This is going to be one of those really long entries with lots of pics and videos that slow down your computer. Sorry about that. :)
For some background, I had been to Niagara Falls as a kid in my teens on a family vacation many, many years ago. We stayed on the Canadian side, and it must have made an impression, because I still remember standing on the observation deck of the Skylon Tower late at night watching the illuminated falls and feeling the mist rising from far below. Even back then I wished I had a special young lady to share it with. :)
Linda has never been to the state of New York, much less the Niagara area. So, this should be an interesting few days. :)
With sunny skies and temps staying in the 70s on this Thursday, we decided to spend all day at Niagara Falls State Park on the U.S. side. We planned to arrive around noon and take our time.
But before we headed out, Linda gave me a badly needed haircut. Then she fixed us a big breakfast to get us through most of the day so we wouldn't have to spend too much on the very high food and drink prices in the park.
Just as we were ready to pull out, another camper came by and asked if we had jumper cables. Of course we do. So, I drove over to their site and gave them a jumpstart. A good deed to get us started on our day. :)
Rather than take the fastest route into the town of Niagara Falls to our south, we took the scenic route on NY 18F past the Fort Niagara State Park, through the Village of Youngstown along the Lower Niagara River, through the Village of Lewiston, and past Devil's Hole State Park and Whirlpool State Park.
The first part of Niagara Falls State Park that we reached was the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Well allrighty then, we'll just start there. :)
You see, we bought this thing called the Niagara USA Discovery Pass. For $33 per pass you get admission to five "additional fee" attractions at the state park. One of those is the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Since we were there, we decided to knock that out first.
The best part of the Gorge Discovery Center is that it provide a great preliminary view upriver past the Rainbow Bridge crossing over to Canada and toward Horseshoe Falls and the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Inside the Center, ...
there are some interesting exhibits. It sits on top of the cliff where power companies and mills used to use the flowing river to generate energy. However, the 180-degree movie screen and the film they promote weren't operating. Instead, they showed on older history movie. We went because it was included in our pass, and it's probably worth the $3 regular admission, but I would certainly skip it next time.
While at the Discovery Center, we noticed that the Niagara Aquarium was connected by a walkway over the highway. The Aquarium isn't part of the state park, but it is included in the Discovery Pass. Regular adult admission is $9.50.
They have penguins and seals and sea lions ....
and sharks and several other tanks of interesting creatures. There are lots of hands-on exhibits and a few daily scheduled programs. And it's all packed into a pretty small space.
Now we've been to several top-notch aquariums over the years, so we're a bit spoiled. This wasn't one of them, but it's a nice place for people that may not otherwise see the animals on display.
We would have skipped the aquarium except that it had penguins, ....
which Linda loves, it was convenient to the Discovery Center, and it was included as part of the Discovery Pass.
As we walked back past the Discovery Center, we took a couple more pics upriver.
This one is a zoom through the Rainbow Bridge to the state park Observation Tower with a small section of Horseshoe Falls in the distance.
Now, the state park website says that parking in any of the four parking lots is $8 - $10. But a bonus of staying at the Four Mile Creek State Park is that our parking pass is good for all of the area state parks. So we wouldn't have to pay to park in any of the four lots.
We drove from the Discovery Center lot (which seemed to be free today) toward the main parking lot near the official Visitors Center and the Observation Tower. But that parking lot was full. So we backtracked and went back to the Discovery Center lot. We could either walk to the rest of the park from there or we could take the Niagara Scenic Trolley.
The trolley makes six stops during its 3-mile route through the park. It's normally $2 per person for an all-day pass, but it was also included in our Discovery Pass. When you get your ticket, you get a colored wristband for the day so you can get on and off and ride anytime you please.
The main trolley stop is between the Visitors Center and the Observation Tower. Walk away from the river to the Visitors Center (which is free) or walk toward the river to go to the Observation Tower ($1). We headed toward the Visitors Center because there was a theater and the movie "Niagara: Legends of Adventure" that shows at the top of each hour.
The movie was another thing included in our Discovery Pass (regular admission is $11). Unfortunately, the movie, in our opinion, was pretty hokey. There are much better free movies in some of the national park visitors centers. For eleven bucks, we would definitely skip that one if we return some day.
After the movie, we headed back to the Observation Tower. Admission to the tower is $1 unless you buy a ticket on the world famous "Maid of the Mist" boat tour (regular price $13.50) which boards at the base of the tower after taking an elevator ride to the bottom. Again, our Discovery Pass included the half-hour boat tour, so we had access to the tower to view the falls.
Niagara Falls is actually made up of three waterfalls: Horseshoe Falls in the distance on the right; American Falls on the left; and Bridal Veil Falls at the other end of the American Falls (indistinguishable in the above photo). The falls are approximately 170 feet tall, but they are very wide. Horseshoe Falls is much bigger than American Falls although you can't tell from the above vantage point. Ninety percent of the water flowing over the falls goes over Horseshoe Falls.
Here's a short video from the tower.
This is a view downriver past the Rainbow Bridge into the Niagara Gorge.
At this point, the Niagara River flows almost due north to Lake Ontario.
Here is a view of the "Maid of the Mist" fleet going back and forth with their poncho-clad passengers.
The "Maid of the Mist" tours leave from the base of the Observation Tower on the U.S. side and from a dock on the Canadian side as well. Here is one of the boats going into the mist at Horseshoe Falls.
In the photo below, you can see Bridal Veil Falls in the upper right corner which is separated from the American Falls by the tiny Luna Island.
There are tiny people on the Luna Island overlook in between the falls. We'll show you some views from there later. :)
Here's Linda surveying the scene.
Okay, one last shot from the Observation Tower, ....
including little specks of people in the lower left hand corner on a path up to the edge of the American Falls (we'll show you that vantage point later as well). Then we got in the elevators to go down to the "Maid of the Mist" dock.
They handed each person a blue, recyclable poncho as we stood in line to board. Once on the boat, most of the people went to the upper deck. We stayed down below just to make sure we had access to a rail and could see. Here's the Observation Tower from the boat as we departed.
I had my camera bag tucked under my poncho, and I took a few more pictures before the mist was too much for the camera. Here is a shot of the American & Bridal Veil Falls (far right).
And then a better shot of Bridal Veil Falls and folks on the "Cave of the Winds" Tour.
Since the Kodak Playsport video camera is waterproof, we tried to video the falls through the mist. The result isn't great with water constantly hitting the lens, but we'll show it to you anyway. :)
As we approached Horseshoe Falls, we made our way up on the top deck.
Then it was time to pack the camera away and rely on the video camera only. The mist at Horseshoe Falls is like a heavy rain, so it's difficult to see much less take pictures. But we're still gonna show a couple of minutes of what it was like. :)
Well, the thin ponchos did a pretty good job of keeping us dry. It was one of those things you have to do when you are here. But once you get into the mist, it's hard to see anything with all the people and all the water hitting you in the face.
On the video, you can make out the people standing on top of the cliffs at the edges of the falls to get some perspective. But even the video doesn't do justice to the in-person power and roar of the massive amounts of water.
I got the camera back out as we left the horseshoe.
The next tour was on its way.
After getting off the "Maid of the Mist", we deposited our ponchos in the recycle bins (you can keep them if you want) and took the path up to the side of the American Falls. Here's a short video of that.
The steps got a little crowded as it was one way up and then you had to come back the same way. It was really the only time we felt claustrophobic the whole day. So we hustled out of there and back to the Observation Tower to board the elevators back to the top.
After a couple more photos, we headed up the path ...
alongside the American Rapids to the pedestrian bridge going over to Goat Island.
Goat Island is what splits the falls the Niagara River and diverts water to the American Falls with the remainder going over the Horseshoe Falls. The island is named for one hardy goat that survived a hard winter after all the rest of a settler's livestock died.
Goat Island can be accessed on foot or by bike or by trolley or by car or even by RV. Vehicles take another bridge upriver from the pedestrian bridge. Two of the parks' four parking lots are actually on Goat Island.
Once on the Island and heading back toward the falls, we veered to the right down a path to Luna Island. Luna Island, as I mentioned previously, separates the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
Here is a view of American Falls and the Observation Tower from Luna Island.
Here is a video of the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, the "Cave of the Winds" boardwalk, and Niagara Falls, Canada including the Skylon Tower from the Luna Island overlook.
Oh, and in case that last video wasn't enough, Linda wanted me to show you a little more of the "Cave of the Winds" Tour and the Hurricane Deck at the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls.
Next, we left Luna Island and went up some stairs to a snack bar area and the place to get in line for the "Cave of the Winds" Tour. That was the last activity included in our Discovery Pass (regular price $11). By my calculations, the total retail of the items covered by the $33 pass was $50 (plus there are some additional coupons with the pass). Of course, without the pass, we probably wouldn't have done the Aquarium or the "Legends" movie, so we could've saved a couple bucks. :)
Anyway, for the "Cave of the Winds", they give you a really thin yellow poncho, some cool water sandals, ....
and a plastic bag to put your stuff in. Surprisingly, there are no temporary lockers where you can store things you want to keep dry. I think they are missing out on a good customer service and revenue source there.
After getting our ponchos and sandals on, we stood in line waiting for the elevators to take us down to the river's edge again.
Once at the bottom, we checked out the Ringed Bill Gull rookery on the rocks prior to the boardwalk.
It was a bit smelly. :)
Then we moved on to the self-guided tour.
Yeah, you're pretty much going to get wet on that one. Fortunately, we thought to bring one of our canoeing dry-bags, so we packed the camera and our phones and other stuff in there. And off we went.
Here's the three to four minute combined video. Once again, the water made it tough and we lost part of our sound about halfway through, but it will at least give you some idea. :)
After we finished the tour, we put our ponchos in the recycle bins, but we decided to keep the sandals. They'll make great campground bathhouse shoes. :)
We did get a little wet, so after we rode back to the top, we sat on a park bench and did some people-watching while we dried out.
Eventually, we continued on and went down the path toward Prospect Point.
Prospect Point is home to the Top of the Falls Restaurant and it provides the best view of the Horseshoe Falls from the U.S. side.
The thick mist kept us from getting a complete view of all of the falls. But there was a nice view downriver.
These kids got a nice view of all that rushing water.
Linda looked upriver at the Canadian Rapids.
From Prospect Point, we continued up the south side of Goat Island until we came to the Three Sisters Islands.
The Three Sisters are small islands each separated by a narrow channel. This is a look down one of those channels where we could see the mist rising from the bottom of the falls up and above the buildings of Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The rapids just off the outer island were massive.
We hung out on the islands for a little while, and then we headed back. I took one last shot as the sun was sinking and some clouds were moving in.
We continued to walk until we had made a full circle of Goat Island. We walked back across the pedestrian bridge to the mainland and then picked up the trolley. Since we hadn't done the whole trolley tour yet, we thought we'd finish our day with that. We picked up some more interesting tidbits, and finally we were dropped off at our parking lot.
What a wonderful day we had. Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, and a beautiful young lady with whom to finally share this magical place. :)
Now we are looking forward to exploring the Canadian side in the next few days. We're going to time it so we stay for the illumination of the falls (each summer night from 9:00 - midnight). And we are going to come on a night when they shoot off fireworks over the falls (two to three times a week during the summer). Hopefully, it will live up to my memories. :)