It’s a well known fact that the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls is far better than the American, but when we had to cross the border to activate our second work permits we decided to see what the other side had to offer.
First off, crossing Rainbow Bridge by foot into the States is really easy, just make sure you have your passport and 2 quarters to pay the 50 cents toll. This can be in either US or Canadian dollars and there’s a change machine if you need it.
From the bridge you get some great views of both the Horseshoe and American Falls with the added advantage of fewer tourists getting in your way – at least this was our experience on a grey day in October. If views are all you’re after, it is possible to turn back here and not have to face US customs.
Visit the closest spot on Earth to the Falls
Cave of the Winds was the only thing we decided was worth paying for given that this was our 4th visit to the area. Our tickets were $14 each, but you can also get them as part of the Discovery Pass if you plan to visit other attractions this side. The pass includes the famous (and brilliant) Maid of the Mist boat trips.
Now you might be expecting a cave but in actual fact the cave behind Bridal Veil Falls was deemed unsafe back in 1920. It was then later destroyed by a huge rockfall and subsequent dynamiting in 1954. So rather than going behind the waterfall, you now go in front of it on a series of wooden decks and walkways.
The interesting thing about this attraction is that they take it apart every autumn and rebuild it the following spring to protect it from the extreme winter conditions. You can even go on a special tour to see the decks being assembled for the upcoming season. Alternatively you could watch this 8 minute long YouTube video.
Before riding the elevator 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge you are provided with a very attractive outfit, featuring a bright yellow rain poncho and some highly fashionable plastic sandals. You can keep these as a souvenir, or alternatively there is a recycling bin for them at the end. I still find this element of the Niagara Falls incredibly frustrating from a sustainability point of view. I dread to think how many sandals and ponchos they get through in a year! Having said that though, you do get incredibly wet when you’re just metres away from torrents of water and we were pleased to have something to keep us dry. We kept our stuff for future trips or other outdoor activities.
Once you make it down to the bottom you are free to spend as much time as you like wandering around. There’s no escape from the rushing waters, especially when the wind changes direction, blowing mist into your face, and the water pours down the steps all over your feet. For some reason, this is pretty fun. I guess it’s the same kind of excitement you get whilst on a water ride at a theme park. I imagine Cave of the Winds is very popular in the summer! If you don’t like getting soaked, this is definitely not the experience for you.
The walkway leads you to the Hurricane Deck, where as the name suggests the crashing water creates tropical storm like conditions. This is the closest you can get to the Falls and is definitely in the mist zone. Given how cold it was, I enjoyed the thrill of being so close by running through but Stewart decided to hang around a little longer.
Get up close and personal with the American Falls
It goes without saying that you can get closer to the American Falls on the US side! But it does give you a better appreciation of just how fast that water is crashing down. Luna Island is the name given to the small bit of land which separates Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls. There’s a pedestrian bridge across to the island and from here you get great views of both waterfalls. Once again, be prepared to get wet! Definitely a reason to keep hold of that bright yellow poncho.
Lots of green space
Cave of the Winds, and all the other attractions are located in the oldest State Park in the US – Niagara Falls State Park. It felt like there was a lot more greenery on this side of the river. There are plenty of hiking trails in the area too, especially some great looking ones that take you right beside the Niagara River and it’s grade 6 rapids in the Whirlpool State Park. Not something we had time for this trip though sadly, but we did enjoy the autumnal colours.
At the moment a lot of construction work is going on to renovate large areas of the park, improving the accessibility and overall look of the area. This meant we couldn’t get anywhere near the Horseshoe Falls but come summer the area should be fully open. In addition, and far more interestingly, they are now talking about ‘turning off’ the American and Bridal Veil Falls in order to carry out essential work to replace the rapidly deteriorating pedestrian bridges to Goat Island. This wouldn’t be the first time these Falls have been stopped, a damn was built in 1969 so a geological survey to investigate erosion could be conducted. You can see footage of this on YouTube here.
What do you think? Have you been to the US side of Niagara Falls? We’d love to hear your experiences.