Day trip to Niagara Falls USA

Day trip to Niagara Falls USA

Growing up in Rochester, NY, a trip over the border to Canada was a pretty common thing. Living about an hour from another country doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you are old enough to appreciate that you live an hour from another country. 

I don’t remember my first visit across the northern border. I was likely a baby. Back in the day, you didn’t need a passport so Canada was a frequent summer destination. Rochester, NY is about 1:15 minutes away from the border crossing at Niagara Falls. Depending on who is driving, could be little more or a little less. 

Visiting Canada now requires a valid U.S. Passport, passport card or NEXUS card. Children under 16 only need proof of citizenship. When we relocated from Maryland to New York, my husband and I chose to get the Enhanced Drivers License which allow us to cross into Canada without a passport, by land or sea. We can also cross into Mexico and some Caribbean countries with our enhanced license too. 

Exploring Niagara Falls USA

For all of the times that I’d been to Niagara Falls, Canada, I’d never bothered to explore Niagara Falls, USA. In 2020, the borders were still closed so we decided to take the kids on their first falls adventure. A new experience for all of us. Earlier that summer we checked out Letchworth State Park which has some impressive waterfalls, but of course few things compare to Niagara Falls. 

When we arrived we found parking to be pretty easy and convenient to the attractions. Parking near the visitor center at Prospect Point is $5 to $10 per car depending on the time of year.  We went mid-week in late August. 

Unique finds on the American side

The American side of the falls doesn’t have a lot of the same attractions as the Canadian side. There is no ferris wheel, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the epic haunted houses along Clifton Hills or the most direct view of the American Falls and Horseshoe falls. But, there are some unique American side only attractions like the Cave of the Winds Tour behind the falls, Seneca Niagara Casino, the Observation Tower, and hiking trails directly along the rapids and the falls in the park. Other Niagara USA experiences include restaurants, shopping, the Maid of the Midst ferry, the Aquarium of Niagara and Top of the Falls Restaurant. 

On the U.S. side there is more nature to experience and explore as the Niagara Falls State Park is designed to embrace the power and beauty of the falls in the most up close ways possible. I’ve never been that close to the top of the falls before this visit. The views, although different from the Canadian side are just as remarkable. And, the power of the water is even more evident when you hear and feel the rushing of the river combined with the crashing of the water pouring over the falls. So, fun fact, the Niagara Falls is where the five great lakes converge!

We spent most of our time exploring the park and the various trails. We did a lot of walking. The kids were 4 and 8 during this visit so we didn’t get into the more exciting attractions like the Cave of the Winds. I know my children, and at the time there weren’t very ready for that experience, however it is kid friendly. Prices range according to the time of year. 

The Maid of the Midst is also a another must do for many that we didn’t do this time around. On a previous trip my husband and I have taken the ride from the Canadian side. The rides are very similar no matter which side of the border you are on. The ferry boats from the Canadian and U.S. side actually pass each other often at the base of the Horsehoe Falls. Prices for adults are around $28.25 per person, children 6-12 $16.50 and five and under are free.

We walked a lot. Were comfortable shows. At the time we visited, it wasn’t very crowded so there was space to move freely. There are peak seasons however, when the Observation Decks is too crowded, you have to compete for space and the attractions have long lines. Try to plan your trip around less crowded times or just pack your patience.

We started at Prospect Point which where you catch the Maid of the Midst ferry or take a stroll across the Observation Tower. We stayed a little closer to the ground and observed the falls from the ground level. 

We were able to take in the American Falls and the American Rapids as close as you can get. Though it was a hot August day, we enjoyed the midst that blows from the force of the falls as nice way to cool down. 

Exploring Goat Island

We headed over the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to check out the island that leads to the more famous Horseshoe Falls. Goat Island sits between the two falls and makes for some of the most impressive views in the park. The island is accessible by car if you go over the American Rapids Bridge. Parking is available on the island. There is a trolly that goes through the park and over to the island that we didn’t catch.

There are plenty to places to stop and enjoy the view and have an outdoor picnic. thought the park. We didn’t have a full picnic but of course, we kept our usual snacks and water for the kids to munch on throughout the day. We spent a little over two hours at the park with was about the limit for Camryn at the time. 

The trails the run through Niagara Falls State Park run along side the river rapids right to the falls. When you are on the Canadaian side, you get the complete view of American Falls and Horseshoe Falls all at once. When you are in the U.S. side, your direct view is mostly of Canada. Not a great trade off, but still cool. 

If you are within a few hours of the falls and have never been I definitely suggest adding it to your stops. If like me, you’ve been there but only explored one side of the great wonder, go back and take a different view. You won’t disappointed. 

Visiting both sides increases your appreciation for the wonder of nature that is the falls. 

Our Visit to Letchworth State Park

Our Visit to Letchworth State Park

A short 30 minute ride from our home in Rochester, NY, Letchworth State Park has been voted one of the best attractions in New York State. Sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” for the magnificent scenery, it was also in the past named the “Best State Park in the US”.

Our family is down for riding bikes, walking, easy hikes, and just taking in the views. I wouldn’t say we are the “most” outdoorsy people around, but we definitely enjoy nature. In a time where it’s very easy to be distracted by electronic things, I’m happy that our kids are engaged and enjoy exploration around parks and trails. Western NY is full of some of the best parks in the country including, Letchworth State Park. 

Exploring Letchworth State Park

I can’t recall having ever been to Letchworth State Park before this visit. I wanted to take the kids especially so they could get a glimpse at their first major waterfalls. The Genesee River runs through the gorges that host three major waterfalls and a bunch of smaller ones as well. In addition there are 66 hiking trails, a massive outdoor pool, and a nature center. You can go kayaking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, ride a hot air ballon and in the winter skiing, and snowmobiling. You can even camping at the park in a cabin, RV or tent. The Glen Iris Inn is a restaurant and Inn located on property in the park. Not really what I would consider to be kid friendly, but a nice place for a date. 

All about the waterfalls

Letchwortth Falls
Middle Falls

We didn’t intend to do all of the wonderful things they have at the park, we just wanted to hike an easy trail and see the waterfalls. Luck would have it, we chose an extra hot day, so the mist from the waterfalls was a welcome reward when we got close enough.

We entered the park at the south entrance. Just driving through the 17 mile park can take about 20-30 minutes. If you stay on the main park road, it is easy to park and get out at the various overlooks, which is what we did.  Getting in and out of the car also allowed for water breaks and AC on a 90 degree and humid day. Throughout the park, bathrooms were easy to find. We brought snacks from home so we didn’t visit the concession stands. 

After stopping at a few of the overlooks to check out the views, we made it to Middle Falls. Parking is easy near the Glen Iris Inn and a short walk down to the falls. It’s a pretty cool view to be able to take in how massive and powerful the Middle Falls are. Measuring in at 107 feet, it is the tallest of the falls in the park. It’s not Niagara Falls but pretty impressive!

You can also park near Upper Falls and take a bit of a walk to get a closer look. We didn’t have a stroller and on the return trip up the stairs the three year old gave up on walking. So the husband ended up with an extra 30 lbs weight to carry (aka Camryn). Nonetheless, since it was our last stop for the day, it was a nice way to end things. 

Visiting Boston and the Franklin Park Zoo

Visiting Boston and the Franklin Park Zoo

There was a time when I was sure I was going to move to Boston. I’d never been to Boston, but somehow it landed on my list of post college destinations. Boston was only 6-ish hour drive from home (Rochester, NY), 1 hour flight, a big city on the east coast and offered career options in higher education or publishing. 

Fast-forward a few years and I ended up picking Baltimore over Boston. I have, however visited Boston several times now. My latest visit in July 2018 was the first time for my family. For me it was a work trip, but the family was able to tag too. A very quick mid-July trip to check out a few new things. We only had one day to explore, which was mostly spent at the Franklin Park Zoo.

Hit the Road

Although I’d been to Boston a few times before, it was always by flight. This was my first time driving from western NY to Boston. We packed up the rented Nissan Altima and took off for Boston. For longer road trips, we like to hit the road at night so the kids will sleep more, but in this case we left early in the morning. The drive through New York State is scenic.

Our normal road trip routine includes the DVD players linked up for entertainment. I try to not let the kids watch the screens too much, they are a necessary evil on our rides. The littles managed to stay awake for the entire seven hour ride…. yup, not a single nap! We hit Boston at peak rush hour at which point Camryn finally took a nap. If you are driving, try to avoid arriving at rush hour. The last hour of our trip was just trying to get a few miles to our hotel.

A River Runs Through It

Charles River
Hyatt Balcony

While I am pretty much a Marriott girl, this time was stayed at a Hyatt. The hotel was probably a little fancier than we usually do with the kids. The pricer hotels just usually don’t offer free breakfast which is a great money saver. At this time, the kids didn’t know how to swim yet either which also now drives our hotel choices.

My work events were at Harvard and this was one of the host hotels so we stayed at the Cambridge at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge. Of the choices, I picked it primarily because it was within walking distance to a park and directly across from the walking path along the Charles river. I figured my husband would want to escape the hotel for a while and those would be two great options. Rather than go outside, turns out he just let them run around the hotel halls and ride the elevator.

Our waterfront view room overlooked the Charles River. Since it was peak summer in July, we had many occasions to watch the boats, kayaks and row teams on the river.  Our room was equipped with a queen bed and a pull out couch. We prefer this over two beds because it gives the kids a place to sit, play and eat. The kids are still small enough the sharing a bed isn’t an issue.

Our only hotel dinner also came at the in-house restaurant Zephyr. We enjoyed the outdoor patio overlooking the river. Since it wasn’t crowded, it gave the kids to room to roam a little.  After a long day of traveling with kids, hotel restaurants while not the cheapest are definitely convenient.

Visiting the Franklin Park Zoo

On our one day to explore, we chose to visit the Franklin Park Zoo. Easy decision really because the kids love animals. Visiting the Zoo is something the we do a lot in different cities. So far we have done the Nashville Zoo, Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, DC, Cincinnati Zoo and the Franklin Park Zoo.

The Franklin Park Zoo overall was a fun experience. We were able to buy tickets online to skip the line. Admission for all four of us was about $50. I think the kids liked the Meeting Barn farm animals section the best. The Meeting Barn puts the kids up close and personal with some familiar farm animals. 

Courtesy of

The zoo is not super big (72 acres), so we were able to hit all of the exhibits within a few hours. Although the zoo itself is on the smaller side, the playground is pretty big. I don’t think it is possible to walk about a playground and not let me kids play we let them go. The playground has two sections, one for older kids and one tiny toddlers. At that time, the littlest little was about 2.5 so she was still in the small kid section. With our usual divide and conquer strategy, the husband took one kid and I took the other.

Courtesy of

Since I was mostly tied up for work but we somehow managed to make a trip to Target. My excuse was that we needed snacks for the ride home, the reality is that I couldn’t resist the huge Target downtown in view of Fenway Park. There was a game that night but we didn’t go but did make traffic a little busier. Check the game schedule if you will be out in the summer downtown to see how traffic might be if you are not going to the game.

In other visits to Boston I’ve enjoyed some great seafood, taken in the beautiful history and architecture, hung around the Haah-vard yard, road the subway, and peeped the Green Monster. There is a ton more to do we didn’t experience this time around, I’m sure at some point I’ll make another return visit. 

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