Visiting Niagara Falls

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Niagara Falls is a beautiful thing. The roaring cascade is breathtaking, pummeling the Niagara River below with 750,000 gallons of water every single second, but sadly, the surrounding area has been well commercialized. Niagara’s gaudy development may serve as a warning: this is what could happen to our natural wonders if we don’t protect them (Niagara is not actually a national park, hence it’s surrounded by concrete rather than wilderness). But even so, chain stores won’t stop Niagara’s thunderous flow.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy Niagara for what it is:

Embrace the crowds, or go during winter. Niagara Falls has been a quintessential honeymoon and vacation spot for generations. The fact that it’s been discovered needn’t spoil your experience, but if you go expecting to commune with nature in peaceful isolation, you’ll be disappointed. If you visit during the winter, it’ll be cold and gray, but the crowds will have thinned and you’ll get to see the falls partially iced over. Sometimes an ice bridge connects the American and Canadian sides, and in any event, this part of the continent always looks good under a blanket of fresh snow.

See both sides of the falls. If you’re debating whether to visit the falls from the American or Canadian side, just do both. You’re already there anyway! You’ll be right up next to the falls on the American side, and you’ll get a nice panorama from the Canadian side. Don’t forget your passport.

Give in to the commercialization. The Canadian side is like Times Square: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Rainforest Café, Hershey Chocolate World. If you secretly enjoy a good wax museum, this is your chance to indulge without judgment. The American side has its fair share of touristy development too.

Rainbow lights are no match for natural beauty. You’ll notice that after sundown, an array of colored lights illuminates the falls. In my opinion, it’s misguided to think that a light show (or fireworks) will make Niagara more awe-inspiring than it already is, but you might as well go and decide for yourself.

Learn about the Underground Railroad. For many slaves in the 19th-century American south, true freedom lay beyond the northern states in Canada, and Niagara Falls was an important border crossing. There were also numerous hotel owners in Niagara who hired black newcomers so they could start a new life. Check out the Underground Railroad Heritage Area to locate specific historical sites.

Explore Niagara Falls State Park. Established in 1885, this is America’s oldest State Park; that’s pretty impressive in itself. It may not be the most rigorous hike you’ve ever done, but it’s the closest to nature you’ll get in the immediate area.

What’s your favorite part about Niagara Falls?

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About Author

Sarah is the North America Editor for Go! Girl Guides and she wrote the New York City guidebook. Raised in rural Texas on mesquite barbecue and barrel racing, Sarah lived in Indiana for two years before moving to New York by herself. Some of her favorite experiences in North America include snowmachining outside of Anchorage, exploring Caladesi Island off the coast of Florida, touring a Cold War bunker in West Virginia, watching the sun set over Chicago from Lake Michigan, and taking an overnight train from Montreal to Halifax.

2 Comments

  1. Great tips! I live 15 minutes from Niagara Falls and I always warn visitors to prepare themselves for the tacky, visually assaulting area surrounding the falls. If you can manage to ignore the over-commercialism, the falls is a beautiful attraction.

    • Sarah Enelow on

      So glad to hear from a local! I would love to go back and see the falls from behind the curtain of water.

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