to America they will take American or Canadian. We crossed the Blue Water bridge at Port Huron.
Niagara Falls is only 80 miles from Toronto. Stay long enough to take a day trip. The CN Tower downtown and the zoo are worth the visit. We didn’t make it to the tower this time, but we did go to the zoo. The Toronto Zoo is one of the best I’ve ever visited. They have an amazing variety of animals ranging from rhinos to polar bears to giant pandas.
The enclosures are large and modern, and most can be viewed from three or four sides. We were always able to see the animals no matter where they were. You’ll also see Lake Ontario on the way to Toronto. Now our boys can say they’ve seen all five Great Lakes!
A word of caution, traffic around Toronto is horrendous. It’s ten times worse than Chicago. Give yourself lots of extra time to drive and try to time it so you’re driving into and out of the city early in the morning or late in the evening. Weekends are also better for driving in Toronto.
We had a blast at Niagara Falls. It was probably the most fun family vacation we’ve gone on.
The falls are just so big and powerful, you can’t help but be in awe. They’re also amazingly beautiful. At one point, I looked over at my boys, and they were just staring slack-jawed at the falls. I loved sharing that moment with them.
It isn’t easy to impress kids these days. They’ve only known a world where everything is just a swipe away on a touch screen. But Niagara still leaves an impression. After we went back to the campground the first night Wade said, “That was the best day ever! It was a lot more exciting than I thought it would be. Mind blown, Mom. Mind. Blown.”