With Niagara Falls resting between New York and Canada, many wonder if it is necessary to have a passport and visit the Canadian side. While there is a lot to do on the other side of the river, it requires a passport to cross the border. There is plenty to do on the New York side to make it worth it for a family without passports. Here’s how to make the most out of a weekend in Niagara Falls, New York.
Arriving on Friday evening, make your way to Niagara State Park and to the popular Maid of the Mist, the closest way to see the full scope of Horseshoe Falls from the American side. You’ll wear ponchos, but plan to get wet as you take a leisurely boat ride right up to the base of the falls and feel the mist on your face. This attraction is a great introduction to Niagara Falls, and something available in the evening hours, which you can squeeze in after your drive or flight. Purchase the Discovery Pass, which grants admission to the Maid of the Mist, as well as items on your list for day two. The pass is $38 for ages 12 and older, and $31 for ages 6 to 12.
With a full day ahead of you, head north of the falls to Youngstown and Old Fort Niagara, where you can roam the grounds of the former fortification of Niagara. On a clear day, you’ll spot Toronto in the distance. Entrance to the fort, which opens at 9 a.m., is just $8 for kids ages 6 to 12, $12 for those ages 12 and older, and free for children ages 5 and under.
Follow the scenic route back toward the falls, stopping in the quaint town of Lewiston to embark on a Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour. The high-speed boat tours takes passengers along the Niagara River to the Niagara Gorge to spin through its class 5 and 6 rapids. The one-hour ride doesn’t see the falls, but it does provide some fantastic views and a promise that you will get wet. Rates for this trip are $51 for kids 6 to 13 and $61 for ages 14 and up. After your ride, dry off and enjoy lunch in Lewiston; an adjoining restaurant overlooks the river with outdoor seating.
On your route back to Niagara Falls, you’re next stop is Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. From this park area, you’ll be able to hike the gorge you just visited by boat for fantastic river views. The Niagara Scenic Trolley is included in your Discovery Pass tickets, so enjoy the ride that takes you back to Niagara State Park and Goat Island’s overlook points for Bridal and Horseshoe Falls. Here is a great place to grab dinner: Top of the Falls Restaurant offers great views of Horseshoe Falls.
Heading into the evening, descend nearly 200 feet in an elevator shaft to enjoy the Cave of the Winds attraction — a must see when in Niagara. Visitors donning a poncho and water shoes emerge near the bottom of Bridal Falls and walk along wooden platforms and stairs for some of the best vantage points of the falls, with mist and water spilling over the platforms to the delight of guests. The stairs and platforms are rebuilt every year, with a special Hurricane platform located just beneath some of the waterfall spray for a real soak.
After this last soak, take in the nighttime views of the falls, which are colorfully illuminated when darkness strikes. Stick around, because every Saturday night, fireworks shoot off above the falls to the delight of visitors on both the New York and Canadian sides.
Before heading home after a full weekend, drive to nearby Lockport, New York, along the Erie Canal. Here, two-hour scenic cruises (you’ll stay dry this time!) take passengers along Niagara River and through the Niagara Escarpment, rising 49 feet in the double set of locks on the Erie Canal. Tours through Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises begin at 10 a.m. and are $9 for kids ages 4 to 10, and $17.50 for those ages 11 and older. (Kids under 4 are free.)
And with all that, you got a full weekend out of the Niagara Falls, New York area, without crossing into Canada or needing a passport!
— Lissa Poirot