Update (8/14/22): Several of our readers have said that the Discovery Pass is no longer available, so disregard tips about that. But please keep reading for other tips to help your trip run smoothly!
This summer, my husband and I got to see one of the greatest sights in the United States: Niagara Falls!
We were taking a vacation to western New York and while looking at a map, we discovered we were about an hour from the falls! So naturally, we packed up and made a day trip of it.
10/10 would recommend this vacation for everyone, it was so beautiful! Let me introduce the park to you.
Niagara Falls is located within the Niagara Falls State Park. Multiple falls make up Niagara Falls, including Bridal Veil Falls, the American Falls, and the famous Horseshoe Falls.
The park is open 24/7, 365 days a year, and it is completely free to enter. The only thing you have to pay for is parking, but sometimes, if it is not too busy, they’ll waive that fee too!
What to Expect at the Niagara Falls Attractions
There are beautiful trails for biking and walking, where you can enjoy the sites of the falls and the rapids of both Canada and America. In the park, there are tables and tons of shady spots that are perfect for picnics. And yes, you can stand out on the pier that borders the Horseshoe falls (again, for FREE). It is a beautiful sight, not the best place to see the falls, but it is stunning nonetheless.
The park is free, but the park’s extras and famous “rides” are unfortunately not free. The park offers a pass to all of the park’s extras! We looked up the prices for the 2 famous extras since Alex wanted one and I wanted the other.
Paying for both of those and a trolley pass means that you’ve basically paid for the discovery pass already. Again, I want to express that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SPEND A DIME coming to the falls (except for parking), but if you want to do the fun touristy things, we suggest buying the discovery pass which gets you into all the park’s amenities including:
- Maid of the Mist
- Cave of the Winds
- Discovery Center
- Movie in the Visitor Center
- Trolley Pass
The pass is $45 for adults and $35 for children. If you are not going to do all of these things, do not buy the pass! It isn’t worth it if you won’t do most of these things.
We LOVED Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, and the movie. The Discovery Center and Aquarium were great for kids but less exciting for adults. The trolley ride was not what we expected.
The park is PACKED during the summer months, and it is a huge park. HUGE. My husband and I did not want to walk the entire way (some things are a 30-40 minute walk away) so we rode the trolley, which was included in the Discovery Pass.
There were so many people, that we often had to stand for the ride, which was sometimes 20 minutes. It wasn’t that much faster than walking due to the massive amounts of people loading and unloading at every stop, but it did save our poor feet from giving out on us before we even go to our stops.
Riding it later in the day was awesome because there were fewer people. We could finally hear the tour guide as she read the facts about the islands.
What to Expect at the Cave of the Winds
You’ll watch a short film about Niagara Falls and the history of its tourism. Then you’ll walk into a room where workers are handing out shoes, ponchos, and plastic bags. Tell them your shoe size and they’ll hand you your gear.
Swap your shoes out for the fun sandals, and you’ll walk across to these large elevators. The works will take you down to the cave, and you’ll be near the bottom of the falls! There is a large staircase at the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. You get to walk along this staircase, right up to the falls and then touch it!
It’s the best place to FEEL the falls. Expect awesomeness! It’s windy and slick. It’s hard to see because of the spraying water, and it’s loud because of the roaring water, so little children might be a little scared. Remember to walk slowly so you don’t slip!
Near the end of your walk, you’ll see the “Hurricane Deck” which is where the winds are strongest on the trail. It replicates the winds of a hurricane.
Get a video here; it is a special experience. I wish we had brought our Go-Pro. The yellow poncho didn’t do much for people if they didn’t tie their hoods tight and then hold onto them during the walk. It is where you’ll get most wet during your time at Niagara Falls (mostly my face and feet).
What to Expect at the Maid of the Mist
You’ll pass onto the observation deck, which was one of my favorite views of the falls. It is a very tall building in the middle of the park.
You’ll take the elevator down, about 200 feet, to the boarding deck of the ride. Then you’ll pass through a room where they hand you a poncho–the famous blue ponchos!
Once you have that, you’ll wait in a very long and tight line. They make you get really close, so be warned. After a long wait, you’ll board the massive boat and take a 10-15 minute ride up to the Horseshoe Falls!
They take you close enough to get sprayed, but not soaked. This ride is where you’ll get great pictures! You’ll be able to SEE the falls from this spot and angle at its PRIME.
If you can, try to get to an edge, preferably the top, and try to face the dock when boarding (that side definitely has the best view). Know that because everyone wants to see the falls, you’ll be squished and people don’t care that your body is there. They’ll stick their hands and elbows anywhere to get their phone out to take a good picture. Besides that, it was my favorite part of the park, and it was just a stunning view.
Niagara Falls Myth Busters
Let me bust some myths that I read about Niagara Falls.
Ever heard the phrase “you can see the falls from the Canada side, but you can feel the falls from the United States side”? That is true to an extent, but you can see the Falls from the US border.
Don’t buy a passport FOR Niagara Falls. The view is beautiful from the US side, and if you want to see the Falls from Canada’s view, just ride the Maid of the Mist. If you have a passport already and want to see it from that angle, then cool! Do it! Again, just don’t buy a passport JUST for Niagara.
You don’t need a change of clothes for Niagara Falls.
I read many blogs that said you’ll want to bring extra clothes to change into, but I didn’t get that wet. Even if I had, you have all day to dry off. If you have kids, you might have to bring some, but that is up to your discretion.
The rides are not that cold. I read many blogs that said “bring a jacket! It’s so cold near the falls!”. I went in August and it was so hot. Dress for the weather outside, and you’ll be fine.
Cave of the Winds is the only place where you might get cold if you go during the early or late months of the year. People said to dress in layers, which is never a bad plan, but I was happy I did NOT bring a jacket into the park because I would’ve been carrying it the entire time.
You don’t get that wet….. Unless you want to. Most of the kids came out of the rides soaking wet. Why? Because they wanted to; they didn’t wear the hoods on the ponchos and water just went straight down their back.
But again, on a hot day, you’ll dry fast. I kept my hood tied tight around my hair and I barely got water on me, except on my exposed skin that wasn’t covered by the poncho (face, hair in the front, knees, and legs) Now from the knee down… you WILL get wet. I’m telling you now, wear shorts!
How Long Should I Plan to Stay at Niagara Falls?
You can spend a day in the park, but it is awesome if you can stay longer! We saw everything we wanted to in one day, but we did feel a little rushed to fit everything in and would’ve LOVED to spend a few more days just walking the trails and enjoying the park itself. But if you are close and have a day to spare, GO! It will still be worth it.
I don’t know if anyone told you that the fireworks are not over the falls… but here is your warning. I just wish someone would have said “hey there are fireworks! They are in the middle of the park, not over the horseshoe!) I WOULD recommend staying until night to see the falls lit up (thanks Canada) but the fireworks were meh.
Essentials to Bring to Niagara Falls
Since Niagara Falls was kind of a last-minute thing, we did not have time to prepare. Here’s a list of things I would have brought!
- backpack/drawstring bag to carry stuff. I didn’t want to carry my purse all day long so I left it in the car. I wish we had a drawstring bag to put our tennis shoes in after putting on our water shoes. We had our plastic baggies on our wrist all day long, and it got tiresome.
- Water. We forgot to bring water and we paid that awful park price for a cold beverage (hello 3.50 for bottled water). Save yourself, bring your own!
- Snacks. My husband and I brought a lunch that we ate outside the park, but we got a little hungry during the day. We could have brought our lunch into the park with us, but it was nice not having to carry it around all day.
- Hair tie. Not only was it stupid hot all day long, but the Cave of Winds is WINDY, and it would’ve helped to have my hair pulled back
- Blanket. If you stay longer for fireworks, it got a bit cold at night.
- Easy to collapse stroller. If you have little ones in strollers, and you are going to be using the trolley at all, bring your stroller that is easiest to fold up. I watched the dads struggle all day with the strollers as they folded them up to get on the trolley. They got embarrassed as everyone on the trolley was waiting for them, and that button or that strap wasn’t working. Bring your quick folding ones!
- Walking shoes. You’ll be walking all day–don’t wear your cute shoes that hurt within 10 minutes! And if you are going down to Cave of the Winds, they provide you with water sandals.
And one last list for you, just a few tips we picked up in our 24 hours at Niagara Falls!
- Don’t eat at the park. Bring your lunch, snacks, and then get off-site for dinner! Park food prices are crazy.
- Know that the rides do close in the evening, even though the park is open 24 hours. And if it’s a busy day, the rides might run out of tickets for the day! Get your tickets early.
- Go to the Cave of the Winds first to get the wet shoes! They are kinda fun and cute to wear around the park while you go anywhere wet. If you go to the Cave of the Winds first, then you keep your walking shoes dry all day!
- If I was staying longer/lived closer, I would have loved to take a bike ride on the trails. They are so beautiful.
- Start with the movie if you have the Discovery Pass! We watched it at the end of the day, but it would’ve been great to start with since you learn so much history and hear cool stories. They also teach you which falls are which. We went to the Bridal Veil Falls and didn’t know that it wasn’t the Horseshoe!
- You can feel the falls during Cave of the Winds, but see them on Maid of the Mist……both super cool experiences! Just think about which activities you want to do first, so you get the most out of it.
- If you are even remotely close…. Go see them. They are magnificent. To see them, it’s free! To have fun, you’ll have to pay a little, but the whole experience is pretty cool.
Niagara Falls is a wonder of the earth, and you really should make an effort to see it. It’s an incredible sight, and a testament to God’s love and His wonderful power to create beautiful things.
If you have any questions please ask! If you have tips because you’ve been to Niagara too, drop those in our comments!
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The Do’s and Don’ts of Catalina Island
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Traveling by Train
This was BY FAR the MOST informative post I’ve read yet and now feel MUCH BETTER prepared to have a great day at Niagara Falls! Thank you!
Oh thank you, that means so much! I hope you enjoy your trip!
thank you Madison, that was helpful
I am preparing to visit Niagara Falls this weekend with my kids 3 teenagers and my husband.
is it recommended to go to the cave of the winds first or the maid of the mist. and how long is the disttance on foot between the two.
I am planning to spend 1 day on the us side (maid of the mist & cave of the wind and may be dinner some where close to the hotel.and anther day on CA side clifton hill (lazer tag, go cart, zip line, and whirlpool.
what do you think.
Ghada, thank you for your comment! At the Cave of the Winds, you receive water shoes as part of your package. I liked wearing them on the Maid of the Mist to keep my walking shoes dry. Because of this, I recommend going to Cave of the Winds first, but it is not a big deal if that isn’t possible. Just make sure to grab tickets to both rides before they are gone! The distance between the two rides is over a mile, I definitely recommend riding the trolley unless you enjoy walking.
Those other activities sound like a blast, I hope you enjoy your visit with your family!
Best hotel for view of the falls from US side?
Hi Ashley, thanks for the question! I did not stay in Niagara Falls personally, but I have done some research and the consensus is the best hotel view is at Red Coach Inn. It is the closest to the Falls, but it is also the most pricey. Unfortunately, it still is not a great view of the falls. Without a passport, the best view of the Falls from the US side is from the ride the Maid of the Mist. If a hotel view is important to you, I would recommend staying on the Canadian side. Hope that helps!
Perfectly written! I could have given the exact same advice!
We didn’t have kids with us, so walking the entirety of the state park was enjoyable for us. I wish I would have seen your article before we went! I would have been so helpful to know what to take with us. If you are reading this before your trip, take notes! She is spot on with what to take, what to experience and what to expect!
They no longer offer the Discovery Pass. We tried to get one this week.
Is this suitable for handicapped people? My husband and I want to go, but we both have mobility issues.
Thank you Madison.. very informative post..you explained it like we are watching a video. Simply no questions left for our next week trip.. thanks so much
I am in a wheelchair and would like to know if you have any recommendations as far as accessibility.
Thank you for sharing! Very informative and just a question do they give wet shoes too during end of October? Wouldn’t we get cold?