On Monday, September 23, we spent the entire day touring the American side of Niagara Falls.
I've been to Niagara Falls many, many times in my life. We visited when I was a girl; as a teenager my friends and I would drive up and goof off; Steve and I honeymooned there; we celebrated an anniversary there; we've taken the kids a few times. But each time I've gone there, I went to the Canadian side.
It used to be that the border was fairly open and one could go up and visit the falls on a day trip by merely showing ID. However, all that changed shortly after 9-11. Nowadays passports are required. Well, we decided that a day trip into Canada wasn't worth the $80 per person to buy passports. (Do the math: $80 x 8 people = $640. That would make one very expensive day trip!)
So for the first time in my life I visited the American side of the falls, and I have to say that I wasn't disappointed! Surprisingly, Niagara Falls is not a national park, but it is a New York state park. As a matter of fact, it is the oldest state park in the country! (I guess New York claimed it before the federal government did.)
We started our day at the visitor center and bought everyone in our family Discovery Passes. These passes entitled us to free admission into five attractions in the park plus ride the park trolley all day for free.
Our first stop was something I've wanted to do my whole life yet never have: ride on the Maid of the Mist. We boarded a boat downriver from the falls and rode it right up to the base of each waterfall. It was stunning as we approached the foot of the American Falls, but it was absolutely breathtaking when we got up to the Horseshoe Falls (aka the Canadian Falls). The awesome power of the falls is hard to describe in writing, and pictures don't do it justice. But imagine looking up as far as the heavens and seeing half a million gallons of water come roaring over a precipice above your head, only to come crashing down with such incredible force as to shake the ground for miles around. I actually started tearing up and got a lump in my throat when I saw the power behind this incredible force of nature.
After the Maid of the Mist, we climbed a stairwell along the American Falls for some photo opportunities, then headed up into the observation tower which overhangs the river and allows for a spectacular view of both waterfalls.
Then we went to our second attraction: the Cave of the Winds. Like when we rode the Maid of the Mist, we were issued a rain poncho to keep us dry. However, here we were also issued sandals. We had to change out of our shoes, roll up our pant legs, and wear these sandals in addition to wearing the rain ponchos. Even at that, we didn't keep ourselves dry! We walked along the pathway leading to the base of Bridal Veil Falls (a smaller, separate waterfall next to, and part of, the American Falls) until we reached "Hurricane Deck". The water and wind were amazing, and it really did seem like we were in a hurricane! The attendant told us that the wind speed is anywhere from 45-60 mph - wind caused by nothing more than the rushing water over the waterfall! And as with any hurricane, we got soaked! Had we thought that through a little better, we would have saved that for the end of the day!
To help us dry off, we ate lunch at the "Top of the Falls" restaurant which overlooks the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Great food, full bellies... we were a little tired so we took a bit of a rest by walking to the observation point (called Terrapin Point) which overlooks the Horseshoe Falls. Then we boarded the trolley and rode the tour around Goat Island and back to the visitor center where we took in our third attraction, a movie called Niagara: Legends of Adventure.
Feeling refreshed (and a little drier), we again rode the trolley, this time to our fourth attraction: Aquarium of Niagara. We saw lots of neat aquariums plus seals, penguins, and sea lions. The younger two boys enjoyed this place more than my four teens, but everyone did enjoy it.
By this time it was getting close to dinnertime. The fifth attraction on our Discovery Pass, the Discovery Center, is open only on weekends, so we didn't get a chance to experience this hands-on museum.
We came back to our camper and had dinner, then after dark we drove back to the falls to see the colored floodlights on them. This looks really lovely, but I have to admit that the angle for nighttime viewing is better from the Canadian side. Still, we took it in, then called it a day.
Niagara Falls is one of my favorite places to visit. To me, it never gets old.