Yes, it’s true. Niagara Falls is amazing. It seems like that word is getting overused these days. Can a hamburger really be “amazing”? Let’s agree that Niagara Falls is truly amazing. It’s one of those wonders of nature that you have to experience in person to fully appreciate. After visiting Niagara Falls and Iguazú Falls (in August 2013), we have now seen two of the world’s three most spectacular waterfalls with Victoria Falls remaining for a future trip. Niagara Falls, consisting of the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls, is tops in terms of vertical drop combined with water volume but the 1.7 miles long series of waterfalls at Iguazú deserves its own type of amazing.
Niagara Falls can be explored from the US side and the Canadian side. The two sides are quite different. The US side is a New York State Park. In fact, they claim that it is the oldest state park in the US. Since it is state park owned and managed, it is mostly all natural with very little commercial development. This in no way diminishes your opportunity to enjoy the waterfalls. There is the Maid of the Mist boat that takes you up close and personal to both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls and there are ample opportunities to get up close to the edges at the tops of the falls.
By contrast, the Canadian side is highly developed with massive hotels, casinos and other tourist “attractions” (Bird Kingdom?) lining the street that runs alongside the Niagara River and the falls. The Canadian side offers its own boat ride to the falls, Hornblower Cruises, and affords much different views to both falls. You can walk across the Rainbow Bridge that connects the two sides which puts you high above the Niagara River downriver from the waterfalls and affords terrific views. On the Canadian side we took the “Journey Behind The Falls” tour which puts you in a series of tunnels and portals behind Horseshoe Falls as well as a platform near the base of the falls. Standing in one of the portals gives you an inside view of the massive cascade of water. It looks like the worst torrential rainfall you can imagine.
(By the way, don’t assume that the Rainbow Bridge is a marshmallow border crossing just because it is in a tourist zone. We crossed on foot as well as in our car and we were thoroughly questioned about our purpose for crossing and our intentions. Perhaps the most detailed questioning we have encountered for any border crossing. This goes for both the Canadian and the US side. Make no mistake, I’m not complaining. They have a tough job and I don’t mind answering a few simple questions.)
While on the Canadian side, we took a drive north (downriver from the falls) along the Niagara River to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, located at the point where the river joins Lake Ontario. From the shore of Lake Ontario we could see the skyline of Toronto on the north side of the lake. Originally a settlement known from about 1781 as “Butlersburg”, it was renamed “Niagara” in 1798. Its present name was adopted as a postal address in 1880 to distinguish it from “Niagara Falls”. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a very lovely town that has apparently become a regular stop for the Niagara Falls bound tour buses. We were there on a Wednesday and the parking area set aside for tour buses was very busy with about 10 to 15 large buses.
Next stop: Waterloo, NY