Niagara Falls: Somewhere, Under The Rainbow

Ahhhh, Niagara Falls, one of the seven modern wonders of the world, you fooled us!  Fully expecting to be underwhelmed, drawn in by unwarranted hype, instead we found ourselves awed and humbled, over and over again.  We were truly “barreled over”!  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)  

If you don’t see rainbows at Niagara, you’re simply not looking up from your cellphone often enough.  Because of the mist in the air, the angle of the sunlight, and the mercy of the Gods of Travel Photos, they are everywhere. 

We had the pleasure of another family visitor here, when daughter Taylor flew in to join us!

It’s really nice to get a “taste of home” while on the road for five months.

Niagara Falls sits smack-dab in the middle of the Niagara Gorge, with one side in New York, U.S., and one side in Ontario, Canada.  We tried to think of another natural attraction amicably shared by two countries, and came up blank.  Maybe you, dear readers, can think of one and advise us.

The “things to do” list is largely the same from either side.  U.S. has “Maid of the Mist” boat tours with blue ponchos, Canada has “Hornblower” boat tours with red ponchos.  U.S. has “Cave of the Winds,” Canada has “Journey Behind the Falls.”  Etc, etc, ad infinitum.  We bopped back and forth across the gorge via the Rainbow Bridge, seen below with Canada on the left, U.S. on the right.  

The U.S. side is inside a New York State Park, so it tends to be greener and more natural.  The Canada side is alongside a busy street, so it is more commercial, but also more easily accessible.  When planning to visit here, there is no “wrong answer” … both are perfectly great.

New York side
Canada side

Niagara is also one of the few ahhhh-mazing places without a “fee to see”!  True, you will have to pay for parking (unless you take Canada’s excellent free bus system called WeGo), but other than that, no cost!  This leads to two things:  (1) slow-moving, elbow-jostling, selfie-snapping crowds-a-plenty; 

and (2) me wondering why a terrorist attack has not yet happened here, with no barriers to entry, little visible police presence, and full access for miles and miles.  As with any popular national park or tourist attraction, the never-fails key to happiness is as follows:  GO EARLY for best views without strangers in them!

Niagara Falls is actually three falls:  American Falls and tiny Bridal Veil Falls (next to it on the far right below, and separated by just a small slice of rock), both on the U.S. side;

(note the boat going by along the bottom of above photo, 

and people on the top of below photo, for scale purposes)

… and Horseshoe Falls, curving grandly from the U.S. side across to the Canada side.

One thing’s for sure, if you’re visiting Niagara, you’re a-gonna get wet.  They even give you oh-so-stylish flip-flops to wear so your feet aren’t left to squish their way through the day in soggy sneakers.

Even just walking down the road alongside the gorge, the mist is hanging in the air, a welcome treat in the heat of the summer, like a super-sized version of the outdoor patio at your local beer garden.

An even better way to get wet all-at-once is on a 20-minute boat ride right into the heart of Horseshoe Falls.  Before leaving Phoenix, my friend warned, “Don’t do that stupid Maid of the Mist tour,” but we did it anyway and it was a BLAST.  

Besides getting up-close-and-personal to all of the falls, it was a full-on drenching that had us holding our sides in laughter the entire ride.  Thoughtfully, thin plastic ponchos are included.

Because this is pretty much what you’re in for … and this is one of my “drier” photos.

But also, great views, obviously!

Horseshoe Falls is the famous “over the edge in a barrel” location, primarily because it has super-deep pools at its bottom (you might live), while American Falls has super-huge boulders at its bottom (you definitely wouldn’t live).  The first person to go over was a widow who was doing it as a stunt because she was broke.  She sent her cat over first, to see if he would live.  When the cat survived, she did it herself (and brought the cat along again — why that cat stuck around after the first time, I’m not entirely sure).  She also stuffed a mattress in there with them, and a friend pumped air into the barrel using a bicycle pump until that final moment.

Niagara Falls is like the Grand Canyon, in that you’re just walking along thinking “there is nothing here, it’s all flat” and then BOOM you come upon the scene of the real deal.  And Niagara’s real deal is really something!

Also like the Grand Canyon (the west end, anyway), a viewing platform leads out into the Gorge, offering way-up-high views of all the falls as well as the passing ships.

The most recent person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope was in 2012, by Nik Wallenda of the famous Wallenda Brothers.  Others in the past have crossed on a bicycle, carrying their manager on their back, and other such stunts.  So many crazy people want to do this that a commission on the matter had to be formed, and now examination of a proposal submitted by a stunting professional will be considered no more than once in a generation, or about every 20 years, as a way to pay tribute to the history of stunting here, but to keep the lunacy factor to a bare minimum.

The accessibility of the falls was remarkable.  Above, below, around, and next to the water, you are allowed to get closer than you’d even think possible … or perhaps even advisable.  

The Cave of the Winds tour involves an elevator ride down 175 feet to the bottom, then a series of steps up to the base of Bridal Veil Falls.  These steps used to be destroyed every year by winter weather and rebuilt, but now are more or less (hopefully) permanent.  

The crown jewel of this attraction is the Hurricane Deck, where 60,000 gallons of water per second pummels you from above.  Good times!

Journey Behind The Falls takes you underneath the backside of Horseshoe Falls in a similarly wet set of circumstances.

If wet hair isn’t your thing, how about wet kisses instead?  Of course, you’ll have to bring your own partner along, but the Lovers Tree provides the perfect canopy for private moments inside … well, except for all those other people with the same idea.  Niagara Falls is the “Honeymoon Capital of the World,” after all … you didn’t think you’d be all alone in there, did ya???

With all that water, of course seagulls and pigeons are everywhere.  But even if you hate them, you can’t help but say AWWWW when you see the babies.  Here, Mama keeps a watchful eye over her baby fluffball to the right.

If you haven’t got enough of Niagara Falls from street level, a trip to the top of the 775-foot Skylon Tower on the Canadian side is just the ticket.  Three elevators on the outside of the tower zoom you to the top, where a fine revolving restaurant awaits.

Slowly taking a full hour to make one revolution, its eye-popping views (here, of Horseshoe Falls) are made even better by the live piano music and full bar. 

Time it right, and you’ll even get the perfect sunset from the outdoor observation deck.

Being so high gives you the perfect birds-eye (or is that seagulls-eye) view of the whole shebang!

The Falls at night are also impressive.  Free summer concerts are held in Queen Victoria Park (on the Canadian side, obviously, since the U.S. has no queens), right across from the Falls.

The Falls are illuminated with rotating colors.  The lighting supposedly starts around 7 PM, but it doesn’t get dark enough to even see the colors until almost 9 PM during the summer.

And then, in a final flourish, fireworks over the American Falls around 10 PM.  At most, five minutes worth (maybe four).  Since they do it every night, I guess they want to make their stash last. 

Our favorite side trip was a visit to the small town of Niagara-by-the-Lake, nestled amongst multiple vineyards about 10 miles away, and voted Canada’s #1 Food and Wine destination in 2015.  It’s a very well preserved 19-century colonial town, described by another blogger like this …. 

“Think Newport Beach, RI meets Napa, CA meets Savannah, GA 

meets Cape May, NJ meets Mayberry RFD and you get the idea.”

… but described by our daughter Sarah as such:  “Mom, it looks just like Disneyland!”  Fair enough, and a 5-star endorsement, obviously.

Besides shopping on Queen Street, there are plenty of parks, restaurants, museums and other ways to while away an afternoon.  

The flowers, oh me, oh my!  I cannot even imagine the budget this town has for horticulture.  The entire, and I mean ENTIRE, town looked like this.

Also in the area, the famous (and working) Floral Clock is created with up to 16,000 carpet bedding plants and it gets a face-lift and new design every six months. (It says NIAGARA PARKS at the moment.)

Old Fort Erie along the Niagara River recreates the historic fort during the War of 1812 with a variety of tours and demonstrations.

Even hiking in a small provincial park in Canada was delightful, with horses and wildflowers to distract us from the humidity and ticks in the woods.

But alas, it can’t be all fun and games, not until somebody dumps the RV sewer tank.  Taylor was given a crash course against her will, but she kept a good attitude nevertheless.

We later watched the 1952 Marilyn Monroe movie “Niagara” and were aghast at both how much Niagara Falls has changed since then, and also how much of it is still exactly the same.  A gorgeous location with both historical and commercial significance, and the perfect place to experience the Canada Day weekend, the national day of Canada!  

We packed up to head back through inland New York to Ticonderoga, our chosen locale for our own country’s Independence Day celebration.  Goodbye Niagara Falls, and thanks for the memories!

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