How to Plan a Vacation to the Niagara Falls

Taking a vacation to the Niagara Falls has been on my bucket list for years. The Niagara Falls consist of a group of three waterfalls standing 176 feet tall and spanning NY state and the province of Ontario. During my visit in late September, the Canadian side wasn’t open to U.S. citizens, so we spent our time exploring the USA side. Although the waterfalls is the most popular site to see in the area, there are many other Niagara Falls NY attractions to experience. Our weekend in Niagara Falls was filled with rich history, beautiful nature walks, and delicious food.

Here’s my guide to planning a fulfilling road trip to Niagara Falls from NYC:

Getting to the Niagara Falls

The drive from NYC to Niagara Falls is 6.5 hours long. We broke up the long drive with a pit stop at Watkins Glen State Park, which is four hours away from NYC. It was well worth the pit stop. We hiked the enchanting Gorge Trail, a 3-mile trail that took us past 19 waterfalls, through several caves, and up over 800 steps. It took us 2 hours to complete.

For a slightly longer commute (7 hours and 20 minutes), you can travel from NYC to Niagara Falls by train. Amtrak’s Empire Service offers frequent daily train rides between NYC and Niagara Falls.

Where to stay

Giacomo Hotel

If you’re looking for hotels in Niagara Falls NY with a view of the falls, I highly recommend the Giacomo Hotel. Located in the heart of Niagara Falls, the Giacomo Hotel provides you with a classic luxury boutique hotel experience. We stood in the Premier Suite which had a living area with a bar and full kitchen and a bedroom with a king size bed. I loved how bright and open the space was and how I was able to see the falls and Canadian skyline from the living room window. Convenience is also important to me while traveling. I appreciated the Giacomo’s location being just a few minutes walk away to the brink of the Niagara Falls and a short drive to other major attractions.

This was my first time staying in a hotel during COVID-19, but I felt comfortable with all of the safety precautions that were in place. All dining was room-service only, all guests and hotel staff wore masks and practiced social distancing in common areas, and rooms weren’t cleaned during our stay.

Things to do in Niagara Falls NY

Visit Niagara Falls State Park

A visit to Niagara Falls NY would be incomplete without stopping by Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in America.

Niagara Scenic Trolley

You can easily spend a day walking around the park, or if you prefer a more guided experience, take the Niagara Scenic Trolley. The Niagara Falls Trolley provides passengers with a park overview, historical stories, fun facts, and pro-tips for visiting the park’s must-see attractions. The trolleys are heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer, so they can be enjoyed all year!

Tickets

Adults- $3

Children aged 6-12 years old- $2

Hours of Operation

Daily: 10am- 8:30pm

Niagara Falls Observation Tower

Extending from the Niagara Gorge, the Niagara Falls Observation Tower offers you the only panoramic view of all three waterfalls in the park. Weather permitting, it is open all year long.

Hours of Operation

Sun-Thurs: 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Fri & Sat: 8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Pro- tip: You will likely do a lot of walking during your trip to Niagara Falls. You definitely should wear a comfortable pair of shoes. My Dr. Martens leather platform boots are soft and cushioned and kept my feet alive after hours of walking. I applied a water proof spray to protect them against the water from the Cave of the winds

Cave of the Winds

If you want to feel the power of the waterfalls, check out the Cave of the Winds in Niagara Falls. I always get a rush of energy from watching waterfalls, but being immersed in the waterfalls is even more exhilarating. Tickets are timed and limited and must be purchased in person the day of your desired visit. The Cave of the Winds opens at 9am, it’s best to go purchase your tickets early in the morning, because they sell out quickly. We attempted to get tickets at 1pm on a Saturday, and they were already sold out for the day. You will be provided with ponchos. They no longer provide visitors with water sandals, but I highly recommend you bring water resistant shoes because you are guaranteed to get soaked.

Our first attempt at getting Cave of Winds Tickets

Tickets

Adults- $19

Child (6-12 years old)- $16

Child 5 and under free

Hours of Operation

Sun-Fri: 9:00 AM – 6:15 PM

Sat: 9:00 AM – 8:15 PM

** Schedule is subject to change. Go directly to the Cave of Winds information page for the latest hours.

Maid of the Mist

The Maid of the Mist is another popular attraction at Niagara Falls State Park. The adventure begins at the Observation Tower, where guests are provided with a souvenir rain poncho and board the Maid of the Mist double deck steamer boat. The boat transports you to the base of the American Falls and onto the basin of the Horseshoe Falls. The Maid of the Mist boats are currently operating at 50% capacity.

Tickets

Adult- $22.25

Child Ticket (6–12 years)- $13.00

Children 5 and under are free

Hours of Operation

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

departures happen every 30 minutes

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is a powerful interactive exhibit that tells the stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls. It has an admirable goal of inspiring “ visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and take action toward an equitable society”. It took us about 45 minutes to get through the emotional exhibit.

Across the street from the Heritage Center on Depot Avenue and Main Street are colorful street art highlighting Black champions of change.

Pro-tip: Visit the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center before you visit the Niagara Falls State Park for a better appreciation of its inspiring history of leading people to freedom.

Tickets

Adult- $10

Student (13 years old +)- $8

Youth (6-12 years old)- $6

Youth (5 and under) – Free

Senior (62+ years old)- $8

Hours of Operation

Thursday- Sunday- 11am-5 pm

Whirlpool State Park

Whirlpool State Park is a beautiful multi-use recreational trail that’s just an 8 minute drive from the Niagara Falls. We didn’t have time to hike along the Niagara Fall Gorge Rim trail, so we just soaked up the lovely views from the scenic overlooks and the park grounds.

Try famous buffalo wings in Buffalo NY

Buffalo NY, about a 30 minute drive from the Niagara Falls, is home of the original buffalo wing. If you love fried chicken wings, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to taste buffalo wings at Anchor Bar, where Teressa Bellissimo first created them. Another popular buffalo wing restaurant to check out is Duff’s. There’s a longstanding battle between Anchor and Duff’s for who has the best wings. My vote is for Anchor Bar, because their wings had a more distinctive taste with the perfect amount of sauce compared to Duff’s, whose wings tasted more generic and were saucier than necessary.

My time in Niagara Falls NY was rejuvenating and inspiring! I would like to return back to Niagara Falls State Park to move slower and enjoy the park in full.

Have you ever visited the Niagara Falls? How did it compare to other waterfalls you’ve seen? Let me know in the comment box below.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Giacomo Hotel, but all opinions expressed here are my own.

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Jewels Rhode

Frequent Flyer. Chief Enjoyment Officer. Helping you make your travel dreams a reality!