Niagara Falls is one of those places we seem to end up every few years (the last time I posted on the subject, it was a winter visit). It’s only a two-hour drive, there are plenty of hotels to choose from—so last minute arrangements are seldom a problem—and there’s plenty to look at. This time, we did something different, escaping the crowds on the Canadian side, hiking across the Rainbow Bridge into the U.S., and exploring Goat Island. I can’t believe we haven’t done this before, but we’ll definitely do it again.
We started out in the casino district of Niagara Falls, Canada. Our room was on the top floor of a 42 story hotel overlooking the Horseshoe Falls. Pretty spectacular view, but once at ground level and jostling for position among the crowds of tourists, it loses a bit of its charm. Especially in 90+ degree weather with high humidity.
My wife and I (the kids stayed home with their grandparents this time) had already taken a nine-mile walk the day before, exploring the trails along the Niagara Parkway including the Dufferin Island natural area. We decided to try something different, heading the opposite direction along the Parkway to the Peace Bridge connecting Canada and the United States, with the goal of checking out the view from a different perspective: Goat Island.
With the heat, humidity, and relentless sun, it wasn’t exactly ideal weather for a hike, but plenty of sunscreen, water bottles, and good urban trail shoes helped.
It’s a bit of a surreal experience walking across the bridge connecting the two countries. I’ve driven it many times, but the view from the pedestrian sidewalk is much better. And—I can confirm by pacing the cars on our trip and return—it’s faster to walk across than to drive, even stopping for photos. We had to bring our passports, of course, but crossing the border wasn’t a big deal. And as soon as we were across, we found ourselves in Niagara Falls State Park.
Three things immediately made an impression. First, you can get so much closer to the Falls (at least the American Falls) on this side. Like 10-feet-away close. Second, the “crowds” are a fraction of the size of the ones on the Canadian side. Third, attractions seemed to cost considerably less. For example, the Niagara Falls Observation Tower offered an unbeatable view via an observation deck that juts out into the gorge. Ride the elevator down and you gain close access to the base of the American falls, with the option to climb a staircase that will end with you being soaked from the thundering water. That costs all of $1.25 per person…
We walked over to Goat Island, hiking the perimeter, and crossing to the Three Sisters Islands—which you can see from the Canadian side, with no idea you can actually walk across to them. Again, awesome, close-up views of the rapids and falls.
There were some crowds lining up for trolley tickets and Cave of the Falls (which we didn’t have time for) and there was a line waiting to get into the Top of the Falls restaurant for lunch, but the experience was a welcome respite from the nonstop crowding and commercialism on the Canadian side.
By the time we got back to our hotel late in the afternoon, we’d logged about 13 miles (or 27,376 steps according to my Apple Watch), so I also felt like I’d earned a night on a patio.
The one thing we missed? I had no idea until after we were back, but there’s a monument of Nikola Tesla on Goat Island. No sure how we missed that, but we’ll have a look for it the next time.
If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, Canada and want to get closer to the action with a new perspective on a familiar view, while also escaping from the worst of the crowds, I highly recommend crossing the Rainbow Bridge. If you have kids in tow, it would be better to drive it—I know our kids would have had enough by the time we walked to the bridge, let alone the rest of the day—but there’s plenty to keep them busy visiting Niagara Falls State Park and Goat Island.