How to Plan a Perfect Family Vacation in Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is a world-renowned destination attracting tens of millions of international visitors each year. Even though it’s a relatively modest 176 feet tall, the sheer volume of water draining the Great Lakes is awe-inspiring. Over 150,000 gallons per second flow from Lake Erie over the cascade via the Niagara River on its way to Lake Ontario and the sea.
Steeped in history, the wonder of Niagara Falls has attracted tourists ever since the country was founded. The region played a key role in the War of 1812, in 1846 the “Maid of the Mist” sightseeing boat tour began and crossing the Niagara River was the final obstacle to freedom for those escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad.
Niagara Falls is actually made up of three separate waterfalls: Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil, straddling the U.S. and Canadian international border. Located in western New York and southern Ontario, the falls are 20 miles north of Buffalo, New York and 90 minutes south of Toronto.
What to Do
Families can find all types of adventures around Niagara Falls from natural beauty and history to kitschy entertainment, depending on your taste.
- Niagara Falls State Park, New York. This spot holds a special place in history as the first ever state park in the United States. Established in 1885 and designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (best known for New York City’s Central Park), Niagara Falls State Park allows you to get the closest to the roaring natural wonder. Here you can touch the water of the Niagara River when walking along the state park’s footpaths and feel the spray of Bridal Veil Falls standing on the stairways of the Cave of the Winds. The panoramic views from the state park’s Observation Tower are the only place you can see all three waterfalls at once.
- Niagara Parks, Ontario. Queen Victoria Park is the main viewing area for the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and contains the Table Rock Visitor Center. Here you can “Journey Behind the Falls” descending 150 ft into century old tunnels through the bedrock to Horseshoe Falls. In Canada’s Niagara Parks you will also find plenty of nature and gardens including the Floral Showhouse, Botanical Gardens, Butterfly Conservatory, White Water Walk and the over 100-year-old Whirlpool Aerocar.
- Maid of the Mist. Perhaps the best known of all Niagara Falls tourist attractions, the Maid of the Mist has shuttled tourists to the base of the falls since 1846. Boats depart full of rain-poncho-clad tourists every 15 minutes and take you right into the spray of the falls itself. The Maid of the Mist operates docks on both the American and Canadian sides of the Niagara River.
- Whirlpool Jet Boat. Looking for a boat ride a little more thrilling than a misty maid? Try the Niagara Falls Whirlpool Jet Boat. This is a thrilling, high-speed tour that splashes through the Niagara River Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole – Class V and VI rapids at a terrifying 50 miles per hour. Niagara Falls Whirlpool Jet Boat departs from three locations: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario; Niagara Falls, Ontario; and Lewiston, New York.
- Fort Niagara. A 300-year-old fort at the strategic mouth of the Niagara River. Old Fort Niagara played key roles in the French & Indian War, American Revolution and War of 1812. A number of reenactments take place every year as well as tours and special events for the holidays.
- New York Attractions. There are many other attractions and surprises in Niagara Falls, NY such as the Aquarium of Niagara – a small collection of marine mammals, penguins and native fish from the Great Lakes region. The Niagara Power Vista offers an observation deck with outstanding (not to mention free) views of the Niagara River and Gorge as well as an incredible room-size model illustrating how power is generated from the Niagara River.
- Ontario Attractions. If you’re looking for commercial tourist fun, you can find it in the Clifton Hill area of Niagara Falls. There’s the 175-foot-tall Niagara Skywheel, Skylon Observation tower, minigolf, wax museums, interactive rides, video arcades, theaters, bowling, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, indoor waterpark resorts and new attractions opening every day. Families can easily fill their time at Niagara Falls without even looking at the waterfall.
Once you get to Niagara Falls, it is very easy to get around the compact region. Many attractions are within walking distance and there are shuttle services as well. Niagara Falls State Park offers a scenic trolley that delivers guests throughout the park. Ontario’s Niagara Parks has a WEGO hop-on, hop-off bus system to transport visitors between hotels and attractions.