Accommodations in Niagara Falls, Canada, tend to the utilitarian. There is one nice old hotel, the Skyline Brock, with chandeliers in the lobby and a doorman in full Cap’n Crunch regalia. Its sister inn, the Skyline Foxhead (905-374-4444 for both), is also pleasant, if less elegant. Wherever you stay, try to get a falls-side room, so you can see the cataract illuminated with colored lights at night.
Goat Island, in the middle of the river, divides the falls into two parts. In a do-ityourself metaphor, the American Falls are rough and turbulent while the Canadian (or Horseshoe) Falls are tranquil and serene. The Horseshoe Falls are the ones you see in all the pictures, with a column of mist hundreds of feet tall. Whenever the sun is out, the mist creates a rainbow. It also creates a perpetual drizzle that sprinkles everything in the vicinity, coating trees with ice in winter.
The Skylon Tower affords a striking view of all this from 775 feet up. You won’t be surprised to learn that there’s a rotating restaurant at the top. Those wishing a close-up view can descend the cliffs around the falls, ride a boat along their base, or go into caves behind them. Many attractions in both countries are open seasonally, generally April or May through October or November, so it pays to call first if you’re visiting at other times. (The Niagara Falls, Canada, Visitor and Convention Bureau can be reached at 905-356-6061.) Those who do visit off-season can see the nighttime Festival of Lights as well as a natural ice bridge that usually forms at the base of the falls in February.
The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, where the river flows into Lake Ontario, is worth a visit for several reasons. The drive up is lovely, as is the town itself; the dining is better than in Niagara Falls (unless you fancy the O’Canada “Eh?” Dinner Theatre, with waiters dressed as Mounties and lumberjacks); and the summertime Shaw festival is highly regarded. Along the way you can view Niagara’s famous whirlpool rapids; the brave can ride a monorail across them. Fort George is nearby as well. (Fort Erie, at the river’s other end, can also be visited.) For engineering enthusiasts, the Welland Canal and a power station are open to the public, and bridges abound in the area. At Lockport, New York, visitors can see a museum devoted to the Erie Canal and go through a working set of locks.
Though Niagara Falls, New York, pales in comparison with the Canadian city, it does have its attractions, including several museums and an aquarium. Niagara Reservation State Park, New York’s oldest, which was designed by Olmsted and Vaux, affords an oblique view of the falls. Goat Island and tiny Luna Island are also accessible. In Youngstown, at the north end of the river, Old Fort Niagara is open daily (716-745-7611). Buffalo, of course, is a short drive away. Niagara County Tourism can be reached at 1-800-338-7890; the number of the New York State Division of Tourism is 1-800-225-5697.