After breaking away from the East Coast, we headed for our next bucket list travel item, the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. But first, we had to get all the way across the rather large state of New York. We stopped at The Villages RV Park at Turning Stone, a surprisingly green campground owned by a casino (full review here)…
and returned to Darien Lakes State Park which we last visited in 2017.
In between, we had the pleasure of moochdocking at the five star RV resort known as “Sue and Dave’s lakeside cottage”….
When we last saw them in San Diego (their blog is Beluga’s Excellent Adventure), they told us their driveway (which comes complete with full hook ups) would be open to us when we came across New York. Their place is awesome, to say the least.
I mean, it’s not everyday we wake up to a water front view from our bedroom window…
and get to have coffee while sitting on Adirondack chairs on a pier over the water….
We stayed in their driveway for two nights, enjoying some fantastic meals, excellent conversation around the fire, and S’mores – because fulltime RVers know a thing or two about S’mores.
Of course, Thor was in heaven. Not only did he have access to his very own lake, but he also got to play with Lewis – the always happy, energetic, and lovable Poodle who permits Sue and Dave to drive him around the country.
The pups hit it off – once Lewis told Thor to “take it down a notch on the crazy” – and they ended up running and swimming for hours. It was basically like camp for dogs.
Sue and Dave took us out on a pontoon boat to tour the lake (I wasn’t kidding about the five star treatment) and Thor got to go on his first boat ride.
The weather was lovely, the company was fantastic, and the dogs had a great time… It was truly a perfect weekend. Thanks again, Dave and Sue!
Niagara Falls is extraordinary for two reasons. First, because, well, look at it:
…and second, because somehow, these comparatively small natural phenomena (compared to say, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park) support enormous amounts of tourism. It is truly remarkable how many ways the local tourism bureau has come up with to capitalize on these waterfalls. From boat rides to Ferris wheels to rotating restaurants and wax museums, a funicular, and an IMAX theater, if there is a way to keep people busy (and spending money), they will find it.
Niagara Falls Adventure Pass
Niagara Parks is the local government tourism authority in Ontario. They manage many of the attractions that get visitors up close to the falls. We bought their “Adventure Pass,” which offers discounted admission to several of these attractions as well as a 48 hour pass on the WEGO bus line (discussed more below). In the end, we thought this was a good purchase as it included several fun activities that interested all the members of our group (we were meeting family at Niagara, so our group had a large age range). If I were advising someone who was only planning to visit the area for a day, I might suggest skipping the pass and just choosing one or two of the activities, but if you have more than a day, it is a worthwhile purchase.
The Hornblower Cruise
The Hornblower is the Canadian version of Maid of the Mist. Both boats take visitors out past the American Falls (see featured image at the top of this post) and into the center of Horseshoe Falls.
The boat ride was an absolute highlight of our time at the falls both because it offered unparalleled views and because it was just so much fun! The cruise takes all of about 15 minutes from the time you are efficiently boarded to the time you return.
Once you leave the dock, you motor out past the American Falls. Here, you might feel a bit of the mist, but you’re far enough away that you won’t really get wet.
As you continue on toward Horseshoe Falls, which is on the Canadian side, you’ll start to appreciate the stylish plastic ponchos provided with your ticket purchase. The closer the boat gets to center, the more you find yourself enveloped in the mist that rains down. The sound is deafening.
680,000 gallons of water flow over Horseshoe falls each second. The falls are 188 feet high and the water falls 32 feet per second, hitting the base with 280 tons of force. The word that comes to mind when experiencing the falls from the center is “relentless.”
Interestingly, the falls are eroding very quickly. In fact, over the last 12,000 years, they’ve retreated some 7 miles! And while the rate of erosion has been significantly slowed over the years, it is still continuing at a noticeable pace.
One of the reasons the falls are eroding slower now is that each night, roughly half of the water that would flow over the falls is diverted to a hydroelectric power plant for conversion into electricity – which is shared by Canada and the U.S. So, if you were to come down to the overlooks at 3:00 A.M., the flow would be significantly less than it is during the day.
Journey Behind the Falls
Journey Behind the Falls allows visitors to explore the series of tunnels that were built behind Horseshoe Falls. Two of the tunnels lead to openings behind the falls where you can see the endless sheets of water coming down.
The other tunnel leads out to a platform located right next to Horseshoe Falls. From here, you can watch the cruises travel into the churn…
and contemplate the jaw dropping view of the side of the falls.
The White Water Walk
After the water goes over the falls, it flows down a series of rapids. These are Class XI rapids. Your typical whitewater rafting company doesn’t even mention Class XI rapids because they are generally not considered survivable. And spending any amount of time watching this river will convince you, too, that these rapids are not survivable. The intensity with which the water flows is simply breathtaking. Here’s a 15 second video I filmed…
The water’s green hue is due to the erosion of materials – mostly dissolved salts and rock flour picked up from the limestone bed, shale, and sandstone that underlies the falls.
Niagara Parks built a raised walkway that runs along the rapids which visitors can access from street level via elevator.
Along the walkway are several interesting displays about the speed and depth of the rapids, the makeup of the water, and the wildlife that can be found in the area.
This is a 4D movie experience (ie: you stand in a large round room with a 360 degree film display and as the film plays, there are special effects around you – snow and rain falling, lightning and thunder, etc.). It had the potential to be great, but was just OK. It was part of the Adventure Pass so we went, but I don’t think it’s worth spending extra for.
Imax Movie & Daredevil Museum
Niagara Falls is home to an IMAX theater that is unrelated to the Access Pass. We visited for two reasons: first, to see the movie; and second, because the building houses a museum containing the various contraptions people have used to go over the falls.
The building, which I failed to take pictures of, was clearly built many years ago and hasn’t been updated since. It was all:
And the movie was even older – as in, it was filmed on film. You know… Film? Weird, right? While we’ve seen some awesome IMAX movies, this was kind of a dud. Between the low quality film and the corny writing and acting, it was disappointing, to say the least. Even more so because the striking visuals associated with Niagara Falls would provide incredible material for an IMAX movie. Such a missed opportunity…
The daredevil museum, on the other hand, was a true testament to just how nuts people are. And we do appreciate people who are nuts. There were all kinds of contraptions and the stories that went along with them. Probably about 1/4 of the attempts captured at the museum ended in fatalities…because people are nuts.
Anyway, the displays were interesting and it’s worth checking out if you’re in the area.
Clifton Hill is a huge park full of family friendly attractions just up the hill from the falls. There’s a separate Clifton Hill pass one can buy that includes things like a Ferris wheel, mini golf, a wax museum, and some indoor rides. There’s also a go-kart track (which is not part of the pass). Since we were meeting up with family, it was great to have lots of choices for things to do. We all took part in bits and pieces while the kids visited just about everything.
Nighttime Fireworks and Light Shows
Each night during the summer, there are fireworks over the falls (schedule here). It’s about a 10 minute show and it was a fun way to cap the day. The city also lights up both sets of falls with various colored lights – anything from uniform colors that change every couple of minutes demonstrating all the colors associated with 1989:
…to colors that mix and change:
Like everything in Niagara, it’s equal parts tacky and cool.
WEGO – A Great Option for RVers
RVers visiting the Canadian side of the falls have a couple options for camping. Importantly, several of these campgrounds are located right on the WEGO line – which is the shuttle bus service that travels in and around the major sightseeing areas downtown.
We had mixed results with the shuttle bus. Some days, it was on time, reliable, and quick. Others, the opposite. As a general rule, it would take about 15 to 20 minutes to get downtown in the morning, while it would take 30 minutes to an hour to get home later in the evening. It was great in that it meant we didn’t have to drive and hunt for parking downtown, but it was frustrating when we were trying to meet people and never knew what time we would actually arrive.
To be fair, we happened to be in Niagara Falls on the weekend of a huge cultural festival which brought an additional 50,000 visitors to the area. It is possible that the buses would have been more reliable if not for that, but who knows? And at the end of the day, having a bus service that stopped right outside our campground was awesome.
Niagara on the Lake
Finally, just about thirty minutes north of Niagara Falls is the definition-of-quaint town of Niagara on the Lake. The town is pristine and idyllic with beautiful homes, a main shopping district bursting with flowers, and numerous restaurants that feature inviting outdoor patios.
After a lovely lunch at a little Greek restaurant with my brother and sister-in-law, we headed away from the downtown area.
Oooh!! What do you think of when you see this?
Pinot Grigio, exactly!! Good guess!
Yes, Wayne Gretzky is now the purveyor of a fine line of wines and whiskeys just north of Niagara Falls – though, through the magic of a bartender who forgot the part about keeping up appearances, we learned that Wayne has only shown up at the facility a handful of times since it opened. Apparently, he’s not actually out there figuring out which grapes will result in the citrus nose and elegant finish we’ve come to expect from The Great One.
None of which makes the place any less fun. There’s lots of cool memorabilia, tasty beverages, numerous sitting areas, beautiful views of the vineyard, and all the lawn games you can think of.
We stopped by a couple other wineries, but – for serious – Wayne’s wines were the best. Go figure.
Next up: We start our explorations of a completely new-to-us state: Michigan!
Where we stayed:
The Villages at Turning Stone RV Park, Verona, NY
Darien Lakes State Park, Darien Lakes, NY
Scott’s Family Campground, Ontario, Canada