Niagara Falls, Where Your Senses Come Alive!

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Lighting display on the American Falls from the Skylon Tower. NR Venkitesh photos
Lighting display on the American Falls from the Skylon Tower. N. R. Venkatesh photos

Iconic Natural Wonder: There is Nothing in the U.S. like Niagara Falls

By NR Venkatesh

Straddling the American-Canadian borders, Niagara Falls is an iconic natural wonder of the world, whose mere mention evokes images of the thunderous roar of the falls. The drop of this massive body of water is a sight to behold and an experience to treasure.

Spectacular, stunning and awe-inspiring are some adjectives, used in tourist literature, to describe the Falls. Newlyweds, especially well-heeled ones, have been honey-mooning in Niagara Falls for over 200 years including reportedly Jerome Bonaparte (the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte).

The majesty of the Horseshoe Falls - from the Canadian side.
The majesty of the Horseshoe Falls – from the Canadian side.

Niagara Falls is made up of three separate falls, namely the Horseshoe Falls, best viewed from the Canadian side, and the American Falls and the Bridal veil falls, both on the American side.

Despite not being the tallest waterfall in the world, Niagara Falls is a memorable spectacle because of the combination of its height and water volume.

Over 6 million cubic feet of water tumbles over the 57-meter drop of the Horseshoe Falls every minute during peak daytime hours in summer.

This is almost nine times the water flow on the American side. Niagara Falls is estimated to be 12,000 years old and it is fed by the waters of the Great Lakes.

Train to Niagara Falls from Toronto's Union Station
Train to Niagara Falls from Toronto’s Union Station

Living close to the Falls

As dual Canadian-American citizens, my family and I are fortunate to have lived close to Niagara Falls, for almost 20 years (15 years in Toronto and five in Buffalo, NY).

When we lived in Buffalo, we visited Niagara Falls often, because it was a short 25-minute drive from our home (Williamsville) on uncrowded freeways.

Fireworks display by the American Falls from the Skylon Tower
Fireworks display by the American Falls from the Skylon Tower

We never ceased to be amazed by the draw of the Falls as we observed license plates from across America in the parking lot of Niagara Falls State Park, NY, especially summer weekends.

And based on brief chats with tourists from around the world, it appeared that a visit to Niagara Falls was a de riguer rite of passage for many visitors on their once-in-a-lifetime visits to America.

Falling in Love Again at Niagara Falls

Our recent visit to Niagara Falls was akin to falling in love, all over again.

Wishing to break the shackles on travel imposed by Covid-19, Nirmala, my wife, and I decided to re-discover Niagara Falls recently (Saturday-Sunday June 18 and 19, 2022).

We decided to take advantage of the Greater Ontario (GO) weekend train service from downtown Toronto to Niagara Falls.

Three return trips are available Saturdays, Sundays and public holiday Mondays, during the warm weather months. Given its low-cost and convenience, the trains that we traveled in were jam-packed. Train service to Niagara Falls

horseshoe falls view
Horseshoe Falls from the Skylon Tower

Mercifully, our enjoyment of the Falls was not diminished by the train delays and the inexcusable absence of public washrooms at Niagara Falls GO station.

lights horseshoe falls
Lighting display on the Horseshoe Falls from the Skylon Tower

Enjoying Canada’s attractions on a budget

Whether you are traveling from downtown Toronto using public transit or driving to the Falls from anywhere in Canada or USA, you would do well to check out Niagara Parks to plan your trip to the many attractions on the Canadian side.

We purchased 48-hour WEGO passes for under 20 US dollars each and this entitled us to round-trip GO train travel from downtown Toronto (Union Station) to Niagara Falls GO station (two hours each way).

Importantly, the pass provided access to the WEGO hop-on, hop-off bus service that travels throughout the city of Niagara Falls and Niagara Parks (including attractions along its 56-kilometer Niagara Parks route).

The WEGO service is organized into three lines – red, blue and green – serving different tourist attractions. You may need to switch among the three lines but mercifully the best point to do so is Table Rock, situated by the Horseshoe Falls, enabling you to enjoy the Falls multiple times.

Note – If you have purchased the WEGO pass online, make sure to swap it for the WEGO card at the Information Center at Table Rock because you will need the card to use the convenient hop-on, hop-off bus service.

Memorable first-time experiences

Getting off at Niagara Falls GO train station on Saturday morning, we took the first Greenline Southbound bus to Table Rock Center. After enjoying the HorseShoe Falls for the umpteenth time, we took the Blue Line bus (602) to the Skylon Tower.

Skylon Tower (775 feet above Niagara Gorge)

This tower resembles the CN Tower in Toronto and it boasts a panoramic observation deck and revolving restaurant, both towering into the sky. The tower is strategically located almost like a doting sentinel watching over all three Falls.

Excitement at the Skylon Tower starts the moment you step into the sleek exterior glass-enclosed “Yellow Bug Elevators” through which you can enjoy views of the Falls, the Gorge and the skylines of Buffalo, even as you are whisked to the top in under a minute.

The views of all three Falls from the Observation Deck were unmatched because it was akin to enjoying the Falls through the lens of a distant drone hovering over them.

Our tickets entitled us to a night-time visit too and we were back on the Observation Deck at 9:30 pm to take in the colorful light and fireworks show.

Our positive experience at Skylon Tower was reiterated by Katherine Abalos and Melissa Abalos, mother-daughter visitors by road from Mobile, Alabama. “We’ve enjoyed our two days in and around the Falls.

The sights and experiences have been wonderful, the people are friendly, we’ve felt very safe and it helps that the US dollar buys almost 1.40 Canadian dollars.”

We set off early next (Sunday) morning to catch the earliest WEGO buses (around 9:30 am) to commence our sightseeing for the day.

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White Water Walk – our first stop

Feel the thrill of being at the river’s edge!

White Water Walk offers a first-hand lesson in the raw power and peril of the Niagara River’s Class 6 whitewater rapids, some of the wildest in North America. The sight on this quarter-mile boardwalk will take your breath away!

The White Water Walk provides you an opportunity to watch the rapids from all three Falls gushing (at 30 miles an hour) into the narrow mouth of the gorge at its very bottom.

To experience this, you are whisked 70 meters down an elevator and across a tunnel, to access the 1,000 foot long wheel-chair accessible boardwalk from where you can experience the fearsome fury of the rapids with its tides bobbing wildly and spraying you with water with mocking irreverence.

If I was to name one truly  indescribable experience, it would have to be the White Water Walk.

Brace yourself for some white-knuckle thrills! White Water Walk

aero car over niagara
The Spanish-built Aero Car over Niagara Gorge

Riding High Above Niagara Falls on the Whirlpool Aero Car

Hop on the historic Whirlpool Aero Car for an unforgettable ride over the vibrant, teal-colored waters of the Niagara River. Witness spectacular views of the swirling Niagara Whirlpool and the river’s Class 6 rapids as you soar 200 feet above the Niagara Gorge.

After enjoying the White Water Walk, we boarded the Northbound GreenLine bus and got off at the next stop for a ride on the Whirlpool Aero Car.

On this exciting ride, you are suspended high up in the air in a rectangular-shaped cable car with standing room only for about 35 passengers, as six interlocking steel cables gently haul you across two points atop the Niagara Gorge.

The return trip covers about a kilometer and it takes about 10 minutes to complete. Despite initial queasiness, we found the ride actually calming and enjoyable.

“Memorable” is how Brent Matthews and his wife, our co-passengers in the aero-car, described their experience. They had driven from Maryland, USA, with their two daughters and son, on their first visit to Niagara Falls.

They had already enjoyed several experiences and they rated their ride on the ‘Voyage to the Falls’ (similar to ‘Maid of the Mist’ on the US side), to the edge of the falls, as the most thrilling one.

“We had some Covid-19 concerns on our ‘Journey Behind the Falls’ experience due to the long and crowded wait among unmasked visitors in a closed space”, Brent Matthews said.

The Butterfly Conservatory

Our last attraction for the day was the Butterfly Conservatory because my wife was very keen on spending time with her mesmerizing flitting friends.

Butterfly Conservatory - Nirmala with some colorful company
Butterfly Conservatory – Nirmala with some colorful company

We spent an enchanting two hours among colorful butterflies and the Rose Garden, close by, before heading back to Niagara Falls GO station to catch our 7:15 pm train ride to Toronto. Butterfly Conservatory

As we waited for the train at the station, we shared a bench with Alberto and Paola, a young couple from Colombia, both of whom study English at private colleges in Toronto.

Romance sparkled in their eyes and they said that they made the day-trip to the Falls to see its famed beauty. They described their experience simply as “muy tranquilo” (very calm).

Seated by us on the train ride back to Toronto was a diminutive bespectacled youngster (Soham Purohit) who revealed that he was a student from the reputed Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai.

He is in Toronto on a coveted four-month internship and he had traveled to Niagara Falls that morning by train along with 10 friends, who had returned to Toronto on the earlier train.

He described his trip as ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ and was hopeful of visiting again before returning to India in August.