If you’re going to Niagara Falls with kids, you’ll be faced with a long list of things you can do. We went in November, when some of the seasonal activities had ended. That made it a little easier for us to decide what to do. Here’s are some things we’d recommend to do at Niagra Falls with kids.
Niagara boat cruise
Boat trips to the falls run from both the American side and the Canadian side. The American side has iconic Maid of the Mist, which closes early November and starts up again in May. We were there over Veterans’ Day weekend, and took the Hornblower Niagara Cruise, Voyage to the Falls, which runs through early December, and then again starting in May. The Hornblower cruises are the Canadian version of Maid of the Mist (they changed companies some time back). They are are 20 minute boat rides, which leave every 30 minutes. We were a guest of Hornblower for review purposes. You get your ticket (in advance or at the ticket booth on the main street) and then go down and wait in line. There aren’t timed tickets. They’ll give you a poncho and you can choose either deck.
Half our family did the more crowded top deck and the others stayed below. We both got wet, but the upper deck gets more of it. You really don’t go into the mist of the falls, but close to it. There’s a narration at the beginning of the boat ride, with some falls facts. The boat has a snack stand.
At the embarcation area, they have free bathrooms and free wi-fi, and elevators that take you down from the top. We saw stroller parking near the embarkation area. They take your group picture before you get on the boat, and you can pick it up/pay for it at the top, when you get back off the elevator. They use a green screen and have a few options for backgrounds.
You can stay on the American side and still easily take the Canadian Hornblower cruise. It’s not a long walk from the Rainbow Bridge to the Hornblower ticket area. We had no lines coming across by foot, but if crossing by car or in busy times, give yourself extra time.
In addition to the traditional boat cruise, Hornblower offers other cruises, like the fireworks or falls illumination tour at night.
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We saw the new Mistrider Zipline to the Falls, which is very close to the Hornblower ticket area on the Canadian side. It opened in summer, 2016. They have 4 parallel ziplines that go 2,200 feet in length over the side of the river, facing Horseshoe Falls. It’s open through early December. We didn’t try it, but it looked like a great view. Videos online showed that you have a seat, versus just hanging from the strap, and it seems to go slower than other ziplines, probably so you can better enjoy the view.
Journey Behind the Falls
We ran out of time, but had planned to do the Journey Behind the Falls. This lets you go behind the Horseshoe Falls, in an area carved out of the bedrock. You’ll look out directly into the falls from the rocks behind it in two places (they carved a tunnel). You also get an outdoor viewing area closer to the water and the river. There’s a similar outdoors experience called Cave of the Winds on the American side. You can see that boardwalk viewing area next to the Bridal Veil Falls from the boat rides and from the top of those falls. They don’t go behind the falls, and the season ends in November; they dismantle the boardwalk for the season. On that one, you can stand very close to the falls.
Journey Behind the Falls is accessed from the Canadian visitor center next to Horseshoe Falls (you should still visit there, as the view is amazing). There’s a big parking lot across the street, charging $20 Canadian (about $15 U.S.) for parking. The WEGO buses go there too, and you can walk there. The area has a great observation area, so we just spent some time enjoying the view.
We stayed on the Canadian side, but walked over to the American side to get those views.
To walk across the Rainbow Bridge, you need 50 cents (American or Canadian) a person. You can get change from the machines there – there was no attendant, and you put the money in and went through a turnstyle. We had to go through American border patrol, showing our passports and explaining how long we were staying (uh, an hour or two). Did the same on the way back on the Canadian side.
The Niagara Falls State Park in New York is lovely and not too commercial or built-up. They do have tourist trolleys driving around, and a welcome center with food, an IMAX movie and some other things we didn’t explore. Mostly we walked around the park. You can go onto the observation area that looks like a cut-off bridge, which is also the entrance to the Maid of the Mist boat tour.
We also walked across a pedestrian bridge over the American Falls, to get closer to that one, and the Bridal Veil Falls. You can get really close. If we kept walking, we could have seen the other side of the Horseshoe Falls.
Here are some fun facts about Niagara Falls:
-the falls water comes from four of the five Great Lakes, and funnels into the fifth (Ontario) downstream.
-half the water is currently diverted for power by both countries.
-we joked about fish going over the falls, but it turns out that they actually do, and it’s estimated that 90% live. The water’s foam acts as a cushion.
-People going over in barrels do so over the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, not the American Falls. The American Falls cliff is eroding, and you can see a lot of boulders at the bottom.
-the falls only froze over completely once, in the 1800s.
-20% of the U.S. drinking water in the U.S. passes over the falls.
-Niagara Falls consists of three falls. In addition to the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls, there’s Bridal Veil Falls in between them.
-the water is 170 feet deep in the gorge, which is the same height as the actual gorge from water level to the top
All photos are copyrighted to Deborah Abrams Kaplan and cannot be reproduced in any form without written permission.
Here are some of our other Niagara posts: