Family Weekend Roadtrip to Niagara Falls, Ontario
Until this weekend, our longest WEEKEND roadtrip has been to Hershey, PA (I am not counting college trips though- we were on a serious mission and got a little “carried away”). Having 3 weekend days on our hands, we decided to conquer Niagara Falls, Ontario (Canada) with a side trip to Toronto (approximately 7 hours from Boston, plus another 1.5 hour to Toronto).
Our kids are 10 years apart and this family trip offered activities that every member of our family could enjoy. We experienced powerful nature, crossed the border, enjoyed a city break (complete with sightseeing double-decker and a world’s unique museum) and an amusement park- all in the course of one (long) weekend. But let me tell how it all unraveled.
Here is a 20-second Niagara Weekend PREVIEW VIDEO. For a full video story of our weekend, visit our youtube channel.
On the Road.
It takes roughly 7 hours to reach Niagara Falls (Ontario) from Boston (note that you first pass its twin – Niagara Falls USA- before crossing the border). You could potentially stop in the Syracuse area (such as picturesque Skaneateles in the Finger Lake) if you would like to break up the trip (we didn’t).
Orientation and Falls Experiences
Niagara Falls is actually composed of 3 sets of Falls: American Falls (and Bridal Veil Falls next to it) on the American side of Niagara River and the grander Canadian Horseshoe Falls (combined, the three falls form the largest water flow in North America). Niagara River separates twin cities Niagara Falls NY and Niagara Falls Ontario.
We stayed on the Ontario side, but both cities offer numerous ways to experience the Falls. For full list of Canadian experiences- check Official Destination webpage describing various ways to experience the falls- helicopter, incline railway, cruise, zip-line and more!
Here are our family’s Niagara Falls EXPERIENCES:
We started the Saturday of our Niagara weekend with a very enjoyable 1.5 mile paved “cliff” stroll along Niagara River all the way from the base of Clifton Hill (near International Bridge), passing the tourist center, the American Falls and finishing at the Horseshoe Falls. There are flowers in bloom (at this time of the year) and benches and ice-cream stands along the way, as well as many photo opportunities (you can even try to take both sets of falls in one photo at a certain angle!).
The boardwalk could get crowded but as you get close (pretty much within a hand reach) of the Horseshoe Falls -they are so spectacular that you (even if for a moment) forget about the people around you.
Our daughter Vi was definitely mesmerized as she spent good 30 minutes just looking at the powerful body of water.
Lunch (or dinner) with a View
There are cafes right by the falls with a great view at the base of the walk (Clifton Hill) or near the Horseshoe Falls. We had lunch in the 10th story Rainbow room of the Crown Plaza Hotel at the Clifton Hill. It was reasonably priced buffet affair with healthy options (not a given in this town) and spectacular view over all 3 Falls.
Boat ride to the Falls
In the afternoon, the men of the family decided to experience the Falls from the water- via the Hornblower Niagara Cruises (starts at the Welcome Center near Cliffton Hill) and get you so close to the Horseshoe Falls that you wear a rain poncho and still get wet.
Skylon (that never happened)
We were about to have our fourth Niagara experience (observation decks and dinner at the Skylon Tower) but a massive downpour diverted us back to our hotel. The tower is 775 feet long and on a clear day you can see all the way to Toronto.
Lit Up Falls
We had our fifth Niagara experience- the Falls lit up by the multi-color lights projections- on the clear night of the following day.
The sixth experience came in the form of Ferris Wheel (also known as Niagara Skywheel). It rises 175 feet (53 meters) above the ground for a good look of the Falls and the town. There are many more attractions at the Clifton Hill Park and visiting some of them was Vi’s best experience of the trip.
Day Trip to Toronto (Sunday of our long Weekend)
Our son enjoyed the boat tour, our daughter loved the amusement park and my favorite part of the trip was our day trip to Toronto. Located 80 miles (1.5 hr) away, it is a reasonable day trip when in the area which we planned for Sunday of our three day weekend. The road took us passed the Lake Ontario (Ontario on the Lake and its many picturesque wineries is another popular day trip destination from Niagara Falls).
In Toronto we hopped on the hop on double-decker at Yonge-Dundas Square square stopping at Yorkville, Harbourfront, and Old Town neighborhoods and at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Here is our 20 second TORONTO PREVIEW VIDEO (a full video of our Toronto day visit is coming up soon on our youtube channel).
The city has a number of interesting museums (the Shoe Museum, Casa Loma estate, Royal Ontario Museum, Fine Arts Museum and Transportation Museum to name the most famous) but for a day trip you may want to stop at one or to skip museums altogether in favor of the city walks or a boat trip to Toronto islands. We took a 45 minutes boat excursion through the Toronto islands (included with the hop on/off bus fare) and visited a Hockey Hall of Fame, but ran out of steam and did not leave the bus to explore the pedestrian only Distillery district on this visit. Being short on time did not stop us from an enjoyable mid-day coffee stop in the Yorkville at Sorelle and Co. Bakery and French our d’oeuvres in the Old Town’s Papilion restaurant.
We were on our way back to Niagara Falls by 7pm.
Monday: Crossing the Border Back
After pool time and amusement park time on a third day of our long weekend, we headed back to the US via the International bridge. This time we crossed the border (in the middle of the Niagara River) in the day light and it was a rather unique experience which reminded me of a German-Austria boarder crossing high up in the Alps. There is a lane for pedestrian traffic and crossing the boarder on foot seems to be another popular pastime in the area.
FOR OTHER SUMMER WEEKEND TRIPS FROM BOSTON IDEAS, READ THIS POST
More Niagara Falls Experiences to Consider:
“Journey behind the falls” would take you through the tunnels that have been dug behind the falls to see how the water pours over the cliff.
Niagara Imax Daredevil Exhibit will help you get your facts straight about various attampts to conquer the falls throughout the years, including a 63-year old school teacher’s barreled jump (she survived).