Niagara Falls Mystic: Horsehoe Falls, Niagara Falls & Clifton
Round trip from Carriage Ridge Resort = approximately 230km (143 miles)
Estimated time: 6-8 hours
Talk about a family vacation spot! Niagara Falls is the grand daddy of them all. Just ask the estimated 20-million+ visitors per year if it isn’t a thrill of a lifetime just to see this magnificent natural wonder. Known as the oldest tourist attraction in the United States, generations of tourists have made their way to the Falls and the surrounding environs. In fact, this may be one big reason why you’re in the area? From Carriage Ridge Resort this will be a full day excursion, perhaps with time for a brief stop over in Toronto to eat or visit one of your other “must see” attractions. Just so you can make it in one day, let’s keep this family getaway anchored on the Canadian side. We’re headed to Niagara Falls Ontario, 120 km (75 miles) south-southeast of Toronto.
From Carriage Ridge Resort head toward Toronto: Southwest on Highland Dr toward Landscape Dr (7km), left at Line 3 North (1.9km), the right at Bass Lake SDRD W and a quick left at Line 3 North (9.5km). Take the Hwy-11 S ramp and turn right on Hwy-11 S (5.7 km). Travel on Hwy-400 S just over 82 miles. Watch for Exit 21 on the left for Hwy-401 W; merge onto Hwy-401 Collectors W (3.2km) the merge again onto Hwy-401 Express W (2.9km). Take Exit 352 for RTE-427 S/Hwy-427 S toward Q.E.W (1.8km). Merge onto Hwy-427 S (5.8 km) and then take the Q.E.W. exit toward Hamilton (1 km). Merge onto QEW, travel 107km (just over an hour). Take a slight left at Hwy-420 E (watching for signs that say Niagara Fall/Bridge to SA/Hwy 420). (4.1km) Turn right at McDonald Ave, then another right at Kitchener St (.5km) then right at Stanley Ave. Turn right at Hwy-420 E/Roberts St and follow it 1.5km. Continue on Falls Ave (.4km) and then left at Clifton HI. You’ve arrived at Maid of the Mist and Queen Victoria Park.
During your expedition, keep in mind that you’re traveling on a huge land mass called the Niagara Escarpment exposed over 10,000 years ago as the “Wisconsin glaciation” glaciers receded—the same forces that bore the Great Lakes and the Niagara River. In fact, Niagara Falls flows over the edge of the escarpment (that exists from here to west of Lake Michigan). The escarpment is not rock displacement, but is formed over time by unequal erosion. And the erosion continues, creating an on-going condition that scientists and engineers are trying to slow down. Today Niagara Falls serves as a large source of hydroelectric power—making tourism, recreation, commercial and industrial development issues all that much more complicated. This balance of stewardship has been a challenge for the area since the 1800’s.
We’re headed to the famous falls on the Canadian side referred to as Horseshoe Falls, one of two main sections of falls created by the existence of Goat Island. The American Falls are in New York, as is their famous “baby sister” falls, Bridal Falls, where lovers have been flocking for years to “tie the knot” and honeymoon. While not exceptionally high, the Niagara Falls are wide. At its highest flow, a dazzling six million cubic feet of water falls over the crest line every minute—making it the most powerful waterfall in North America. The region's original inhabitants were the Ongiara and the Falls’ name originates from the Iroquois word meaning “the Strait.” Frenchman Samuel de Champlain is thought to have first described the Falls to the new world in his journals after his 1604 visit. It is also believed French Jesuit Reverend Paul Ragueneau visited the Falls while working among the Huron. By the mid-18th century Niagara’s celebrity had spread and tourism was the main industry in the region. Even Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother visited with his bride in the early 19th century.
By 1885 preservation efforts were initiated when New York’s first state park became Niagara Reservation. The Canadians had much the same idea since the Niagara Parks Commission governs the land use along the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Don’t be surprised to see high-rise buildings, mostly hotels, on the Canadian side of the river. Some environmentalists feel these structures have altered airflow around Horseshoe Falls, thus creating “a layer of mist” in the area that you might experience.
The Falls have played a significant role in the collective American psyche—partly due to a long line of daredevils who braved “going over” the Falls to garner publicity and fame and partly, more recently, to the Falls' exposure in movies. Sam Pitch jumped into the gorge below the Falls (and lived) in 1829, but a 63-yr old grandmother, Annie Edson Taylor, was the first to go over the Falls in a barrel (1901) as a pre-meditated publicity stunt. Since then 14 others have tried this daring act, some more successfully than others. While some attempted to walk on a tightrope across the gorge (Jean François "Blondin" Gravelet and William Hunt were early stunt men) others tried to swim the whirlpools and rapids downriver from the Falls. In 1960 a small boy went over the Falls by accident and survived; this made worldwide news. In 1995 Steve Trotter became the first human to survive a barrel trip twice, and was jailed after the second attempt, along with (incredibly) his “barrel-mate” Lori Martin after authorities had to rescue them. Unfortunately, no one—daredevil or otherwise—has ever survived the plunge over the American Falls. In 1953 Marilyn Monroe starred in a movie entitled Niagara. In the 80’s the location was used to shoot Superman II. And you might recognize the Falls featured in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End? In the early 1990’s David Copperfield used the Falls as the backdrop for one of his amazing illusions.
So, once you’re in Niagara Falls metro there are a lot of options to tickle your imagination and fancy; time and budget are your biggest restraints. Many people come to the Falls bent on viewing the Falls “up close” from the deck of a boat. So, plan to take the famous Maid of the Mist double-decker tour boats to the edge of the spill waters of both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. (Don’t worry; they give you disposable rain gear with the price of admission). The entrance for Canadian departures is at the north end of Queen Victoria Park (a lovely destination in and of itself), near Rainbow Bridge and the Oakes Garden Theatre. From here you can also take the tribe and venture through the Clifton Hill tourist arena. (Depending on weather conditions, the Maid of the Mist generally operates between April/May and October; a boat leaves about every 15-20 minutes, 7:45am and goes until either 4:45pm in winter or 7:45pm in summer.) Why not buy the Niagara Falls & Great Gorge Adventure Pass so you can enjoy several of the Falls’ highlights including the Maid of the Mist boat ride, the White Water Walk, the Journey Behind the Falls and the Butterfly Conservatory? This great pass also allows you to park the car once and then ride the people mover to the varied attractions. Plus you can book it in advance online! ($48/adults; $32/ Kids 6-12, includes tax.) Take the family up nearby Skylon Tower or the Konika Minolta Tower for a totally different view of the Falls and the larger geographic area. At night, when the falls are lit and the urban landscape begins to sparkle, this can be a particularly spectacular experience. If you’re not afraid of heights, your own family daredevils may opt for a ride in the 1916 Whirlpool Aero Car; it takes visitors over the turbulent Niagara River and the awesome Niagara Whirlpool in an antique cable car.
Throughout the seasons there are a bevy of events surrounding the Falls that are great for the family to experience. From Free Pizza and Fireworks displays every Friday and Sunday (and Wednesdays during high season) to amazing holiday displays and a Winter Festival of Lights program (November –December) culminating in a glittering fireworks New Year’s Eve program. For the fireworks shows they don’t “light the fuses” until around 10pm. This may be past bedtime for the youngsters? The Falls are also illuminated with beautiful colored lights in the evenings so check the timing in advance if you plan to stay in the area after dark and want to coordinate a viewing.
As you would imagine the area is overstuffed with attractions to further attract tourists to the area. Depending on the time you want to spend at the fall, and your budget, you should explore the Clifton Hill area and the Queen Victoria Park.
Clifton Hill features some amazing family adventures from miniature golf, to a wax museum and “Canadian Midway” with over 250 games to entertain everyone in your group. Try your luck and win some pretty cool prizes. There is the Niagara Falls Tower Ride and the Niagara Falls SkyWheel for experiences akin to amusement park thrills. The SkyWheel is one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels (175 ft or 53 meters high), twirling thrill seekers around for about 10 minutes in climate-controlled gondolas. The views are stupendous— but you might want to look out and not down!
Depending on your timing and budget, there are any number of wonderful places to grab a bite to eat in Niagara Falls and the Clifton area. From fast food and delis to 4-star dining—it’s all here in the area. There are even good places to eat around Maid of the Mist and Victoria Park, and they have relatively modest pricing. Check in advance for some options or just follow your nose and your schedule and watch for a place that looks affordable, appetizing and convenient. If you have your heart set on dining in a certain restaurant, you may want to make a reservation if possible.
Time to head back to the resort? No problem. From Clifton Hill go southeast on Clifton Hl toward Falls Ave, turn left, the a slight right at Roberts St. (1.5km) where you continue on Hwy-420 W, following signs to the QEW. (3.6km). Merge onto the QEW and head for Toronto. (107km). Take Exit 139 to merge onto HWY-427 N toward Pearson Airport/HWY-401 (6.8km). Take RTE-401 E/Hwy-401 E exit (1.5km) and merge onto Hwy-401 Express E (5.9km). Watch for Hwy-400 N and take it toward Barrie (84 km). Then take the exit onto Hwy-400 N toward HWY-69/Parry Sound/Sudbury (12.9km) then Exit 117 for Horseshoe Valley Rd W/CR-22 E (toward Craighurst—4.3km). Turn right at Line 3 N (2.1km) and you’re back at your comfortable Carriage Hill Resort, thrilled with the adventures of the day and carrying the memories of Niagara Falls with you into slumber land.