First Timer's Guide to Niagara falls : USA v/s Canada

Photo of First Timer's Guide to Niagara falls : USA v/s Canada by Ridhíma Prasad

Niagara Falls a.k.a the Great Niagara Falls is probably one of the most humbling experiences you're going to have. It is one of the natural wonders of the world and once in a lifetime type experience. Most people associate Niagara falls with USA; it is a very popular destination for all those who visit USA.

I still hadn't visited this beauty during my earlier visits to the USA, when I had the opportunity to live in Canada for couple of months. I soon learnt that Niagara literally lies on the border of Canada and USA, each side having a city by the Falls, both aptly named as Niagara Falls. So I decided to make the most of my trip to Canada and visit the great Niagara Falls, although I felt I wouldn't do it justice since it was my first experience of the Niagara and it wasn't going to be from the American side just like everybody else's. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Some fast facts on the Falls -

Niagara Falls is located 20 minutes away from Buffalo, New York on the American side and about 90 minutes away from Toronto, Ontario on the Canadian side.

The Falls are located on the Niagara river consisting of three sets of waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, the Bridal Veil Falls as well as the American Falls on U.S. soil. The water stems from the upper Great Lakes and 90% of the water goes over to the famed Horseshoe falls.

In comparison to the other famous waterfalls, Niagara falls are considered smaller.

History of the Falls -

The history of Niagara goes back 12,000 years to the Ice Age, when large torrents of water were released from the melting ice, draining into what is now known as the Niagara River. The formation of Falls was a slow process that still continues today. The annual freezing and thawing of the Niagara River wears away at the rocks under the surface and gradual erosion continue to form a deeper horseshoe ridge, steadily moving Niagara Falls farther upstream.

USA v/s Canada -

So you've decided to visit this beauty and want to make the most of it. The question is, where from?

The following is a comparative analysis of the experience from both sides of the Niagara -

Similarities -

1. You can take a 30-minute cruise to the main Horseshoe Falls; known as Maid of the Mist from the American side and Hornblower Niagara cruise from the Canadian side.

Hornblower Niagara Cruise, beneath the Horseshoe Falls

2. Both sides have set of walkways/viewpoints right by the falls.

Differences -

1. The Views - Let's be honest, Canada has the best view of the Niagara hands down. You can see all three falls from the edge and can walk along the sidewalk of the Niagara falls parkway all the way to the rim of the gorge without ever losing sight of the falls. You can even sit right beside the Horseshoe falls, watch the Niagara river flow and fall down to great heights.

View of all three Falls, Canada (p.c - cruise

Photo of Niagara Falls, ON, Canada by Ridhíma Prasad

There are observation decks on the American side but its difficult to see the Horseshoe falls and one only gets to see the side/bottom view of the American falls and not the whole panoramic view.

2. Getting close to the falls - On the Canadian side, you can get really close to the Horseshoe Falls if you pay for the Journey Behind The Falls experience. You get to take an elevator down 150 feet, walk through a series of cave-like tunnels and finally get to an observation deck right next to the falls. You even get a glimpse from behind the falls from one of these tunnels!

Journey behind the falls, Canada (v.c - hoosier tim's travel videos)

On the American side, the wooden Cave of the Winds walkway allows you to see the Bridal Veil falls and get really close to the American falls. Expect to get splashed!

3. Niagara Park, Canada -

White Water Walk

Photo of First Timer's Guide to Niagara falls : USA v/s Canada by Ridhíma Prasad

Viewing deck

Photo of First Timer's Guide to Niagara falls : USA v/s Canada by Ridhíma Prasad

A self guided tour called the White Water Walk, it is a long wooden walkway along the river Niagara that allows you to see the river's whirlpool rapids closely. The walkway includes many stories about the geology of the Niagara gorge and there are a series of viewing decks right beside the river to see the rapids.

However on the U.S side, the huge gorge makes it impossible to see the rapids.

Walking along with the Niagara river rapids

4. Light Show - The Canadian side offers a great light show on the falls at night. See the falls change colours, it's a pretty sight! There is a Hornblower Niagara falls illumination cruise at night as well that can be taken, making it another delightful experience whatsoever.

Light show and illumination cruise

Photo of First Timer's Guide to Niagara falls : USA v/s Canada by Ridhíma Prasad

5. The Cities - Niagara Falls, Canada was surprisingly a very colourful and dramatic city. I instantly felt like I was transported back to Universal Studios. It had all kinds of entertainment possible; from haunted houses, wide variety of restaurants, Ripley's Believe It or Not, The Niagara sky wheel, Casinos, Skylon Tower, Butterfly Conservatory park, to full fledged gaming zones.

Niagara Falls, USA on the other hand is more tranquil and there is not much there apart from a wax museum, an aquarium and a casino. There are few hikes along the river Niagara in addition to visiting the falls.

Which should you choose during your first visit -

First experiences generally being memorable and special, I'd recommend visiting Niagara falls from the Canadian side on your first time. Not only are the views splendid, the Canadian side offers a lot of variety. You get the Niagara experience from every angle possible - you can go right beneath the Horseshoe in the cruise, get behind the falls from the tunnels, get the side view of the Horseshoe from the observation deck, the whole panoramic front view of all the three Falls as well as walk along the rapids of river Niagara.

The city itself is fun and I had the best time ever; walking and sitting by the falls during the day and long sessions of bowling, mini golf and games by the night !

However, if peace and tranquility is your thing, Niagara Falls, USA should suit you !

Sitting by the Niagara

No matter what side you choose, the Niagara is definitely going to be an unique experience. It was the most therapeutic experience for me, sitting by the Horseshoe and watching it fall continuously. I could have sat there for hours, lost track of time and still never gotten bored of watching it flow so beautifully!

Tip - You can visit both sides as both cities are connected by the Rainbow bridge over the River Niagara. You can walk or drive across the bridge. It barely costs 50 cents to walk and upto $5 to drive across! All you need to do is sort out your visa requirements as per the type of passport you hold.

The Rainbow Bridge

Photo of First Timer's Guide to Niagara falls : USA v/s Canada by Ridhíma Prasad

In my case, I lucked out since I had visas for both countries at the time!

When to visit - The best time would obviously be in the summer for the first timers; although a lot of people like to revisit the Falls in the winter months when the Niagara almost freezes!

Niagara Falls in winter (p.c -

Photo of First Timer's Guide to Niagara falls : USA v/s Canada by Ridhíma Prasad