Niagara Falls: U.S. vs. Canada

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream. Discover.” {Mark Twain}

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Last month Jimmy and I took the kids on a completely spontaneous trip to Niagara Falls.  We were walking around HomeDepot around 11am and by 2:30pm we were on the road headed north.  I’m a plan-aholic, type A personality remember?  And I’m married to an even bigger planner.  He can’t go anywhere without reading every article, blog post, and Pinterest tip on our destination.   Don’t get me wrong, we’ve found the most incredible places and insider secrets that way.  I love our planned travels but there is something very special about true spontaneity; to hop in the car and figure it out along the way; now that’s an adventure.

Packing in a rush always leaves the door open to forgetting something.  I have a list on my phone of our essential items that I can reference when I need to pack in a hurry.  Things like baby blankets, sound machines, phone chargers, camera, etc.  We checked the weather before we packed, but if living in Northeast Ohio has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the weathermen are very wrong.  So I grabbed a couple of outfits for warmer temps and threw in jackets and pants so we could layer if necessary.  When getting a hotel last minute, always check Groupon.  We found a steal of a deal for a water-front family suite.

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Niagara Falls is quite spectacular.  It has the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the entire world.  You can’t help but stop and stare; the grandeur of the Creator’s power and majesty displayed for you to see.  It puts weight to Brennan Manning’s words, “I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild uncontainable love of God.”

I’ll be honest I don’t know that I would recommend going to Niagara Falls without visiting both sides of it.  Believe it or not, they are very different. It’s hard to compare them.  To help you decide, I’ve created a good, old-fashioned pros and cons list.

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C A N A D A

Pros: 

The Canada side has hands down, no questions asked, the best view of the falls.  We stayed on the Canada side this trip.  We did that for a couple of reasons, one your money goes a little bit further because of the exchange rate.  Second, we booked a hotel room that overlooked the falls, which was spectacular during the day but even more so at night.  They light up the falls with different colored lights when the sun goes down, and several days during the week they have a fantastic firework show over the falls.  The show didn’t start until 10pm and my kids didn’t make it after a day of sight-seeing, but Jimmy and I watched the show while we (ok, while I) ate our take-out chocolate cake and made a little date night out of it.

I would classify Canada as the more touristy side.  Clifton Hill is a neighborhood near the falls full of restaurants, shops, and attractions such as mini-golf and Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not Museum.  We dropped by one evening for some ice cream and a ride on the new SkyWheel.  The SkyWheel provided an awesome aerial view of the falls.

My boys went zip lining across the falls from the Canada side too.  They both said the same thing – “that was awesome, short, but awesome!”  The Canadian side also has the Aero Car Trip.  It wasn’t open yet for the season, during our trip, but it looks really awesome.  It’s an open-air trolley cart that goes out on a cable across the river for a spectacular experience and view of the falls.  You can also have dinner in the Skylon Tower, a revolving restaurant 775 feet above the falls.

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Cons:

I felt like there were limited ‘free’ things to do.  Every activity we found on the Canadian side was pretty pricey.  Even the SkyWheel was 12$ per adult and 7$ per kid.  That’s 45$ for one ride for my family of 5.  If you plan to do more than one attraction, it will add up quick.

Most cell phone service providers do not charge an international rate for heading into Canada.  However, I did find that my cell phone didn’t have service most of our time in Canada.  This posed a little bit of a problem since we didn’t have a set plan of what we were doing each day and often needed to look up directions, prices, or hours of operation for locations.

I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a ‘con’ per say, but the temperature near the falls on the Canadian side is significantly lower than anywhere else.  I think because the mist blows off the falls towards that direction and it’s a chilly mist it feels much colder the closer you get to the water.  We needed our jackets when we walked along the falls, especially in the evenings – so just be prepared and bring a jacket, preferably with a hood.

That same mist makes getting that post-card worthy picture pretty challenging too.

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U. S.   S I D E

Pros:

While the Canadian side has the best views, the U.S. side has the best close-up activities.

We loved the national park.  We enjoyed walking along the river and seeing the falls from different angles.  The national park was clean and stroller friendly.  There were lots of different spots to stop, rest, explore, and take advantage of all the photo opportunities.  The observation tower is located in the park as well, you can stand at the top of the falls and watch the water rush down below, so close you feel the vibration of the water.

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You can’t go to Niagara Falls and not do the Maid of the Mist.  The boats runs every 15 minutes so you just buy a ticket and get in line.  We walked right on.  They provide you with complimentary ponchos so your clothes stay dry.  You can, also, wheel your stroller right onto the boat for those of you with littles.  I’ve taken my kids to a few places where I questioned my judgment and felt uneasy about bringing them in hindsight, but this wasn’t one of them.  Yes, you get wet and it’s a little chilly the closer you get to the falls but it’s really incredible.  Our boat wasn’t crowded so when it got too intense on one side (water/wind) I’d take the twins to the other side of the boat.  My Cam loved it – he stood with his arms open as the water pelted his face.  I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched him experience the falls in all his glory.  It is such a unique experience to be that close to the rushing waters, it’s hard to describe.  Don’t miss it!

The U.S. side also has the Cave of Winds, which is the closest you can get to the falls.  You can stand on the “Hurricane Deck” and the conditions are literally the same as a category 1 Hurricane.  I don’t recommend this if you have smaller kids.  They won’t be able to enter the Hurricane Deck but still, pay the same price for the elevator ride down to it.

We had intended to visit the Discovery Center (another freebie) but it was closed the day of our visit.

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Cons:

While there are free activities to do on the U.S. side – like entry into the National Park, the Observation Tower, and the Discovery Center, most activities are paid for individually.  So you’ll need to know your budget and prioritize your choices.  We went before the season started and didn’t have a wait for anything we wanted to do, but I’ve heard at peak season some of the activities have over a 2-hour wait!  Also, remember the view is limited from the U.S. side but it’s still breath-taking in my opinion.

Pay attention to how far you are walking in the National Park.  It’s a pretty long walk from one end to the other and while they do have a trolley that runs continuously, it’s not complimentary.

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I expected the city of Niagara to be very touristy and friendly, but that wasn’t our experience.  It’s not the nicest of areas, and we found most buildings, outside of the park, to be a little run down.  Food is also limited.  Outside of the park, you will find a few restaurants and food carts, but inside the park, there are two concession stands that have overpriced sandwiches and stale pretzels.  If you have the option, I’d bring snacks and eat when you leave.

We had a little bit of rain during our visit and stopped into the Niagara Falls Aquarium, expecting to spend a few hours while the weather passed over.  I would not recommend going here – it’s expensive and very small.  We saw everything there was to see and were done in about 45 minutes.

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Whichever side you land on, make a little room for the unexpected, for the unplanned, for the spontaneous.  The best things in life happen unexpectedly.  The best adventures are never as they planned to be.  The best will come when and from where you least expect it.

XOXO,Holly

 

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