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)…

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    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.

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    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.

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    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!

    Flickr
    Flickr

    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)

    Giacomo
    Giacomo

    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.

    Wine on Third/Facebook
    Wine on Third/Facebook

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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…

    For more of our on-the-road adventures:
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    • Show Comments (6)

    • Ruth

      Being a resident of Niagara Falls I get to enjoy its beauty and grandeur whenever I want to. It still amazes me. In the summer I enjoy going to the park and watching the tourists who visit. I often volunteer to take pics for people so everyone can get in the shot. Even in the Fall and Winter the Falls are beautiful. There are many things to do while visiting Niagara Falls on both sides of the river. While the American side doesn’t have as many commercial attractions, it’s still a great place to visit. I hope you come again.

      • Austin Coop

        Thanks for reading, Ruth! I have heard the same thing from so many residents! Can’t wait to return.

      • Ann

        Thanks Ruth! We will be visiting next month and really looking forward to it!
        I feel the same way about where I live in California . Hopefully one day you will come to visit us and will be someone there to take your group photo as well !

    • BABS

      You missed a great deal too! A walk down to the bottom on the gorge either at Devils Hole or Whirlpool Park is a great afternoon hike and wonderful to get the full measure of the gorge. You can hike at the top of the gorge or down at the bottom- just remember you have to hike back up! Lewiston New York has lots of shops and eateries- and you can spend a nice afternoon there too- And Artpark too.. Those are on the American Side. the Canadian side also has hiking down to the base of the gorge and Niagara on the lake Village too! NOt to mention Canada has full view of both falls and many attractions to do on Clifton Hill. Casinos are everywhere on both sides and some Canada hotels also have indoor waterparks for the kids. Winter at the Falls is spectacular but COLD BRRR beware!!!! Summer on both sides will find many outdoor free concerts on any good night! I love living here! I can go out on any night winter or summer and hear the falls- it is a sound that I miss when away. And living near the great lakes and niagara river is FUN in the summer. Yes we have cold long winters but somehow it just all worth it!!

    • Sheila

      I love your article. You are so right about relaxing and enjoying the nature along with the global gathering of visitors, and taking part in the “wet” attractions that really make a visit to the Falls memorable. Next time, add the convenience, privacy, and total comfort of staying at my place on Airbnb. Just read the reviews. Leave your car and walk to the Falls and bridge to Canada just 15 minutes away.

    • Vicki Bones

      Can’t wait to get there in August. Hope I run into some one like you Ruth who will be able to take a photo or two with me in them. LOL Coming from Aus. and really looking forward to it.

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