Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve wanted to visit Niagara Falls. And even though we lived in New York City for awhile, my family didn’t have the opportunity to take the trip at that time. Later in life, other places captured my interest, and I moved on.
But now that we’d spent some time on the east coast, it was time to take care of this childhood wish. So Hector and I planned a short stop in Niagara Falls on the way from Southern Vermont to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Four Mile Creek Campground in Youngstown, New York, just north of Buffalo, was quite lovely and our site looked out over Lake Ontario.
Walking into the park from the parking lot on the American side, I was surprised to immediately hear the sound of the falls, and to actually see them shortly after that. I’m used to hiking to waterfalls and had no idea what to expect. But this area is very developed with a sidewalk along the side of the Niagara River and by the waterfall, parking lots, gift shops etc.
In spite of the highly developed surroundings, the falls are a very impressive sight. The sound alone makes you appreciate the power of the water tumbling down from the river. And the rapids just above the falls are pretty impressive as well. But at times the falls seem surreal in this “theme-park” like setting.
We purchased tickets for the Cave of the Winds, one of the “attractions”. The name of the attraction refers to a cave that collapsed years ago. The attraction now includes an elevator ride down to a series of walkways designed for a very close look and feel of the American and Bridal Veil Falls.
A rain poncho and rubber sandals (mandatory) are included with the entry to Cave of the Winds, but I highly recommend wearing a rain jacket underneath the poncho. If you climb to the top walkway, it’s a very, very wet experience, so it’s also important to be mindful of camera equipment.
These boats cruise past the American and Bridal Veil Falls (too rocky to get too close to), and over to the Canadian side, where the boat stops for a few exhilarating minutes right in front of Horseshoe Falls. Horseshoe Falls are known for the mist they generate, sometimes creating a cloud above the waterfall.
While on the boat, we heard the “Miracle of Niagara” story of a boy who’d fallen off a boat above the rapids (there is literally a line way up river where the water goes from calm to rapids). He came down the rapids and falls unprotected except for a life vest and was rescued by someone on the Maid of the Mist. And survived. Unbelievable.
A tradition of people who intentionally went down the falls started in 1829 when someone who called himself “the Yankee Leapster” jumped from a high tower to the gorge below the falls and survived. Then, in 1901, a 63 year old teacher was the first person to go over the falls in a barrel. It was a publicity stunt and she survived.
We’d heard that the views from the bridge across to Canada and from the Canadian side were even better than the views from the American side. So the next day, we walked over to Canada across the bridge, figuring that going through immigration and customs on foot would be much easier than doing so in a car. Especially since we always carry a lot of “stuff” piled up in our car.
And we were right, after the approximately ¼ mile walk across the bridge, it only took a couple of minutes to get through immigration. And there were some great views from the bridge. Not to mention that “walking to Canada” was kind of cool.
There is a bus you can take that tours the falls and a couple of other sites, it’s one of those “hop on, hop off” affairs. We didn’t want to pay extra for stuff we weren’t going to see, so we took the approximately one mile walk over to Horseshoe Falls.
On the way, there are great views of the American and Bridal Veil Falls. And Hector and I agreed that Horseshoe Falls were even more impressive than American Falls. Surprisingly, the Canadian side is just as touristy (if not more so) than the American side, and we opted out of the “attractions”. So we just walked around to different viewpoints to gawk at the falls.
And we learned more about daredevil traditions. Wire walking across the gorge began in 1859 and continued through 1896. Then, in June, 2012, Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk across the falls in 116 years. He walked across 1,800 feet of tightrope near the brink of Horseshoe Falls, further upstream than previous walkers. According to Mr. Wallenda, it was the longest unsupported tightrope walk in history. He carried his passport on his walk, and was required to present it when he reached the Canadian side of the falls. Amazing.
Walking back towards the bridge to the U.S., we stopped by the Skylon Tower to explore the possibility of riding to the top, but it got really cloudy once again, and we held off for a possible return trip that evening. At 775 feet in height, I imagine the view must be fantastic on a clear day. While in the tower, we succumbed to a touristy activity, having a photo taken of us “going down the falls”.
It was quite a full day but we still maintained the possibility of returning later that evening to see the falls lit up with colored lights. And once again getting through immigration on the U.S. side of the bridge was a cinch.
That evening it rained quite a bit, and we didn’t return to Canada. But I finally got to see Niagara Falls and they were beautiful.