If you’re planning to spend a few days exploring Niagara Falls with your family, you’ll be able to see and do everything. On a shorter visit—say half a day—you’ll have to pick and choose carefully. Here are the best things to do (and avoid) when visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls with kids.
Tour the falls by boat
By far the most intense way to experience the falls, the Maid of the Mist tours are best on warm, sunny days. Even if you wear the plastic poncho that’s included with your ticket price, you’re going to get very wet. Also, as my 9-year-old daughter pointed out, only cowards hide out on the lower, drier deck of the boat.
Pick up a disposable waterproof camera, and go early to avoid the crowds. If you’re wearing socks take them off and stash them in your backpack, then roll your pants and sleeves up. Now you’re ready to get up close and personal with 600,000 gallons of water per second.
The tour is 30 minutes long. There’s an audio commentary highlighting the history of the falls, but you probably won’t be able to hear it over the delighted shrieks of your fellow passengers. Don’t worry, you can catch those details elsewhere. You cruise past Bridal Veil Falls (on the American side) then around Horseshoe Falls (on the Canadian side), which is like standing in a cold shower during a thunderstorm. It’s just plain awesome.
Reservations are not accepted. Tours cost $14.50 for adults, $8.90 for children, and free for kids 5 and under, and leave every 15 minutes from 9:45am–4:45pm 7 days a week from April through October (with later last sailings on holidays and weekends).
If you’re on a tight budget and brought your own picnic, Queen Victoria Park (located directly across from the American falls) is a beautiful place to stretch out on the grass.
In other countries, this real estate would be a parking lot or a luxury hotel. Not in Canada.
More in the mood to be served? I don’t blame you. Elements on the Falls (in the same building as Journey Behind the Falls, upstairs directly over the ticket sales counter) is as good a place as any to relax, with perfect views, decent burgers, and a decent children’s menu.
See it on the big screen
We absolutely loved the IMAX film “Niagara: Legends and Daredevils”, which traces the falls’ history from the Native peoples to European explorers.
Also highlighted in the film are a tightrope walker who crossed the falls, a 63-year-old schoolteacher who was the first to survive a trip over the falls in a barrel, and a 7-year-old boy who survived the plunge wearing only a life jacket after a boating accident upstream. Sensitive kids might be upset by the intensity of the experience, but it’s not worse than most Disney films. Just bigger.
You exit into the “Daredevils Gallery”, a fantastic (and under-advertised) collection of scraped and dented barrels and historic photos of the 15 people (plus one cat and one turtle) who attempted to go over the falls. All the barrels survived, but 5 of the people did not.
Things to skip
The Journey Behind the Falls isn’t different enough from the Maid of the Mist tour to merit the extra expense. You ride an elevator 150 feet down, then stand on a platform near the falls. Afterward you walk through a tunnel behind the falls, where you can see the water rushing by two portals. It’s sort of like looking into a big, front-loading washing machine–there’s not much to see. We liked the historic and celebrity photos that adorn the walls, but were otherwise underwhelmed.
Finally, we loathed Clifton Hill (though you might not). This uber-tacky entertainment and dining district winds its way up the hill from the Tourist Information center on Niagara Parkway, and has enough thrill rides, wax museums, and theme restaurants to choke a horse.
Like this? Get our monthly newsletter.