Niagara without crosssing over to Canada?
November 28, 2010 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to go to Niagara but not go to the Canadian side?

We've got a foreign visitor and we're thinking of taking her to Niagara after Christmas since we'll be "near" there anyway. Due to the nature of how she's in the US leaving/re-entering the country requires much paperwork so we'd like to just stay in the US. Is it worth it to go to Niagara and stay on the US side, or should we invest in the effort to be able to go across the border because it's just so much awesomer?
posted by Runes to Travel & Transportation around Niagara, WI (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If it's not an excessive amount of effort, I would try to find a way to get across the border. If that doesn't work out, I would still go anyway. When I visited, I couldn't go to the Canada side, but it was still cool. I also went on one of those boats that take you straight into the falls which definitely made up for not being able to go to the Canada side.
posted by lacedcoffee at 4:04 PM on November 28, 2010

I've only been on the Canadian side, but friends have said that the American side is no better than a waiting room for the garish Gomorrah the Canadians have done up.
posted by Beardman at 4:05 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Btw, if you make it to Canada, the Niagara Falls Boston Pizza has Rock N' Roll Bowling in it, with vintage New Wave videos playing at the end of each lane. They bring you pizza while you roll balls at Debbie Harry. It is the best thing in the world.
posted by Beardman at 4:07 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

...the American side is no better than a waiting room for the garish Gomorrah the Canadians have done up.

Not a bad description, actually. I'm from the (Canadian) Niagara Region originally, and I've always said Niagara Falls is the tackiest city in Canada. Clifton Hill, the main tourist drag, has a bunch of cheesy, overpriced attractions (haunted houses and such). There are a couple of things worth seeing, like the Butterfly Conservatory and the Aviary, if you're interested in stuff like that. There are also the various casinos. That's about it.

If you like cute little towns and shopping in wee boutiques and such, you should head to Niagara on the Lake (if you want to take the trouble to go to the Canadian side). It's about 30 minutes from Niagara Falls, if you follow the Niagara Parkway (along the river). It's a pretty little place, and there are some nice restaurants.
posted by torisaur at 4:11 PM on November 28, 2010

Oh, also, bars and a popular dance club on the Canadian side. And strip clubs, though I suspect you might not be interested in those so much.
posted by torisaur at 4:12 PM on November 28, 2010

If you can only do the American side, do the Maid of the Mist, the falls boat, as lacedcoffee suggests. The horseshoe falls is the Canadian side, and all the wonderful tourist traps and shining lights on the falls, etc. is Canadian (and the wax museums, and the good museums, for that matter...) but the actual City of Niagara Falls, USA is a hole, and the American Falls are rocky and bumpy, not pretty and fall-y.

There are all sorts of great things on the Canadian side to do that I can suggest if you can get across, including a short drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Butterfly Museum, The Bird Emporium museum-y thing in Niagara Falls, ONT., and a host of good restaurants.
posted by oflinkey at 4:14 PM on November 28, 2010

I like the American side better. You have three sisters island, goat island, and devil's hole state park. I particulary liked devil's hole state park as a kid, you walked along a 2 foot wide crumbling path next to the rapids.

Also check out the cave of the winds And maid of the mist( the boat mentioned above.)
The Canada side has the Niagra Museum , which is sort of a Barnum style museum of oddities.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:20 PM on November 28, 2010

I recently went to the American side for the first time in a long time and was pleasantly surprised. It was not the blighted hellscape I remember from my youth. Granted , a good chunk of Niagara Falls, New York is -- but the state park that surrounds the falls is well-kept, and there are attractions that are definitely worth seeing, as some have mentioned here. Definitely do Maid of the Mist. Take a walk to Goat Island if you can. Hell, while you're there go all-in on the tourist thing and have lunch at the Hard Rock because whatever, it's fine. The aquarium that's right there, I understand, is not so great. But -- if you do nothing else, you can park your car and walk right up to the guard rail and be face-to-face with the falls, which is just truly amazing. I vote yes, do it.
posted by Buffaload at 4:21 PM on November 28, 2010

Rocky and bumpy? Jeez, how jaded you kids are. The American side is still OMG NIAGARA FALLS! I mean, come on. NIAGARA FALLS. BIG. AWESOME. LOUD. Sure, swing by if you're in the neighborhood. Just don't expect anything from the town itself, because it's economically depressed, and how.
posted by scratch at 4:26 PM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

More NY side boosterism. goat island is awesome
posted by Ad hominem at 4:28 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Falls itself is much better on the Canadian side. As for entertainment, everything is overpriced but if you love arcades and loud people, not a bad time. Is it a hassle to cross over the border for you? I mean, it only takes 5 minutes.
posted by joni. at 4:32 PM on November 28, 2010

Seconding Cave of the Winds... no one should have to go through life without experiencing the thrill of having Niagara Falls landing on your head. And the tacky-as-all-get-out sandals are yours to keep as the ugliest souvenirs ever.
posted by Golfhaus at 4:35 PM on November 28, 2010

I think the Niagara museum is now an aviary. The aviary was pretty damn cool, considering I usually hate that sort of thing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:07 PM on November 28, 2010

The two sides are very different, and whether it's worthwhile to go across to Canada will depend very strongly on what you like and don't like.

The US side is a combination of some very nice parkland and a very run-down ex-industrial town. The parkland at the Falls themselves is very pleasant, and there are perfectly good views of Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island. Really, for going to see the Falls themselves, I think Goat Island is the best combination of view and surroundings. The view isn't quite as good as you get from Canada, but that's mostly because if you're on Goat Island you're looking at the tacky high-rise hotels and casino of NF, Canada. On the other hand, there just ain't very much going on in Niagara Falls, NY. A few decent restaurants and stuff right by the falls, but stuck in the middle of... well, no way around it, a shithole. There's also a Seneca Nation casino in NFNY; never been.

The Canadian side is basically a family-friendlier little baby Las Vegas. Tacky hotels, tacky casino, tacky wax museums, tacky other attractions. Did I mention it was tacky? If you can embrace your inner cheeseball, it's fun, but the tacky, it is strong.

Short answer: what you get if you go to the Canadian side is a marginally better view of Horseshoe Falls, high-rise hotels, and a whopping great shitload of tacky tourist attractions. Whether it's worthwhile to go over there will depend on how much you and your friend enjoy wax museums and haunted houses. If going into Canada and back is likely to be a pain for your friend, the Falls are still worth seeing even if you're not going to Canada. But you might well have a better time if, instead of staying in NF and treating it as only a trip to NF, you either pop south and do a little more touristy stuff in Buffalo and stay there -- go look at the Frank Lloyd Wright houses, go to the Anchor Bar, maybe catch a Sabres game, stuff like that -- or find a nice rural B&B somewhere in WNY; there are lots within a couple hours of NF. Also maybe add in a trip to Fort Niagara in Lewiston; never been.

If you're going to be there after Christmas, it will not surprise you to learn that it will be Cold. Some things may be iced over. I would be astonished if the Maid of the Mist was running, and I can reasonably assure you that even if it is, you Do. Not. Want. the water from the Niagara River in winter anywhere near your skin. Likewise, Cave of the Winds may be closed. But at the same time, it's not like you'd really want to be wandering around the streets of NF, Ontario that time of year either.

It's still worth going, even in winter. The Falls are an impressive natural wonder. Oh, also, you want to be there during the day; at night they mostly turn off the falls. No joke; at night almost all the water is diverted for electrical generation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:47 PM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

In college (2002-2007) I went with a group of Americans and non-US nationals to the Canadian side. Three friends (former USSR and one from Germany) were selected for private interrogation (four hours total) on our way back in. The next time we did this, we tried going through Buffalo-Peace Bridge. It was even worse in terms of interrogation/detainment (only two hours, but two friends left the building in tears). I would avoid this unless your friends are EU citizens or tough as nails.

Also, doing this in the winter time, when it will likely be apocalyptically snowy in Niagara, Buffalo, Erie, etc is not advisable. If you're going over to Canada in the winter time, at least check out Toronto, it’s 100 min from Buffalo on the QEW.
posted by vkxmai at 6:54 PM on November 28, 2010

I've been to both sides, in summer and winter (comes from driving regularly between Massachusetts and Michigan), and I think the American side is fine even if you can't go to the Canadian side. Goat Island is definitely the place to visit.

In the winter, after a good snowfall, the Falls are beautiful. The mist from the Horseshoe Falls rises up and leaves funky ice all over the place, like this.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:44 PM on November 28, 2010

The view of the falls from the Canadian side is a lot better, but you can stand on Goat Island and watch the Niagara River rush towards you. When you look at the horizon, the river is actually above you. This is pretty cool, and not to be missed if you're stuck on the American side. Plus, you can take the Maid of the Mist form both sides, and that will afford you some impressive views.

So yeah, the American side is worth it.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:14 PM on November 28, 2010

in the winter time, when it will likely be apocalyptically snowy in Niagara, Buffalo, Erie, etc is not advisable

The way the lake effect bands work out, there's an extraordinarily sharp gradient in snowfall in the area. Niagara Falls only gets about half the snowfall that Buffalo does. And in turn, Buffalo gets only about half the snowfall of counties just to the south.

After Christmas, Lake Erie is likely to be frozen or mostly-frozen, so you'd be pretty unlikely to get a lake effect storm in any case. Just a normal ordinary snowfall like you'd get anywhere in Yankeeland.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:29 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

We went, and stayed on the US side. Maid of the Mist wasn't running, but the observation point was open (and free). Cave of the Winds tour was operating in an abbreviated fashion, as they take down the wooden superstructure that they build every spring for the winter. However, you can see the falls from the bottom, and the ice covering everything was pretty amazing. Well worth the trip.
posted by Runes at 7:44 PM on January 9, 2011

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