There’s no getting away from it. Princess Diana took her kids and you must take yours for at least one thrilling ride on Hornblower Niagara Cruises, one of Niagara Falls‘ most enjoyed tourist attraction. These tour boats hover at the foot of the Falls long enough to soak passengers in the deluge that is the ‘mist’ and thrill them with tales of rescues from the seething rapids. Going early leaves most of the day to take in Niagara’s natural beauty.
After the foaming fury of the river, enjoy a little respite with a family picnic at Dufferin Islands. Nature area where flocks of ducks dabble in the waters between the interconnected islands. Lie back and appreciate its serene beauty knowing that it’s completely free.
Having eaten, the kids are now ready to head to the Niagara Parks’ Butterfly Conservatory, home to thousands of tropical butterflies. “Wear something colourful”, we were told. The advice was good. Barely ten feet inside the door, a giant Blue Morpho butterfly settles on my daughter’s shoulder. One of some 2,000 tropical butterflies hatched in this indoor tropical jungle, it flutters off to a place of juicy orange sections. Others prefer flower nectar, flitting between between flowering Porterweed and bleeding hearts. Butterflies live only a few weeks at most, so the supply must constantly be replenished in a hatchery where we watch them emerging from their cocoons.
The kids have been great so we treat them to a meal with a view. Suitably family friendly, the Skylon Tower’s buffet fist the bill with the added bonus of a ride to the observation deck in the price.
Day two starts with an adventure: a descent down the metal staircase leading into the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve, a wonderfully wile place to bring children old enough to enjoy a vigorous hike along the rocky paths leading down into the cool depths of the Niagara Gorge.
Here the Niagara River roars through Crips Eddy at more than 40 km per hour. We find massive boulders that once whirled in the river before it changed its course. Delicate ferns cling to damp rocks and wild flowers thrive in the shade. It takes three of us holding hands to reach around the trunk of a towering Tulip tree, one of the many southern species found in this protected wilderness. Feeling energetic? Rent bicycles to explore a section of the Niagara River Recreation Trail, a paved path paralleling the river.
For younger children the easiest way to see the Niagara river up close is on the White Water Walk just 4 km north of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Easily accessed by an elevator, the one kilometre boardwalk gets you close enough to the river’s edge to feel the drama of North America’s most intense rapids (class 6) and even be splashed by a rogue wave. Safe and easily managed with a stroller, this Niagara riverside ramble is one we never miss.
Should the weather turn gloomy we have a back-up plan. Hit an indoor waterpark for some spiral slides and spraying fountains, then visit Bird Kingdom, in indoor jungle filled with free-flying parrots and a historic Javanese Teahouse. If we get get the timing right, we’ll see fruit bats feeding on apples and bananas. And you don’t have to be a kid to beam with glee when tame lorikeets land on your to accept a drink of nectar.
After nightfall, when the blinking neon lights of Clifton Hill’s wax museums and arcades light up the night, we’ll ride the Niagara Skywheel, sharing an enclosed gondola that rises 50 meters above Niagara Falls. We’re on vacation so we’ll stay up late for an evening stroll along the river to the Table Rock Welcome Centre to see the stately American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls illuminated with mega-watt colour.
Enjoy visiting and exploring natural Niagara.