Niagara Falls is something you have to see to believe. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s beautiful. But visiting Niagara Falls also requires that you make a few choices. Like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, there are two very distinct sides – one in Canada and one in the United States – both of which have their advantages and disadvantages.
Despite what many people think, Niagara Falls is not a national park in either the United States or Canada, which means the experience is not regulated by the national governments and has the potential to be a bit overwhelming and commercialized. Nonetheless, it really is one of those natural wonders that people should make the point to see at least once in a lifetime.
First, the Nitty-Gritty Details
Niagara Falls can be reached from a number of popular destinations in Canada and the United States:
- Distance from Buffalo, New York, to Niagara Falls: 20 miles / 32 kilometers
- Distance from New York City to Niagara Falls: 408 miles / 656 kilometers
- Distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls: 83 miles / 133 kilometers
There are four airports located within two hours of Niagara Falls. They are:
- Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) – Located in Canada, about 1.5 hours to the north.
- Hamilton International Airport (YHM) – Located in Canada, about 1 hour to the north.
- Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) – Located in the United States, about 30 minutes to the south.
- Niagara Falls (New York) International Airport (IAG) – Located in the United States, about 15 minutes to the east
You can reach Niagara Falls by car, train, bus or organized tour.
- In the United States: Amtrak has a train station in the city of Niagara Falls in New York. It is located at 2701 Willard Avenue. A number of companies offer bus service to Niagara Falls from New York City.
- In Canada: There is a VIA Rail/Amtrak train that runs from Toronto to the Canadian side of the falls. There is also a GO Train and a Go Bus that operate from Toronto. All forms of these forms of transportation from Toronto have several stops between the city and the waterfalls.
And now that you’ve finally reached the site that you came to see, what side of Niagara Falls should you visit? Consider the following:
Prepare for commercialization. After driving through the relatively sparse landscape of Ontario, it can be a bit jarring to suddenly happen upon Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. Right next to the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls is a busy street lined with chain restaurants, shops filled with souvenirs and several tour operators. There is no shortage of commerce taking place right on the edge of the falls, but if you need anything at all, then you can buy it on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
Views are arguably more spectacular.
There are several waterfalls on the U.S. side, which means it’s a lot easier to see all of them from the Canadian side. There is a long, clean view of the massive falls from the Canadian side, which makes the whole of Niagara Falls almost more spectacular when you can see everything all at once. If you’ve come to see the waterfalls and that’s it, this is the place to do it.
Parking is more difficult to find and more expensive.
Follow the signs to find parking on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, and you’ll find yourself driving far, far away. The walk from the parking lot to the falls can be quite long depending on how busy it is. Also, if you park in Canada, expect to pay somewhere around $20.00. If you park in the United States, you’ll only have to pay $10.00 in the state park, and the information station regarding all of the U.S.-side activities is just a short walk away.
Expect more people.
Perhaps it’s the fact that Niagara Falls from the Canadian side is more built up or the views are better, but in general, it’s just more crowded. You’ll be enjoying the view with many others by your side when you experience it from Canada.
The walk is easier.
The path from which visitors view the waterfalls from the Canadian side is paved, making it much easier to navigate for those with strollers, wheelchairs or other mobility issues. It is a wide sidewalk with plenty of room for lots of people, so it’s incredibly accessible, and everyone can enjoy the falls without much effort.
It’s located in a state park.
Niagara Falls is not part of the United States’ national park system, but it is a state park in New York. This means that it’s not overdeveloped or paved with concrete. There are more trees and meandering walking paths, and the overall landscape is just a lot more scenic. Waterfalls by their very being are natural, so it only makes sense to enjoy them within a natural setting, wrapped by trees, rocks and slick moss.
The area is cleaner.
When you visit Niagara Falls from the United States, it seems to be a bit cleaner. I’m not sure if it is because the U.S. side of the falls are located in a state park or because the rim of the falls isn’t as close to a busy road, but there’s just a lot less garbage when seen from the U.S.
Spend less money on the U.S. side.
It is worth noting that several activities related to the falls are found on both sides, many of which are quite similar (or even run by the same company!). Nonetheless, in cases where there are similar activities, it is always cheaper to take advantage of them on the U.S. side. Also, as noted, parking is less expensive in the United States.
Make it an all-day event.
You can see Niagara Falls for free in both the U.S. and Canada, and you can take the Maid of the Mist (the under-the-falls boat) from both sides as well, but if you want to experience Niagara Falls from as many angles as possible from one country, then visit from the United States side. You’ll be able to take a walk down along a boardwalk that’s practically built below the falls plus there’s a movie and other interactive activities to enhance your visit. The one main highlight in the United States that isn’t found in Canada is the observation tour, which peeks out over top the falls.
Take your walking shoes.
Paths along the U.S. rim are a bit windy, and, in addition to strolling right above the falls, there are several other walking trails in the state park. If you want to enjoy all that the park has to offer, take some time to walk around the rest of the park after you’ve checked out the waterfalls.
Prepare to get wet.
You’ll definitely get up close and personal with Niagara Falls in the United States, and even if you don’t venture down to the Maid of the Mist or the boardwalk under the falls, you’ll still feel a bit of spray. It feels good, especially during the summer months, and it’s not a ton of spray, but do be prepared that you’re likely to get at least a little damp.
If you have a day to spend at Niagara Falls, I recommend you start by parking in the United States. Take advantage of all of the activities in the United States as well, especially since this is where you’ll have the greatest selection of choices and the prices are better.
Once you’ve explored the park on the U.S. side, cross the bridge by foot to Canada. A quick note: Don’t forget to check your country’s regulations regarding crossing from one country to the other, as the rules change depending on where you hold a passport from. For some countries, this may require a visa, so do your research well in advance of your visit.
Spend the afternoon taking enjoying the sweeping views with a leisurely stroll on the Canadian side, and grab a bite to eat over here for dinner if you’re so inclined. There is a $.50 toll fee to get back across the border, so be prepared to spare a couple of quarters at the border on your way back to the United States.
Since first publishing this post, I’ve had several people contact me regarding travel options to, at and including Niagara Falls. Below please find some touring options from Tours4Fun. I have not personally taken these tours. However, I have participated in a Tours4Fun excursion in the past and recommend the company’s services. In full disclosure, these are affiliate links.
- 5-Day U.S. and Canada East Tour including Niagara Falls, Toronto and Washington, DC
- Tour4Fun’s ultimate Niagara Falls planning guide with boat tours, flights and multi-day vacation packages