My family and I drive through Niagara Falls every year. Niagara Falls is a featured stop on our epic car rides, but we’ve never done much there other than look at the Falls, much to my daughter’s chagrin. This year we traveled without a dog, and that let us take in some of what the area has to offer. Unfortunately, my daughter was not with us. I don’t think she holds it against us.
Niagara Falls, the Canadian side at least, is the epicenter of some of the most kitschy, tacky and commercialized attractions anywhere. It reminded me of a Key West on steroids and without the bars: T-shirt shirts, wax museums, and Frankenstein eating a burger. I remember the regret I felt driving up the wrong road once and having to deny my daughter the joy of glow-in-the-dark golf. (I might have stopped if we seen the dinosaur garden mini-golf. My wife wants to go back there to golf next time we drive through.)
Niagara Falls, on the American side, feels a little more what I imagine it felt like when my great-grandparents honeymooned there. Those viewers that cost 25 cents to use line the railing at the edge of the falls at the Niagara Falls State Park. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the state park, which maintains his vision, with native plantings and epic vistas. While the Falls themselves are blocked off by railings, along the river in the state park, the water is right there. Paddle to the Sea survived the trip down the falls, but I doubt that is the usual result.
This year, my wife and I took a boat tour from the Canadian side, to the base of the falls. The ultimate touristy expedition, we were met with many opportunities to buy stuff after we paid our $20 Canadian for the tickets. We took the first boat of the day to avoid the insane crowds that we were sure would follow. They gave us little rain ponchos to protect us from the mist. We set ourselves up at the railing and we were off.
Water from four of the five Great Lakes pours over the cliff at Niagara. Every drop of water in Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie eventually goes over here. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls don’t have the same vertical drop as the Horseshoe Falls because of huge boulders at the base. I imagine each year another chunk falls off into the pile. The Horseshoe Falls have a vertical drop of 188 feet, compared to 70 to 100 feet for the American Falls. The sheer amount of water going crashing down is staggering. Much of the Canadian falls are hidden from view behind a large cloud of mist that hovers in front of the falls.
As we got a little closer to the falls, I thought I should put up the hood of my poncho so I could keep taking pictures. Then, as the roar of the falls got louder, water poured down my shirt, down my neck, soaked my jeans and made it pretty much impossible to see. I don’t think the mist cloud is actually mist, but is more like a heavy drenching thunderstorm. It was great! $20 for twenty minutes and completely worth it!
We hit the road after the boat trip, leaving the dinosaur putt-putt still waiting to be played. Also left undone were the trips Behind the Falls, walking from Canada to the US on Rainbow Bridge, and going over the Falls in a barrel. (Against the law, as I’ve learned.)
We will need to plan another trip for when the American Falls will be de-watered for some bridge repair work. Last time they did this, they built a big dam that redirected the water to run over the Horseshoe Falls. I want to see what that looks like – Here’s a clue of what I can expect.