Which Side of Niagara Falls Should You Visit?
Flying home from Spain last month I sat next to a young Spaniard going to New York City for the second time. He said he’s seen all the sights there on his first visit (!!) and was taking a bus to Niagara Falls to see one of the world’s wonders.
Folks often fly into Toronto, Canada, to see the falls because it is only a 1 ½ hour drive; from New York City it is an 8 hour drive. Granted you’ll see some beautiful rural scenery – lakes, rivers and mountains, (New York State is not all tall buildings) – but that’s a long bus trip!
However you get to Niagara Falls, this American’s opinion is that they are prettier from the Niagara Canadian side, and there is more to see and do. I just returned and have to share my experiences:
There is something about the allure of falling water, it draws mankind to it as moths to a flame. That’s how I found Niagara Parks on Canada’s side of Niagara Falls. There, the American Falls, including Bridal Veil Falls, and the magnificent Canadian Horseshoe Falls, stretched out before me in all their rainbow-mist glory. I was mesmerized. And like the thousands of other people of all ages and nationalities that shared this view with me, we watched the water fall, the mist rise and the gulls soar, fascinated by the might of Mother Nature.
It was this majestic sight that greeted me for a three day June weekend. But there was more to see than just the falls. Niagara Parks itself is beautiful, all 35 miles of it stretched along the Niagara River. Unlimited views of the river and nearly unlimited access to more than 9 miles of walks and trails along its edge, accessed through six different nature areas, attract all levels of hikers to see the Class 6 rapids and whirlpools. A parkway, bike trail and a landscaped linear park run along the cliffs above the river for spectacular (and free) views of the falls. The fast and efficient WEGO bus system connects all the attractions along this parkway, leaving me free to watch the views and not the traffic.
There is so much more to do than watch 6 million cubic feet of water pour over the falls every minute that I had to keep tearing myself away from the view, if only so I could see it from another aspect. The newer Hornblower Niagara Cruise is located near the base of the Rainbow Bridge on the Canadian side, opposite its doppelganger, the venerable Maid of the Mist on the American side. From the Hornblower Niagara Cruise’s festive restaurant and picnic area a modern boat loaded with 700 passengers sets out to embrace Horseshoe Falls every 15 minutes. And by embrace I mean it is embraced by, as the boat enters the deep misty foot of the falls which wraps around it more than 180 degrees, leaving everything not covered by a supplied poncho soaking wet in seconds and me unable to see through my wet eyeglasses. But I could feel the falls beating on my back as my ears filled with the roar of the water – it was an incredible experience! When I could see again, the deck was filled with ear-to-ear, dripping wet grins, looking back at the falls out of Hornblower’s signature red ponchos. It was the happiest group of people I’ve ever seen.
After that I had a different and equally unique look at the falls at Journey Behind the Falls. I took an elevator down to the 126 year old tunnels behind the falls and looked out portals at the cascading torrent from the rear. Again, the roar of the falls echoed through the tunnels which literally vibrated from the pounding force of the water. At one vantage I was drawn by the distant daylight out onto a viewing platform at the base of the falls to see a different batch of red-ponchoed people on the Hornblower cruise engulfed by the wall of water just below me and I knew exactly what thrills they were experiencing. Niagara Parks is amazing!
There is so much more to do, and I did it! The Botanical Gardens, Butterfly Conservatory, Floral Showhouse, White Water Walk and Whirlpool Aero Car, are the other paid attractions, but I also hiked down to Niagara Glen, visited the Floral Clock, had a wine tasting at Chateau des Charmes www.chateaudescharmes.com (the only place I had to drive to) and explored a bit of War of 1812 history at MacKenzie Printery and the Laura Secord Homestead. It was exciting to learn that Niagara Parks can be part recreational and part educational while still being all fun.
To see all this, the best buy is one of the Adventure Passes to experience as much of the Niagara Parks as you wish. There are three different categories of access from Classic, to Nature and the all inclusive Plus, ranging in price from $54.95 to $84.95. Each includes a two-day “hop on and hop off” WEGO bus pass, so pick the attraction packages http://www.niagaraparks.com you’re interested in and save up to 35% over individual admission fees. (For additional savings, the current exchange rate for the American Dollar is very good. It’s worth approximately 30% more than the Canadian dollar, but exchange rates can vary locally. My advice is to put everything on your credit card and be pleasantly surprised when the bill comes in!)
To eat, Niagara Parks has five restaurants stretched along its length. My two favorites, Queen Victoria Place Restaurant and Elements on the Falls, have incredible views of Horseshoe Falls and offer creative menus featuring locally sourced ingredients. With good local wine and beer lists (and pairing recommendations) I had thoroughly enjoyable meals at both.
You’ll also find reasonably priced accommodations from guest houses to four star hotels, and everything in between. I stayed at the stylishly understated Double Tree Fallsview Resort and Spa by Hilton (check rates). It looked as if Frank Lloyd Wright could have designed the interior and was within easy walking distance of the falls and other local attractions. Of course, it is Canada, so you’d expect everyone to be polite; still, I found the staff well above par.
When it came to friendliness and helpfulness they easily out-Canadianed their countrymen (and women), and their spot-on recommendation of the Niagara Brewing Company (Clifton Hill) for an evening of charcuterie and award-winning local beer was greatly appreciated.
I’m definitely going back to revisit the natural wonder and excitement of Niagara Falls in Niagara Park, Canada.