Most visitors to Niagara Falls arrive in the summer when the kids and grandkids get a break from school. Summer may be ending, but that doesn’t mean the fun disappears from Niagara Falls! On both sides of the Falls — the American side in Niagara Falls, New York and the Canadian side in Ontario — there’s plenty to keep you and the kiddos busy when you visit Niagara no matter what time of year you choose to go. Use this travel guide to help you plan your Niagara Falls adventures all year round.
Is One Day Enough for Niagara Falls?
If you only want to snap a few photos of this natural wonder and feel the mist on your face, you can manage that in a day. But why stop there? With attractions on both the USA and Canada sides, there’s something to entice everyone. A boat ride on Maid of the Mist brings you up close to the mighty waterfalls. High-speed jet boat rides over the rapids on the Niagara River get your adrenaline pumping. And zip-lining over the Niagara Gorge in view of the falls provides an unforgettable (and slightly terrifying) experience. Why rush things?
Viewing Niagara Falls
Any visit to Niagara Falls must include time for soaking up the awe-inspiring sight of 3,160 tons of water per second thundering over the rocks to the Niagara River below. Niagara Falls is the collective name for three powerful waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls. The Falls overlaps the border of Canada and the United States. Spectacular views exist from both countries. On the New York side, Terrapin Point provides stunning views at the edge of Horseshoe Falls. On the Canadian side, you’ll find a clear panoramic view.
Don’t limit your viewing time to daylight hours. The Falls are illuminated after dark and it’s gorgeous. For more fanfare, stick around until 10:00 PM for Canada’s longest-running spectacular fireworks series over the waterfalls throughout the summer and during the Winter Festival of Lights, and select other holidays throughout the year.
Make your viewing an international experience with a walk or bike ride across Rainbow Bridge. The Rainbow Bridge serves as the gateway between the cities of Niagara Falls. You can cross the bridge by car, on foot or on a bicycle 24/7 every day of the year. If you walk or bike across, you’ll enjoy fantastic views of the Falls and the Niagara River. Be sure to bring your passport.
Take a Boat Ride to the Falls on Maid of the Mist
A favorite Niagara Falls attraction, the Maid of the Mist’s first voyage dates back to 1846. In 2020, two all-new electric boats launched. These zero-emissions boats continue that proud tradition while providing an environmentally friendly attraction. The boat tour begins at the docks in Niagara Falls State Park where you’ll board the Maid of the Mist and cruise into the heart of these powerful waterfalls. A not-so-fashionable blue hooded poncho will keep you somewhat dry, but the experience is worth the bad hair day! Maid of the Mist operates from late April until November. See the Maid of the Mist schedule for details.
Cruise in Canada on the Hornblower Niagara
On the Canadian side, Hornblower offers a 20-minute Voyage to the Falls boat tour that gets you as close as possible to the magnificent Niagara Falls action. You’ll journey the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and into the heart of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Operating from late April to late October each year, you’re guaranteed to feel the mist! The entrance is located in Queen Victoria Park less than a minute’s walk from the base of Clifton Hill. Open seven days a week from May through October.
Hang on Tight on the Hurricane Deck at Cave of the Winds
For a thrilling up-close adventure with the falls, take the Cave of the Winds tour in Niagara Falls, New York. An elevator whisks you 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge. From there, wooden walkways wind along the Niagara River beside the Bridal Veil Falls. For an adrenaline-pumping experience, make your way to the Hurricane Deck where you’ll be standing just a few feet from the thundering water. Despite wearing a poncho and special water shoes, I got soaked, so be prepared!
Although the Hurricane Deck closes in winter, Cave of the Winds remains open providing two observation decks to get you close to the action. Bundle up! Also, in winter, free snowshoes are available at the Cave of the Winds pavilion. Pick up a pair and explore the winter wonderland of Niagara Falls State Park.
Journey Behind the Falls
Visiting Niagara Falls as a 12-year-old back in the 70s, my most vivid memories include walking through the tunnels that led to observation decks behind the waterfalls. At the time, that attraction was known as the Scenic Tunnels. Today, it operates as a year-round attraction known as Journey Behind the Falls. The experience begins with a 125 ft. descent by elevator through bedrock where a short tunnel gives access to two outdoor observation decks with two portals located directly behind the Falls. The attraction remains open year-round with discounted rates for the winter months when the lower observation deck is closed due to ice conditions.
View the Fall in Comfort on the Niagara Skywheel
The Niagara SkyWheel provides a totally unique sightseeing opportunity. As one of Canada’s largest observation wheels, The Niagara SkyWheel soars 175 feet above the Niagara Falls horizon. From this vantage point, you’ll have panoramic views of the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, the Niagara River, Niagara Parks and more. Boarding in Clifton Hill in Canada, the Niagara SkyWheel’s fully enclosed gondolas equipped with heating and air conditioning ensure year-round comfort.
Zipline at the Falls
For an adrenaline-pumping Niagara Falls experience, try the zipline at the Falls. Take one of four ziplines that face the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. This wild ride takes you 220 feet up and travels at a speed of 40 miles per hour. You won’t cross over the Falls, but you’ll certainly have a heck of a view. Capture some amazing Instagram photos by timing your ride on the four ziplines simultaneously with your family.
Splurge on a Helicopter Tour
Niagara Helicopters provides another thrilling way to view the Falls. Open year-round this helicopter tour takes you above the whirlpool and rapids in the Niagara River, past the American Falls and the Skylon Tower before turning to fly over the majestic Horseshoe Falls. Expect rainbows to slip in and out of your vision and be sure you have your camera ready!
Niagara Glen Nature Centre
Have any rock climbers in your group? The carved rock formations of the Niagara Glen on the Canadian side showcase thousands of years of geological history. Those ancient rocks also provide a fun destination for rock climbing enthusiasts. Bouldering permits and supplies can be purchased at the visitor center for Niagara Glen Nature Centre. If you prefer to keep your boots on the ground, hiking offers another way to experience the natural beauty of Niagara Glen. The Niagara Glen overlooks the rapid waters of the Niagara River and the marvel of the Niagara River Whirlpool.
Explore the Hiking Trails in Niagara Gorge
Beginning at the Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center, the Niagara Gorge hiking trails present a wide variety of experiences. For an easy one-hour round trip, check out the Great Gorge Scenic Overlook Hike. Especially beautiful in autumn with the trees blanketed in shades of gold, red and orange, this hike works for all ages and experience levels. Another hiking trail that works well for families, the Upper Great Gorge also begins at the Trailhead Building and follows the Great Gorge Railway Trail.
For families with older children (8+) and more experienced hikers, the Devil’s Hole Rapids and Giant Rock trail ranked as moderate takes about 2.5 hours round trip. And if you’re up for a challenge, the Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike begins at Whirlpool State Park, takes about three hours, and delivers some boulder hopping along the way.
Experience a Wild Ride on a Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour
Available in Lewiston on the US side of the falls and in Queenstown, Ontario on the Canadian side, Whirlpool Jet Boat tours keep thrill-seekers delighted. These 45-minute round-trip rides take place from May through October on specially designed 1500-horsepower jet boats. Plunging directly into the Class V Devil’s Hole Rapids in the Niagara Gorge, the boats scoop up hundreds of gallons of water. If you choose the Wet Jet vessels, you’ll soak up plenty of that water too – I certainly did! For those who prefer to keep dry, the Freedom Jet vessel is mostly enclosed but has two rows of outside seating at the front for the adventurous souls on board.
Pro Tip: Bring a change of clothes!
More Thrill-Seeking Delights on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls
Located along the 35-mile Niagara Parkway, the historic Whirlpool Aero Car provides an unforgettable ride over the teal-colored waters of the Niagara River. As you cross in the antique cable car dating back to the early 1900s, you’ll cross the international border between Canada and the United States four times. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the swirling Niagara Whirlpool formed at the end of the rapids where the gorge turns counterclockwise.
For a closer look at the Niagara Whirlpool and Class 6 Rapids, take a walk along the river’s edge on the White Water Walk open May through October. An elevator takes you down to this quarter-mile boardwalk where you’ll be up close to the crashing waves and take in stellar views of the 410-million-year-old rock layers of the Niagara Gorge. Viewing platforms along the walk deliver great photo ops!
Step into History at Old Fort Niagara
Take a day trip to Lewiston to check out Old Fort Niagara. With a history that spans more than 300 years, Old Fort Niagara provides a glimpse into the past. Flashback to an era when great empires struggled for control of North America. The fort showcases original 18th-century buildings where Native American, French, British and American soldiers lived and worked. Embark on a self-guided audio tour. Or enjoy a variety of excellent living history programs. The kids and grandkids are sure to love the musket and cannon firings! At the center of the fort stands the impressive French Castle. Wander through and don’t be surprised if you run into a Frenchman from days gone by.
Old Fort Niagara remains open year-round with reduced hours in the winter. For a unique experience, check out one of the special winter events. For example, last January’s Winter Warriors event included living history demonstrations with snowshoeing, fire-starting, food preservation and preparation, fur trading and shelter building. Check the website for upcoming events and hours.
Getaway for a Daytrip to Niagara-on-the-Lake
If you have extra time, consider a day trip from Niagara Falls, Canada to Niagara-on-the-Lake. You’ll travel along the scenic Niagara Parkway with plenty to see en route. Just north of the Botanical Gardens, make a stop at Niagara’s colorful Floral Clock. Built in 1950, at 40 feet in diameter, the clock is one of the largest in the world.
Situated at the north end of the parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake is known for its local wineries. Located at the conflux of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River, this picturesque village-like town makes an ideal grown-up getaway for a little wine tasting!