Niagara Falls is one of the Natural Wonders of the World, and to capitalize on that fame many savvy investors have built their own attractions within a stones’ throw from the Falls. Ringing arcades, swinging rides, and blinking theaters all draw crowds, but many of these attractions have absolutely nothing to do with the natural beauty of Niagara Falls.
To most travelers, these tourist traps can seem like enough of a deterrent to stay away for a lifetime — but that’s a terrible mistake. Niagara Falls is a wondrous and one-of-a-kind landscape, and there are plenty of worthwhile activities to keep a down-to-Earth visitor occupied for weeks. If you are looking to stay well away from the flash and crash of the tourist district, here are the Niagara Falls attractions with zero percent cheese.
1. The 3 Breathtaking Falls
Your first priority should, of course, be seeing Niagara Falls in all its splendor. Niagara Falls is actually composed of three distinct waterfalls. The most famous is Horseshoe Falls, which is located on the Canadian side, but the other two, Bridal Falls and American Falls, are well past the American border. The benefits of staying on the Canadian side are obvious: The views of the most breathtaking Falls, Horseshoe, are located in Canada, as well as the most stunning parks and hiking opportunities. However, trips into America to view Bridal Falls and American Falls are wholly advocated.
The American side of the Falls offers up-close views of all three waterfalls, and is noticeably quieter than the Canadian side, largely due to Canada having more high-quality attractions. While the American side has the iconic Maid of the Mist, the Canadian side offers the opportunity to see other angles of the Falls, including from behind (Journey Behind the Falls). Additionally, the Canadian side boasts miles of outlooks in Queen Victoria Park and other parks along the escarpment.
2. Hiking Trails
The forest surrounding Niagara Falls is lush and beautiful, which makes for absolutely delightful day hiking. Canada’s Bruce Trail is the best known path in the country and spans 553 miles. The trail takes more than a month to complete in its entirety, though the untouched scenery makes the journey worthwhile. Still, travelers with more limited vacation time can experience the Bruce Trail on a handful of day hikes that share the same path.
There are countless other day hikes in the area, ranging from easy to difficult for any type of traveler. The Great Gorge Scenic Overlook Hike is an easy one-hour hike with great views, while the Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike is a difficult three-hour hike with an 8-year age requirement. Though not an easy trek, it boasts a one-of-a-kind experience along the world’s most dangerous rapids. Visit the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center to learn more about your options and the Niagara landscape.
3. Wine Tastings
The Niagara region has particularly fertile soil and a temperate climate relative to the surrounding areas, which means it is an ideal spot for winemakers of any stripe. Dozens of vineyards have popped up around the countryside in recent years, creating a grape field-covered landscape, along with hundreds of award-winning vintages. Niagara’s chardonnays, pinot noirs, and cabernet francs are particularly delectable, but the region is known for its signature icewine, a unique variety of reisling created in a fascinating way.
A traveler could easily spend an entire week sampling the scope of Niagara’s wines, but if you’d prefer a day or two devoted to tipples, focusing on a specific varietal might make winery tours more manageable. Here is a sample itinerary crafted around Canada’s own icewine.
- Vineland Estates. This winery boasts the province’s oldest reisling vineyards, and the master winemaker here is known for his off-dry style. Catch excellent views of Lake Ontario and greater Toronto from the restaurant and be sure to check out the wide selection of artisanal cheeses located on the second story.
- Cave Spring Cellars. Boasting no fewer than eight reislings, this vineyard certainly has a varietal specialty. You can sample any style, from dry to sparkling, to find the one you love.
- Flat Rock Cellars. The view alone would be reason enough to visit this winery, but their excellent vintages of chardonnay, pinot noir, and reisling make the trip worthwhile. You’ll sample winning wines while you’re perched on the Niagara Escarpment and overlooking vast swathes of the Niagara region.
- Inniskillin. More than any other, this vineyard is known for its icewine; in fact, it is often touted as the birthplace of Canada’s signature varietal. You can learn the history and science behind icewine while sampling the very best Niagara has to offer.
The Niagara of old, before the city was built up with casinos and amusement rides, still exists, and travelers looking for an overly touristy experience of Niagara Falls are guaranteed to find one. Missing out on this wonder of the world would be a mistake for anyone.