Niagara Falls is one of those bucket-list places almost every single person in the civilized world dreams of seeing with their own eyes. Last fall, I finally had my chance, but if I did it again, I’d do it way differently. Here’s what I did wrong (and what you should do instead)…
When you’ve been on the road for almost two weeks on a schedule that starts at 5am and ends with beers at 10pm, your mind starts to get a little fuzzy. I was started to look a little haggard, and I desperately needed a nap, but there was no way I was missing a chance to see Niagara Falls.
I did make it. I got my selfie, one of only a few I’ve ever allowed myself, but I realized while leaving I had done the whole thing completely wrong…
Mistake #1: Too crunched for time
In case you’re wondering, one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions and natural wonders gets a little busy in the late summer/early fall. That means crowds. That means crowds of people from every corner of the globe with every style of movement… You have the pushy folks, the take-forever-to-walk-and-seem-to-be-8-people-wide groups, and everything in between. Being in a hurry and by myself, navigating the crowd caused me a great deal of agitation. If I had just chilled out, taken my time, and taken in the sites and beautiful melding of people and cultures in one particular place, I would have had one heck of a less-stressful time.
Mistake #2: Not experiencing more
A direct byproduct of being crunched for time, I didn’t really do much when I visited the falls… Sure, I saw it. Yeah, it was awesome, but I didn’t experience any of the other attractions at Niagara Falls State Park. I’m particularly bummed about not partaking in these two adventures:
Maid of the Mist
Unless you’ve lived under a rock most of your life, you’ve heard of the Maid of the Mist… The boat attraction that’s been getting visitors near the basin of Horseshoe Falls for over 150 years.
The dramatic passage ferries past the base of the American Falls, and on to the basin of Horseshoe Falls, through roiling waterfall whitewater and massive rock formations. The Maid of the Mist returns guests to shore with newfound appreciation of the power and grandeur of Niagara Falls.
Cave of the Winds Tour
Come on, this description from Niagara Falls State Park makes me downright angry I didn’t do this:
The journey begins with an elevator ride 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge. Geared-up in a souvenir rain poncho and specially designed sandals, guests follow wooden walkways along Niagara River to the Hurricane Deck, just a few breathtaking feet from the torrents of Niagara Falls. Here, rushing Bridal Veil Falls creates tropical storm-like conditions. Talk about a rush! Nowhere else on Earth gets you closer to the Falls!
Mistake #3: Trying to park too close
Like we said, this place is busy. While I eventually found a parking garage fairly close to the falls, it wasn’t worth the stress of having to navigate a vehicle through large throngs of people. If you’re staying overnight in Niagara Falls, NY, be smart and book yourself somewhere within walking distance to the falls like the super-cool Giacomo Hotel (or somewhere that offers a shuttle like these places)
If you’re not staying overnight, I still suggest parking before you get to the park and things get busy.
Mistake #4: Not researching the surrounding area and attractions
Trying to turn this into a guide would be exhausting, so I recommend checking out this handy site for tourists for help planning your trip, but here are a few examples of places I wish I’d known existed before my trip…
3rd Street (Downtown Niagara)
The area around 3rd St. in downtown Niagara is quickly becoming a hip little area. Too bad I drove right by it. I won’t next time. Next time I’ll have a beer or two at the Third Street Tap Room and grab some Tapas and wine at Wine on Third.
Old Fort Niagara
First, the views and photo ops at Old Fort Niagara are just spectacular. Plus, you get to tour a whole bunch of 18th century buildings that housed Native Americans, French, British, and American soldiers over a 100+ year span, and you’ll even see some sweet musket and artillery demonstrations.
In fact, aside from not dropping my camera into the giant watery abyss, the only thing I did right was walking across the street to grab a bite to eat at the classic Misty Dog Grill and then indulging in a giant milkshake from Twist o’ the Mist.
While others seem to have mixed feelings on these two little food stands, I enjoyed both my food and my milkshake. Plus, I got to sit outside and enjoy the day instead of eating inside the crowded, personality-less giant food court across the street from the park.
So all things considered, I now know I need to return for a proper Niagara Falls trip. Also… before anyone even starts to comment, I also know I need to check out the Canadian side, and I plan to get over these soon, too.
To avoid making the same mistakes I did, check out Niagara-USA.com for great Niagara Falls vacation tips. Also, share with everyone your tips and hints to visiting the falls in the comments…
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