Follow-up from: Algonquin Park - a peaceful getaway near Toronto
This is the second part of my multi-part essay covering my fall vacation in Canada.
I wanted to include the Niagara Falls region into my trip so I decided to organize the stop myself because pre-organized offers are either too short or don't include some sights. After some research I settled for a two night stopover - not covering a weekend. This might sound quite long but I wanted to see all major sights on both sides of the Niagara River and Niagara-on-the-Lake without a hurry.
So I re-arranged my route to fit this side trip into my vacation:
I decided to split my stay in Toronto (essay will follow). This way I could reduce the hotel fees in Niagara Falls substantially. Additionally it streamlined my gear - by storing some of my luggage at the hotel in Toronto - and made traveling by train the ideal, cheap choice.
On the first day of my side trip I took the 8:20 am cross-border Maple Leaf train to New York City in Toronto's Union Station. After a short and comfortable ride (approx. 2 hours) I arrived quite early in Niagara Falls, ON so I decided to take a long walk to Niagara Falls View - the location of my hotel (Oakes Hotel Overlooking the Falls) - instead of taking a taxi.
By doing so I had the chance to get a feel for the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. I took a route via Clifton Hill in order to have a glimpse view of the Rainbow Bridge and entertainment district of Niagara Falls. After passing Skylon Tower and the Falls View Casino I arrived at my destination:
11:30 am was a bit early for the hotel - so check-in wasn't available yet. Therefore I changed my gear, stored my trolley in the lobby and took my lunch in the nearby food court of the Casino Falls View.
The garden of the Casino provides a decent view of the falls, but is distracted by trees. After collecting my pre-bought Adventure Pass at the ticket booth I went to the Canadian walkway at Niagara River and enjoyed the spectacular views.
On my way to Table Rock I made contact with the wet mist created by the Horseshoe Falls. At Table Rock you're really close to the falls and the view is mind blowing. In order to enjoy the best lighting possible I then decided to go to the "White Water Walk" first.
After a short bus ride with the green line from WEGO (the Adventure Pass includes 48 hours of public transportation) and a brief elevator ride down to the Niagara River you get close to the rapids. On the wooden walkway there are several signboards explaining the history and nature of the Niagara Rapids. There are several steps down to the river, which allow a closer contact with the fast rapids.
My next stop was the "Journey behind the Falls". Back at Table Rock you receive a yellow plastic rain cover - which is really needed if you want to enter the lower observation deck.
I also recommend water tight shoes or sandals :)
At the platform you have a unique view of the Horseshoe Falls. Additionally you can enter tunnels which are drilled into the rock behind the Horseshoe Falls. Inside the tunnels you can get really close to the falls...
The last sight for this day was a ride on the "Maid of the Mist" - and I was lucky to catch the last boat from the Canadian side of the falls for this day. This trip has to be taken on the top deck in order to enjoy the full - quite wet - experience (blue plastic rain covers are available). You have a very close and unblocked view of both the American and Canadian side of the Niagara Falls.
After the disembarkment of the boat I could finally check-in to my hotel room. I took a quick shower and decided to combine my dinner with a walk though Clifton Hill. The entertainment district of Niagara Falls is somewhat different to the rest of the town and looks a lot like a small version of Las Vegas.
Before spending the night in a comfortable bed I went down to the walkway at the ferry stop again. At night it is much quieter without crowds of tourists - and the colorful illumination of the falls look spectacular, too. While enjoying the views for quite some time I really was happy that I organized the trip myself:
If I had traveled with a group of other tourists I might have missed such calm moments on my round trip...
The second day of my visit i re-checked the weather forecast in order to make the most of current conditions. It was warm and sunny so I decided to take a helicopter ride at noon just after watching the 4D feature "Fury of the falls" at Table Rock. This short movie is targeted mostly at families with children and gives a short - quite immersive - summary of the region's history.
Just before noon I took the green line and headed to the Whirlpool Aero Car. After watching the cabin cross the Niagara River I walked to the helicopter port of Niagara Helicopters Limited, which is located north of the train station. Luckily I found a coupon reducing the cost of this adventure but I would have taken the trip without any discount anyway.
The operators were very professional and even with the amount of passengers I only had do wait approx. 45 minutes despite having no prior reservation.
While waiting for the ride to start I witnessed many landings and take offs:
I seriously was impressed by the handling of the entire crew...
The trip itself took a little under 15 minutes and provided the best possible view of the Niagara Falls. It was a perfect choice to take this ride at noon because the light was great and the weather proofed to be spot on :)
Because of this terrific ride I un-checked Skylon Tower from my list of sights to visit...
After the helicopter ride I went to Niagara-on-the-Lake by public transportation. At the terminus of the green line you can take another line which operates approx. every 90 minutes.
I took a guided tour of Fort George - one of the reminiscent places of the British / American war. Additionally I walked the city center of the village and took a break in the Queen's Royal Park. The Fort Niagara - located on the other side of the Niagara River - can also be observed from this park. Toronto, located on the opposite side of Lake Ontario, can be seen too.
After my return to Niagara Falls, I spent the evening (again) at Clifton Hill as some great restaurants and bar are located in this spot.
The last day of side trip started on the other side of the Niagara river. I crossed the border at the Rainbow Bridge. After a short walk the immigration to the US was painless:
I just needed to fill an I-94 form, as my ESTA waver expired earlier that year...
On the american side of the falls I visited the Niagara Falls Observation Tower and took a long walk around the parks. I still was lucky in regard to the weather, some clouds helped to calm my skin...
The views from Goat Island - Terrapin Point in particular - were great and not this crowded as most tourists arrive at a later time. After a short lunch I walked down the Old Falls Street and bought some gift cards. In order not to miss my train back to Toronto I then decided to cross the border back to Canada.
On the other side of the falls I stopped again at the "Maid of the Mist" in order to enjoy the beautiful landscape before leaving for the train station. The check-out in the hotel was fast and only having few luggage I caught the train right on time:
On my ride back to Toronto I enjoyed a beautiful sundown.
The train ended at Union Station - still under heavy renovation - in downtown Toronto. My hotel was located right at Dundas Square so I decided to ditch the subway and took a walk up Yonge Street as I really love illuminated cityscapes at night.
After some waiting at the reception - many travelers arrived at this time - I even received an upgrade for my room at re-check-in...
Continued in: Huntsville — center of tourism in Muskoka