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.