Summer is behind us but that doesn’t mean the family travels have to end. Sometimes a summer destination becomes something even more special in the cooler autumn months. Niagara Falls, New York is one of those destinations. The interlude between hot summer days and snowy winters is filled with the warm golden, red and orange hues of fall foliage, breezy days and fewer crowds. Consider an autumn weekend in Niagara Falls, New York.
Any visit to Niagara Falls is going to include time soaking up the awe-inspiring sight of billions of gallons of water thundering over the rocks to the Niagara River below. Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls – the Horseshoe Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls – that overlap the borders of Canada and the United States. Views from both countries are spectacular but the experiences are completely different. The Canadian side is filled with kitschy souvenir shops but Niagara Falls, New York provides a more natural approach. There are also many other attractions in the region to explore on your autumn escape. Here are a few of my favorites.
Niagara Falls State Park
Situated on 400 acres of lush terrain, Niagara Falls State Park is an immaculate oasis. Designed by Central Park’s landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, the park is a wonderland surrounding the thundering waterfalls. Home to picturesque gardens and protected wildlife, the park has over 15 miles of challenging hiking trails along the Niagara Gorge trail system with remarkable views at every turn. If you’re not up for hiking, take a ride on the Niagara Scenic Trolley for an historic overview of the park and the waterfalls. From the docks in the park, board the Maid of the Mist and set sail into the heart of one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls. You’ll be given a not so fashionable blue hooded poncho when you board, but be prepared to get wet. It’s completely worth the bad hair day.
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Cave of the Winds
For another thrilling up close adventure with the falls, take the Cave of the Winds tour. The adventure begins with an elevator ride 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge. From there you will follow wooden walkways along the Niagara River to the Hurricane Deck. The Bridal Veil Falls create tropical storm-like conditions on the Hurricane Deck as you stand just a few feet from the thundering waters. It was an adrenaline pumping experience I will never forget!
Nearby Lockport sits on top of a massive ridge of solid rock now known as the Niagara Escarpment, the same prehistoric geology that created Niagara Falls. The contractors building the Erie Canal in 1822 were faced with a challenge due to the countryside resting 70 feet below the ridge. An engineering marvel of the time was proposed and built, a double set of five locks, five ascending and five descending the Niagara Escarpment. As part of the Lockport Underground Tour, you will walk along the famous “Flight of Five” and down to a tunnel entrance that leads into that massive wall of rock.
Inside, your tour begins with a walk through a dark 1600 foot water power tunnel that was blasted out of the solid rock. The invention of Birdsill Holly, the hydraulic tunnel provided water power to three industries. After the somewhat eerie walk, you will board a boat for a one-of-a-kind underground boat ride. The boat glides through the dark waters past cave formations and artifacts left by miners on the Erie Canal over a century ago. The standard tour lasts about 75 minutes.
If you want to up the spookiness factor, sign up for the four hour Ghost Hunters Experience. The popular Ghost Hunters show conducted a paranormal investigation in the underground tunnel that was so intensive it became the 2012 Halloween special. The cave was named the “Tunnel of Terror” and you can do your own paranormal explorations with the Ghost Hunters Experience – if you dare.
Old Fort Niagara
With a history that spans more than 300 years, Old Fort Niagara offers a glimpse into the past to an era when great empires struggled for control of North America. The fort has original 18th century buildings where Native American, French, British and American soldiers lived and worked from the 18th to the 20th centuries. There are self-guided audio tours available along with excellent living history programs with artisans demonstrating life on the Niagara Frontier during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
At the center of the fort stands the impressive French Castle. Designed by Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery, chief engineer of New France, the castle was to be enclosed by a wooden stockade, a defense common to most North American trading posts. The castle included all the facilities necessary for a garrison – quarters, storerooms, a well and a chapel. And as you wander through, don’t be surprised if you run into a Frenchman from that era.