This is the first article in a series about The Roadster’s travels to New York’s Finger Lakes Region.
I’ve been to Niagara Falls twice in my life. The first time was fifteen-ish years ago, when my hubby (boyfriend at the time) cut an ad out of the paper for an all-inclusive Niagara Falls Valentine’s Weekend Extravaganza package that included food and a place to stay on the Canadian side. We didn’t find out until later that the meal part of the package was a Denny’s coupon.
Tourist Attractions And Antarctic-Like Temperatures
I am from northeast Ohio, so I am not unfamiliar with cold weather. However, I was woefully unprepared for the brutal climate of Niagara Falls in February. It was so cold that the Niagara Falls were mostly frozen. FROZEN! It was quite a sight! But I could only gaze upon it briefly because I was sure that at any moment, my nose would snap off and my eyelids would freeze to my eyeballs. We visited our share of touristy stops, like Ripley’s and the Casino Niagara, drove past several wax museums, and used our “Denny’s Dollars” for meals. We came home with a sense that we did something interesting for the weekend, but I didn’t feel the need to return. Been there, done that. Like a mediocre first date, I couldn’t see myself falling in love with Niagara Falls.
Everyone Deserves A Second Chance
Over the past fifteen-ish years, many people have shared delightful stories about their visits to Niagara Falls. Clearly, we needed to give it a second chance. So we planned a visit during the summer so we wouldn’t get frostbite. We decided to include Niagara Falls State Park (New York side) as a stop on our way to the Finger Lakes region in New York. This was going to be our first big trip in Bessie the RV.
Going to the Canadian side was no longer an option. We don’t have passports (which are now required) and I think I’d have a heart attack driving over the bridge to get to Canada.
We left Ohio on a Friday night after work and traveled 5ish hours (in the RV) to Niagara Falls, NY. The GPS took us via the highway the entire route until we got to Buffalo. Then the GPS took us along Lake Erie the rest of the way through the city. Why didn’t I remember that Buffalo was on the water? And why didn’t I remember to double check our route on a map? I white-knuckled it as we drove over bridges and high overpasses.
It was dark and I was blurry-eyed from fatigue and expended adrenaline when we finally rolled into the Niagara Falls Sam’s Club. Walmart and Sam’s Club (and other businesses) allow RVers to stay in their parking lots overnight for free (when certain rules are followed). The following morning, we made our way to Niagara Falls State Park, which was only about 10-15 minutes away through residential neighborhoods. The State Park had three parking lots, with ample RV/bus parking.
Adventure And History
We purchased the “Adventure Pass” in advance, so we already had a plan about what sites we’d see during our visit. Our first stop was at the Adventure Theater, where we saw a movie about the history of Niagara Falls. We were on the edge of our seats as we watched the scene about Roger Woodward, a 7 year old boy who fell out of his family’s fishing boat and was the first documented person to survive a plunge over the Falls with only a life jacket to protect him. It was an important reminder to my kids about the dangers of getting too close to the water.
Afterward, we ooohhhed and aaaaaahed at the view of the Falls and began walking over the vertigo-inducing bridge to the elevator that swiftly plummets 400′ down to the launch area of the Maid of the Mist.
Getting Drenched On “The Maid of the Mist”
We made our way over to the legendary “Maid of the Mist,” where we donned our blue ponchos and loaded onto the boat. It’s a nice, calm boat ride until we approached the Horseshoe Falls (the biggest of the three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls). Then everything changed. We were suddenly hit with spraying water and strong winds. We get drenched. No poncho can stand up to the Horseshoe Falls.
Hurricane Conditions At “The Cave of the Winds”
The next stop was “The Cave of the Winds.” All of the tourists are given yellow ponchos and handy-dandy Cave of the Winds sandals. My children have been souvenir hounds since they were old enough to say the word, “sou-vin-eer” so they were giddy with delight about the cool sandals.
The name “Cave of the Winds” is a little deceiving. There are actually no caves. Rather, it is a series of decks that go along the base of the Falls. You can literally touch the water as it rockets down the Falls. I loved the “Hurricane Deck,” in particular. You have to walk up a lot of wet, slippery stairs to get to the Hurricane Deck. I fought my fear of heights and forced my rubber legs to wobble up the stairs. But it was so worth it! We got drenched (again).
We made a quick stop at the Aquarium of Niagara. It’s a small aquarium that has a large seal tank in the middle. The park was under construction when we were there (Summer 2014), but I can see the potential in all of the improvements they are making to the area. It will be beautiful when it’s done.
A Natural Wonder
I was interested to observe all of the excited foreign travelers who were also visiting the Falls. I was reminded that we are so very fortunate to have one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of North America” so close to where we live. And it made me realize that we take for granted this mighty jewel that others have traveled from distant lands to see.
I fell in love with Niagara Falls on my second date. Here are a few tips so you can fall in love, too.
How To Fall In Love With Niagara Falls (the first time you visit):
- Visit Niagara Falls when it’s warm, and preferably with someone who you can hold onto when you are on the Hurricane Deck.
- Don’t miss riding on the Maid of the Mist and visiting The Cave of the Winds.
- Force yourself to walk up the flights of stairs to get to the “Hurricane Deck” at the Cave of the Winds. You won’t regret it!
- Bring a waterproof camera. I had a GoPro and it captured some awesome moments without the worry of it getting wet.
- Bring extra clothes. You’ll need them.
- If you are going to visit Niagara Falls in the winter, dress very warmly. How would you dress if you were visiting Antarctica? That’s how you should dress when you are visiting the Falls in February.
- The New York side of the Falls is beautiful, and it will be even better when they finish the construction. For some reason, it gets a bad rap because it isn’t as touristy as the Canadian side. But that’s A-OK with me. (P.S. The New York sides does have a couple of blocks where tourists flock, but we spent all of our time in the State Park.)
Have you visited Niagara Falls? Do you prefer the New York side or the Canadian side? What activities did you enjoy while in the area?
More On The Finger Lakes Series:
Finger Lakes Journey Part 2: The GORGE-ous Gorge & Watkins Glen State Park, NY
Finger Lakes Journey Part 3: Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen, CLR Winery & Harvest Hosts
Finger Lakes Journey Part 4: Taughannock Falls and Robert E. Treman State Park