If you truly want to experience Niagara Falls, this is the blog post for you. For anyone wanting to feel the roar of the waterfall up close and personal, plus a few hidden gems along the way, this is the ultimate Niagara Falls travel guide. I’m going to show you the best way to see Niagara Falls at the waterfall itself, the rushing waters of the Niagara River, and the breathtaking Niagara Gorge.
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An Insider’s Guide: The Best Ways to Experience Niagara Falls
This Niagara Falls blog comes from the perspective of a local. I grew up near Niagara Falls, Ontario, only about a half hour’s drive away. Now that I live closer to Toronto, Niagara Falls is still a relatively short distance away. I’ve always felt very blessed to live near such an awesome natural phenomenon for my entire life.
As I can hop in the car and take a day trip to Niagara Falls, I’ve visited Niagara Falls on countless occasions. Niagara Falls is a seasonal destination, but not in the way that you think. You can experience Niagara Falls in all seasons; the best way to see Niagara Falls will vary by the seasons. For instance, most attractions tend to open from the Victoria Day long weekend (May 24th long weekend) until Canadian Thanksgiving (the second weekend of October). But, even though some attractions close for the winter, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get the full Niagara Falls experience.
Visiting Niagara Falls in the winter is an entirely different experience. You’ll see that some of the natural attractions are open in the winter and all year long. Some of the best things to do in Niagara Falls might only be available during the spring, summer, and fall months. This Niagara Falls travel guide details five incredible ways to witness this spectacular waterfall will help you plan a day trip to Niagara Falls.
These suggestions will help you plan the best weekend trip to Niagara Falls, Canada. You can see many of these attractions in a half day or a full day, depending on your schedule. I’ll also recommend some other local places towards the end of the article so you can fill out your whole weekend with fantastic outdoor activities.
Hornblower Niagara Cruises
If there’s one truly iconic Niagara Falls experience, it’s the Hornblower Niagara Cruises boat tour. It’s also the only boat tour operating in Niagara Falls, Canada. If you want to get as close as possible to the Falls by water, this is the tour to take. Pull that bright red rain poncho over your head and come experience Niagara Falls!
Your boat tour will take you past the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and circling past the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Be prepared: it’s gonna get misty! While you can stay indoors, the best view is from the top deck. Gather around the front edge of the railing for the ultimate thrilling ride. While you won’t go completely beneath the Horseshoe Falls (the flow of water is super intense), you get as close as possible.
The poncho will keep you nice and dry, but your electronic devices can get wet when you get closer to the Falls. Be sure to pack waterproof cameras and smartphones. I was able to use my DSLR until a certain point, and then I put it away as I didn’t want to destroy my camera.
Any fans of The Office out there? You might recall that Pam and Jim get married on one of these boats. Ever since this episode of The Office came out, these Niagara Falls boat tours have grown even more popular. Even though I went on my first Niagara cruise back when I was a kid, I’ve taken them on numerous occasions since, especially when friends from out of town come to visit. Trust me, it never gets old!
Plan Your Niagara Falls Cruise
Hornblower Niagara Cruises operates from April 1st – November 30th, daily in the summer and on select days in the spring and fall. It’s the best way to go to Niagara Falls. You’ll be able to feel the rushing waters right before you and the intense mist will drench you from head to toe (which is why you’ll be wearing those snazzy ponchos).
I’d love to return and experience the Falls Illumination Cruise. Every night, Niagara Falls is lit up in a dazzling display of bright colours. This year, there’s a brand new, $4 million dollar enhanced projection system, so the Falls at night looks better than ever. However, if you are visiting Niagara Falls for the first time or you want that authentic experience, you must take the Niagara Hornblower Cruise by day first. Get your ticket in advance online so you can skip the line, which I highly recommend as this is one of the top attractions and it gets very busy.
Journey Behind the Falls
Journey Behind the Falls, a Niagara Parks attraction, gives you an alternate perspective of this spectacular waterfall. Take a self-guided walking tour through 130 year old tunnels to experience the power of Niagara.
There are multiple cave entrances where you can see Niagara Falls plummeting down right before your eyes. Hearing the crashing waters was another reminder of the sheer amount of water that cascades to the river below every second of the day. It’s actually one fifth of the entire world’s fresh water!
The best part of Journey Behind the Falls is the observation deck at the end of the tunnel system. Standing right beside Niagara Falls is an experience like no other. It’s a good thing that we received another set of ponchos as the mist was even more intense here than on the Hornblower Cruise.
If you’re worried that all of these rain ponchos generates a huge amount of waste, fear not. Both Hornblower Cruises and Niagara Parks have a fantastic recycling initiative. The plastic ponchos are reused to make plastic bags, water bottles, and even outdoor furniture. Feel free to also keep your poncho as a souvenir of your day exploring the Falls.
Journey Behind the Falls runs all year long and it’s one of the top Niagara Falls winter attractions. It’s one of my favorite ways to experience Niagara Falls, too. Plan your trip in advance and buy your ticket to Journey Behind the Falls.
White Water Walk
I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard about the White Water Walk before going there with my friend, Ashley. It’s a little known gem in Niagara Falls, and I highly suggest that you check it out. This is one of the top ways to experience Niagara Falls, and it’s not even at the waterfall itself. You’ll be able to witness the spectacular Niagara River rapids before your eyes.
A short distance down from Niagara Falls, the White Water Walk is a boardwalk extending along the Niagara River. Take a stroll down this boardwalk to observe these intense turquoise blue waters that remind me of tropical destinations at times. This spot is missed from many Niagara Falls travel guides, and it’s a place you need to see for yourself.
Just how fast moving is the water in this river? These are class six white-water rapids, among the most intense in the world. The Niagara Whirlpool Rapids are four kilometres of three to five metre standing waves. These rapids are not caused by rock formations at the bottom of the river bed. Instead, it’s the force of the water (both volume and speed) that creates these raging rapids.
Don’t even think about going white-water rafting here – it’s illegal, and I don’t think you’d fare too well. The photos of the rapids don’t do them justice, so you’ll just have to see it in person for yourself.
Whirlpool Aero Car
Here’s where you’ll get some of the best views of the Niagara Gorge and the Niagara River. The Whirlpool Aero Car recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, making it one of the oldest Niagara attractions. Designed by Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, here’s your chance to ride an antique cable car suspended across the gorge.
You can see the raging rapids right beneath you as you soar up high in the air. Even though the Whirlpool Aero Car ultimately reaches two Canadian edges of the gorge, you’ll actually cross into the United States twice during your journey. This section of the river hovers on the Canada / USA border, and you’ll travel between both countries on your trip.
Plan your trip to Niagara Falls in advance. It’s easy to buy tickets for the Whirlpool Aero Car online ahead of time so you can skip all of the lines. This is one of the most interesting and exhilarating ways to experience Niagara Falls, and one of the best ways to see Niagara Falls.
Hiking at the Niagara Glen
The Niagara Glen is one of the best ways to experience Niagara Falls, and it’s a completely free attraction to visit (you will only need to pay for parking). You’ll start your hike from the Niagara Glen Nature Centre and continue your journey down into the Niagara Gorge. Eventually, you’ll come across the incredible rushing waters of the Niagara River rapids.
There are 4km of hiking paths that meander through Carolinian Forest and past amazing rock formations. The lush ferns and plants growing out of the rocks made me feel like I was hiking in New Zealand, not Canada! You’ll be able to view the Niagara Gorge from up above when you start your trek, and eventually you’ll walk right beside the turquoise waters of the river itself.
I also witnessed many visitors going bouldering at the Niagara Glen. If you’re interested in bouldering, you’ll need to bring your own equipment to scale the rock formations. From my Niagara Glen hike, I watched the Niagara River Jet Boats speed by from time to time. This looks like such an amazing way to experience Niagara Falls, so I’d love to give it a try sometime for myself.
If you love hiking and you’re looking for more places to hike in Niagara Falls, the Bruce Trail is always one of my favorites. The beginning of the Bruce Trail starts in Niagara Falls. It’s an epic 900km trail, and you can start hiking from its southern terminus. Read more about how I started my Bruce Trail hikes in Niagara Falls.
More Ways to Experience Niagara Falls
Want some more suggestions of things to do in Niagara Falls to fill out the rest of your day? Here are even more ways to experience Niagara Falls on your trip to this world wonder.
First, you can drive a short distance to Niagara-on-the-Lake to take a wine tour or wine tastings. It’s one of the best wine regions, and it’s right here in Ontario, Canada. If you’re looking for accommodation recommendations in Niagara on the Lake, check out our reviews of the Shaw Club Hotel & Zee’s Grill and the Pillar and Post. If you’re looking for a nearby restaurant, we suggest Rise Above or The Merchant Ale House in St. Catharines.
There are other thrilling attractions in Niagara Falls. For instance, you can ride the Niagara Skywheel, Canada’s largest observation ferris wheel. You’ll see some epic views of Niagara Falls from up there. You can ride the Niagara Skywheel all year long, even in the winter. Plus, it operates from morning to night. I rode the Skywheel once at night in the wintertime, and it was really magical to see the colorful illuminated falls at night.
Another thrilling attraction is the Niagara Falls Zipline. You’ll fly 67 meters above the Niagara River Gorge, flying 670 meters across the American Falls to the base of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. You’ll witness the power of the waterfall right before your eyes as you glide past it. Another amazing possibility is riding the Niagara Falls Zipline at night.
You can walk around Clifton Hill after you experience the Niagara Skywheel. While some of the attractions and museums might seem a little touristy, it can be fun to play a round of mini golf or play in the arcades.
Best Places to Stay in Niagara Falls
While there are a ton of hotels and accommodations in Niagara Falls, here are a few that I personally can recommend after staying at them over the years.
- Marriott on the Falls – Rooms with an awesome view of Niagara Falls!
- Embassy Suite Niagara Falls – Fallsview – Spectacular views of the Falls
- Pillar and Post Inn and Spa – In Niagara-on-the-Lake, close to wineries and has an indoor pool and outdoor jacuzzi
Hotels and B&Bs can provide a luxurious and unique experience, but I also suggest taking a look at some of the local Airbnb accommodations in Niagara Falls. You can stay really close to Niagara Falls at many charming homes and apartments, while saving a little bit of money, too.
Thanks so much to Hornblower Niagara Cruises and Niagara Parks for inviting me to experience the natural attractions of Niagara Falls.