North to South’s Quick Guide to Niagara Falls (New York, USA)

A Quick Guide to Niagara Falls: things to do, when to go, where to park, and more!

Planning your first visit to Niagara Falls? You’re in for a treat! Niagara Falls is one of the most fun, unique places we’ve ever visited in the U.S.

Want to plan an amazing afternoon at Niagara Falls U.S.? Get our insider tips here! 

Maid of the Mist boat
All aboard! The Maid of the Mist is about to depart — and you’re gonna want to jump on!

The Best Time to Visit Niagara Falls

Summer. The hotter the better. Being cold and wet is no fun. Embrace the July/August heat!

Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls U.S.
Into the mist they go!

What to See at Niagara Falls

If you’re spending just a few hours at Niagara Falls State Park (U.S.), I highly recommend:

  • Maid of the Mist ($18) and/or Cave of the Winds ($17)
  • Observation Tower and Crow’s Nest ($1)
  • walking paths around the top of the falls (free)

Maid of the Mist is the infamous boat ride around the bottom of the falls. Free poncho included. You will most definitely get wet (and it’s awesome). After the ride, hold on to your poncho, continue straight along the path and climb a series of stairs up into another mist zone, “Crow’s Nest,” next to the falls.

Kissing on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls U.S.
I nearly soaked my camera taking this selfie!

Cave of the Winds is a walking tour among the mist near the bottom of the falls. Free poncho and sandals included. You will also get wet here! (We didn’t actually do this activity, but it looked super fun, so if you have enough time and energy for a second soaking activity, give this a go!)

Cave of the Winds walking tour at Niagara Falls U.S.
Cave of the Winds walking tour (bottom left); a Canadian boat passes in the background.

The Observation Tower gives you a panoramic view of all three Niagara Falls. Tower admission includes use of the elevator, which you can take down to the base of the gorge and climb the stairs to the Crow’s Nest mist zone. (Note: Elevator use is included with Maid of the Mist admission.)

View of Niagara Falls from the U.S. Observation Tower
Yep, I’m soaked. The wind on the deck of the Observation Tower will dry me off quickly!

View the park’s interactive map to plan out the order of your activities and to decide where to park your car. More info about the activities mentioned above on the Niagara Falls State Park website.

Lastly, there are several walking paths to enjoy around the top of the American Falls, and we spent around an hour meandering around and taking photos. These paths will take you amongst various visitor buildings and viewpoints, and you’ll get a gorgeous view of the Canadian Falls at sunset!

Niagara Falls at sunset view of Canada from U.S. side
Sunset view of Canada from the U.S.

Other activities I would have considered if we’d had more time:

  • driving Rainbow Bridge over to the Canadian side of the Falls (don’t forget your passport!)
  • going for a gorge hike (Niagara Gorge hikes begin at the Discovery Center’s Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center.)

What to Skip

The rest of the activities are more passive. Walking around indoors and reading, sitting and watching a film, etc. This includes:

  • Theater
  • Aquarium
  • Discovery Center

These all sounded boring to me, so on the gorgeous hot day we experienced at Niagara Falls, we skipped those things. But if you’re looking for quieter activities, it’s great to have the option! (Also good alternatives if the weather isn’t great or it’s too chilly to get wet.)

If you’re a “do-ALL-the-things” sort of person, you can purchase a Discovery Pass — good for the Theater, Aquarium, Discovery Center, Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds — for $45/$34 (adults/kids). More info here.

Niagara Falls at sunset view of Canada from U.S. side
Another sunset view from Niagara Falls U.S. (partially under construction summer 2015)

Where to Park

There are four lots available for parking at Niagara Falls U.S., and you can find all the information you need, including current parking fees, on the parking page of the Niagara Falls State Park website. (It was $10/day when we visited in summer 2015.)

Where to Stay

The city of Niagara Falls is a little bit strange, and you won’t find much else to do here. We stayed about 30 minutes away in Buffalo, NY. (Tip: Check Hotwire for a good hotel deal in this area.)

Have you ever ridden the Maid of the Mist or walked through the Cave of the Winds? I’d love to hear if your experience was as awesome as ours was. Please share in the comments!

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