When visiting the American side of Niagara Falls, getting up close and personal with the thunderous waterfalls needs to be at the top of your to-do list. Niagara Falls State Park offers several ways to see the falls from unique vantage points and to place you smack in the center of the wet, windy action.
Hotels.com asked me to share my tips for visiting the American side of Niagara Falls. I also received complimentary admission to some of these attractions to facilitate my review. All opinions are my own.
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What can you see on the American side of Niagara Falls?
Let’s first talk about the differences between the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls. The American side of Niagara Falls is in New York State. There are three sections of Niagara Falls: Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. You can see them all from the American side, though you can only get close up to Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.
The American side of Niagara Falls is much less commercial and touristy than the Canadian side. I found it to be quieter and more peaceful.
When visiting the American side, you’ll be in Niagara Falls State Park. Established in 1885, it’s America’s oldest state park and is open 365 days a year. The park is free to walk through and see the amazing Falls from different vantage points.
Niagara Falls State Park offers several paid attractions including Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Niagara Adventure Theater, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, and Niagara Aquarium – enough to keep you busy for a couple days and learning the long and interesting history of the Falls.
There are also several hiking trails you can access from Niagara Falls State Park. The Great Gorge Scenic Overlook hike is recommended for beginners. For longer, more challenging hikes, check out the Devil’s Hole Rapids and Whirlpool rapids hikes!
Old Falls Street, USA is a three-block entertainment district that connects Niagara Falls State Park with many downtown hotels and attractions. The district offers outdoor spaces for seasonal food vending, tables and chairs for casual dining and relaxing, outdoor games, festivals, and other family-friendly activities.
So what’s the absolute best way to see the American side of Niagara Falls? You’ll want to take two tours: Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds.
Maid of the Mist
Maid of the Mist is a boat ride that takes you past the American Falls and to the bottom of Horseshoe Falls. You start out on the observation tower, where you’ll get a different perspective from way up above the falls for panoramic photos. Next, descend down to the Niagara Gorge via elevator and don your blue rain poncho. Everybody gets one, one size fits all. Board the boat, and soon you’ll set sail. There are no seats or restrooms.
From the boat, you’ll see the massive rock formations at the bottom of American Falls and feel the (significant) spray of Horseshoe falls. It’s loud, windy, wet, and awe-inspiring.
- Pros: Good for younger kids because it’s easy to contain them on the boat. Your feet and legs will stay mostly dry. Great views from the observation tower.
- Cons: The boat gets close up to the falls but you leave wanting to get even closer to the action.
- Tip: You can walk along the rocks near the American Falls after the boat ride.
Cave of the Winds: The BEST views of the American Side of Niagara Falls
Walking along wooden walkways on the Cave of the Winds tour, you’ll barely fathom how it’s possible to get so close to the falls! Start by getting a yellow poncho and sandals that you can take home as souvenirs. If you are wearing flip-flops or waterproof shoes that will dry quickly, you’ll be fine. If not – take their sandals because your feet WILL get soaked.
An elevator ride takes you down into the Gorge where you begin your journey along the walkways, decks, and stairs. Soon, you’ll feel the exhilarating power of Bridal Veil Falls, walking within feet of the pounding water. Continue on to the Hurricane Deck where the falls are almost raining down upon you. The rainbows, mist, and rushing water combine for frame-worthy photo opportunities!
- Pros: Get unbelievably close to the falls, allowing you to really feel the power.
- Cons: You’ll get soaked. If your kids are sensitive to noise, it’s very loud. The stairs and decks felt very safe, but they are wet, so watch little ones closely.
If I had to choose only one attraction, I’d have to choose Cave of the Winds for the up-close, wet and wild experience. But if you can do both, I highly recommend going on the same day – a warm, sunny day! – to get your soaking done all at once.
Most important tip? Bring a waterproof case for your smartphone or a waterproof camera!