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Niagara Falls – Beyond the Kitsch

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Niagara Falls became one of North America’s original modern-day vacation and honeymoon destinations in the 19th century. Everyone’s heard about it, and millions of people from every corner of the world have visited the Falls. For some, it’s the ultimate tourist trap. The kitsch that made Niagara Falls famous (or infamous) can still be found. Happily there are many tempting attractions to experience at the Falls today, most of which focus on the natural wonder of Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls - Beyond the Kitsch

Niagara Falls

A legacy of the last Ice Age 18,000 years ago, Niagara Falls still has the power to inspire awe in worldly travelers. The Falls deliver an inspiring demonstration of nature’s power. Over 6 million cubic feet of water go over the Falls every minute during peak daytime tourist hours. You can hear the roar of the Falls even before you see them. When you see the beautiful green color of the Niagara River that feeds the Falls, that’s a result from dissolved minerals and limestone that are swept over the Falls every day. It’s quite a stunning site.

The view from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (known as the Horsehoe Falls due to their shape) is wide and very impressive. You can get quite close to the Falls themselves, as you walk along the pathway next to the green Niagara River on its way to the Falls drop off. If you’re not too afraid, lean over a bit to try to see through the mist. Don’t lean over too far, though, and be especially vigilant with kids leaning over the low railing or when posing for photos.

Journey Behind the Falls at Niagara Falls. Note the sleek yellow poncho.

Journey Behind the Falls – note the sleek yellow poncho

Journey Behind the Falls

Who wouldn’t love to stand behind a waterfall? The Journey Behind the Falls is one of my favorite experiences at Niagara Falls. Slip on a yellow poncho to keep yourself dry. Then descend in an elevator down 150 feet through bedrock to tunnels leading one-third of the way behind the Falls.

There are several interpretive signs and plaques, detailing how workers built the tunnels. You’ll also find descriptions of the daredevils who plunged over (or walked above) the Falls through history, along with other interesting facts about the Falls. There are several portals that bring you close to the roaring water—the Cataract and the Great Falls Portal. Do walk out onto the Lower Observation Deck to view the Falls from below, close up. If you didn’t think the Falls were impressive from above, you’ll change your mind as you gaze at the rushing water from underneath.

Maid of the Mist

The iconic, world-famous boat ride into the mist of Niagara Falls is North America’s oldest tourist attraction. The Maid of the Mist began its boat tours in 1846. Sailing on Maid of the Mist remains a ‘must-do’ when visiting the Falls. The 30-minute boat ride takes you past the base of the American Falls, and then up close and personal with the Canadian side of the Horsehoe Falls. You’ll see the intensity of the water flow, and you’ll certainly feel it (even with your trusty poncho)—the mist is inescapable.

The Great Gorge near Niagara Falls

The Great Gorge

Niagara Parkway and Heritage Sites

The Niagara Parkway and Garden Trail winds 22 kilometers along the Niagara River from Niagara Falls to the very cute and historic Niagara-on-the-Lake village. The drive offers vistas onto vineyards, the river, the Great Gorge, the Floral Clock, and some stunning heritage houses. This area was also the key location of conflict during the War of 1812 between Canada and the United States. There are many important historical sites along the route, including Laura Secord House (which belonged to the Canadian heroine for which it was named) and Brock’s Monument (a site of one of the 1812 battles).

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour

The most thrilling attraction you can experience at Niagara Falls is the Whirlpool Jet Boat tour. Prepare to get fully soaked (the waterproof poncho will not save your hairdo or your clothes) as you speed along the Niagara River at 60 mph to the Class 5 whitewater rapids in the Great Gorge. This is a serious thrill-seeking adventure, but operated in the safest, most fun way possible. Everyone who is over 40″ tall and in good health can ride.

Niagara’s Fury

Niagara’s Fury will shake you up, literally. This 4D multi-sensory attraction lets you experience the formation and creation of Niagara Falls, complete with ground-shaking action, water spray and ice age temperatures. The six-minute ‘fury’ comes after an eight-minute animated pre-show. This introduction explains to kids (and adults) how the Ice Age formed Niagara Falls. You will get wet, but luckily blue ponchos are provided to save you from the worst of the water. (Don’t worry, they won’t actually dump a Falls-worth of water on you.)

Niagara Falls from Skylon Tower

Niagara Falls from Skylon Tower

Skylon Tower

For the best views of Niagara Falls, the surrounding area, and the city skylines of Buffalo and Toronto, glide up the yellow elevator to the top of the Skylon Tower. The outside observation deck offers 360-degree photo opportunities of the Falls. There are two fine dining restaurants at the top, a 3D movie theater, and a Family Fun Center.

Tip: The Adventure Pass is the best choice for saving money if you plan to visit several Niagara Falls attractions, including the Maid of the Mist, Journey Behind the Falls, and the White Water Walk.

Have you visited Niagara Falls? Share your tips and observations in the comments below!

A Note from The Curious Travel Mama: I was the guest of Niagara Parks and Tourism Ontario. This did not influence my review opinions of Niagara Falls or its attractions.

All photos by Claudia Laroye.

About Claudia Laroye, The Curious Travel Mama

Claudia Laroye lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two sons. She started traveling at a very young age, and has never stopped. She’s had the fortune of visiting more than 20 countries on four continents, and has also lived abroad in Sweden. Claudia is passionate about family travel and about educating children through the travel experience. She is the author of the, and contributes to many online and print media publications. Connect with Claudia on Twitter as @travelling_mom.

  1. Lisa Goodmurphy says

    Great list of the attractions in Niagara that focus on the actual falls! We live only an hour or so from Niagara Falls so we visit a couple of times a year – and actively avoid the kitsch even with the kids along! I haven’t done Journey Behind the Falls yet – I think it’s next on our list.

    We always like to combine a visit to Niagara Falls with a detour to the charming village of Niagara-on-the-Lake for the shopping, theatre, and the world’s best ice cream – Cows! There are a number of great historic attractions in the area as well – many of them relating to the War of 1812.

  2. Claudia Laroye says

    Thanks for the comment Lisa! Agree completely about the charm of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Wish I’d been able to spend more time visiting all the shops and cafes in the village, including Cows of course.

  3. Amanda O. says

    I’ve never been to visit Niagara Falls and love this list you put together. I have always wanted to visit and hope to get the chance to soon. So many fun things for families to do there!

  4. Chasing the Donkey says

    I’ve never been… but I am adding it to the bucket list now.

  5. Do you have any suggestions for those who are only able to visit the US side of the Falls?

  6. Lots more to do than just the NP, skylon tower and jetboats…

  7. Hershey Park says

    I have never been visited the niagra falls but hope to visit soon.

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