We just returned from an absolutely fabulous vacation to Niagara Falls. We spent time on both the U.S. and Canadian sides and I have so much to say about all of it but I am going to try to break it down into less overwhelming bits and pieces.
First of all, for today’s post, let’s talk about the U.S. side of the falls. I have heard nothing good about it, ever. I’ve heard that the city isn’t that great, that the views of the falls aren’t that great, that there’s nothing worthwhile at all about the New York side. So honestly, it was a last minute decision to stop in New York at all.
All those claims about Niagara Falls, NY? FALSE. I can’t believe we almost missed out on that experience. What fools we would’ve been to skip it completely!
Overall, my top tip for Niagara Falls New York State Park is to understand that you are going to be out in nature. This park is not heavily commercialized. There is not a restaurant or an arcade or a gift shop every ten feet like on the Canadian side (the U.S. side does have all that, but it’s further back from the falls, not right up on it). This is more like going out for a hike. I was caught off guard by that! Past that, here are eleven tips to help you plan your trip to Niagara Falls, New York.
- Park at the Niagara Falls New York State Park. The lot isn’t huge but it also seems to be somewhat overlooked. We had no problem pulling in and getting a great spot on a weekend in July. It costs $10 to park there and you can use cash or your debit card–but you’ll need exact change with cash. The lot is right by the welcome center and right across the street from lots of food options–and you know the kids are going to be asking for food! (Also note: there are bathrooms in the welcome center!)You can rent a stroller at the park. If you just don’t have room in your car for a stroller and all your luggage, know that if your little one needs a stroller, rentals are available. It’s $20 for four hours and that’s likely plenty of time to see the park, especially with stroller-aged children
- Dress appropriately. You will want to be wearing comfortable clothes for a long day of walking. It can get hot, and there are hills and stairs. If you go in the summer, you will sweat. Wear supportive shoes. I wore athletic pants with a moisture wicking material and Under Armour Sandals.
- Expect to be underwhelmed by your first view you get of the falls. When you enter the park and come around the side of the welcome center, you will glimpse the American Falls. I’ve got to be honest, my first thought was, “We drove all that way for… this?” It’s not the best spot to get a good view and unfortunately it’s the first glimpse you get. Keep on walking through the park and you’ll get to better views!
- Follow the signs to cross the bridges to Luna and Goat Islands. You will walk across two bridges (they are walking bridges, no cars will be on them, but staff on golf carts will drive over them a bit). The bridges are a bit slick–hold hands with younger kids! When you get to Goat Island, follow the signs for American Falls and then Horseshoe Falls. You will be able to get incredibly close to the water.
- Pay the small fee to go down an elevator to the dock of the famous Maid of the Mist boat–even if you don’t plan to ride the boat, you can go down and enjoy the view.
- Have change on you to put in the view finders! Kids love those things, so be prepared for the constant begging for change!
- Pack a cooler of bottled water. You will get thirsty walking through the islands and the little carts and stands charge a whopping $3.50 per twenty ounce bottle of water. For the record, that is more than Disney World charges.
- Ride the boat. Whether you ride the Maid of the Mist on the U.S. side or the Hornblower on the Canadian side, it is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. (We actually took the boat from the Canadian side but the price is about the same and the experience identical). You get so close to the Falls, and the mist is in your face and the wind is whipping and you just feel its power. It made me really realize how little control we humans have over nature. We live in a world with so much technology that we think we can control every little thing but getting up close and personal with Horseshoe Falls makes you realize what a lie that all is. (It doesn’t help that I read The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park, during this trip. The theme of that book is also that humans have very little control over nature!).
- Get some kind of device to keep you from dropping your phone. Seriously, you are chasing kids around and taking pictures with thousands of gallons of gushing water. What could possibly go wrong? I have a Loopy Case but I also have a universal waterproof case that I can wear on a lanyard and fits any phone and I also love this little gadget for wearing my phone on a lanyard without being in the waterproof case–but on the boat, you will want waterproof! I was so nervous watching people hang over the side of the boat just holding their phones with no backup plan for dropping it. Eek!
- Eat some place local. There are so many chains in the area but skip that stuff. You can eat at Rain Forest Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, etc, anytime and practically any place. Personally, we enjoyed Mario’s Pizza and Flip Burger. They were a short walk past Hard Rock Cafe. Prices were not outrageous for a tourist town and the quality was excellent. Mario’s serves real New York pizza. I live in the midwest now and I’m sorry to say, they don’t really understand what pizza should be. New York gets it right! Flip Burgers has fresh cut fries–you can watch them chop the potatoes. And they were sooooo good we wished we had bought more. Also, they are right next door to each other so if two kids are begging for pizza and one kid wants a hot dog and fries, you are in luck! You can grab food from both places and sit at the outdoor tables and enjoy it all!
- Plan to spend the whole day. Don’t rush. Don’t have a schedule or an itinerary–especially if you also plan to go to the Canadian side. Over there, with the adventure pass, you have to book times for all your experiences. Enjoy the unhurried, unscheduled experience of seeing the falls at a slower pace, out in nature. Walk everywhere–every time you move your car, you’ll pay to park. So take your time and walk. It’s a very walking-friendly area, with wide sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks.
I hope you enjoy your time in Niagara Falls, New York as much as I did. Do you have tips for things to do or how to prepare? Share them in the comments!