Day trip to Niagara Falls

Horseshoe Falls – Niagara Falls, Ontario – September 2023

Horseshoe Falls – Niagara Falls, Ontario – September 2023

As I wrap up my time in Ontario, I crossed the last item off my bucket list and was in full tourist mode on Tuesday. Looking for the perfect day in the Niagara Falls area? Follow what I did, and you won’t be disappointed. Pro tip: bring your passport. I walked over the bridge to the USA for an hour, and it’s much better here on the Canadian side.

Coming off the high of playing one of Toronto’s largest pipe organs on Monday afternoon, I spent the evening checking the weather forecast and doing some research on Niagara Falls. Talking with Toronto locals at the library, churches, or the guy who owns my Airbnb apartment, they all said Niagara is a bit overrated, but still an amazing experience—and Canada is the side to be on. Excellent!

After doing a little work Tuesday morning (side note to any clients who are reading: work hard, play hard), I left my Toronto apartment at 10:30 and took the Queens Expressway (QEW) along Lake Ontario—over a few crazy bridges—to Clifton Hill, arriving about 12:15 p.m. I stopped along the way for lunch and gas. It was the first time I filled my tank since Detroit—thank you, Toronto public transportation!

When I looked up the best place to park, Clifton Hill was often mentioned. $15 parking close to the falls. I simply entered the lot’s address into my phone and didn’t read any more about it. If you’re planning a trip, this is where you put 4960 Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3N4 into your notes. You’re welcome. 😃

It was not at all what I expected. Clifton Hill is known as the “Street of Fun” because of the many exciting attractions—fun shops, wax museums, mini-golf, the Niagara Speedway, souvenir and fudge shops, and many themed restaurants. The parking lot is easy to locate behind the giant Ferris wheel and dinosaurs. I figured I would check this stuff out later—and find a place to eat dinner—after exploring the falls, which were only about a two-block walk downhill from my car.

Niagara Falls is free to view! Queen Victoria Park in Ontario and Niagara Falls State Park in New York are both open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. How cool is that? Of course, there are many paid attractions to fully experience Niagara Falls, but the overhead sights and sounds of Niagara are free.

It’s hard not to get goosebumps when approaching the falls. The views are truly spectacular. I love people-watching, and there was plenty of it here. It was fun to see everyone else doing the same thing I did, slowly and carefully approaching the ledges which were full of Danger signs.

The first falls you see are American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the United States side. I’m dumb: My first thought was these don’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of Niagara Falls. Because the larger, more iconic Horseshoe Falls are to the right about a quarter mile—I didn’t see them at first because there was so much else to look at, including crazy people doing the Niagara Falls Zipline.

Journey Behind the Falls

After walking along the Canadian side of the falls and taking probably a hundred photos and videos, I kept walking past Horseshoe Falls along the Niagara River about 10 minutes to the Niagara Parks Power Station. It costs money to enter and view the exhibits. Pass. Too much to see outside!

I made my way back to the falls and the Table Rock Centre, which contains a couple of large gift shops, a cafeteria, washrooms (bathrooms are washrooms in Canada), and the Journey Behind the Falls experience. There’s an outdoor patio literally 30 feet from the top of Horseshoe Falls. Why is it even there? With about two inches of water on the patio ground, the whole area at the top of the falls is like being in the middle of a monsoon, but on a perfectly sunny, 70-degree day.

I’m so glad I paid $24 CAD to access the tunnels behind the falls. After being given an iconic colorful yellow poncho, they took us 125 feet down an elevator to the 130-year-old tunnels through the bedrock of Horseshoe Falls. There were two places to look out behind the falls and two outdoor observation decks at the foot of the falls. It sounded like multiple subway trains arriving any moment, and I got more than a little bit wet!

Rainbow Bridge to the USA

Rainbow Bridge

When I came back up from the tunnels, I was greeted by a massive rainbow. Throughout the rest of the afternoon rainbows were a common occurrence.

By now it was about 3:30 p.m. and after texting some photos to friends, one asked if I was staying through sunset because the falls are lit up. I hadn’t thought about that. I guess? Still four hours away. Might as well take the Rainbow Bridge to the United States side for a bit! When I got a passport five years ago for Europe, I paid a little extra to also get a passport card. I’m glad I did; it has been in my wallet all month “just in case.”

I found a “follow stairs to the U.S.A.” sign and made my way to the turnstiles which took me to the bridge. Pedestrians pay a $1 USD or CAD toll to cross the bridge. First time I’ve used cash all month!

This is the part where I tell you, dear reader, that I’m afraid of heights. I’m getting slightly better, considering I tend to travel to places with high vistas and wild bridges. So, I proceeded to stare at the sidewalk and sing Jesus Loves Me in my head while quickly walking across the bridge. A family was walking to Canada, and it was as if this 10-year-old boy could read my mind: “Hey, are you having a good day?” he asked as we passed each other. “I am! Isn’t this amazing? Now I’m walking to the United States for a bit and then back to Canada.” – “We are doing the opposite. Have fun!” Was he my guardian angel? I was able to calm myself a bit for the rest of the walk. (It takes all of 60 seconds to cross the bridge—but I’m afraid of heights!)

The reviews are accurate: The United States side of Niagara Falls is not as good as the Canada side. The border patrol agent was grumpy, you don’t get a front-facing view of American Falls or Bridal Veil Falls, the facilities are outdated, and there were not many options for food—also, it’s the United States. Ha! I’m falling in love with Toronto and Canada, for sure.

I spent about an hour or so wandering around the New York side, which—don’t get me wrong—still has great views of the falls and Canada. I did find a charging station for my phone in the gift shop which was a blessing because I still had a few more hours of photo-taking to do. I walked back across the bridge and even stopped to take a photo of the two countries’ flags and the international border plaque before being greeted by the friendliest Canadian border patrol agent on the other side. He asked how I was doing, and I said “I’m good now. Everything is better in Canada!” He smiled and admitted he had never been to the U.S. side of the falls. What?! It’s literally just a one-minute walk across the bridge. Maybe he’s afraid of heights.

Niagara Falls at Night

Niagara Falls at Night

Back in Canada, I walked to Clifton Hill and found the Niagara Brewing Company where I had a great Honeymoon Peach Radler and chicken sandwich at the bar before wandering around the shops for a bit, waiting for sunset.

There weren’t many clouds, so the sunset was underwhelming, but it didn’t matter because once it was dark and the huge LED lights pointed at the falls were turned on, it was stunning. Every 10-15 minutes, they change colors, and the lights on all three falls are synced.

I was shocked by how few people were at the falls after dark. I guess it was a Tuesday night, so that could have been part of it. After saying goodbye to Niagara Falls, I walked back to the big Ferris wheel and saw a Dairy Queen nearby. Why not? One small Reese’s Blizzard later, I got into my car and drove back to Toronto.

What a great day!

I took a lot of photos and videos of Niagara Falls and somehow narrowed them down. I created a photo gallery of my favorites. Enjoy!

San Antonio River Walk
Fiume Pizzeria and Wine Bar
San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio River Walk
Arneson River Theater
Arneson River Theater