We finally got the kids their passports and have been anxiously waiting to take them on their first trip outside of the US. Since we were on a time crunch (nothing like waiting until the last minute for passports!) we decided it was the perfect time to make the road trip up to Canada and visit the falls.
The first question everyone has is which side of the falls to stay on. The answer is definitely Canada. Not only are there more hotel options right around the falls but the New York side (I’m sad to say this) was very dirty and disappointing. There were only 2 or 3 hotels to choose from and as soon as you leave the one block they are on you are surrounded by dirty, abandoned buildings and streets. It was borderline scary to drive through. So, Canada it is! If you’re going to visit the Falls you’ll want to make sure you have your passport anyway so why not just stay in Canada?
Once you have your hotel booked you can start planning your activities. As a family we generally try to steer clear of commercialized activities while on vacation and prefer to hike and sightsee on our own terms. The one activity we did do was the Maid of the Mist boat ride. This is an absolute must for anyone visiting the falls. The boat rides are the only way to see the Falls up close from the base of them. You can go on the Hornblower cruise from the Canadian side but we chose the NY side boat ride because parking was closer and the ride for our family was less because kids under 5 are free. Our boys loved the ponchos we got to wear on the ride! This is also the perfect activity to do if it’s raining in Niagara Falls because you are going to get wet anyway.
Besides the boat rides, the best places to view the falls are Goat Island on the New York side or anywhere on the Canadian side. There is a long pathway that follows the entire length of the falls on the Canadian side which gives you views from all different angles. One thing to keep in mind is that parking is insanely expensive on both sides of the Falls. You will not find any close parking on either side for less than $20. Since we book all of our vacations through my credit card rewards the most expensive part of this trip was the parking, for 5 days we easily spent over $250 on parking. One tip to help you save money is that on the NY side parking is free after 6pm in the state parking lots. So, depending on the time of year you can still catch quite a bit of daylight after 6pm or you can take advantage of the free parking to get a glimpse of the falls lit up at night.
One of our favorite hikes was Whirlpool State Park on the New York side. It’s about 1-2 miles outside of main Niagara Falls tourist area and very easy to find since their are several road signs to get you there. You get an incredible view of the Niagara river as well as the whirlpool area. If you’re hiking without kids you can actually hike all the way down to the base of the river for an up close look at the whirlpools and jet boats that cross them. We opted not to do that because the stairs you need to take to get down there are old, and unsafe looking- just not a good idea with toddlers. If you have little ones in tow be sure to head to the playground though, it was beautiful and right next to the hiking trail.
No matter which side of the Falls you stay on you’ll want to take a walk across the Rainbow Bridge, this is the bridge that connects the US and Canada. Walking across it gives you the chance to stop and look at the Falls from another angle AND if you’re lucky the Canadian border patrol will stamp your kids passports when walking across if you ask them to(they don’t do this when driving across). Plus, you get to take a picture next to the international border and be in two countries at once!
We spent a day driving through Ontario via the Niagara Scenic Parkway (this is the road by the Bird Kingdom) and that was really the highlight of our trip. It was absolutely breathtaking! Along the way there are multiple scenic look outs to stop at and be sure to check out the dam. Our boys were completely amazed by the size of it! Once you get closer to Niagara-on-the-Lake you enter wine country. We stopped at Caroline Cellars and stocked up. Because the exchange rate is so good for Americans we got some really good deals on their amazing wines!
When you get into town you can find a parking spot and walk up and down the block, it’s such a cute little town. I was continuously in awe of their charming buildings and beautiful flowers and greenery on display. We drove around the residential area a bit and found a secluded waterfront park to let the kids play in. They had a blast playing in the water of Lake Ontario and building their rock forts.
Have you been to Niagara before? Let us know your favorite hiking and sightseeing spots!