There’s a ton to do in Niagara Falls, but most people get stuck in the crowds and don’t get to see it all. For 10 years I lived in South Western Ontario, so trips to Niagara Falls were pretty frequent. Over the many times I’ve been there, I’ve developed a pretty kickass itinerary for a day trip to Niagara Falls:
Like most things in North America, you’ll most likely drive to Niagara Falls. Breakfast should definitely be a stop at Tim Hortons, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Pick up a double double (coffee with 2 creams and 2 sugars), a bagel, and a box of assorted Timbits and you’re living the Canadian dream.
Niagara Falls is well situated for a pretty easy day trip – it’s only a little over 1 hr from Toronto, 4 hrs from Detroit, and 2 hrs from London, Ontario, where I’m usually coming from.
Sucks. At Niagara Falls parking simply sucks. You can pay quite a bit to either park right by The Falls, just past the information centre, or at a bigger parking lot closer to the city. If you’re driving, I suggest you drive into the city, away from The Falls. There will be much more affordable parking lots there and if you’re lucky you might even find a free space (especially on a Sunday).
Once you’ve parked, walk right up to the edge of The Falls. Take some time to just take in the sheer expanse of it all. From this point you can see the 3,160 tons of water rushing over the edge each second, you can see down river where the class 6 rapids crash through the gorge, and up river you can spot the tiny islands.
The Canadian side is called Horseshoe Falls, while Bridal Falls and the American Falls are on the US side.
Up river on the Canadian side, you can see an old power generator building. If you look right down below you will spot boats taking groups of tourists into the mist- the giant spray created by Horseshoe Falls.
Right beside Horseshoe Falls is the tourist information building. Go in there and buy a Niagara Falls Adventure Pass. It sounds really touristy, but I swear it’s worth it. The pass will allow you to see all the most amazing things at Niagara Falls (and save 30% when compared to buying individual tickets). When you’re booking the pass, the information guides will ask you to book in times for the attractions. You don’t necessarily have to make these times, it’s just a method of crowd control.
If you have kids or if you’re visiting in the height of summer and need to cool down, you can then head upstairs to check out the 4D Niagara Falls experience, Niagara’s Fury. It’s a cartoon movie that explains the formation of The Falls, followed by a 4D movie on how they were made, complete with water splashing you in the face and the overpowering sounds of crashing ice to imitate the forceful glacier as it carved out the Great Lakes.
After the video, go for Journey Behind the Falls. The entrance is in the same building where the 4D experience is shown. It can sometimes be a pretty long wait, so maybe pick up a coffee for the queue. But the line is definitely worth it… You take an elevator down 150 ft below surface level and the doors open up into the damp, dark tunnels that have been carved out behind Horseshoe Falls. Along the walls, water drips down. The glow of the outside world just about peeks in and the overwhelming crash of The Falls echoes throughout the caves. The caves open up behind the rushing water and you are able to stand about 10 feet from the natural wonder. All along the walls, the history of Niagara Falls and the people who have been a part of it is written. Take your time and be sure to read the amazing history, including the infamous barrel riders who launched themselves over Horseshoe Falls in nothing but wine barrels. There’s a viewing platform where you can stand right beside The Falls near the base of The Gorge. Make sure to wear your poncho as you will get absolutely soaked.
After emerging from the depths of Niagara Falls, go just outside the visitors centre and hop on a bus (it’s free with the day pass). Head down to the White Water Walk. It’s the most underrated attraction at Niagara Falls but for me, it’s my favourite. A little ways away from the chaotic crowds of The Falls, the rapids are another amazing natural occurrence. After the 3,160 tons of water flies over the falls, it continues to carve out a path with class 6 rapids. It’s a long hike on the boardwalk right beside the river and, in the heat of the summer, it’s another way to cool down. Seeing water this close up going that fast with so much power is truly astonishing.
Head back into town because at this point, you’ll need some food. The Rainforest Cafe is a fun place to go, with pretty decent food, and is perfect if you have kids. But my favourite spot is, unsurprisingly, a microbrewery – Niagara Brewing Company. Ontario is legendary for microbreweries and I love trying out the local wherever I am. Niagara Brewing Company is in a great location and has live music almost always. There are a lot of cheesy spots in Niagara to eat, but this isn’t one of them.
After your food, take the very last Hornblower Cruise. Taking the last boat of the day is playing with fire a bit – if you’re late and you miss it, that’s it. But it is hands-down the best thing to do. I’ve caught the last boat in the middle of the summer when crowds are at their craziest, and our boat had max 20 people on it. Not being shoved in like sardines allows you to stand wherever you like (say, on top of the ship) and experience the mist to the max. This is, in my opinion, the only way to take journey into the mist of Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls is a solid day trip and you can get a lot done if you know how to do it right. From Niagara you can head to Toronto, pop over to Niagara-on-the-Lake (Canada’s famous wine region), or cross into the US.