Niagara Falls – A Unique Natural Spectacle
One of North America’s most famous natural sites, Niagara Falls, is a bucket-list mainstay for millions of people. Connecting two countries and leaving visitors awe-struck, these world-famous waterfalls are a must-see for backpackers in New York State and Ontario. Keep on reading to learn more about this natural phenomenon and how to plan your perfect trip there!
Unique Location and Size
Niagara Falls comprises three waterfalls, all flowing from the Niagara River. Tourists can view this epic spectacle from the Canadian side and the US side. Take it from us, the view from the Canadian side is a lot more impressive! Indeed, the most famous Niagara Falls images are views from Canada of the main waterfall grouping. Horseshoe Falls, named for its horseshoe form, is the largest falls at Niagara. Horseshoe straddles the international border between the province of Ontario and the state of New York. This waterfall reaches a height of approximately 52 metres – about the same height as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The other two groupings, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, are both situated within the USA.
Planning your Trip
Plan your trip to Niagara Falls in advance. An eight-hour car journey with no breaks means that it is not advisable for a day trip from New York City. It does provide a perfect stop-off point if you are road tripping from the US to Canada, though. Otherwise, consider flying to the nearby Niagara Falls International Airport or Buffalo Niagara International Airport. From there, you can take a 30-minute shuttle bus. If you are coming in from the Canadian side, you can fly to Hamilton Airport, about a 60-minute drive away. Rental cars are for sure the most popular option for getting to the Falls. For budget backpackers, bus and train connections like the Greyhound, the Megabus, and Amtrak trains are ideal. Be sure to plan in enough time for the (up to 12 hour) journey!
If you arrive in the car on the US side, take a walk across the Rainbow Bridge (the Canadian/American pedestrian border crossing) to the Canadian side, which has an awesome view of the falls. This route is quicker and less busy than driving. Pack your trainers as the footpaths around the falls can be slippery – and don’t forget your passport!
If you are on a budget, you may want to consider bringing a packed lunch, as the surrounding area will charge you tourist prices for food with their impressive view of the Falls.
As Niagara Falls is quite a way from Toronto and New York City, we recommend that you stay overnight or make a weekend trip of it. Plus, staying overnight will ensure that you don’t miss out on seeing the Falls in a completely new light. When darkness falls, the cascading waters are illuminated in all the colours of the rainbow. The waterfalls are transformed into an otherworldly scene, almost reminiscent of the Northern Lights. We promise you: you won’t see anything like it ever again!
Exploring Niagara Falls
Once you’re there, one thing that may take you by surprise is the mighty roar of the water and how wet visitors get. But since you’re already soaked, it’s time to get up close and personal with this natural giant! Boat tours will take you straight to the spray, making you feel like you’ve plunged into a fantasy film! With Maid of the Mist boats departing from the US side and Niagara City Cruise sailing from the Canadian side, this is an opportunity not to be missed. Both tours follow the same route and ensure maximum soakage – so pack a poncho or buy one on the boat! Remember every backpacker’s essential item – a waterproof bag for your valuables.
Niagara Falls is open year-round, but a winter trip up here is certainly not for the faint-hearted. The average temperature in December is a chilly -6 C. Harsh winds and ice-cold water make for an exhilarating and hardcore experience. While it is rare for the falls to freeze completely, it is completely possible to witness them partly frozen, a magical snowscape. Indeed, seeing the waters in their bigger, whiter winter state is a sight to behold. Popular things to do in Niagara Falls, like boat tours, may only be available during the spring, summer, and autumn months, however. If you’re set on visiting in winter, you can combine your trip to Niagara Falls with other places. New York City and ski resorts in the North of the United States are particularly beautiful during the colder season.
What to Do Around Niagara Falls
So, you’ve experienced the force of the falls up close and personal – what’s next on the agenda?
Both the Niagara Adventure Theatre and the Niagara Gorge Discovery Centre offer interactive displays, exhibits and films exploring the geography and history of the waterfalls and their surroundings. If you’re looking for something more adventurous, then a tour to the Cave of the Winds is just the thing for you! While the Cave itself collapsed in the early 1900s, the winds definitely stuck around. This tour will take you as close to the falls as humanly possible, with the wind giving you a rush of adrenaline. Don’t bring your favourite expensive shoes to this one either as you are going to leave drenched. We advise you to put on the raincoat provided and look after your electricals! Either leave your phone and camera at the hotel or store them in a waterproof pouch.
If you don’t fancy getting wet, how about flying over the falls on the Zipline Tour?
Back on solid ground, hiking enthusiasts can enjoy Niagara Falls as well. Numerous hiking trails of all difficulty levels in the area allow you to explore the region and enjoy unique views of all the falls. The Great Gorge Scenic Overlook Hike provides views of the landscape on its short, one-hour trail. The Devil’s Hole Trail is a slightly more challenging route. It takes you right into the Gorge and includes a specular overlook of the Devil’s Hole Rapids. If rushing water is your thing, we recommend the Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike for more advanced hikers. This tour takes you through New York’s Whirlpool State Park. In general, make sure to plan enough time, as it is difficult to see on some hiking trails at night.
Niagara Falls is a nature lover’s dream. Our absolute highlights are the boat tour with the famous Maid of the Mist and a visit to the Cave of the Winds. We recommend you stay for at least one night to take full advantage of what the area has to offer.
The Discovery Centre will bring you closer to Niagara Falls’ history and interesting facts. You’ll be able to marvel at them in their vibrant colours at night and try a hiking trail, giving you a completely different perspective on the waterfalls and the beautiful North American nature that surrounds them.
We hope this article helped you with your planning, and we wish you lots of fun and amazing moments at Niagara Falls!