Niagara Falls in Upstate New York is one of the top waterfalls in the world. And most visitors head to the Maid of Mist boat tour. Yet find more like a state park to explore along with a movie and evening light show. Here’s how to explore Niagara Falls during the day or night.
With 600,000 gallons of water falling over the edge every second, it’s a sight for waterfall lovers. Below the falls it’s 170 deep and the walls of the falls are the same height.
The water originates from four of the five great lakes, Michigan, Superior, Huron and Earie. Following down the Niagara River pass the falls and into Lake Ontario before heading down the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean.
Niagara Falls is actually three falls–Bridalveil Falls, Horsefalls, and American Falls. Most fish survive falling over the falls. And 20% of the U.S. drinking water falls over the falls.
Glaciation formed the falls though the falls do not freeze solid.
Maid of Mist Tour
You can explore the falls on foot but it’s not the same as the boat ride.
Arrive early to ride the Maid of the Mist for the fewest crowds. During our trip, we hopped onboard the first tour of the day without having to wait.
The boat ride includes complimentary blue ponchos, tou will get wet. Hop onboar and jockey for a spot on the railing to feel the power and the mist of the falls. The Maid of the Mistlurches and growls as it fights the current to get close to the falls.
Note: Some younger kids might be scared of the noise and movement. So move to the center of the boat, like I did with my youngest. But don’t miss it, it’s a fun, must do experience. The ride is quick and before you know it the Maid of the Mist is docking.
The Maid of the Mist does not take reservations but you can order your tickets online. Tickets are not date specific so so you don’t have to wait in the ticket line and there will be a line. Boats depart every 15 minutes and the ride lasts 20 minutes.
After your ride, follow the stairs to the right of the dock for some great photo opportunities, including a rainbow at Crow’s Nest. Most passengers miss this. Afterwards ride the elevator up from the dock to the observation deck for more pictures.
Located at 1 Prospect St. Niagara Falls, New York. Open daily spring until fall from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday. Adult admission is $22.25 and kids 6 to 12 are $13.00. The season runs from Spring until Fall and reservations are available online.
Parking is available at the Niagara Falls State Park, located near its Visitor Center.
Maid of the Mist History
The Maid of the Mist’s maiden voyage was in 1846 to ferry passengers, parcels and mail across the Niagara River between Canada and the US. Today close to two million passengers don the blue ponchos to get an up-close look at the three falls that make up Niagara Falls.
Obvisiously there have been lots of boats named Maid of the Mist. The first ones were paddleboats. The original boats were made out of oak. Now the boats are all steel and the Maid of the Mist VII is in service with a 600-person capacity.
Celebrities like Princess Diana with sons Willam and Harry. President Jimmy Carter and Marilyn Monroe have all rode the Maid of the Mist.
Niagara Falls State Park
Niagara Falls is a state park. It’s free to visit and open year-round.
Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park in New York City, designed the park to preserve its natural beauty and allow visitors easy access to the falls. Before, the area was dominated by industrial businesses and threatened to destroy the area. It was the first state park in New York State.
Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it. There’s plenty of shade to toss a blanket out. Or find lots of grab-and-go options in the park.
See Niagara Falls State Park on the Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley. Each tour takes 30 minutes and you’ll see the entire park. Adult admission is $3 and kids 6 to 12 are $2. Open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily.
Or watch Niagara: Legends of Adventure in the theater for and education as well as thrilling movie. My kids especially liked learning about the people who went over the falls. Walk the lobby displays and learn the history of the falls and how it generates electricity for the East Coast. Adult movie admission is $12 and kids 6 to 12 are $9.
Cave of the Wind
For an up close look at the falls from the ground, head to the Cave of the Wind. Won’t find a cave, visitors board an elebator and head down 175 feet. Then explore the power of Bridalveil Falls on a series of stairs and decks. Feel the winds that approach tropical storm strength on most days.
Then explore the multimedia exhibit (closed for 2020). It’s open year-round.
Adult admission is $19 and kids 6 to 12 are $16. Open daily at 9 a.m. though access to the decks ends in October.
Parking is $10 at each of the three Niagara State Park parking lots.
Niagara Falls Observation Tower
Maid of the Mist riders take the elevator to the Observation Tower though non-passengers can enjoy the view jutting out over the river too. Then take the elevator down to see Crow’s Nest for a misty view of the falls.
Open year-round at 8:30 a.m. Free during the winter and $1.25 per person when the Maid of the Mist is running.
For visitor that spend an entire day in the Niagara Falls area, explore the Niagara Aquarium. Find 30 exhibits including a penguin exhibit along with sharks and rays. And numerous feedings are scheduled during the day.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $14.95 kids, 3 to 12 are $10.95
Niagara Falls State Park Visitor Center
Home to the Niagara Adventure theater and its historical displays, a large gift shop and a cafe and grill.
Hiking at Niagara Falls
You can hike during your trip. And Niagara Falls State Park offers lots of options. Head to the Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center for most hikes.
Great Gorge Scenic Overlook Hike–Easy and takes 1 hour.
Upper Great Gorge Scenic Hike–Easy and takes 2 hours.
Devil’s Hole Rapids and Giant Rock–Moderate and takes 2.5 hours.
Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike–Advanced and takes 3 hours with boulder hopping.
Niagara Falls at Night
If you visit in the afternoon or evening, check out Niagara Falls at night. It is lit in a rainbow of color every night from dusk until 10 p.m.
It can be lit up different colors to support a charitable cause as well.
If you’re road triping, like we did, consider visiting the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York. Within this building, the National Park Service tells the story of Women’s Rights Movement that started in upstate New York.
The first Women’s Rights Convention was held 1848. Women got the right to vote in 1920 with the 19th amendment.
Located at 136 Falls St. Seneca Falls, New York. This is a fee free park.
Know Before You Go
Visit Niagara Falls early or later in the day for fewer people and more parking.