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Tips For Visiting Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls is a spectacular natural wonder, and it’s no surprise it’s been attracting visitors for over 200 years. At present, over 13 million people travel around the world to see the dramatic falls, which consist of three separate waterfalls.

The American Falls and Bridal Falls are located in the United States, while the more impressive Horseshoe Falls is across the Niagara River in Canada.

Incidentally, while all the falls are viewable from both countries, the Canadian side offers those epic views. The Niagara River acts as a natural border between Ontario, Canada to the north, and the state of New York, USA, to the south.

For many and myself included, Niagara Falls is a bucket list destination. My husband, Brian was born and raised in Ontario so Niagara Falls was almost in his backyard.

While living on Canada’s west coast, I accompanied Brian on a business trip to Toronto. My 3-day itinerary to Toronto included all the city’s hotspots and a surprise visit to Niagara Falls. 

Here are my top tips for visiting Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.

Tips For Visiting Niagara Falls On A Budget

Let’s face it, like any tourist mecca, a trip to the almighty falls is going to be expensive. If you’re making the trip just to see the falls, it could be done in a day without an overnight stay. Plan to leave Toronto early and return late at night.

Alternatively, plan to travel outside of the summer months when the prices are highest. Often, online sites like Groupon and Travelzoo offer discounted coupons for hotel stays in the Niagara area. Select a hotel that’s not within walking distance of the falls to score the best bargains.

Getting To Niagara Falls

  • Location: 6650 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls

One of the best tips for visiting Niagara Falls is to travel early and outside of rush hour. Alternatively, the Go Train from Toronto is just CAD 35 roundtrip and avoids the highway traffic. Other options include a Niagara Falls tour or a bus from Toronto.

At Niagara, we stayed at The Oakes Hotel Overlooking the Falls, which have spectacular Fallsview. I especially enjoyed the view at night as the falls illuminations glow in a variety of colors. The sunrise the following morning was equally, if not more spectacular, and left me totally breathless. 

While there are plenty of hotels in the Niagara Falls area, only a few actually overlook the falls. If you want a view like this, expect to pay a sizable amount.

Sunrise at Niagara Falls
Sunrise at Niagara Falls from the Oakes Hotel Overlooking the Falls

However, if you’re traveling to Niagara on a budget, the less expensive hotels are quite a distance from the falls and may require a drive.

Viewing Niagara Falls

Unlike most tourist attractions around the world, the spectacular Niagara Falls costs nothing to view. Regardless of whether you’re traveling to Niagara Falls from Buffalo, New York, or Toronto, expect it to be very busy, especially in the summer months.

I visited in October which is the shoulder season so I could stroll along the Niagara River with ease. Walking alongside the boardwalk, I could understand why Niagara Falls is on most people’s bucket lists.

While the falls were the size I expected, the copious amount of water thundering over the falls left me speechless. As I neared the Horseshoe Falls, I could experience the cold mist engulf me and felt the rumbling of the earth beneath me.

At the top of the falls where the turbulent water drops off is where the crowd gathered wonderstruck by this amazing attraction.

There, I stood in awe of this amazing natural wonder and thought about the individuals who chose to go over the falls in a barrel. Having great respect for this watery monster, my one thought was “what were they thinking?”

If you’re looking for tips for visiting Niagara Falls for the best and some unique views, here are my suggestions:

Skylon Tower for an aerial view of all three falls.

Journey behind the Falls for a behind the falls experience (fee applies)

The Rainbow Bridge for a view of all three falls.

Hornblower boat (fee applies)

Oakes Hotel Overlooking the Falls or the Hilton Niagara Falls.

Observation area in front of the Journey behind the falls building.

Helicopter tour for the ultimate view (fee applies)

Crossing The Border

  • Location: 5702 Falls Avenue | Open: 24 hours

Tips for visiting Niagara Falls in both Canada and the US; bring a passport. The Rainbow Bridge crosses the Niagara River at the falls and allows visitors to view the spectacular falls from both countries should you have the right documentation.

Crossing into the US may also require an ESTA (if you are not Canadian) and traveling to Canada may require an ETA (if you are not a US citizen).

The easiest way to cross is as a pedestrian and requires no waiting. Should you choose to drive, this may take longer. Should you choose to cross by automobile, the fee is US 4.00 or CAD 5.25 roundtrip. The cost of a pedestrian is just CAD 1.00.

In the United States, don’t miss the views from the Maid in the Mist boat, Cave of the Winds, and Goat Island. A fee is required for all these unique viewing opportunities.

Skylon Tower

  • Location: 5200 Robinson Street | Open: Daily 8 am to 10 pm
Skylon Tower at Niagara Falls
Skylon Tower at Niagara Falls

Like the CN Tower in Toronto and the Harbour Centre Tower in Vancouver, The Skylon Tower offers spectacular views and a revolving restaurant.

At CAD 16.29, it’s much more reasonable than the CN Tower, and from the observation deck, visitors can soak up the incredible views of both the Canadian and American Falls.

Like the other towers, the glass elevators provide a quick ride (52-second) to the top on the side of the tower. If you’re fast, you might be able to snap some photos during your elevator trip.

At night, the views of the falls glow beautifully because of the illuminations. During the day, savor the views of not just the falls, but the surrounding area on the United States side as well as panoramic views way up the river.

Horseshoe Falls from the Skylon Tower
Horseshoe Falls from the Skylon Tower

In the evening, the Skylon Tower offers the perfect venue for a romantic evening out. Dinner in the revolving restaurant with the light show of Niagara Falls as a backdrop creates the perfect date night. Like the CN Tower, a meal at the Skylon restaurant will set you back at least CAD 50 per entree.

Hornblower Niagara Cruises

  • Location: 5920 Niagara Parkway | Open: May to Oct 8:30 am to 8:30 pm. From Oct to Nov, it closes earlier, between 4 pm and 5:30 pm
Hornblower Niagara cruise

If you’re looking to get up close and personal with the Horseshoe Falls, take a 20-minute tour on the Hornblower catamaran. Even wearing bright red souvenir ponchos, passengers get extremely wet.

The fee for this unique cruise is CAD 31.25 plus tax per adult, and CAD 21.25 for children. While the lineups are often long, the wait is not long as several boats run continuously.

I visited Niagara Falls in October when it was bitterly cold, so I chose not to take the cruise. While I wanted to get some photos of the falls, I knew the best place was not on a boat under the falls.

Water and cameras just don’t go well together. Along the river, I watched many Hornblower cruises and Maid of the Mist boats go by. These boats sail into the heavy mist of the thundering falls, at times, disappearing below.

Had I visited in the summer months, getting soaking wet under Niagara Falls might be an enjoyable activity? But certainly not in the winter months.

If you plan to take one of these cruises, I’d recommend a rain sleeve for your camera or a waterproof pouch for your cell phone.

Journey Behind The Falls

  • Location: 5400 Robinson Street | Open: Daily 8 am to 4 pm

During my half-day at Niagara Falls, Brian and I chose to do the excursion “Journey behind the falls.” While Brian had been to Niagara Falls before, we wanted to do something that was new to both of us. Where else in the world can you tour behind a thunderous waterfall and feel its fury?

Not only is Niagara Falls an awe-inspiring attraction but it also generates significant hydroelectric power both in Canada and the United States. The tunnels behind Niagara Falls were built to provide access to the power station.

During summer daylight hours, an astonishing 154 million liters (34 million gallons) of water flow over the falls every minute. That’s enough to fill one million bathtubs!

Visiting Journey Behind The Falls

If you’re looking for a super cool perspective of the falls, I’d recommend the Niagara excursion. It takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes for the full experience. However, during this excursion, you will get quite wet.

Niagara’s Journey behind the falls is open year-round and operated by the Niagara Parks Commission. The behind the falls tour takes you behind the Horseshoe Falls, and access is through the Table Rock House at 6650 Niagara Parkway. Journey Behind the Falls hours are 9 am to 6 pm, with the last tickets sold half an hour before closing.

From April to December, adult tickets cost CAD 23, for children 5 to 12 cost CAD 15, and free for children under five. Fares are subject to tax. In the winter (from December to April), icy conditions sometimes cause the closure of the observation deck.

In that case, the ticket prices are lowered. During this time, adults are CAD 15, children CAD 10, and under-five remain free. Alternatively, the Niagara Falls Wonder Pass includes Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara’s Fury, Butterfly Conservatory, and more.

Some might argue that CAD 23 plus tax is pricey entertainment for a half-hour adventure. However, how often do you get to walk behind a great thundering sheet of water?

Our Experience

We visited Niagara in October, and during our few days in Ontario, there was a forecast for the year’s first snowfall. It was bitterly cold, having arrived from a much warmer British Columbia. However, our one night at Niagara Falls was far warmer than the temperatures in downtown Toronto, although still cold.

 The long tunnel behind Niagara Falls
The long tunnel behind Niagara Falls

After purchasing our tickets for Journey Behind the Falls, we received bright yellow rain ponchos to wear over our clothes. That was the first indication; this was going to be a wild and wet experience. We carried our garbage bag-like rain ponchos into the elevator and figured we put them on when we needed them.

The elevator ride took us 150 feet below the Table Rock welcome center to start our self-guided tour. As we wandered deep inside the tunnel, the informative plaques told the story of the history of the burrowed tunnels. The pathway was flat and evidently suitable for those in wheelchairs or have mobility issues.

The Observation Decks

At this point, we donned our yellow ponchos with drawstring hoods to protect us from the heavy spray. While the ponchos kept us somewhat dry, our lower legs and feet got very wet. The observation decks have two levels; the upper covered level keeps you reasonably dry.

However, the lower observation deck is open to view the thunderous waterfall, and here, we stood in awe as we experienced the extreme fury of the rushing water. At that point, we got soaking wet because it was the closest we got to the gushing water.

Looking up through the thick mist, the raw power of millions of gallons of rushing water left us speechless. The sound of the rushing water was deafening and gave us immense respect for the power of mother nature. Should you choose to carry a DSLR camera, be sure to protect it with a rain sleeve.

The Portals

 Getting a little wet at the portals
Getting a little wet at the portals

The top reason to experience the Journey Behind the Falls is to walk behind Niagara Falls and feel the immense power of its water flow. So, as you walk through the tunnel cut through bedrock, which extends 150 behind the falls, you’ll reach two portals.

The portals are large cut-outs in the rock, allowing you to view the rushing water. Tread carefully as the water pools on the floors and may cause soggy feet.

Standing at the portal barriers gave me a massive appreciation for Niagara’s fury. Hearing the thunderous noise, feeling the vibrations, and the cold mist was nothing like I’ve experienced before.

Viewing the rushing water from the Niagara Falls portal
Viewing the rushing water from the Niagara Falls portal

Helicopter Over Niagara Falls

  • Location: 3731 Victoria Avenue | Open: 9 am to 5 pm

If you crave adventure, consider viewing Niagara Falls high in the sky in a helicopter. Thrill-seekers will love the idea of seeing the spectacular Niagara Falls from a completely different vantage point.

Niagara Helicopters offer year-round flights, weather permitting. Located close to the falls at 3731 Victoria Avenue, the short flight over Niagara Falls will set you back CAD 160 for one adult or CAD 308 for a couple. 

The mere 9-minute flight provides views not only of the three waterfalls but Skylon Tower, Whirlpool Rapids, Rainbow Bridge, and the Sir Adam Beck Power Generating Plant.

Niagara Helicopters fly four 7-passengers craft, so wait times are generally short. Each helicopter must have a minimum of two passengers to fly. As with all helicopter rides, you cannot choose your seat. Seat location is determined by the weight and number of passengers to evenly balance the aircraft.

Clifton Hill

Clifton Hill is an area in Niagara Falls reserved for family amusements. I have to admit, the area around Niagara Falls surprised me in that it’s built like a mini Las Vegas.

Plastic giant dinosaurs, upside-down houses, casinos galore, and tacky amusements were not what I expected of this spectacular natural wonder.

However, it does provide entertainment to families with teens and small children. I walked through Clifton Hill just for interest, and it felt so out of place.

Was I really in Niagara Falls? In my opinion (and it’s just my opinion) this tourist trap sadly took away the beauty of the Niagara Falls area.

Final Thoughts

For many, Niagara Falls is a bucket list destination, and while it is super touristy, it’s still a place you must visit. With so many options of things to do, how do you choose if limited for time? One of my tips for visiting Niagara Falls is preplanning and sticking with your schedule.

Happy travels ~ Karen

Tips on visiting Niagara Falls. Advice on which side is better for viewing, crossing the border, must-do excursions, where to get the best view of Niagara Falls and more. #niagara #niagarafalls #canadatravel #ontario