Niagara Falls from the Canadian side

A Strange Trip to Niagara Falls

To visit Niagara Falls we took a nine-hour detour from our road trip through New England. During the drive up through New York state I was hopeful, convinced that the falls would stun us and the trip would be worthwhile. While I wasn’t wrong about the majesty of those mighty waterfalls, everything else about our trip to Niagara Falls turned out to be a bit – strange.

Us on our trip to Niagara Falls

Us on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls

Our Trip to Niagara Falls

The weirdness began in Buffalo, a town on the New York side of the falls where we had chosen to base ourselves, having found a cheap guesthouse there. Perhaps we’d been spoilt by the beautiful cities we’d visited so far, but we quickly realised that Buffalo was certainly no Boston, New Haven or Providence. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Buffalo, it just felt grey and drab, industrial and unwelcoming – I guess we just didn’t hit it off.

View of Niagara Falls from the Observation Deck on the American side

Niagara Falls from the Observation Deck on the American side

Our guesthouse wasn’t much better. The building was an old nunnery which gave it a spooky air, the manager’s dog persistently barked at every guest, our room was musty and dark and the whole place smelled faintly of old cigarette smoke. Still, it certainly wasn’t an awful place to stay and we settled down for the night, excited about visiting the Falls the next day.

The American and Bridal Veil Falls crashing down on the rocks below at Niagara Falls

The American and Bridal Veil Falls

Niagara Falls NY

On the American side, Niagara Falls sits in a state park and because of this I imagined that we’d be surrounded by woodland and able to access the waterfalls through forested trails. Instead, I was surprised to find that the Falls sit right on the edge of a town, one filled with fast-food and Indian restaurants, casinos, malls and huge hotels. Oddly, even though it was just a few weeks into September when we visited, the Discovery Centre where we’d hoped to learn more about the history of Niagara, was closed.

We were also surprised to see rubbish scattered along the riverbank as we made our way past the Rainbow Bridge which leads to Canada and caught our first glimpse of the famous crashing waterfalls. We’re used to seeing litter after travelling in Asia, but we hadn’t expected to find it at a major natural wonder and tourist attraction in America.

View of Niagara Falls from Prospect Point

View of Niagara Falls from Prospect Point

Still, there’s no denying that Niagara Falls is damn impressive. Standing at Prospect Point, we were right on the edge of the American Falls, separated only by a guard rail, and we could hear the roar of water crashing onto rocks below. We stood for some time, mesmerised by the churning river rushing over the rock-edge in a never-ending curtain into the mist below. From the observation deck we got even better views of the American and Bridal Veil Falls, although the view of Horseshoe Falls is obscured from the US side.

The American Falls, Observation Deck and Friendship Bridge, Niagara Falls

The American Falls, Observation Deck and Friendship Bridge

Later that evening, after taking refuge from the rain in a rundown cinema where the broken air conditioning system froze us, we returned to see the Falls in darkness. Each night lights are shone from across the gorge, illuminating the water; from where we stood the waterfalls were bathed in a pink-red mist. To be honest, we found the whole thing a bit tacky, do these amazing natural wonders really need to be dressed up in lights and frills?

The nightly illuminations of Niagara Falls

The nightly illuminations of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls Canada

We’d heard that the best view of Niagara Falls can be found from the Canadian side, so the next day we ventured across the Rainbow Bridge with our passports in hand. The view certainly lived up to the hype; for the first time we were able to see the much larger Horseshoe Falls, as well as a face-on view of the American Falls. Combined, they form one hell of a natural spectacle; I can’t imagine how incredible they must have looked to the people who first stumbled across them hundreds of years ago.

Niagara Falls from the Canadian side

Niagara Falls from the Canadian side

Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls

The thunderous Horseshoe Falls

Eager to get as close as possible, we donned some souvenir ponchos and boarded a boat. Looking up from the base of the falls gives you a completely different perspective, as we sailed past the American Falls we could see the water violently hitting huge rocks in the river and our faces were coated with a frosty mist. Feeling very small in our bobbing boat we moved as close as the driver dared to Horseshoe Falls, where we were enveloped in its sights and sounds, unable to hear each other above the terrible roar as icy spray covered us. It was then that I realised the full, terrifying, awing power of Niagara Falls – you don’t mess with them.

Boat's-eye-view of Horseshoe Falls

Boat’s-eye-view of Horseshoe Falls

The American Falls from the boat

The American Falls from the boat

Exhilarated from our close encounter we planned to spend the rest of the day on the Canadian side, so we could give the nightly illuminations a second chance. We walked hopefully into town, only to be greeted by a surreal, Las Vegasy scene that stopped us in our tracks. For some reason, the streets are full of weird, carnivalesque attractions; Wizard Golf, 5D cinemas, haunted houses, Elvis impersonators, casinos, amusement arcades, wax works with dodgy-looking models in them and ghost trains. We were baffled, what any of that has to do with Niagara Falls, I don’t know.

Niagara Falls' unnecessary theme park-like attractions

Niagara Falls’ unnecessary attractions

Suffice to say, we didn’t hang around for long. Instead, we went back to drink-in the view of the incredible waterfalls we’d driven all that way to see before leaving early, keen to put the strange trip behind us and move on to Vermont.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 15:38h, 14 October Reply

    Ha ha! Yes, Niagara Falls is a HUGE tourist trap (well, not the falls themselves, I suppose as they are free to view…) and I have no idea why the town that has been built up around it is filled with Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and terrifying monster houses. I’ve never considered it a weird juxtaposition because, growing up, that’s just the way it’s always been, but I can definitely see how it would be jarring and weird coming from literally any other natural attraction in the world. Truly Niagara Fall is one of a kind! 😛

    ALSO: I TOLD YOU THE FALLS WERE BETTER ON THE CANADIAN SIDE! Even Americans have to admit this is the case. Canada for the win! 😉

    (And yes, Buffalo is pretty grim. Cheap shopping and flights, but it’s not really the kind of place you go for the city itself.)

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:54h, 14 October Reply

      You were definitely right Steph, the view was amazing from the Canadian side 🙂 Strange how the area around Niagara has evolved into a weird funhouse-type-place but at least we got to see the falls, they were worth it.

  • Patti
    Posted at 01:21h, 17 October Reply

    Leave it to crass commercialism to bring in the almighty dollar. I would love to see the falls but would have absolutely no interest in all of that other stuff.. kind of a shame. Glad you enjoyed seeing the falls though.

    • Amy
      Posted at 23:34h, 18 October Reply

      It was kind of a shame but worth the weirdness to see the falls, don’t let the strange parts deter you ?

  • Louisa Klimentos
    Posted at 23:35h, 17 October Reply

    I have been to Niagra falls and found it was very commercial,but loved the waterfall .Did you know that Niagra falls has the largest electro power sceme in the world.Niagra falls flows full on all year round,because it has bveen dammed.Back in the 1950’s The government controlled the water flow a bit too much and the water flow was down to a trickleSo they had to release more water.Me and my huband went underground and we had too wear a weird rain coat .You walk through a tunnel to an opening where you can see the water flow right in front of your face.That was unreal.There is a waterfall in Argentina which is pure wilderness and are the largest curtain falls in the world .i am sure it is Argentina,well somewhere in South America.i am glad you have accept a place that is different to what you thought it to be ,but still loved the waterfall itself.That is called being posative.Have a wonderfull time ,Amy and Andrew ,love always louisa

    • Amy
      Posted at 23:48h, 18 October Reply

      You’re Niagara experience sounds brilliant Louisa. I’ve also heard that there are some amazing waterfalls in South America. Thanks for reading and take care ?

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 19:36h, 18 October Reply

    I would love to see the Niagara Falls, I did not realise you can see it from the USA side, how bad is my geography? Your post was very informative and very entertaining, I am here laughing at all the weidness on the American side.

    • Amy
      Posted at 23:49h, 18 October Reply

      It was definitely a weird experience! It was fun to head over to Canada though, we hope to take a proper trip there sometime.

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