Photograph by Chris Rainier
Niagara Falls is one of Canada's most accessible natural wonders, which, for many visitors, makes it more of a photo op and less of an experience. It's easy (once you find a spot in the lot across from Horseshoe Falls) to park, cross the street into the mist, and jostle for a prime view of Niagara's three waterfalls—Horseshoe, American, and Bridal Veil.
Peering in from the edge is awe-inspiring, yet there's another way to absorb the immense power of the falls: on the water. Ride the legendary Maid of the Mist in the basin directly in front of the falls, or board a jet boat a few miles downstream to ride the Devil's Hole Rapids, created by the water rushing from the falls. "The falls have carved a seven-mile, narrow rock gorge, compressing the water downstream on the lower Niagara River into Class 5 whitewater," says Victoria Groenevled, a local resident who works with Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. "Experiencing the water at this point is exhilarating. Whenever I have a stressful day, I can't wait to get out into the gorge."
When to Go: From June to August the falls viewing areas can get packed with summer vacationers. If possible, plan a May or September visit to avoid the biggest crowds. Peak fall foliage is typically mid- to late October. November through March is cold, with temperatures averaging between 21 and 39°F. Nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, about a 20-minute drive from the falls, hosts three major wine festivals: Icewine in January, New Vintage in June, and the classic vintage Niagara Wine Festival in September. From April to November the city hosts its famous Shaw Festival, whose repertory company specializes in plays written by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. The season typically includes 10 to 12 productions and about 800 performances.
How to Get Around: Niagara Parks' WEGO buses provide an affordable, convenient way to access Niagara Falls' must-see attractions, including Table Rock, Skylon Tower, and Horseshoe Falls. Buy an Adventure Pass at any Niagara Parks Welcome Centre or online at niagaraparks.com to save on sights and transportation. Taxis can be flagged from the falls' downtown core to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where you can sightsee aboard a traditional horse-drawn carriage.
Where to Stay: You can hear the falls, but not the tourist traffic, from the garden of Greystone Manor, an elegant, four-room bed and breakfast located in a restored 1908 Niagara Falls home. The WEGO bus stop is a few blocks away, or it's only a 15- to 20-minute walk to the falls. In the heart of nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, the red brick Prince of Wales Hotel offers opulent Victorian luxury: individually styled rooms decorated with elegant antiques, English afternoon tea served in the drawing room, and a nightly turndown service with complimentary rose. Standard rooms are located in the hotel's modern wings, so ask for a room in the historic main inn, built in 1864.
Where to Eat or Drink: The Niagara Peninsula is home to about 65 percent of Ontario's wineries, many of which have restaurants and menus showcasing local farmers, growers, and producers. "A perfect day is to cycle along the Niagara River, stop at a Kurtz's fruit market to taste what is in season, and then head to Peller winery to sample their latest vintage," says Susan Murray, president of Niagara's Finest Inns. "In the evening, nothing beats enjoying theater at the Shaw Festival and finishing the day on the patio at Zees with a glass of Jackson-Triggs sparkling wine and a selection of locally made cheeses and cured meats."
Sample Chef Jason Parsons's menu at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant, where wines are paired with offerings such as northern Ontario elk and truffle-roasted diver scallops. At Trius Winery Restaurant, the culinary team hosts special Harvest Table lunches on select dates throughout September. Reserve a spot at the table to meet the chefs, and enjoy a three-course menu celebrating wines and food grown in the same soil.
What to Buy: Ice House is the only Niagara Peninsula winery that exclusively produces Ontario's "liquid gold"—icewine—made from grapes naturally frozen on the vine. At the Ice House winery, located in a 19th-century peach-packing barn about ten miles from the falls, pick up a bottle of Northern Ice Vidal and try one of "Ice Wine Wizard" Jamie Mcfarlane's N'Icewine Slushies.
What to Read Before You Go: The Whirlpool by Jane Urquhart (McClelland, 1997). Urquhart's award-winning debut novel is a spellbinding tale set in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in the summer of 1889.
Fun Fact: Every 60 seconds, six million cubic feet of water rushes over the falls, enough water to fill a million bathtubs each minute.
Jackie Middleton is an award-winning freelance writer based in Toronto.
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