Showering the Love on Niagara Falls USA – Reasons to Stay in New York

“Go to the Canadian side, it’s better” – a comment received when I posted a photo of Niagara Falls, USA on Facebook.  You’ve probably heard it before, maybe even said it too.  Sure, the Canadian side has an incredible panoramic view of the iconic Horseshoe Falls, but Niagara Falls USA also has great views while embracing and preserving the natural wonder of the falls.  Our family visited Niagara Falls many times but usually headed for the Canadian side, and more often than not the Falls itself was a sidebar to the trip.  Not anymore!  I’ve recently learned that only in Niagara Falls USA can you truly experience the visceral and emotional power of Niagara Falls.  On the American side you can touch the water of the Niagara River walking along a footpath, feel the spray of Bridal Veil Falls standing on the stairways, or conquer the massive rapids of the whirlpool in a Jet Boat, and all without a passport.  Continue reading for more photos and details of why your family should not bypass the iconic splendor of Niagara Falls USA.

Niagara Falls, New York, USA

If the national parks were “America’s Best Idea,” then Niagara Falls State Park was New York’s Best Idea.  Established in 1885, it’s the oldest state park in the country, and created by noted landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted (designer of New York City’s Central Park).  Niagara Falls State Park is open 365 days/year, 24 hours a day, and filled with vistas ever-changing throughout the seasons.  This park may not be “Forever Wild” like its Adirondack sibling, but the manicured 400 acres allows visitors to experience the natural essence of the falls.

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

Head straight to the FREE Observation Tower for a spectacular view of Niagara Falls USA (first photo above) before descending down the elevator to an attraction almost as famous as the falls themselves – the Maid of the Mist boat tour, in operation since 1846.

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

Brace yourself aboard the ship’s upper or lower deck, and enjoy a ride directly into the white water spray itself – take photos while you can before tucking your camera underneath your blue poncho for protection.

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

While the Maid of the Mist operates from both the American and Canadian sides, there is one attraction inside Niagara Falls State Park that is truly American – Cave of the Winds.

Niagara Falls, New York, USA

Nowhere is the massive force of Niagara Falls more evident than the Cave of the Winds hike.  Wooden walkways and staircases affixed to the walls of the Niagara Gorge lead to a “Hurricane Deck” buffeted by tropical storm force winds and water.  Is it fun?  Fun, doesn’t do it justice.  More like… PURE JOY, as evidenced by this photo tweeted from the Hurricane Deck itself.

Note: the Cave of the Winds is a cave located directly behind Bridal Veil falls that guests could visit from the mid-1800’s until a rockslide closed the cave aspect of the attraction in the 1920’s.

As dusk falls, Niagara puts on its evening wear shimmering with colored lights, and during the summertime there’s no better place to watch fireworks (on Friday and Sunday evenings) than standing on the Cave of the Winds Hurricane Deck.

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

After encountering Niagara’s force during the Maid of the Mist tour and Cave of the Winds walk, dry off, decompress, contemplate the park’s beauty and the foresight of preserving this swath of nature.  Board one of the State Park trolleys to guide you deeper into the park, hopping on and off to explore Terrapin Point, Three Sisters Island, gardens, walking paths, and the sublime, serenity of the land.

Niagara Falls, New York, USA

There are lots of other attractions and surprises in Niagara Falls State Park such as the Aquarium of Niagara – a small collection of marine mammals, penguins, and native fish from the Great Lakes region.  Yeah, I definitely was not expecting to see a California sea lion show or harbor seals while visiting Niagara Falls USA.

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

Once you finish visiting the attractions within Niagara Falls State Park, don’t forget to stop at some of the spots within the Niagara Gorge that offer many “teachable moments” for the kids such as: the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant.

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

Don’t scoff!  In addition to the electric generator turbine on display (pictured above), the 50 year old Visitors Center for the Niagara Power Project – the Niagara Power Vista – offers an observation deck with outstanding (not to mention FREE) views of the Niagara River and Gorge.  [I definitely want to return and check out this view during the peak of Autumn.]

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

Of course there’s also a view of the hydroelectric generating plants and Lewiston-Queenston Bridge connecting the US with Canada.

Niagara Falls, New York, USA

Last, but certainly not least, the Visitor’s Center contains a spectacular large-scale terrain map, with audio and fiber-optic lights, explaining how the water of Niagara is diverted to create electricity for the entire state, and beyond.  It was fascinating to succinctly learn how the power of the river is harnessed and converted to electricity.

After gazing at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, continue down the road to Historic Lewiston for the “Freedom Crossing Monument.”  A moving tribute to slaves seeking their freedom via the Underground Railroad, and the local Lewiston, NY volunteers who helped them cross the Niagara River and new life.

Niagara Falls, New York, USA

And now that you’re in Lewiston, everyone knows the best way to preserve memories is to sear them into your brain with an emotional experience.  Just down the hill you’ll find the mooring dock for Whirlpool Jet Boat tours.  A high-speed, thrilling, emotional ride through the Niagara River Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole – Class V and VI rapids tackled at a terrifying 50 miles per hour.

Niagara Falls, New York, USANiagara Falls, New York, USA

I don’t have any pictures of the ride on the boat as I feared for my life… I mean, protected my camera.  But if you don’t believe the Jet Boat offers a walloping whirl, just check out the video.

So next time you head to Niagara Falls, don’t just make a run for the border.  Shower some love right here in Niagara Falls USA, and more than likely she’ll plant a wet one on you too.  I know I’ll be back to visit this classic destination with my family, and we won’t make a beeline for Canada anymore.

Disclosure: Adventures by Daddy was hosted by Niagara Falls USA as part of the TMS Family Travel Conference, and provided with complimentary admission to the experiences described in this post.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.

So what do you think? Have you visited Niagara Falls?  What side do you prefer?  Canadian or American?  Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.