I have never felt Nature’s raw power quite the way I did standing at the edge of the 167-foot high Horseshoe Falls. I trembled with a mixture of awe, fear, and excitement as I watched the greenish-black water rush past and briefly transform to a seafoam green right before it plunged over the precipice into the white mist billowing up from below. A steady roar filled my ears. It was like standing in the presence of God.
This is Niagara Falls. The one you’ve heard about, the one so many of us have on our travel bucket lists. Niagara Falls is one of North America’s greatest natural treasures, along with places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Lake Louise in Banff. Everyone in North America should visit Niagara Falls at some point in his or her life. Visit the U.S. side, visit the Canadian side, or visit both—but do visit. (My time was spent on the Canadian side, as a side trip from Toronto.)
No matter what vantage point you take to observe the falls, they are mesmerizing and achingly beautiful. It’s hard to take your eyes off them. From high up in the Skylon Tower looking down, to the edge of the falls, to standing below the falls looking up, there isn’t a bad view anywhere.
And yes, you will have to share those views with hundreds of other tourists on any given day. But that’s all right. All those extra sets of hands means you can find someone to take your picture for you. Be sure to pay it forward.
I had around two hours in Niagara Falls, Canada. My day tour included a ride on the Maid of the Mist or the Skylon Tower. I chose the Skylon Tower. First, because I had my DSLR camera with me and I didn’t want it to get wet. And second because I didn’t want to get wet. What can I say? I’m a little like a cat that way. Besides, I’d just gotten soaking wet the night before during a rainstorm in Toronto, and I didn’t feel like spending my evening next to my hotel’s dryer again.
So while everyone else on the tour donned blue ponchos and boarded the boat to head out into the choppy waters and thick white mist under the Falls, I had time to wander up and down the river, taking all the photos I wanted to. I even had time left over to explore further afield. Two hours wasn’t long enough to thoroughly explore the city, but it was long enough to discover there are two faces to Niagara Falls—and I really didn’t like one of them.
There is the Niagara Falls I just described, the Falls that attracts those of us who are drawn to the beautiful natural vistas of North America, where we can feel, even in a carefully controlled environment such as exists here, that we are somehow “communing with nature” on a grand scale. Then there’s Clifton Hill.
The day after I visited Niagara Falls, I was chatting with two young men in Toronto. They asked me what I’d done so far and I told them about my day trip out to Niagara Falls.
“Oh, did you see Clifton Hill?” one young man asked.
“Yes. Yes, I did,” I replied, not wanting to elaborate.
But he pressed. “What did you think of it?”
I wanted to be diplomatic. After all, he was Canadian, and I didn’t want to insult him or his country. But finally, I realized I had to be honest.
“It makes Vegas look like the classiest place on Earth.”
They both laughed. “Yeah,” he said, nodding. “That about sums it up.”
Now, as a regular visitor to Las Vegas, I can assure you that there are parts of Las Vegas that are very classy. But there is also a certain degree of tackiness and over-the-top cheesiness there that fans like me have learned to overlook. I imagine the same must be true of Niagara Falls. Because Clifton Hill is what would happen if a traveling carnival came to your town, set up on Main Street, and never left.
As much as I love Disney World, I don’t want to see Disney set up shop in the middle of Yosemite National Park. That would feel so very wrong. And I felt the same way about Clifton Hill and Niagara Falls.
Why am I telling you this? Because I like you. And I know that, like me, you may not have time to do the thorough research you should before visiting Niagara Falls. You will read lists of “must sees” in Niagara Falls that include Clifton Hill and they’ll tell you that it has “lots of entertainment and restaurants” and you’ll think “Oh, great! I’ll go check that out.” I don’t want you to be blindsided like I was. So I’m going to show you what Clifton Hill looks like.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
You’ll find lots of chains on Clifton Hill, including Burger King, home of the. . .Frankenstein?
In fact, for some reason unknown to me, Clifton Hill has a bit of an obsession with scary things. Dinosaurs, Frankenstein, Dracula, and this:
As you can see, the two faces of Niagara Falls could not be more different.
Don’t let this stop you from visiting Niagara Falls, though. If a place like Clifton Hill appeals to you, then congrats—you have even more to do here than you thought you did! If you find it as unappealing as I did, just avoid it and keep your eyes trained on the water.
Oh–and did I mention there’s also a casino in Niagara Falls?