Niagara Falls, NY
June 2018, we packed up the Subaru and took the 7+ hour drive from New Hampshire to Niagara Falls, NY to kick off the summer. We planned this trip just seven weeks ago, and didn't really have a whole lot of expectations going into it, but our trip was a success and it was worth the drive to see the spectacular views. Here's a quick guide if you decide to road trip to Niagara!
Where to Stay:
We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in Niagara Falls, NY. The building was an old Chocolate Factory in the 1900's. I swear the lobby smelled like chocolate! The hotel was new and clean. We had an upgraded room with a little extra square footage, which proved helpful for in room dining (more on that later). The Hilton Double Tree would also be a good option, it's close the river and you could easily walk to Niagara Falls State Park and the trolley.
What to Do:
If you only had one day in Niagara Falls, you can really see it all. We started our morning on Goat Island in the Niagara Falls State Park. Parking was $10 for the day, including reentry. There's a lot to explore on Goat Island. With multiple scenic overlooks you can view American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and most of Horseshoe falls. If you want the up close and personal view of the falls, I would recommend purchasing the Discovery Pass. The pass can be purchased from the ticket booths located throughout the park. This includes admission to all of Niagara Falls State Park adventures including the iconic Cave of the Winds and The Maid of the Mist. We didn’t buy the pass because we didn’t realize it existed until it was too late… womp, womp…
I will be honest, I wasn't prepared for Cave of the Winds. You can see the deck from the falls but I actually thought the deck was for park staff. Errr… my bad! The attraction starts with a viewing room where you can explore the history of the falls, followed by a video. You are swept into a room and assigned water shoes and a plastic wet bag for your belongings. At this point, I accepted the fact that I was going to get wet. From here, you take a 20 story elevator ride through the rock and into the gorge. Okay, on a personal note, this is where I will tell you there are a crazy number of birds when you come out of the tunnel. It’s possible they give you the poncho just to protect you from the bird poop. This is where I’ll also tell you, go only as far onto the deck of the Cave of the Winds as you are comfortable. The water coming off of the falls is rushing at 750,000 gallons per second in some places. I said per second. I would have been comfortable staying at the first landing and simply taking in all of the sights with my two little kids (ages 3 & 6.5 at the time). The first viewing area is a good place to hang out with small children, if you don’t have great balance, or you’re supremely terrified of you or your children being swept through the railings and into the falls. It wasn’t until the second flight of stairs that I realized there was an out and I didn’t have to navigate the Hurricane Deck, clinging to my 3 year old. If you’re an adventure seeker, you’ll love the Hurricane Deck.
The Maid of the Mist was by far my favorite attraction. With tickets you have access to two spectacular viewing areas, including the observation deck. This may not be your favorite place if you have a fear of heights. The Maid of the Mist outfits you in the iconic blue poncho before you board the boat. Standing room only, as the captain steers straight for Horseshoe Falls. This is by far the best view of Horseshoe Falls if you aren’t able to visit the Canadian side. As you approach you can feel the mist and water coming off the falls. We were on the upper deck on the dock side of the boat which is possibly the wettest spot, but it was worth it for the once in a lifetime perspective. You could feel the boats engine churn to get closer and closer to the falls, fighting the current. Finally, when it was time to head back the release of the engine floated us away from the falls and the mist.
We capped out our perfect day with fireworks! In the summer months, the fireworks take place daily at 10pm. After a day of adventure and dinner, we went back to our hotel to rest up and arrived at Terrapin Point, overlooking Horseshoe Falls, at about 9:30 to find a spot. Before the fireworks the falls are lit up with changing colors. The light reflects off the mist, creating a colorful backdrop for photo ops! If you find a spot at Terrapin Point facing Rainbow Bridge, you will have a great seat to view the fireworks.
If you have a second day in Niagara Falls, I would recommend a visit to Old Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario, just a 20 minute drive from the falls. We visited late in the day but we could have easily spent a couple of hours exploring. It would be a great spot for a picnic and downtime. We also visited the Buffalo Zoo, but we preferred Fort Niagara and could have better spent our time there rather than the zoo!
1. Your passport! Our only regret is not having passports to cross Rainbow Bridge!
2. A blanket for the fireworks
3. Your lunch- there are plenty of places for a picnic
4. All of the ponchos you’ll need are provided at the falls so no need to pack your own
Where to eat:
This was tough- we are a food allergy family and had a hard time finding local options that we were comfortable dining at. We typically pack breakfast and lunch options when we travel, that way we only have to navigate dinner. We had a well stocked fridge and our upgraded room gave us a perfect set up to stay organized. Niagara Falls, NY had a ton of Indian restaurants, a Hard Rock Café (close proximity to Niagara Falls State Park) and there were a few additional chains. We had dinner one night at The Rainforest Cafe and found a Chipotle, our allergy friendly go to, just a few miles from our hotel.
Overall, we give Niagara Falls, NY two thumbs up! It was worth the trip. I would recommend this spot as one stop along a larger road trip.