The commercial strips that surround Niagara Falls are pretty touristy these days. Wax Museums, Haunted Houses and casinos fill the area. Based on the crowds it’s certainly popular, but it’s not the type of atmosphere that draws me to a place. Fortunately it’s easy to skip the cheesy attractions and just spend your visit appreciating the incredible natural wonder that the town is centered around. Niagara Falls is stunning all on it’s own. No extra frills required.
So what better way to view the falls than by seeing them up close from the water? There are plentiful tour boats which leave every 20 minutes from both sides of the falls. The Hornblower cruise docks on Canadian side, and the Maid of Mist on American side. They operate all day long during spring-summer-autumn and advanced booking isn’t needed.
The weather was cloudy and grey when our tour boat set out on to the Niagara River, and the gloomy sky made the falls seem more intimidating as we sped towards them. We first passed the main American Falls and more modest Bridal Veil Falls. They may be a bit smaller than the Canadian falls but are still extremely impressive and I loved seeing the water crashing onto the rocks below them. The falls pound the rocks for its entire 320 metre width while birds are constantly swooping through the clouds of vapor, completely unbothered by the immense force of the falling water around them.
I could see a long line of tourists on the American side climbing the staircase next to the falls, while others leaned against the railing at the top. Seeing those tiny looking people really gave me perspective of the scale of these “smaller” falls and made our boat feel very wee and vulnerable.
As we cruised along the river I managed to stop staring at the falls long enough to appreciate the river itself. The colour of the water is distinctive – it always seems to have a dark greenish tint due to the dissolving sediment constantly eroded by the rushing water. As we got closer to the horseshoe falls the river became much more chaotic – swirling and stirred up.
This was the most dramatic part of the tour. As we neared the horseshoe falls heavy mist filled the air until everything started to look white and obscured while the tremendous roar of the falls got louder and louder. Even with poor visibility, the sensation of so much water (160,000 cubic metres per minute!) falling down…down…down over 170 feet was overwhelming. It felt like it it was crashing down mere inches from the boat. An exciting sensory abundance.
This is the point where the plastic poncho became completely useless and all of us adventurous folks on the top deck were fully drenched. Truly soaked. The “hair dripping and squeezing water out of your clothes” kind of soaked. Not that pleasant but a small price to pay for the chance to see something so awe inspiring up close!
The sun came out as the boat headed back to the dock, and after the tour we enjoyed a drink back on land while staring out at the classic postcard view of the falls. I could see other tour boats down below taking their turn to cruise around and get dripping wet. I’d be happy to be down there with them again next time I visit the falls…but I’ll probably bring my own heavy duty rain coat!