If you’ve spent any time in New York State, you’ve probably taken a trip to see the iconic Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls is a great day trip for anyone living or visiting Western New York for any time of the year.
As someone who grew up in Rochester, I’ve been to Niagara Falls a few times in both seasons and both the American and Canadian sides. While the border is currently closed, causing an unnervingly empty Rainbow Bridge, the American side has plenty of fun activities, even in the frigidness of Western New York winter!
I recently visited Niagara Falls State Park this past January to visit the newly upgraded Cave of the Winds and hopefully take advantage of their free snowshoe offer.
I quickly learned once I arrived that you can’t trust the Niagara Falls live webcam to tell you if there’s snow. I naively assumed the whiteness covering the ground was fresh snow, similar to what we got an hour and a half away in Rochester. Instead, I found grass coated in a thick layer of ice formed by the mist of the nearby falls.
This ice closed multiple walkways and viewing areas that are closer to the falls and the Niagara River. However, there are still some decent viewing areas along the salted sidewalks surrounding the Cave of the Winds Pavilion and Terrapin Point on Goat Island.
Cave of the Winds tickets are available for $5 at the pavilion, and it’s open from 10 to 3 every day. Despite what its name suggests, Cave of the Winds is not a cave and is composed of a few wooden platforms that get you pretty close to Bridal Veil Falls. There used to be a cave behind the falls, but due to safety concerns of falling rocks, the cave was officially closed in 1955.
Fun iPhone photo tip you may not know: if you take a live photo and swipe up on the photograph, you can choose to make it a long exposure. This works best if you can hold your phone very still for a few seconds before taking the photo. As you can tell in the image below, my hand moved slightly while taking it, so it’s a little blurry when displayed on a bigger screen.
After spending about two hours enjoying the Cave of the Winds and walking around to Goat Island’s different viewpoints, I headed back to the mainland to visit the Niagara Falls Observation Tower, which is open for free in the winter.
It offers some great views on the Canadian city’s observation deck, both falls and Rainbow Bridge. A quick walk away is a more up-close viewing of the American Falls and the Niagara River’s rapids. I spent around a half-hour at the observation deck before heading home in time for the Buffalo Bills game like the loyal fan I am.
If you aren’t constrained by football, the Aquarium of Niagara is nearby, along with some touristy restaurants and the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino. In the summer months, the Maid of the Mist is open and two nearby state parks: Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole, are in safer conditions.
Suppose you are staying longer in Western New York in the winter. In that case, I’d also recommend checking out Canalside in Buffalo, going skiing (either downhill or cross-country) at Bristol Mountain near Canandaigua, and visiting Letchworth State Park.
I’d recommend arriving early to avoid crowds, not only because they are annoying but are now relatively dangerous. Stay safe, keep your mask on, and keep a distance from other tourists if you can.
A version of this article was previously published on sarahssmorgasbord.com.
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