After visiting South Dakota on our Midwest road trip, we realized we’d be driving past Niagara Falls on our way home. I went when I was little, but don’t remember a thing! While the Canadian side is off-limit to Americans due to COVID-19, we figured we could still explore the American side and take a ride on the Maid of the Mist. Here’s a complete guide of things to do in Niagara Falls on the American side.
Getting to Niagara Falls
The American side of Niagara Falls is located in Niagara Falls, New York. It’s the perfect stop on a road trip as it’s easily accessible from I-90. If you plan to fly in, the closest airport is Buffalo Niagara International Airport. There’s a shuttle service from the airport to Niagara Falls.
Where to Stay When Visiting Niagara Falls
The most convenient place to stay is in Niagara Falls, New York. This is where Niagara Falls State Park is located. You can even walk to the falls from some hotels. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Niagara Falls-Scenic Downtown which was located a quarter mile from Niagara Falls State Park. Other points options include the Sheraton, Hyatt Place, Hampton Inn, DoubleTree by Hilton, and Fairfield Inn and Suites.
You could also stay in Buffalo and get to Niagara Falls by car, bus, or train. You can read more about getting to Niagara Falls from Buffalo here.
Things to Do in Niagara Falls
Here’s a complete list of things to do in Niagara Falls on the American side.
Maid of the Mist
Maid of the Mist is hands down the highlight of visiting Niagara Falls. This 20-minute boat ride takes you right up to the falls. You’ll see American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side and Horseshoe Falls which straddles the American-Canadian border. Ponchos are provided, but prepare to get wet!
Niagara Falls Observation Tower
Even if you don’t want to ride the Maid of the Mist, you can still access the Niagara Falls Observation Tower, which is the boarding site for the boat tour. Take the elevator up for some of the best views of the falls. You can also go to the base of the tower and climb a series of stairs to the Crow’s Nest for a closer look.
It is free to access the Observation Tower until Maid of the Mist opens for the season in the spring. Then, you will have to pay a nominal fee.
Cave of the Winds
The Cave of the Winds is the park’s second biggest attraction. You’ll be given a pair of sandals and a poncho before descending 175 feet into Niagara Gorge. The tour leads you down a series of wooden walkways to the “Hurricane Deck” which brings you behind Bridal Veil Falls.
See the Falls on Foot
From the Maid of the Mist, you can walk the length of the falls by following the easily marked footpaths throughout the park. First, you will see American Falls. Next, cross the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to Goat Island. From there, check out Bridal Veil Falls and the Cave of the Wind.
Keep walking to Terrapin Point for awesome views of Horseshoe Falls.
Top of the Falls
Top of the Falls is a restaurant overlooking Niagara Falls. This is a fun place to stop for lunch after a morning of touring the falls.
Tips for Visiting Niagara Falls
- Arrive early for Maid of the Mist: While the Maid of the Mist departs frequently, I recommend getting on the first boat of the day especially during the COVID-19 when the boats are running at reduced capacity.
- Buy tickets for Cave of the Wind in advance: Unlike Maid of the Mist, entry for Cave of the Wind is timed. Book tickets in advance to secure your spot.
- Wear sneakers: If you plan to walk around the park to see all of the falls, you’re going to want a good pair of sneakers!
- Take a hike: There are several hiking trails in Niagara Falls some of which start at Niagara Falls State Park. You can read more about your hiking options here.
Niagara Falls was the perfect end to our road trip. Some say the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is better since you can see all three falls at once. However, the New York side has plenty of great viewpoints. For the best views, riding the Maid of the Mist is a must.