North America has scores of natural wonders, but if you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, you haven’t seen one of the most breathtaking among them. Created 12,000 years ago as water flowed into the Niagara River from the Great Lakes, these three spectacular waterfalls are at the center of a sightseeing and recreational area with enough outdoor and indoor activities to make a great weekend getaway or extended vacation.
Niagara Falls is really two cities with the same name, divided by the international border between the United States and Canada. The American part is in the state of New York, and the Canadian part is in the province of Ontario.
When you plan your trip, the first thing you’ll want to do is pick a spot to stay. You’ve got plenty of choices here, because Niagara Falls hotels run the gamut from luxury accommodations if you want to take your pack off and pamper yourself to more modest lodging including campgrounds and RV parks, some of which have cabins and resort amenities.
Once you’ve settled in, you can fill your days and nights nonstop. Niagara Falls has something for everyone, and many attractions are accessible via WEGO, the hop-on, hop-off bus system that connects all of the Niagara Parks attractions.
Here are six great things to do:
1. Experience the Falls
The best way is to get on board the Maid of the Mist for an exciting trip from the Canadian docks past the base of the American Falls and through the powerful current onward into the basin of the magnificent Canadian Horseshoe Falls. A cool souvenir raincoat is included with the price of admission. Operating since 1846, and the oldest tourist attraction in North America, the Maid of the Mist runs from about late April when the last ice melts on Lake Erie to mid-Fall every year, depending on the weather. This year it will be open through November 4th.
Even if you can’t take the boat trip, you can enjoy the Niagara Parks Journey Behind the Falls where you’ll take an elevator 150 feet down to a series of tunnels that open to the astonishing wall of water crashing down from the top to the basin of the Horseshoe Falls. This attraction is open all year except on Christmas Day.
2. Hike the Trails
The hidden gems of the region are the Niagara Gorge trails which traverse north from the falls for 6.8 miles (11 kilometers) and offer a superb view that most visitors don’t even know about it. Don’t miss the stairway that takes you down to Niagara Glen for a run through prehistoric geological formations in a pocket of pristinely preserved Carolinian forest. If you’d like to take it a bit easier, there are also guided hiking tours through the Glen.
3. Cycle Around
Take in the natural beauty of the region on one of its many cycling trails. There are more than 200 trails, catering to riders of every level. Niagara Parkway has been named one of the top 10 cycling routes in the world, stretching 36 miles (58 kilometers) along the Canadian side of the Niagara River, passing many wineries along the way. For a more serious ride, the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail stretches 485 miles (780 kilometers), following the shores of Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border.
4. Go to Extremes
If you’re up for some adrenalin-pumping excitement, buckle up for an exhilarating zipline to the falls, take on the challenging Niagara Glen Bouldering Trail, or sign up for a kayak trip on a fast-moving current. For a more serene experience, you can enjoy an outing on the Niagara River via canoe or river raft.
5. Do Some Wine Tasting
When you’re ready to kick back, you’ll be happy to know that the Niagara Region is known for its award-winning wines including the unique ice wine, made from grapes harvested when temperatures are below freezing and sugar content is highest. The Niagara Wine Route on the Canadian side, and the Niagara Wine Trail on the American side feature dozens of wineries with tasting rooms set amid acres of gorgeous vineyards.
6. Take in the Night Life
After the sun goes down, there’s still plenty to do. There are restaurants galore, and two action-packed casinos offer blackjack, roulette, poker, slots and sports gaming along with comedy shows and live entertainment with headline stars.