Niagara Falls Travel Guide

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Considering that the beauty of Niagara Falls is the great outdoors, it’s not surprising this Great White North city is most popular in the summer. That’s when the sunlight reflects off the mist of the mighty Horseshoe Falls, creating rainbows arching from shore to shore, while visitors are cooled by the mist during the heat of the day. Definitely, there’s plenty to see and lots of activity in this most travelled season, but there’s many rewards (including reduced hotel rates) during the three other seasons of the year.

Summer

Summer is when Niagara Falls is in full bloom metaphorically and literally. Niagara Parks is responsible for planting the gardens and parks along the Niagara Parkway, including popular sites such as: Queen Victoria Park in the heart of Niagara Falls; the much-photographed Floral Clock made of 40 feet of bedding plants; Queenston Heights Park where the southern point of the Bruce Trail (a hiking trail along Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment) terminates and a statue of General Brock stands guard watching the American shore; and the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse, a less travelled but not-to-be-missed, calming highlight.

The Floral Showhouse is open to the public daily; both the greenhouse and surrounding parks are free to the public and there’s a guest book to record comments from those who enjoyed the carefully cultivated plants and gardens, including a crowd pleasing rose collection. The Niagara Parks Peoplemover shuttle travels between Queenston and the Niagara Floral Showhouse every 15 minutes, and it’s free when you purchase a NIagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass.

Winter

Winter along the Falls is almost as popular as summer for two reasons: First, the still thunderous waters are equally as photogenic framed by great frozen icicles drooping along the edge of the waterfall. This is accented by sheets of thick ice slabs floating down the river and capped with a frosty haze reflecting a winter rainbow.

Second, the Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights illuminates the Park with five kilometres of fun vignettes of lit cartoon characters lined up along the Niagara Parkway from Clifton Hill to Dufferin Islands where the theme becomes Canadian Great Outdoors. The entire route is drivable. The loop into the Dufferin Islands displays circles back to the Parkway where you’ll see the Falls lit up with coloured floods as it is every evening after dusk.

The Butterfly Conservatory will get you thinking about warmer weather. Over 2,000 butterflies flutter freely in this 11,000-square-foot facility. A winding 600-foot path leads you through the rainforest-like environment, past ponds and feeding trays for the fragile butterflies.

Fall

The White Water Walk along the Niagara River is popular in the summer when the shade trees are a welcome reprieve from the heat, but there’s nothing like seeing the Niagara foliage changing colours in early Fall. Visitors to the White Water Walk descend into the gorge via elevator, walk through a tunnel and end up along the safe railed boardwalk that takes them on an easy woodland stroll along the banks of Class Six rapids – the strongest nature has to offer. There are two bi-level viewing platforms where nature lovers can set up tripods capturing shots of the ballet of foam and frenzy.

If coloured leaves are your thing, then the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve should be your next stop. Here are seven linked walking trails ranging from short (0.4km or ¼ mile) to long (3.3km or 2 miles) for the adventurous to follow. If you don’t mind heights, one of the best vantage points is from the Whirlpool Aero Car, an antique cable car that takes you over the intense Niagara rapids and Whirlpool. The ride runs until late November, and is reduced price with a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass.

Spring

Spring is the season of transitions, when everything is starting up again, bulbs and trees are in bloom along the entire Niagara Parkway. Chefs at Elements on the Falls, Edgewaters Tap & Grill and Riverview International Buffet are combing local farms for seasonal menu inspirations while wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake are launching new vintages.

Even in May, it’s still a little chill outside. So drifting inside is often the preferred option. Old Fort Erie (in Fort Erie), originally built in 1764, clings to ghosts from the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the underground railway days of the 1800s. Speaking of 1812, the Laura Secord Homestead, where the famous Canadian war heroine lived, is only ten minutes north of the Falls. The McFarland House near Nagara-on-the-Lake, was built of bricks dried in a kiln on the property and served as a British military headquarters and hospital during the War of1812.

The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum in Queenston is Canada’s largest working printing museum and contains one of the few wooden presses left in the world. For engineering buffs (and others) the Sir Adam Beck 2 Generating Station is one of the province’s largest hydroelectricity generating facilities. Tours are 40-minutes long, including a short film. All these attractions, more educational than those commonly associated with Niagara Falls, have already reasonable admission prices that are further discounted with the purchase of a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass. Most are open May to Labour Day.

Niagara River Recreation Trail

The Niagara River Recreation Trail meanders through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. In August 1943, Sir Winston Churchill chose to rest here from the rigours of meetings with Prime Minister Mackenzie King, prior to the Quebec Conference with U.S. President Roosevelt. He visited the Falls then drove along the Niagara Parkway, describing it as “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world”.

Constructed in 1986, the Niagara River Recreation Trail is a paved path for non-motorized traffic stretching some 53 kilometers (35 miles) along the Canadian side of the Niagara River. From Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake in the north it extends the full length of the peninsula, terminating at Anger Street in the north end of the Town of Fort Erie. Breaks occur where the Trail passes through the urban areas of the Village of Queenston and the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The Trail was built and is maintained by earnings from The Niagara Parks Commission, a self-funded agency of the Ontario Government. Niagara Parks is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the beauty of the lands adjacent to the Niagara River for the enjoyment of its visitors.

For those who wish to savor the entire Trail, it divides nicely into four scenic sections, each with its own history and high adventure set amidst lovely countryside. It takes 1 to 2 hours to pedal leisurely each of these sections: (1) Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston; (2) Queenston to the Whirlpool Aero Car; (3) Chippawa to Black Creek; (4) Black Creek to Fort Erie. In 2007, Niagara Parks worked with volunteers to implement distance markings every 500 metres along the length of the Trail. The markings are designed to heighten safety on the Trail, and to allow Trail users to know how far they have travelled.

Trail users are cautioned that the Trail was not designed to accommodate small wheel devices such as roller blades, roller skates or skateboards. Portions of the Trail are shared with motorized vehicles and traverse public roadways and private driveways. Trail users must obey all traffic regulations and be careful, courteous and respectful of public and private property.

Whether cyclist, jogger or pedestrian, anyone fortunate enough to travel on the Niagara River Recreation Trail moves in some very special company, for in yesteryears British regulars and local militiamen thundered along this historic highway, racing to stem the flow of invaders from across the river. Their lively stories and many stirring episodes are described on over 100 monuments and plaques that mark waypoints along the Trail.

From Niagara-on-the-Lake in the north, the Parkway winds its way southward along one of the oldest roads in the province. Major-General Sir Isaac Brock rode along it one cold, wet, October morning, as he galloped to his death and his destiny. Up the steep escarpment it climbs to the Heights of Queenston on which stands the noble column that marks Brock’s final resting place. Leave the gates of Fort George as Brock did 181 years ago and begin the first leg of this enlightening journey across the Niagara Peninsula. The horticultural and historic sights will thrill, inform and delight you. All this and exercise too!

Maid of the Mist

Explore the Roar

Maid of the Mist boats have been taking the curious up to – and almost under – the thundering waters of Niagara Falls since 1846, making this the oldest tourist attraction in North America. A partner of Niagara Parks, it’s one of the few privately owned operators along the heart of the Niagara Parkway in Niagara Falls.

During the half-hour boat ride, grab a spot on the upper deck for the best view of the Horseshoe Falls on the way there, and the American Falls on the way back. A free plastic blue poncho will protect your camera (but not your feet). Keep it after the ride, because there are plenty of opportunities to get wet around the Falls. Considering you’re getting doused by water from 20 percent of the world’s fresh water supply, it’s a bit like getting anointed by ecological royalty – more of a privilege than an inconvenience. Open seasonally, Maid of the Mist is a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure attraction.

Journey Behind the Falls

Feel the Thunder

This is one attraction where pre-booking your entrance time saves you lining up and, next to the Maid of the Mist, it’s one of the oldest human-made attractions along the Niagara River. Visitors start at Table Rock, take an elevator down several storeys then walk through tunnels bored behind the great Horseshoe Falls to eventually peer through porthole-like openings behind the powerful cascade of water.

For some, it’s a claustrophobic experience, but by no means dangerous. Considering the pressure of the Falls creates 4400 megawatts of electricity, it is well worth getting soaked on the lower observation deck (one of two) that puts you literally feet from the nearly 13-storey high wall of thunderously plummeting water. Again, the plastic poncho provided protects your camera and bags (if left underneath) but little else. Ladies, don’t bother doing your hair that morning! Open year-round, Journey Behind the Falls is a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure attraction.

White Water Walk

Discover Raging White Water

Some people like to ride river rapids, but along the Niagara Gorge you’ll have to settle for viewing from the shoreline and that’s just fine for most visitors to the White Water Walk. These Class Six rapids are the most intense nature offers. Just downriver from the base of the Falls, you’ll be amazed by a captivating ballet of waves, spray, foam and rushing water. You descend into the Great Gorge via elevator, walk through a tunnel and end up along the safe railed boardwalk that takes you on an easy woodland stroll along the banks of the rushing river.

There are a few stairs, and two bi-level viewing platforms where visitors gather for photos against the backdrop of Niagara flora and fauna, or stand resting elbows on the rail for extended periods of time in awe of the massive force of nature drowning out all other sounds. It’s an ideal location for the nature photographer. Open seasonally, White Water Walk is a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure attraction.

Niagara’s Fury

Experience the Creation of the Falls

From familiar staple to new innovation, the Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass comes full circle back to Table Rock and Niagara Parks’ newest multi-media, multi-sensory attraction: Niagara’s Fury; The Creation of the Falls. This one takes to you to the beginning, however. The very beginning.

The Fury is about the genesis of Niagara Falls, thanks to the Ice Age and subsequent melting glaciers. The 15-minute experience starts with a cute educational animated movie that clearly explains for little ones (and others geologically challenged) the natural process that created the Niagara Region.

Just when you’re wondering why you’re once again adorned in a plastic raincoat, the doors open up and everyone moves into a round theatre, and holds onto rails, standing for the show. When the experience begins, you’re surrounded by the sights, sounds, moisture and temperature changes of the almost violent, extravagant clash of water, waves, ice sheets and winter special effects racing you through millions of years of geological evolution. Giving away the details spoils half the fun, but suffice to say this is one of the few technology-driven entertainment experiences that end with impromptu audience applause. Open year-round, Niagara’s Fury is a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure attraction.

Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory

Let Your Spirit Soar!

The self-guided walking tour of the Butterfly Conservatory begins with a short, informative video presentation that is close captioned for the hearing impaired.

This magical attraction features over 2,000 colourful tropical butterflies floating freely among lush, exotic blossoms and greenery. Paths wind through the rainforest setting, past a pond and waterfall and the Emergence window, where butterflies leave their pupae and prepare to take their first flight! Located 10 minutes north of the Falls on the Niagara Parkway.

Whirlpool Aero Car

Soar the Great Gorge

High above the racing Niagara River, you’ll be transported through the air in an antique cable car. Far below, the torrent of water abruptly changes direction and creates one of the world’s most mesmerizing natural phenomenon – the Niagara Whirlpool. Sometimes frightening and always unforgettable!

The Aero car was designed by a Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo and has been in operation since 1916. The cable car is suspended from six sturdy cables and offers a wonderful view of the Niagara Whirlpool which is formed at the end of the rapids where the gorge turns abruptly counterclockwise and the river escapes through the narrowest channel in the gorge.

Please note that this attraction is NOT wheelchair accessible. Open seasonally, the Whirlpool Aero Car is a Niagara Falls & Great Gorge attraction.

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