You’ve heard of Niagara Falls, right? Maybe you watched on live TV as Nik Wallenda walked a tightrope 1,800 feet through dense billowing mist across the roaring falls several years ago. Maybe Niagara Falls only rings a bell as the self-proclaimed honeymoon capital of the world and at the moment that particular fact couldn’t interest you less. But if that’s all you know about it, you’ve got a surprise coming.
Niagara Falls is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Created as water flowed into the Niagara River from the North American Great Lakes 12,000 years ago, it’s comprised of three spectacular waterfalls that form the hub of a sightseeing and recreational area with enough outdoor and indoor activities to make a great getaway and then some.
It’s also two cities with the same name, divided by the international border between the United States and Canada. The American part is in the state of New York, and the Canadian part is in the province of Ontario.
Niagara Falls, Ontario hotels run the gamut from luxury accommodations if you feel like treating yourself, to very affordable options including charming bed and breakfast inns. There are also a generous number of motels, campgrounds, and RV parks on both sides of the border, including some with cabins and all the amenities.
As for what there is to do in Niagara Falls, you can have a week or a weekend’s worth of adventures for not a lot of money, and of course the natural beauty all around is free for the enjoying. The currency exchange rate is currently very favorable for the US dollar; it’s currently about $1.24 in Canadian dollars.
You don’t need a car, either, because WEGO is a hop-on hop-off bus system that connects visitor accommodations with all of the Niagara Parks attractions. A 48-hour pass is $12.50 CAD.
Explore the Falls
This is the raison d’etre for the trip. There are two ways to see the falls up close and personal:
Take a boat ride that gets you quite close to the falls. For the American side, there’s the Maid of the Mist. It used to operate on the Canadian side of the falls when it originally opened back in 1846, but no is exclusive to the American side. The Maid of the Mist usually opens up around late April and closes in the fall. Tickets will currently run you $19.25 for adults and $11.20 for kids. If you’re on the Canadian side, check out the Hornblower Boat Tour, which offers both day and night rides, at prices starting around $25.95 CAD.
The second way to witness Niagara Falls is Journey Behind the Falls. Managed by Niagara Parks, Journey Behind the Falls has you take an elevator 150 feet down to a series of tunnels that open to the astonishing sound and sight of the wall of water crashing down from the top to the basin of the Horseshoe Falls. It’s open all year except on Christmas Day. Tickets are about $13 CAD but packages are available that include this attraction plus the Butterfly Conservatory and Floral Showcase, as well as two-day access to WEGO and the new Falls Incline railway.
The Niagara Region is known for its award-winning wines including the unique ice-wine, made from grapes harvested in the winter when temperatures are way below freezing and sugar content is highest. The Niagara Wine Route on the Canadian side, and the Niagara Wine Trail on the American side feature dozens of wineries with tasting rooms set amid acres of gorgeous vineyards.
There are more than 200 trails, catering to riders of every level. Niagara Parkway has been named one of the top ten cycling routes in the world, stretching 58kms along the Canadian side of the Niagara River and passing many wineries. For more serious trekkers, the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail stretches 780kms, following the shores of Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border. Bike rentals are about $25 to $30 CAD for a full 24 hours.
Run or Hike
Runners will enjoy the Niagara River Recreation Trail with a stairway down to Niagara Glen for a two-and-a-half-mile run through prehistoric geological formations in a pocket of pristinely preserved Carolinian forest. If you’re not up for running, take it a bit easier on a guided hiking tour.
Have an Extreme Adventure
Take a kayak trip on a fast one-way current, go all out on the challenging Niagara Glen Bouldering Trail, or buckle up for a breathtaking zipline to the falls. Bouldering requires a permit ($20 CAD), ziplining costs a bit more but is absolutely thrilling.
There are a number of duty-free shops on both sides of the border offering savings of up to 50 percent on liquor, fragrances and cosmetics, jewelry, watches, chocolates, and gifts.
Take in the Night Life
If you’re feeling lucky, visit one of the two casinos offering blackjack, roulette, poker, slots, and sports gaming along with comedy shows, and live entertainment with headline stars. There’s also a wide variety of dining choices in Niagara Falls, and a short 17-mile drive takes you to Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, home of the namesake Buffalo wings.