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I remember road tripping to Niagara Falls as a child and having had about a 30 second attention span of looking at the waterfalls before wondering what was next. To my surprise, something was next – something that would leave me traumatized and repulsed by Niagara Falls for many years to come: the Maid of the Mist. Looking back now, it is no surprise that a super touristy activity left me feeling cold, wet, and utterly miserable, but at the time I chalked it up to Niagara Falls being not my cup of tea. Fast forward 20 years or so and at least 30 return trips later, and I absolutely love visiting Niagara Falls. Over the years, my family and I have discovered a plethora of fun activities to do in Niagara Falls that have nothing to do with the Falls themselves. If you are visiting Niagara Falls for the first time or finding yourself dreading yet another trip to the Falls, our guide to 8 fun things to do in Niagara Falls is for you.
1. The Falls
If you’re visiting Niagara Falls for the first time, you obviously have to make a stop to see the Falls. After parking your car in Clifton Hill or near the Niagara River, you can walk the 2.5 km stretch between the Rainbow Bridge and Horseshoe Falls. Along this stretch, you’ll first come across Niagara Falls, and if you look further south, you’ll see Horseshoe Falls, which gets its name from its horseshoe shape. Try to get there as early as possible, so you won’t be fighting the crowds for a photo in front of the falls.
2. WildPlay Niagara Falls Zipline To the Falls
Now that you’ve seen the Falls, it’s time to explore the other fun things to do in Niagara Falls, but if you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll want to check out one more thing before leaving the Falls. Near the intersection of Falls Avenue and Clifton Hill, just south of the Rainbow Bridge, you will find the WildPlay Niagara Falls MistRider Zipline To the Falls, where you can zipline 670 meters (2,220 feet) at speeds of more than 70 kph (40 mph) over the Niagara River and to the Falls observation landing. WildPlay recently opened a nighttime zipline as well, which allows you to zipline over the Falls while they are illuminated in color at night. You can see their full price sheet and hours on the WildPlay Niagara Falls website here.
3. Clifton Hill
Clifton Hill is the name of a tourist area and of the street that runs perpendicular to Falls Avenue, right around the Rainbow Bridge. Here, you’ll find gimmicky attractions like the Guinness World of Records Museum, a wax museum, a mirror and laser maze, mini golf, and go karts. You’ll also find lots of souvenir shops, carnival snacks, and a big ferris wheel, where you can have a nice overhead view of the Falls from the top.
If you are visiting the Falls with young kids, they’ll likely want to drag you into every building at Clifton Hill, but if you are kids-free, you’ll probably find yourself without much of a reason to stay here long. If you do find yourself stuck in Clifton Hill, or if you just want to rest for a bit after walking around the Falls, I would recommend heading over to Niagara Brewing Company for some beers and snacks.
Clifton Hill is also a good place to park your car if you’re visiting the Falls on a weekend or holiday. There is a large outdoor paid parking lot on Oneida Lane between the Dinosaur Adventure Golf (you can’t miss it with all the large dinosaurs outside) and the Niagara Speedway (looks like a multi-level parking garage with go karts) that always has empty spots, even during busy weekend hours.
4. Niagara Glen Trails
Once you’ve left Clifton Hill and the Falls, drive north on Niagara Parkway until you reach Niagara Glen Nature Centre. Niagara Glen was designated a nature reserve in 1992 and contains 4 km (2.5 miles) of paths that wind up and down through forests lining the Niagara River. There are also a number of boulders here that were left behind when the Falls eroded through the area thousands of years ago. Today, the area is a hot spot for bouldering, though you do need to obtain a permit in advance to do so. In the fall months, you can witness the beautiful red and orange colors of the leaves that cover the gorge. Of all the things to do in Niagara Falls, this might be my favorite.
If you are an avid hiker who is looking for more than a mere 4 km (2.5 miles) long hike to occupy your afternoon, you’re in luck because Niagara Parks contains 15 km (9.3 miles) 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 (34.8 miles) long paved trail that you can run or bike on, which leads from the Falls all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
5. WildPlay Niagara Falls Whirlpool Adventure Course
On the south end of Niagara Glen is WildPlay Niagara Falls’ other main attraction, the Whirlpool Adventure Course. This is essentially an obstacle course that’s suspended high in the air above the whirlpool and Niagara Gorge. There are three different courses you can try at your own pace that involve climbing, zip lining, jumping, and swinging. One of the courses is a kids’ course for children ages 5-12 years old, so this would be a great place to bring your kids and let them run around and release some energy. All participants are strapped onto the course with a rope, so you can rest assured it is perfectly safe. You can see their full price sheet and hours on the WildPlay Niagara Falls website here.
6. 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 laid back. 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 CAD.
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 $16.00 CAD for adults and $10.25 CAD for children (children 5 and under are free), and parking is again $5.00 CAD, 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 to the clock is free as well.
7. Niagara Wineries
Unless you’re already familiar with the Niagara region, you might not immediately associate a cold place like Niagara with wine country. Many visitors are surprised to learn that the Niagara peninsula is one of the primary wine producing regions in Canada and produces much more than just ice wine (a dessert wine that is only produced in Canada and Germany). In fact, a variety of wines are produced in the region, including chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, and syrah.
There are over 100 wineries in the Niagara region, so it can be overwhelming to decide which wineries to visit. You could easily spend an entire day hopping from one winery to the next, or book a tour in advance if no one in your group wants to be the designated driver.
If you only have a couple of hours or a day to explore Niagara’s wineries, we would recommend the following:
- Inniskillin Wines: one of the oldest wineries in Niagara that has won major awards for its ice wine | 1499 Line-3, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
- Konzelmann Estate Winery: very good tours and the only lakefront winery in Niagara | 1096 Lakeshore Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
- Trius Winery & Restaurant: largest underground sparkling wine cellar in Canada and very good food | 1249 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
- Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery: Niagara’s newest winery with a whisky bar patio and ice skating rink out back | 1219 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
- Reif Estate Winery: one of the founding family wineries in Niagara with all around quality wine | 15608 Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
- Peller Estates Winery and Restaurant: barrel cellar and -10 degrees ice bar for tasting ice wines available here | 290 John St. E., Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Finally, you’ve made it to Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of the cutest little towns I’ve seen in North America, with historic sites, shops, parks, and a marina. In fact, it’s often called the loveliest town in Ontario, and it’s easy to see why.
Settled at the end of the American Revolution by Loyalists coming to Upper Canada, the town 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.
Hopefully our guide to these 8 fun things to do in Niagara Falls has inspired you to visit – or revisit – Niagara Falls and its surrounding regions. Even after all these years, I still look forward to visiting the Falls every time because there is such a variety of activities for every taste and mood.
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