Family Vacations to Niagara Falls, New York

Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls (PhotoDisc)

Niagara Falls Family Travel Tips

  • Cruise to the base of the thundering falls aboard the Maid of the Mist.
  • Walk to within 20 feet of billowing Bridal Veil Falls on a Cave of the Winds trip.
  • Get a panoramic view of the falls from the Observation Tower.
  • Hike the trails of Niagara Falls State Park.
  • Take a boat trip through working locks on the Erie Canal.

Although countless honeymooners have posed in front of Niagara Falls' tumbling cascades, the wide-eyed wonder works on kids, too. Niagara Falls, about 20 miles northwest of Buffalo, straddles the border between New York and Canada with family attractions on both sides. On the American side, the waters tumble 180 feet, forming a 1,060-foot crest, and on the Canadian side, named Horseshoe Falls, the drop is 170 feet with a 2,200-foot crest.

In New York, 400-acre Niagara Falls State Park provides several ways to absorb the full impact of the iconic sight. Get wet from the torrential spray at Cave of the Winds by following a wooden walkway to within 20 feet of billowing Bridal Veil Falls, one of Niagara's three cataracts, or by boarding the famous Maid of the Mist, a sightseeing boat that cruises to the roaring base of the American as well as the Canadian falls. For a dry sighting, take in the panoramic view from the Observation Tower at Prospect Point. At the park's Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, find out what climactic and geological shifts formed the falls by watching a multi-screen presentation, and at the Niagara Gorge Trailhead building obtain information on the park's hiking, walking, and cycling trails. Among the four guided hikes, available in summer for nominal fees, are an easy one-hour walk to the Great Gorge Scenic Overlook and a more challenging three-hour trek to the Whirlpool Rapids.

The New York side features several other attractions. California sea lions, moray eels, sharks, and endangered Peruvian penguins star the Aquarium of Niagara. Youngstown's 1726 Old Fort Niagara, overlooking Lake Ontario, once guarded the entrance to the Niagara River. There are 18th- and19th-century canons, barracks, and powder rooms to see, but the best time to visit is during one of the summer re-enactments when the fort comes alive with soldiers in period attire. July 1-3 learn about the 1759 Siege of Niagara during the French and Indian War; July 29-30 watch demonstrations of weapons used during the War of 1812; and August 19-20, observe Revolutionary War skirmishes between British, Loyalist, and Native forces against the rebels.

Explore the nearby Erie Canal by cruising on it with the Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruise, a trip that takes you through working locks as they fill with water. Little kids will like the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda. In addition to its exhibit of 20 hand-carved animals, the museum's big draw is its functioning carousels. Everyone can ride the horses on the 1916 carousel, but the Kiddie Carousel, carved in 1940, is just for little ones.

On the Canadian side in Niagara Falls, Ontario, watch thundering Horseshoe Falls from observation decks with Journey Behind the Falls. For a non-watery walk, visit the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens whose 100 acres bloom with flowers plus thousands of colorful butterflies at the Butterfly Conservatory. If you are crossing the Rainbow Bridge between countries, note you'll be required to show some form of photo ID like a driver's license or passport.

Tip: Receive discounts to attractions on the Canadian side with the Niagara Falls Great Gorge Adventure Pass and to attractions on the New York side with the Niagara Falls New York Master Pass. Either program provides deals for Maid of the Mist cruises.

Recommended Side Trips: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 24 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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