Living in Pittsburgh is not convenient to many places. One place we can get to without much trouble is Niagara Falls. (I can never say “Niagara Falls” without thinking of the Three Stooges.) “Slowly I turn….step by step….inch by inch”. Kinda showing my age. Anyway, it turns out that The Falls are a great place to go for a weekend, especially if you’re only about four hours away by car. I had an uncle who lived just south of the falls in Tonawanda, NY and we used to go up to visit him a lot (more about Uncle Pat later). We also used to go through on our way to Canada to play hockey when we were kids. The result is that I’ve been there about 100 times in all seasons. Things have changed since I was a kid, though. Remember when you go that you need to have your passport with you now.
The falls are there because of the last ice age. Glaciers covered North America from the pole to just north of Pittsburgh. When the ice retreated, it formed the Great Lakes. Superior is the highest elevation. Huron and Michigan connect together and are at the same elevation. From Lake Huron to Lake Erie, the St. Clair River, which passes through Detroit and Windsor, ON drops a few feet. However, from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, the Niagara River must fall 326 ft., much of which occurs at the falls which plunge 165 ft. Since all the water emptying into the four Great Lakes upstream passes through here, these falls have the highest flow over the highest drop of any in the world. The total mean flow rate is 630,000 gallons per second. To put this in useful terms, my swimming pool holds 22,000 gallons. So 30 of Rick’s pools are barreling down the Niagara River every SECOND. A fraction of this flow is diverted upstream of the falls to make enough hydroelectricity to power much of New York and Ontario.
Surrounding the falls is a jumble of hotels, cheesy attractions, casinos, and cheap buffets. The Canadian side is considerably more built up than the US side, but both tend to the tacky side. People flock here. Everyone who comes to the states or Canada has this on their to-do list. There are more Japanese here than there are in Bryce Canyon, and that’s saying something. The up-side is that there are good deals to be had on places to stay, it’s cheap to eat, and there is a ton of stuff to do. My wife, Denise (she of My Life Cookbook fame) and I made our first trip as a couple here back in 2001. Then, the Canadian dollar was worth about 50 cents US so it was a huge bargain. The pendulum swings back and forth, but it’s always a good deal. At the time, we stayed in a honeymoon hideaway. Fast forward about 12 years and we stay at a Holiday Inn Express on points.
The Canadian Side
We decided to put our bikes on the bike rack and cycle around town. There are wide walkways on both sides of the river which can be crowded, but it’s an easy ride. We started on the Canadian side, just above the Horseshoe Falls. This is probably the most impressive place to see the power of the falls. Just over the railing, you can watch as the water powers over the edge. Crazy people went over these falls in barrels on purpose. Others fell in and survived. Hard to believe when you see it. Out in the river is an old barge wedged against a rock a few hundred feet from the falls. The story goes that back in 1918, the barge broke lose upstream and careened down the river before coming to rest on the rock. Two river workers spent a harrowing night trapped just seconds from certain death before they could be rescued the next day. One of the guys, in his 20s, had his hair turn snow white overnight. The barge is still there.
The next stop is at the Maid of the Mist. Two boats are launched down river from the falls and make their way upstream with powerful engines. People with blue plastic rain gear line the deck and get soaked. The boat motors past the American Falls, but is defeated by the Horseshoe Falls. It is a really cool thing to do. Equally cool is a trip down into tunnels cut below the falls, and platforms right at the base of the falls. This time, you get yellow plastic rain gear, but get equally wet.
Leaving the Country
We next ride across the international border to the US side using the Rainbow Bridge. Remember to take along your passports. Max was a relatively new rider, so we took the pedestrian walkway.
For more travel posts click HERE.
Do you have a travel post to share? We would love to hear from you. Submit your travel posts HERE.