Niagara Falls Adventure with Kids
Why Niagara Falls with Kids
If you’ve been to Niagara Falls before, its easy to understand why you’d want to take your kids to see this sight. Mountains of water endlessly crashing over a cliff is not only mesmerizing, it’s captivating and beautiful. It’s one of those things that you just have to see to believe. Plus, Niagara Falls is an easy drive from Michigan. We crossed into Canada via Port Huron and had very little wait in either direction.
Many people drive in to gaze at the falls and drive away not knowing there is a whole region of amazing to discover. Niagara Falls is just one highlight of the Niagara Parks area. Our family spent four days being thrilled on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and loved every minute of it.
Here’s what I recommend doing when you visit Niagara Falls with kids:
*Experience passes for some attractions were provided for review purposes. All opinions are my own.*
Visit Niagara Parks First
Niagara Falls is part of the Niagara Parks system, encompassing 35 miles of the Niagara River corridor. Within this area you’ll find river adventures, exciting hiking, meticulously maintained gardens, restored heritage sites, and local food options.
Over the centuries, the fast-flowing Niagara River has carved out an awe-striking river gorge that visitors get to experience in a variety of ways.
Get a Good Look at Niagara Falls
The first thing you’ll want to do when you get to Niagara falls with kids is to go see the falls!
Let this be the first of many times that you watch the water; the falls take on a new look depending on the time of day and the weather conditions. And at night, the falls are illuminated with a rainbow of colored lights- definitely something you need to see (BONUS: they’ve recently upgraded their lighting system to offer even more vibrant nighttime displays!)
Go Above, Beside and Behind the Falls
I highly recommend getting an Adventure Pass for Niagara Parks.
You save money on the included attractions and you save time waiting in line. The Classic Pass gets you into the top 4 attractions and includes 2 days of transportation. (Transportation is great because then you don’t have to worry about paying parking fees or finding an open parking spot.) Or, upgrade to the Plus Pass and add on the Whirlpool Aero Car, Butterfly Conservatory, 4 Heritage Sites, Incline Railway (your legs will thank you!) and the Floral Showcase. Here’s a recap of these fantastic attractions:
Journey Behind the Falls
Put on that yellow poncho and prepare for the spray and thunder of the falls! Journey Behind the Falls takes you into the bedrock behind the falls where you climb out to an observation deck and get close to the falls.
Hornblower Niagara Cruises
Keep that poncho handy – you’re going to need it for this!
Formerly known as Maid of the Mist tours, Hornblower Niagara Cruises offer the closest to falls experience. This is the only boat ride in Canada that will get you close to the falls.
Whirlpool Aero Car
Visitors have been testing their mettle on the Whirlpool Aero Car since 1916! This antique cable car pulls you over the Niagara Whirlpool where you can watch the turquoise water swirl every which way right under your feet. I may have taken a few extra deep breaths during the trip…
While we were up there, we saw a Whirlpool Jet Boat revving up for a spin around the whirlpool waves in the gorge. Little did I know that would be us in a few days… read on to hear more (and watch our video) about that drenching experience.
White Water Walk
Courageous souls constructed a boardwalk along the Great Gorge on the Niagara River so that you and I could safely get up close to the raging waters. This White Water Walk follows Class 6 whirlpool rapids as they form 10 to 16 foot standing waves in the river. It was just jaw-dropping.
While I knew my kids were perfectly safe walking along the wooden pathway, I kept them at arms length most of the time. That water is powerful and dangerous!
We were fully immersed in the Niagara Falls experience with this 4D attraction. Niagara’s Fury takes you on a journey through the history of the falls that leaves you with a racing heart and a little wet (where’s that poncho, again?). The floor under your feet rumbles, water pours out of the walls, snow falls from the sky… all while participants learn the history of the falls.
Hike Niagara Glen
One of our family favorites on this trip was hiking the Niagara Glen. In fact, we loved it so much that we made sure to hike it twice. Be prepared to descend many steps down to the glen and you’ll be greeted by numerous paths through boulder formations and along the river.
Bring water and give yourself plenty of time to explore! Also, make sure to set out well before sunset… you don’t want to get down there and decide you need to come right back up because darkness is setting in.
I was surprised by how interesting it was to look at a historical event through the lens of a country other than the US. Since Canadians were on the other side of the War of 1812, our visit to Old Fort Erie helped me see the event from their vantage point. (Can you imagine the US fighting our Canadian neighbors today?!) What a great way to get a new perspective.
We found the costumed characters quite engaging as they helped us learn what life must have been like for the soldiers who called the fort home.
The Laura Secord Homestead offers another fascinating look into Canadian history. This woman is a legend in Canadian folklore. She’s known for a heroic journey during the war of 1812 – a journey you can learn more about as costumed guides take you on a tour of her restored home.
Butterflies and Blooms
Mix waterfalls, tropical temps, tropical plants with 2000+ butterflies and you’ve got the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory!
This year-round attraction is a fun stop for families. Be sure to bring your camera and wear bright colors to encourage the butterflies to land on your shoulder for a picture.
The Butterfly Conservatory is on the grounds of the Niagara Falls Botanical Gardens. While you’re out visiting the butterflies, be sure to save time to explore the paths and feature gardens of this lovely area. You might even want to hop on a carriage ride while you’re there.
Fun Outside of the Park
After you’re done exploring all that Niagara Parks has to offer, think about expanding your trip to the region. Here are a few of the neat things we enjoyed doing after our days in the park.
Niagara-on-the-Lake: If you’re from Michigan, you can think of Niagara-on-the-Lake like a British version of Traverse City. Surrounded by wine country, and on the shores of Lake Ontario, this picturesque town is delightfully charming and just a bit romantic.
We stopped by a lakeside park and wished we had left more time to explore the shops and restaurants lining the lovely downtown.
Clifton Hill is hard to miss! It’s the entertainment district of Niagara Falls and offers experiences designed for families. In contrast to Niagara Parks, which features nature-made attractions, Clifton Hill will dazzle your senses in a whole different way. Restaurants, rides, arcades and hotels are the stuff Clifton Hill is made of and our kids loved playing Dinosaur Adventure golf with an erupting volcano and riding the Sky Wheel after dark.
We used the Fun Pass (a definite dollar saver) to get access to these attractions. We didn’t have enough time to ride the Coaster, but the other attractions were all fun and in easy walking distance from our hotel, which was in the Clifton Hill area (hotels in this area are great because they are more affordable than those right next to the falls, but still offer easy access to all of the attractions.)
WhirlPool Jet Boat Tour
Remember that picture from earlier with the little red boat? That boat isn’t really so little!
It’s one in the WhirlPool Jet Boat fleet and it’s a special boat designed to drive up the huge standing waves in the Niagara River and fly over the other side. The boats take on a ton of water – water that will come up to your knees or higher – and pump it out. There is not a dry seat on the boat (watch the video below to see!) and each trip is peppered with spirit and fun by the adventurous crew.
Before you’re even allowed on the boat, you’re given a thorough safety briefing and suited up appropriately. You’ll want to bring a full change of clothes – and wear warm clothing on the ride itself.
We sat in the back – with littler kids, that’s where you have to go. Our oldest wanted to be in the front where you got a face-full of water every three seconds. The six year old wasn’t as keen on the experience. If we were to do it again, I’d suggest going with kids ages 8 and over, or just be sure the younger ones are extremely adventurous. (Show them our video and see what they think.)
We also managed to squeeze in a visit to Bird Kingdom before heading home.
After passing through admissions, you’ll follow a path that leads through a few different rooms with various animals and birds. One of these rooms offers opportunities to get up close and personal with cool birds like the hyacinth macaw.
My favorite part came after this room, though. The final room you enter is a gigantic open space with birds everywhere. This is the free-flying aviary.
Visitors start at the top of the aviary and follow a path that leads them to multiple viewing points and discovery platforms throughout the hall. There are interactive experiences throughout and everyone in the family had fun here.
Travel Tips When Going to Niagara Falls with Kids from the US
Yay for a strong dollar! The exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollar has favored the US recently. On our visit in summer 2016, it was like getting a 20% discount on every purchase. Before you go, check out the current exchange rate and plan your purchases accordingly. It’s probably a safe assumption that the US dollar will remain strong in the near future.
Driving into Canada with kids? Adults and kids 16 and older need a passport or an enhanced driver’s license. Kids under 16 need a birth certificate or passport to complete the border crossing (our kids used birth certificates.) It would be great to check up on the latest regulations as this could change since the publication of this article.
Hotels that are in prime locations charge prime prices. Clifton Hill is a place where you can find moderately priced rooms in a walkable location. The less driving you need to do, the better, because parking is at a premium in Niagara Falls.
That’s it for now. Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy your trip to Niagara Falls!!