Niagara Falls is a natural wonder so impressive and awe-inspiring that you have to see it in its entirety. This means viewing it from both the American and the Canadian sides. In addition, from the river looking up at its power and grandeur.
If you have not been to the Falls, or it has been a long time, here is our suggestion. Begin your visit on the American side, at Niagara Falls State Park, in the city of Niagara Falls, New York. This is the oldest state park in the United States, having been founded in 1885. In 1887, the famous designer of Central Park in Manhattan, Frederick Law Olmsted, along with his colleague Calvert Vaux, prepared the master plan for the Park. From this, the Park’s current design has drawn its inspiration.
The Park is also one of the newest regarding design and convenience, and improvements are ongoing. You will get to see the Falls from many aspects, and you are sure to be impressed by the incredible changes that have been made recentl. Ranging from the parking areas to the paved walkways and overlooks. On a recent visit, we were so glad we spent a leisurely time at the Niagara Falls State Park.
The highlights include the fact that parking is easy as can be. It costs $10 to park your car; remember to pay at the pay station before leaving. The Visitors Center provides a place for information, for buying passes, and access to the gift shop and refreshments. It is a kind of home base as you visit, both when you arrive and before you depart.
Near the Visitors Center is where you begin the Cave of the Winds Tour. You take 170 down. Then from there, you walk on a succession of stairs and decks. These are perched on the rocks at the base of Bridal Veil Falls. You have the option of staying out of or plunging into the mist. You can do this on the aptly named Hurricane Deck, depending on how wet you want to be. The sandals they issue for the tour are for your sure footing, and you keep them as a souvenir. Many visitors will tell you that they wear them again on the “Maid of the Mist” boat tour, to keep their shoes dry. You may wish to begin your visit to the Park here and do this tour the first thing in the morning – or alternatively, in the evening, because it gets crowded most of the time. We think the Cave of the Winds is a must-see, and it is especially “cool” on a hot day.
Prefer to stay up top? Head for Terrapin Point, which is the overlook nearest to Horseshoe Falls, offers a series of terraced viewing areas, in a lovely landscape, so that you have some views to enjoy, both panoramic, and up close.
In the opposite direction from the Visitors Center, take the short but dramatic walk to Luna Island via the footbridge over the Niagara River, right at the place where it plunges into the gorge below. Luna Island separates Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls. Luna Island offers visitors a close-up and dramatic vista of both. From here you can look directly down on the Falls and also see the boardwalks for the Cave of the Winds and the Hurricane Deck. You can get much closer to the Falls than you might imagine; you are within several feet of the top of both Falls, where the thundering cataract and spray are mighty impressive.
Prospect Point & More
After your visit to Luna Island, retrace your steps back to the main pathway and then continue along to the Goat Island Road Bridge, crossing it and then heading for Prospect Point. Here, you are above The American Falls. Continue to the Niagara Falls Observation Tower, a cantilevered 230-foot overlook, providing long views of the entire panorama of the Falls, as well as the Niagara gorge. This area is often very crowded at the railings, so relax, and take your time, to see it as you wish.
Boat Tour & Trolley Ride
The base of the Observation Tower is also where you begin your “Maid of the Mist” Boat Tour. The “Maid” fleet has been taking people as close as they dare to the thundering waters of the Falls since 1846. Virtually every famous person you can think of – from Teddy Roosevelt to Marylyn Monroe, and including Princess Diana and her sons, as well as Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter – have been thrilled by a ride on the “Maid.” You will be too, as you wear your blue rain slickers and cast off to see, hear, and feel the wonder of 6000,000 gallons per second, up close and personal.
Walking along the paths near the Falls and rapids is breathtaking. For those who prefer to ride there is the Niagara Scenic Trolley. It gives a 30-minute tour of the Park, and you can get on and off at various stops. Niagara Falls State Park is open year-round, but attractions are open seasonally. Check for extended hours and closings on the park website.
There are some great dining options in Niagara Falls, New York; our particular favorite is in Little Italy: Michaels on Pine Street. As has been said, it is the local best-kept secret, serving good Italian food by Italians for Italians. The bread is yummy, the red sauce just right, everyone loves their salad with the rolled mozzarella bites, and the portions are embarrassingly gigantic. Consider asking for a half portion so you can save room for dessert. You cannot go wrong with any menu item, served by their fantastic and friendly wait staff (who are all family, for sure), in a vintage setting that can only be described as cozily authentic.