Traveling to Niagara Falls with Kids
None of my childhood travel memories evoke the same visceral shock, awe and excitement as the trip my family took to see the infamously powerful Niagara Falls. Although it was over 40 years ago, I remember the experience like it was yesterday. Not quite a teen at the time, I was mesmerized by the astonishing beauty of the natural surroundings, the supercharged energy emanating from millions of gallons of fiercely gushing water and the resulting clouds of mist and majestic rainbows being created by the Falls’ force.
The experience was so memorable that, recently, I had to share it with my husband and children. In August, while enjoying New York’s Finger Lakes Region, we drove a few hours north to enjoy the grandeur and majesty of one of Mother Nature’s greatest masterpieces. Not surprisingly, the impact the Falls had on my family was completely in line with my mine—-feelings of shock, awe and excitement.
Location, Location, Location
Located in a strait between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and straddling the border of western New York and Canada, Niagara Falls is about 45 minutes from Buffalo and 90 minutes from Toronto. Three separate falls, American and Bridal Veil on the New York side and Horseshoe on the Canadian side, collectively make up the world-renowned attraction.
The United States’ side is part of a national park and is more rustic (although building up) while the Canadian side is more developed with resorts and many more manmade attractions. Some argue that the Canadian side offers the best views, especially at night because of the rainbow-colored lights shining on Horseshoe Falls, but, please believe me, there are really no “bad” angles. Plus, keep in mind, that it’s super easy to cross the border via the appropriately named Rainbow Bridge, which is accessible by car or on foot. Simply have your passports handy.
Soak In the Beauty In More Ways Than One
I vividly remember just how moved I was (and how soaked I became) while exploring the Falls from each of several vantage points including an “up close and personal” boat ride, a peering glance from behind them and tantalizing views from their edges. If you do nothing more than these three things while in the area, I believe you’ll walk away with an outrageous experience.
The Maid of the Mist
During my maiden voyage on the Maid of the Mist many moons ago, while draped in a complimentary (supposed) waterproof poncho, I experienced the excitement of heading straight toward the 180-foot-high Horseshoe Falls on what is a teeny tiny vessel compared to the magnitude of the falls, fearing I might never make it back to the dock. The thunderous, roaring sound of the forceful water cascading down around the boat quickly taught me to respect the power of water. Rainbows forming amidst the dense clouds and misty sprays added a soft touch to this thrill ride. During my second trip, with my husband and kids in tow, I clung to the railing with my mouth agape while attempting to catch a breathtaking family photo.
Journey Behind the Falls
Offered only on the Canadian side, taking a journey behind the falls is an astounding experience. Poncho-clad visitors take an elevator ride down to meander through a tunnel-like passageway 13 stories below the falls. Through portals, viewers can see and hear the power of the walls of water from “behind the scenes” and, along the way, learn some history of Niagara Falls through a series of interesting displays including stories about some successful (and some failed) daredevil attempts to cross them.
Along the Edges
Many claim that, if you are on the U.S. side, the most sweeping views are witnessed from Prospect Point Observation Tower, which offers the only panoramic view of all three waterfalls. Also, don’t miss out on another unique perspective offered up during the “Cave of the Winds” tour. Here, adventurers, provided with not only a poncho but a pair of “slip-proof” shoes weave along descending wooden walkways to Niagara Gorge, which ultimately leads to a spot only 20 feet from Bridal Veil’s edge. Expect more soakage here than anywhere else.
If you are on the Canadian side of the fast-moving Niagara River, Queen Victoria Park is a beautiful spot. There’s also the Skylon Tower, which overlooks both the American and Horseshoe Falls. Kids might go head over heels while riding the Niagara SkyWheel, which, from on high, offers spectacular photo opportunities of Horseshoe Falls.
Niagara Falls is open year-round but the area gets rather cold during the winter months and part of the waterfalls freeze up. A fall visit would be my first pick when lines are shorter and the fall foliage season is underway. Summertime is lovely but can be extremely crowded.