Rather than driving across the painfully wide state of Pennsylvania straight to New York City, we opted for a shorter route north into New York for a glimpse of Niagara Falls.
I had visited Niagara Falls with my family almost 15 years ago during the summer, and I couldn’t wait to hear the power of water and gravity again. Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls make up the Niagara Falls that flow between the international border of Ontario, Canada and New York, U.S.A. The water flow of the combined falls is the strongest of any waterfall anywhere in the world, with its waters flowing from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Like my last visit, I unfortunately did not have my U.S. passport and as a result I was only permitted to marvel at Niagara Falls from the U.S. side. Kind of a bummer, but Niagara Falls was gorgeous nonetheless.
As soon as we arrived, something felt a bit fishy. Niagara Falls State Park is the most touristy state park I have ever visited even during the off-season, and its commercialism and cheap marketing was reminiscent of deceitful Southeast Asia. We paid $10 to park our car and trailer and made the mistake by entering the Welcome Center, which I mistakenly confused for the Visitor Center. Layers of chipped paint peeled away from the concrete walls while a tattered American flag flaccidly waved from the the roof of the drab building. It looked like this:
Note that the far banner on the right spells out: Observation Tower FREE. Well, the observation tower is normally free; if not, I think it may be at most $1.
Immediately upon approaching the Welcome Desk, the lady behind the counter thrust a $40 per person bus package in our faces, where we would be taken on a “10 mile” tour around the park. Having never been offered a tour package up front at a state park, I asked her a couple questions.
“Is this the Visitor Center?” I inquired. All national and state parks have visitor centers.
“Yes, this is the Visitor Center.”
“Oh okay…” I pondered for a bit. A 10 mile hike would be no problem for Chris and I, but I considered riding our bikes. “Are there bike paths in the park?”
“Bike paths? I don’t know.”
What the hell? You work at the visitor center! How could you not answer that question? We thanked her and left, knowing there was no way we were going to spend a cumulative $80 just to see Niagara Falls. Before heading out on the supposedly 10 mile hike, I returned to the Welcome Center to fill my water bottle.
“Are there water fountains around here?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied, dumbfounded.
“Will there be water fountains in the park?” I clarified.
“Maybe. I don’t know,” she shrugged.
Annoyed, I literally walked about five meters past her desk and found two water fountains in the building’s “international food court” which was a vacant, depressing cafeteria aimed to rip off tourists and sell unpalatable food. I filled my water bottle and returned to her desk to let her know where the water fountains were located. She thanked me.
Within minutes of setting foot in the park, we discovered the real state park visitor center, an official looking building void of cheesy advertisements (photo taken from foit-albert.com):
There, my questions were answered appropriately, and we set off to Niagara Falls which turned out to be just about a 10-minute walk away. 10 miles my ass! It was the last day of outrageous warmth in the North Central States (~62ºF), and we took advantage of the weather by enjoying the morning at Niagara Falls.
Below is the view from American Falls with the Rainbow Bridge in the distance. This bridge connects Canada (on the left) with the U.S (on the right).
Hudson Falls, the largest of them all:
The famous Maid of the Mist Boat tours had already concluded for the season, so the least we could do was pay $7 each to take the elevator down to Bridal Veil Falls.
Niagara Falls is designed for the tourist to spectate the largest waterfalls in the world from manmade overlooks. Hiking trails are nonexistent; only sidewalks lined along Goat Island serve as a friendly pedestrian path for people to saunter through the park. Walking from the parking lot to the visitor center, to each of the three waterfalls, and to the observation deck and back only took about 2 hours, so we were quickly on our way east again toward New York City.