We can not say enough about our family trip to Niagara Falls! This is a perfect example of an action-packed, enjoyable and economical family vacation. We’ve visited both sides of Niagara Falls and the American side is our favorite. Canada has a lot to offer, but we felt like we were able to get more up close and personal with the Falls on the American side.
Niagara Falls is the collection of three waterfalls; Horseshoe Falls (largest), American Falls (second largest), and Bridal Veil Falls (third largest). Horseshoe Falls is on the border of Canada and America. The American Falls and Bridal Veil are entirely on the American side. Niagara Falls State Park is open 365 days a year and it’s always free to walk into the Park and see the Falls.
Wear comfortable footwear for all of your exploration. You may not be walking an unreasonably far distance, but the standing, climbing up and down stairs, and short treks will tire your feet out. Tip: Visit Cave of the Winds first. They give you water sandals with your ticket purchase for Bridal Veil Falls and a rain poncho (you will need waterproof everything for this experience!). You can keep these items and re-use them for your journey on Maid of the Mist (another soaker!). Make sure your camera/phone is in a waterproof case if you plan to take pictures. We used a GoPro.
The Niagara Scenic Trolley offers guided trips along the American Falls and around Goat Island. Tickets are available for individual purchase, or part of Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass, which is available seasonally. We chose to park in one spot and walk to our destinations due to time constrains. (The Discovery Pass includes the Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Adventure Theater and unlimited rides on the Scenic Trolley for the day.)
Niagara Reservation State Park (Prospect Point Park, Goat Island)
The American Falls can be viewed from walkways along Prospect Point Park which allows you to get right up near the flowing water. The Prospect Point Observation Tower puts you high above the river with the best shots of the falls. There’s an elevator from the tower that brings you down to the boat dock for the Maid of the Mist. We really enjoyed Maid of the Mist. There is a fee, (Adult $18.25, Child $10.65, under 5 free) but we found it really worth the cost. The boat takes you past the American Falls and into the basin of Horseshoe Falls. Maid of the Mist is open late April/May till October, but you will get soaked, so plan accordingly (for temperature too). There is a gift shop at the exit if you enjoy collecting memorabilia, souvenirs and clothing to advertise your trip. We always enjoy purchasing ornaments for our Christmas Tree at each state and national park!
Goat Island offers more views of the falls and opportunities to get intimate with them. You can access the island by foot or auto over a small bridge. (There’s a $10 fee to park your car here for the day.) It’s about a five minute walk from Prospect Point Park. The Cave of the Winds is our top recommendation. There is a fee (Adults $17, Children $14, under 6 free), but again we found it was well worth it. You are taken down an elevator (175 feet down into the gorge) and led to a point beneath Bridal Veil Falls. An elaborate staircase takes you along the falls for several terrific views and picture-taking opportunities.
If you’re feeling tough, you can stand on the Hurricane Deck and feel the power of the falls. When you’re ready to dry off, you can take the elevator back up and walk along the paths to Luna Island where there are more gorgeous views and you are on top of Bridal Veil Falls. Don’t leave the island before you have explored the other side of the parking lot where the park continues. You can access the top of Horseshoe Falls at Terrapin Point in a short walk with plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the view. There are plenty of areas to rest or picnic near the falls or you can splurge and eat at the The Top of the Falls restaurant that boasts top notch ambience. You can also access Three Sisters Islands if you travel further down to the other side of the island. The Power Portal where a huge statue of Nikola Tesla (the inventor whose devices for AC power transmission helped make the harnessing of the falls possible) can be seen here. If you only have one day to enjoy the falls, Goat Island is our top recommendation.
Our family trip was limited to a weekend, but we made the most of it with good planning. There is so much more to see and explore that we can’t wait to go back. There are plenty of places to stay close to the falls, but we chose to stay at a hotel a few miles away for economic reasons. We really enjoyed our hotel. It was clean and they had a salt water swimming pool which really made us happy. We had no problem finding parking and we didn’t feel like we missed out by staying outside of the area. There are perks to staying close to the falls (ie; room view, quick access to restaurants, nightlife activities, etc.) if you desire more convenience.
There are several things to do in this area of New York. Of course, you will have the most access in the summer months when everything is open and running. However, if you can make more than one trip, the falls look spectacular covered in ice.
If you have time and are looking for more excitement, you can walk across the border into Canada with proper documentation. There are plenty of things to do on the Canadian side as well or you can enjoy crossing just to say you’ve been “out of the country.”
Some fun facts:
- “…Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by flow rate.”
- “Today, Niagara is still the largest electricity producer in New York state, with a generating capacity of 2.4 gigawatts (million kilowatts).”
- “Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the U.S. Established in 1885 as the Niagara Reservation, it was the first of several such reservations that eventually became the cornerstones to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.”
- “An area 12,300 years in the making, Niagara Falls is a natural wonder unlike any other. The history of Niagara Falls goes back thousands of years, to the Ice Age, when large torrents of water were released from the melting ice, draining into what is now known as the Niagara River.”
These facts were taken from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niagara_Falls & www.niagarafallsstatepark.com
Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Cost– This is a vacation-worthy adventure. A family of five can have a terrific long weekend get-away or plan a week long adventure. To keep your costs down, plan ahead. We stayed at a hotel within driving distance to save money and it was worth it. They even had a salt water indoor pool that we enjoyed. For our family of five with hotel, travel (gas & tolls), tickets to attractions, food, and some trinkets, we spent under $800 for a long weekend.
Parking & Transportation– There are four parking areas within the park ($10 all day), but they fill up fast on weekends and peak days–get there early. Parking on the street is extremely limited or not allowed. Parking garages are available, but they are a more expensive option and not as convenient. If you’re planning to see as much as possible, check out the Niagara Shuttle
If you don’t have a car, there are other transportation options. Niagara Falls is a popular destination.
Location– This adventure is a terrific location. It’s not the easiest to access for a quick trip, but it’s a natural wonder to marvel at. You have direct access to visit another country and see the Falls from a different perspective. You’re far enough away to enjoy the wonder of Mother Nature, but in a populated enough area to find what you need and have a great time.
Day Trip or Overnight– Unless you live in the nearby area, this has to be an overnight trip.
Experience– This is a bucket list item for everyone. We visited the Canadian side with my daughter and many years later we agreed we had to go back to show my son. This is a natural wonder of epic proportions. It’s beauty is astounding and the area is rich in history. A third visit is on our list of upcoming road trips so we can view the Falls in the winter–all frozen over.
Combination– This area is filled with things to do. You will have the most access to everything during the warmer months, but there’s plenty open year-round. We discovered some off-the-beaten-path gems, Herschell Carrousel Museum and The Silo. Check out Niagara Falls Attractions for some popular ideas. This is one of the few adventures you can have where it’s easy (travel-wise) to enter another country for an immediate great experience and come back same day. The Canadian side has it’s own collection of amazing things to do as well.