I remember going to Niagara Falls as a child and having no interest in it after my first visit, which included the “opportunity” to ride the Maid of the Mist, which left me cold, wet, and utterly miserable. Now that my parents have lived in Toronto for 6-7 years and I’ve been to Niagara Falls at least another 20 times, I’ve grown to love and look forward to my trips there as we’ve discovered that there is a plethora of fun activities around Niagara Falls that don’t involve simply looking at the falls (which are majestic in their own right, don’t get me wrong). If you find yourself dreading yet another trip to the Falls or finding that your trips there are getting a bit monotonous and uninteresting, this guide to our favorite fun activities around Niagara Falls is for you. Or, if you’re a first timer and want to have the best experience there, read on. Here are three fun activities around Niagara Falls that my family and I love to do.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the cutest little towns I’ve seen in North America, with historic sites, shops, parks, and a marina, to name a few. In fact, it’s often called the loveliest town in Ontario. Settled at the close of the American Revolution by Loyalists coming to Upper Canada, it was subsequently purchased by the British Government in 1781. By 1796, 70 new homes were built, and the town had become the economic, administrative, and judicial center for the Niagara Peninsula. However, everything changed in 1812 when the entire town was burned down by the Americans during the War of 1812.
Obviously, the town was eventually rebuilt, and today, over 200 years after its founding, this town contains quaint houses, shops, lots of nature, and my favorite ice cream shop, Cows. It also contains a number of wineries, and each contains a rare type of wine called ice wine, which is only produced in Canada (primarily Ontario) and Germany. If you’ve never had ice wine before, it is a type of dessert wine made from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine and before fermentation. Since the sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but water does freeze, the result is a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. One of our favorite wineries is Pillitteri Estates Winery, but there are a number of quality wineries that are mainly family-owned and have been around for generations.
After you enjoy some wine, head to the edge of town, where you will find a white pagoda on the waterfront. There, you can relax and imagine what it would be like to live in one of the houses on the island in the distance.
2. Niagara Glen at the Great Gorge
One of my favorite things to do when I go to Niagara Falls is hike down Niagara Glen in the Great Gorge to the Niagara River Whirlpool, a portion of the river that has a deep counter-clockwise spin. Niagara Glen has been a designed Nature Reserve since 1992 and contains 4 km (2.5 miles) of paths that wind through forestry and boulders that were left behind when the Falls eroded through the area thousands of years ago. If you go in the fall months, you will be able to witness the beautiful red and orange colors of the leaves that cover the gorge.
If you are an avid hiker are looking for more than a mere 4 km hike to occupy your afternoon, you’re in luck because Niagara Parks contains 15 km of hiking footpaths through six nature areas that will surely keep you active and entertained all day. If that still isn’t enough for you, there is also a 56 km paved trail that you can run or bike on, which leads from the Falls all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
3. Botanical Gardens/Butterfly Conservatory/Floral Clock
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing than the multitude of hikes discussed above, check out the Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory for some natural beauty that’s a bit more relaxed. The Botanical Gardens consist of 40 hectares (99 acres) of perrennials, rhododendrons, azaleas, formal parterre garden, shade, herb and vegetable plantings, and a rose garden featuring over 2,400 roses. Best of all, admission is free! Do note, however, that parking costs $5.00.
The Butterfly Conservatory is located on the grounds of the Botanical Gardens and contains over 2,000 butterflies from 45 different species. You can walk around the Butterfly Conservatory via 180 meters of winding pathways through a tropical environment. There is an admission fee of $14.25 for adults and $9.25 for children (children 5 and under are free), and parking is again $5.00, but you will only need to pay the parking fee once for both the Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory.
Further down the street is the floral clock, a timepiece made up of 16,000 carpet bedding plants. The design is changed twice a year and features viola in the spring and alternanthera and santolina sage in the summer and fall. Admission is free to the clock as well.
Hopefully this guide to fun activities around Niagara Falls provides you with a bit more adventure and enjoyment on your next trip to Niagara Falls. Even after all these years, I still look forward to going every time because there really is such a variety of activities for both the indoor type as well as the outdoor type.