Beloved by generations of explorers for more than 130 years Niagara Falls today is an ideal family vacation destination. Whether its hearing the roar of the falls, soaring over a rushing whirlpool, or walking alongside Class 6 white water rapids there are many ways to enjoy the mystery and majesty of the falls. The surrounding area is also packed with fun activities that will keep kids and adults alike enthralled for days. Before I get into all that we loved about Niagara Falls has to offer for families we have to answer the big question…
Which side should you see?
It’s one of the most common questions about Niagara Falls, and the big one we found ourselves asking before our family trip. The general consensus (including my own opinion) is that the Canadian side undoubtedly offers the most stunning views and a much broader range of activities, nightlife, and fun. However, it’s worth seeing the American side too. If possible, the best way to experience Niagara Falls is to see it from both sides.
We decided to check out the American side of the Falls but stay on the Canadian side and utilize the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass Plus for our activities.
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Niagara Falls Adventure Pass
A Niagara Falls Adventure Pass is a package of popular Niagara Parks attractions. Each pass includes one-time admission for Hornblower Niagara Cruises as well as admission to Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara’s Fury and the White Water Walk.
Transportation using the WEGO hop-on, hop-off bus system that connects Niagara Parks with your hotel and other tourist areas in the city is also included with the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass. You also receive valuable bonus coupons for other experiences, dining and shopping.
There are three Niagara Falls Adventure Pass packages. There’s the Classic pass, Nature pass and the Plus pass. There is also a pass designed for all seasons called the Wonder Pass. Our family chose to go for the Plus pass to have the most options and could not have been happier. Let’s dive into the activities we were able to enjoy with the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass along with a few others we loved!
Whirlpool Aero Car
We chose to build the excitement toward getting progressively closer to the Falls so we started with the Whirlpool Aero Car. This is one of the additional attractions included with the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass Plus. The hundred-year-old antique cable car takes you 3,500 feet across the Great Gorge for a spectacular view of the Niagara River. Designed by renowned Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, the Whirlpool Aero Car has been soaring the Niagara Gorge since 1916. The antique cable car is suspended from six sturdy cables. Although the Whirlpool Aero Car travels between two points on the Canadian shore, riders of this historic cable car actually cross the international border line between Canada and the United States a total of four times each trip due to the way the river elbows.
White Water Walk
Our next stop was the White-Water Walk, located just outside the main Falls tourist area. You begin your self-guided adventure here by taking an elevator down 70 meters and then traversing through a tunnel to get to the wooden boardwalk built right along the raging rapids. It’s an easy quarter of a mile stroll with several observation platforms that put you right at the river’s edge. The water rushes through the Niagara River here at approximately 30 mph. It has the distinction of being a Class 6 white water rapid, a classification which is generally considered un-runnable.
The final platform offers the best view but is also where you are most likely to get splashed by a rogue wave. Watch out if you don’t want to get wet. This is one of the only Niagara Falls attractions that doesn’t equip you with a poncho. The walk itself was completely accessible for our daughter who uses a wheelchair. It would easily accommodate families with strollers. The White-Water Walk is open seasonally from late April through mid-November.
Next up we did Niagara’s Fury. This is an educational and full sensory 4-D experience as awesome as you would find at Disney or Universal Studios!
The experience begins with an eight-minute animation starring “Chip”, a beaver working on a project about the formation of Niagara Falls for school. This part is particularly perfect for kids but engaging enough to be enjoyed by adults too.
Everyone then moves into a specially designed 360-degree theater for the six-minute multi-sensory “Fury” portion of the show. The temperature drops and thunder booms. Water bubbles and sprays as you travel down the river while snow falls all around simulating the last Ice Age.
The moving platform beneath your feet even shakes giving you a sense of the power of nature as you are surrounded by stunning visuals of the mighty Niagara River.
Even though all of this takes place inside you will definitely need the complimentary blue poncho. You will get drenched. Niagara’s Fury is located in the Table Rock Welcome Center and is open year-round.
Journey Behind the Falls
After grabbing some lunch at Table Rock Center, we queued up for Journey Behind the Falls. This popular attraction is aptly summed up in its name.
You begin your journey by descending 125 feet through the bedrock tunnels to the base of Horseshoe Falls. From the moment you step off the elevator and don your plastic poncho –yellow this time – you can feel the thunderous vibration of Horseshoe Falls as it crashes into the basin.
Be sure to take the time to read the informational boards and plaques posted along the walls of the tunnels. There is so much history here that can be missed here if you are just hurrying through. The Great Falls and Cataract lookout portals offer the closest views of the backside of Horseshoe Falls possible.
The most amazing part of this attraction is undoubtedly the observation deck. You’ll be quite thankful for that yellow poncho at this point! The view is incredible and makes a great place to stop for photos and just listen to the roar of water flowing from 13 stories above you. Part of me wishes that our family’s photos in front of the falls here didn’t have water droplets on the lens but really it captures what the experience was like. Awesome!
Note that the upper deck is covered and remains open year-round while the lower deck is exposed to the Falls and is not open in Winter due to icing. The entire experience takes about 45 minutes but will be remembered for a lifetime.
Hornblower Boat Tour
We saved the best, most quintessential Niagara Falls experience for last! The Hornblower! After the other Niagara Falls Adventure Pass activities, I really didn’t think I could be any more impressed than I already was. Then we got on the boat. The tour starts off leisurely enough, chugging along up the river, past the American Falls and then Bridal Veil Falls. But as the boat gets closer to the heart of Horseshoe Falls the sheer power and thundering intensity of the 600,000 gallons of water per second falling in front of you is beyond amazing!
The tour is 30 minutes long. There’s an audio commentary highlighting the history of the falls. You probably won’t be able to hear it over the delighted shrieks of your fellow passengers. Don’t worry, if you’ve done all the other Niagara Falls Adventure Pass activities you already caught those details elsewhere. Allow yourself to just take it all in here.
Even if you wear the complimentary red plastic poncho, you’re in for a good soaking. Embrace it! There is no other way to better appreciate the Niagara Falls than this!
The WEGO System
WEGO is the fully-accessible bus transportation system that connects Niagara Parks attractions with hotels and other tourism areas across the city of Niagara Falls. Unlimited use of WEGO transportation is included with every Niagara Falls Adventure Pass and Wonder Pass. It was super well run and easy to use. Having the hop-on, hop-off bus system included in the price of the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass makes getting around that city much easier. Especially in bad weather.
There are four separate (color coded) routes that connect hotels and tourist attractions throughout the city and will get you pretty much anywhere that you want to go. All bus lines conveniently meet at the Table Rock Center. The bus runs year-round and there’s an app available for mobile devices that will locate the bus and provide an arrival time for the stop that you are waiting at.
Your included 2-day access with the Pass does not begin counting until the first time you board a WEGO bus after redemption. Just ask at a Niagara Parks Welcome Center if you need to add more days to your WEGO access.
Is Adventure Pass Worth it?
I love when things are well organized and laid out and the Canadian side of the Falls absolutely delivered on this starting right from the point of purchase.
Passes can be booked online, and e-ticket vouchers printed at home. The vouchers can then be redeemed at a Welcome Center booth or at any of the attractions on the Pass. When you present your vouchers for redemption you will receive a scan card and a lanyard to make it easy to carry around as well as bonus coupons and a map of the Niagara Falls tourist areas.
When you redeem the vouchers at a Welcome Center, you will also be able to make timed ticket reservations for each of the attractions. This makes it so easy to plan your day! If you need to change the time for any reason, simply return to one of the Welcome Center booths and they will be happy to re-book for you. Passes can also be purchased right at any Welcome Center booth.
Beyond the convenience of timed entry to attractions the Adventure Pass absolutely can save you money. If you are planning to take one of the cruises and visit any two of the other attractions or use the WEGO hop on, hop off bus service you will see a significant savings over buying separate admissions.
Adventure Pass Pricing (in CAD)
- The Adventure Pass Classic is $56.95 + tax for adults. Children aged 6-12 is $36.95. Children aged 5 and under are free. This pass includes; Hornblower Niagara Cruises boat tour, Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara’s Fury, White Water Walk and 48 hours of WEGO bus transportation.
- The Adventure Pass Nature is $56.95 + tax for adults. Children aged 6-12 is $36.95. Children aged 5 and under are free. This pass includes; Hornblower Niagara Cruises boat tour, Whirlpool Aero Car, Floral Showcase, Butterfly Conservatory and 48 hours of WEGO bus transportation.
- The Adventure Pass Plus is $90 + tax for adults. Children aged 6-12 is 59. Children aged 5 and under are free. This pass includes; Hornblower Niagara Cruises boat tour, Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara’s Fury, White Water Walk, Whirlpool Aero Car, Floral Showcase, Butterfly Conservatory, Old Fort Erie, Laura Secord Homestead, Mackenzie Printery, Unlimited Falls Incline Railway and 48 hours of WEGO bus transportation.
Wonder Pass Pricing (in CAD)
- Niagara Falls Wonder Pass available in the fall, winter and early spring is $25 + tax for adults. Children aged 6-12 $17. Children aged 5 and under are free. This pass includes; Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara’s Fury, Butterfly Conservatory, and 48 hours of WEGO bus transportation. Note that the Wonder Pass, does NOT include times entry like the Adventure Pass options. However, crowds are much lighter when this pass is offered.
The kitschy, carnival-like Clifton Hill, was another area we thoroughly enjoyed. With wax museums, 4-D theaters, mini-golf, a bowling alley, haunted house, arcades and themed restaurants like The Hardrock Café and The Rainforest Café it reminded us a lot of Universal Orlando’s City Walk. This is a great area to enjoy in the evenings especially.
The premier attraction on Clifton Hill is the Niagara SkyWheel. We deliberately decided on one Clifton Hill activity and this is what we chose. Claiming the title of Canada’s largest observation wheel, the fully-enclosed climate-controlled gondolas bring you to a towering 175 feet above the Niagara Falls horizon for a 10-12 minute flight. The wheel is slow-moving and very smooth. No one in our group, including those normally leery of heights, had any problem. We rode the SkyWheel right at sunset. It could not have been a better time to take in the gorgeous views of the Falls and the surrounding landscape. Open year-round the SkyWheel is a great choice for any weather condition.
Note that there is a Clifton Hill Pass, which we didn’t buy, that gives entrance to 6 attractions for one price. If you use it, let us know in the comments what you think!
Oh Canada Eh!
On our last night in Niagara we went to see “Oh Canada, Eh” a fun lighthearted dinner-show located 10 minutes from the Falls area. Oh Canada, Eh is performed in a 236 seat log cabin theater and features characters such as a Mountie, a French lumberjack, and Anne of Green Gables singing popular Canadian tunes. Dinner is served family-style during breaks in the on-stage action with the actors from the show doubling as your wait staff. The feast included a bounty of Canadian favorites from French-Canadian Pea Soup to Maple Chocolate Cake. The food was all delicious and the show entertaining. Even when we had no idea what the reference point was! It was definitely one of the unexpected highlights of our time in Niagara! Shows run April through October each year.
Oh Canada Eh Dinner Show – $52.97Canada’s longest running dinner musical! Enjoy a night of all-Canadian music, food & fun! This 2 hour musical comedy features over 65 all-Canadian hit songs from artists like Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Anka, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Justin Bieber and many, MANY more! While you are enjoying the show, performers serve an all-Canadian, 5-course, family-style meal!
Where to Stay
Whether you’re looking for luxury or family-friendly economy, there are plenty of choices for lodging when it comes to visiting Niagara Falls, Ontario. We stayed at the Double Tree Fallsviews Resort and Spa by Hilton. We liked the location far enough away from the main strip to provide quiet. The best part was our view of the Niagara Falls fireworks right from our hotel room.
The American Side
We crossed the Rainbow Bridge into the U.S. side of Niagara twice. The first time we walked over and the second time we drove. The Rainbow Bridge, is easy to find and cross, but can be busy depending on the time of day you choose to cross. You will need a passport to cross the border either way.
Cave of the Winds
We had really hoped to do Cave of the Winds on the American side. Similar to Journey Behind the Falls Visitors here, geared with yellow ponchos and special walking sandals, take an elevator down into Niagara Gorge for a tour that puts them near the torrents of Bridal Veil Falls. It looked absolutely thrilling! We attempted to do this activity twice however the lines were several hours long. In the end I felt the Canadians have not only a better view of the falls but a much more organized system for the activities. With our Adventure Passes we were able to have timed entry for everything. That’s the way to do it, eh! If you are able to do The Cave of the Winds I advise getting there very early! We arrived in the morning just after breakfast but the line was already quite long.
There is also a trolley tour and some great attractions such as the Aquarium of Niagara and the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, but we stuck with exploring Niagara Falls State Park, the nation’s oldest state park. This Olmstead-designed park offered a great place to view the Falls from the top.
We visited Luna Point, a viewing platform that puts you right in the middle of the top of Bridal Veil Falls and Terrapin Point where the waters of Horseshoe Falls spill into the gorge right at your feet. It’s really a unique view worth seeing! I also recommend driving around to the other side of Goat Island to take a short hike onto Three Sisters Islands. Literally, three small islands connected by a foot bridge. The views from the third island are spectacular. There’s no cost to explore Niagara Falls State Park. You’ll just have to pay for parking.
Maid of the Midst
Note that the Maid of the Mist boat that runs from the American side of the falls offers the same tour right into the basin of Horseshoe Falls. You can easily tell the boats apart by the color of the ponchos given to guests to wear, Maid of the Mist in blue and Hornblower in red. The only difference is the Hornblower operates a newer state-of-the-art 700 passenger catamaran boats. With larger capacity the line for Hornblower seems to move quicker. Tours leave every 15 minutes from April through October.
If you only have one day to do Niagara Falls here is a tour that covers the best of both sides of the Falls.
Best of Both Niagara Falls American/Canadian Tour – $139.95“Best of Both” Daytime Adventure This fully guided tour features some of the best views and experiences Niagara Falls has to offer. Take a ride aboard the world famous Maid of The Mist Boat to experience a view from the Niagara River unlike any other. Travel into Canada to experience the Journey Behind The Falls, Skylon Tower and much more. “Best of Both” Evening Illumination This fully guided tour features some of the best views and experiences Niagara Falls has to offer. You will see the Niagara Falls transform as it Illuminates and becomes even more breathtaking. Enjoy a spectacular view of the Falls from the American side then travel into Canada to experience the Journey Behind The Falls, Skylon Tower and much more. VALID PASSPORT REQUIRED
Niagara Falls is one of the kitschiest places I’ve ever been, with tourist traps galore. It is still absolutely beautiful, and the touristy stuff does not take away from the beauty and power of the falls. So just embrace the whole vibe and don’t be afraid to be a tourist! And don’t be afraid to get wet! You will probably get soaked at one or more attractions. So, wear something light and waterproof that will dry quickly. Just make sure to protect your camera! Or even better take one that’s water proof. This is the one that we use!
There really are endless opportunities to make the memories to last a lifetime at Niagara Falls. No matter which way you choose to enjoy this natural wonder with your family this is one those destinations that’s not to be missed!
Click HERE video of of our adventures in Niagara Falls.
Have you been to Niagara Falls? What was your favorite thing to do while you were there? Let me know below!
We continued our adventures in Canada just an hour north in Toronto. Canada’s largest city has so much to offer! Check out five fun things to do in Toronto with kids here!
If you will be spending more time in New York we highly recommend The New York Pass!
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