Though I grew up in New England, my parents never took me to Niagara Falls to see the iconic natural wonder. (We spent most summer vacations road-tripping to Ohio to visit grandparents.) The area has long been on my “must-see” list, so I was delighted at the opportunity to speak at the TMS Family Travel Conference in Niagara Falls, New York, last month. In between stints in a conference room, I toured some Niagara Falls attractions without my 11- and 13-year-olds in tow. Around every corner, however, I thought of my family — they’d love the options for getting soaking wet in and around the falls!
Here are my picks for fun things to do with kids in Niagara Falls, New York:
Cave of the Winds
I have no idea why I’d never heard of this attraction before. I think the Maid of the Mist — see below — seems to get all the glory. But Cave of the Winds, accessed in Niagara Falls State Park, is hands-down my favorite local attraction because you get to stand literally underneath the pounding, cascading water. How neat is that?
You descend via elevator below ground to walk through a long, cave-like corridor. Then, it’s outside to wooden walkways, where you can get as close as you want to Bridal Veil Falls. If you want to only gaze at them from a safe (dry) distance away, that’s just fine. If you want to get soaking wet at the “Hurricane Deck,” go for it. I highly recommend the latter — it’s quite exhilarating. I visited the falls at night, timed to view evening fireworks, but I’d love to see the falls during the day, too (and with young children on slippery walkways, this might feel a bit safer, too).
Cave of the Winds is open seasonally — only in the warm-weather months. Come November, the wooden walkways are dismantled, and then reconstructed again in the spring. Guests are provided with souvenir ponchos and sandals to keep, if you’re so inclined to wear them again for other water sports (see Whirlpool Jet Boat Ride below).
Maid of the Mist
As I said, the Maid of the Mist boat tour is a venerable attraction at the falls; guests have been sightseeing here by boat since 1846. Today’s ride feels a bit like a cattle call; hundreds of people queue up (again, with provided ponchos) to pack onto large sightseeing boats that pass by the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side, as well as Horseshoe Falls, which straddle the American-Canadian border. That said, embarking and disembarking the boat is a seamless, and speedy experience, despite the hundreds of folks who ride the Maid of the Mist every day.
I took my waterproof camera on the Maid of the Mist to capture some close-up photos; I’d be a bit nervous about taking my good DSLR without a waterproof cover. I do recommend the Maid of the Mist’s legendary boat ride, and the views from underneath and next to the falls that come with it; but if you have time for only one “up close” experience in Niagara Falls, I’d more readily suggest Cave of the Winds, because you can truly get in the falls, which is super cool.
Walk to the Canadian side
For a different view of the falls, I highly recommend walking across Rainbow Bridge to Canada. You do need a passport to do so, but it’s a painless procedure to cross the border. Stop along the way — halfway across the bridge — to straddle the international border (and snap a photo). Then plan some time to stroll the pretty landscaped walkway along the gorge in Canada. When I did this, the wind picked up and I got soaked, just from the spray coming off Horseshoe Falls, so pack a rain poncho, or just wear clothing that dries easily.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours
For yet another way to get soaking wet in Niagara Falls, consider a Whirlpool Jet Boat ride. Here, speedy jet boats take you down the gorge to soar through the Class V Devil’s Hole Rapids with a fun, upbeat guide. Though riders are suited up in a fleece sweater, full-body zip-up jumper, heavy-duty poncho and water shoes (plus life jacket), that gear is only designed to keep guests warm, not dry. We were totally drenched after the ride, as waves come up and over the boat, landing on top of us (especially the first three rows of the jet boat). In fact, when that first powerful burst of water cascades on the boat and hits your head, it’s a bit shocking; I felt like I was actually underwater.
The bottom line: it’s a perfectly safe, exhilarating ride, but don’t for a second think you’ll stay dry. In the heat of the summer, this must feel absolutely great; at the end of September, we were just really, really cold. My kids would love this ride on a sunny, humid day in mid-July (so would I). You must be 44 inches to ride in the open-air jet boat; for the domed version (where I’m guessing you stay a lot drier), you must be 40 inches tall.
When you need a break from all of the wet and wild adventures Niagara Falls offers, hop in the car and drive about 45 minutes east to Becker Farms. The bucolic, 340-acre working farm, in operation by the same family since 1894, offers activities for the whole family, including a small petting zoo and u-pick apples, in season. There are load of opportunities for darling family photos (with goats or alpacas, or against an abundant apple tree), and plan on laying down some cash for delicious, farm-fresh, homemade food items, including pie, jams and fudge. For adults, stop by the tasting room to sample Becker Brewing locally crafted beers, as well as wine from Becker Farms’ Vizcarra Vineyards. Like I said, something for everyone!
Thanks to TMS Family Travel Conference for inviting me to speak at your annual event, and to Niagara Falls New York, for hosting my stay in your fine city.