This post may contain affiliate links.
En route from Ohio to Maine, we spent 2 nights at Niagara Falls, staying up at the lovely Branches of Niagara campground on Grand Island, NY. Marc took the Friday off and we spent the day exploring the Falls, packing so much into our day/night that we created a blog post and videos, to showcase the experience from both the USA and Canada sides.
Niagara Falls: Exploring the USA side – Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds
Friday morning was grey and drizzly as we set off for Niagara Falls State Park but we were excited to see the falls up close, no matter what the conditions! We paid $10 to park the car for the day and had been advised the Niagara Discovery Pass USA offered the best value for money.
It includes admission to: Maid of the Mist boat tour, Cave of the Winds tour, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Adventure Theater and Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, plus unlimited rides on the Niagara Scenic Trolley which shuttles you to various locations around the park.
The Discovery Pass was USD$38 apiece plus tax and we knew we wouldn’t have time in just one day to see all of these attractions and explore the Canada side as well. So we went ahead and bought the pass anyway, figuring it was still a pretty good deal and would save us the hassle of buying individual tickets to attractions.
Maid of the Mist Boat Tour
Top of our list of things to see and do on the USA side of Niagara Falls was the Maid of the Mist 20 minute boat tour that takes you right up beside the American Falls and right beside the thundering Horseshoe Falls, guaranteeing a scenic and wet experience.
Maid of the Mist provides you with a very stylish plastic blue poncho to help protect your clothes and head from getting wet. Good luck with that! It was better than nothing but the winds and rain coupled with the mist and water pelting us from the falls meant it was impossible to stay completely dry.
We did plan ahead though, taking a towel in a plastic bag and a change of clothes. But what absolutely amazed us both was the number of people who had out their fancy cameras and smartphones (many without even a protective case) so they could take photos – even during the wettest parts of the tour!
We used our iPhones for photos and video before arriving at Horseshoe Falls then packed them safely away in ziplock bags and used our GoPro camera in the waterproof protective housing instead, as you will see in the Niagara Falls USA video but we’re pretty confident there’ll be a bunch of people from the tour having to buy new phones and cameras as a result of water damage!
The Maid of the Mist takes you past the American Falls first, before heading down to Horseshoe Falls – this is where the noise and intensity of the falls and water pelting you in the face is both exhilarating and uncomfortable at the same time, making it difficult to properly see the Horseshoe Falls as visibility is quite low. But we managed to capture plenty of great footage of the spectacular Horseshoe Falls from the Canada side in the afternoon.
After disembarking from the Maid of the Mist, we visited the Observation Tower, which juts out over Niagara Gorge. Being such a windy day, we only stayed a short time to snap a few photos of the falls and Rainbow Bridge, which links the USA to Ontario, Canada) before heading down for the Cave of the Winds tour.
Cave of the Winds Tour
We took a walk on the wild side at the spectacular Cave of the Winds tour which makes for an intense, exciting and stormy experience! Already glammed up in our blue plastic ponchos from the Maid of the Mist your, we packed the complimentary yellow ponchos from Cave of the Winds away in our backpack for another rainy day.
They also provide you with specially designed sandals to wear on the wooden decks. Surprisingly, the sandals were not awful and will actually come in handy for any future water activities.
We took an elevator ride down 175 feet (53m) into the Niagara Gorge, then followed the wooden walkways along Niagara River, where we stood right by the rushing falls and felt the velocity and volume of the water up close! What a rush!
Next we ventured up to the Hurricane Deck, just a few feet below the torrents of Niagara Falls, where water rushing down from Bridal Veil Falls creates powerful, tropical storm-like conditions. We captured that on the GoPro, which you’ll see in the video too. It really gives you a sense of what it might like to be amidst a raging hurricane! Incredible, intense and worth it if you don’t mind getting beaten around by gusty winds and gushing water for a minute or so! We laughed so hard and could barely see but it was an absolute blast and we highly recommend it.
We also learned some interesting facts about Cave of the Winds. Each year in November, the walkways and decks are dismantled for the upcoming winter season in Niagara Gorge which is too harsh for the decks to withstand.
Then each spring, workers rebuild the wooden boardwalks to allow summer visitors to reach the Hurricane Deck.
The rain had stopped by the time we left Cave of the Winds, so we took a stroll down to the viewing area at the top of the American and Bridal Veil Falls to take a few more photos. It was good to get out of the soggy poncho and feel dry again, back in our regular clothes.
It’s pretty cool to be able to get so close to the edge of the falls, seeing how innocuous the water is at the top part of the river, before it reaches the precipice and tumbles magnificently down the falls, at a rate of 75,000 gallons (285,000 litres) per second! As you can see from the photo below, we were only a few feet (1m) from the edge of the Falls…. yeah that’s about as close as we want to get, thank you very much!
By this point, it was noon and we were hungry and already a bit tired after our big morning! We hopped aboard the Niagara Scenic trolley, made our way back to the MINI and, passports in hand, headed off to the other side – Ontario, Canada – to meet up with a friend for lunch at Niagara-on-the-Lake before exploring the Canada side of Niagara Falls.