The Two Faces of Niagara Falls

by Gray Cargill on July 10, 2013

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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.)

 

Horseshoe Falls

 

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.

 

View from Skylon Tower

 

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.

 

Bridal Veil Falls

 

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.

 

Maid of the Mist

 

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.

 

Ferris Wheel

 

See?

 

Midway

 

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.

Dinosaurs on Clifton Hill
Gorilla

 

You’ll find lots of chains on Clifton Hill, including Burger King, home of the. . .Frankenstein?

 

Frankenstein eats at Burger King

 

In fact, for some reason unknown to me, Clifton Hill has a bit of an obsession with scary things. Dinosaurs, Frankenstein, Dracula, and this:

 

DSC_0280

 

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?

Ivana November 29, 2013 at 4:12 am

So many pics I have seen of Niagara Falls from US side, but this is the first time I can see Candaian point of view 🙂
Thanks!

Gray Cargill December 1, 2013 at 10:02 pm

My pleasure, Ivana. It’s a beautiful place.

Cathy Sweeney July 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I was there in late March a few years ago — the weather was cold and kind of drizzling (had snowed the day before). It was so great because there were far fewer people than you’d normally see and of course, the falls are gorgeous in any weather! To me, that other face of Niagara Falls is really awful. It’s a shame that so many tourist attractions end up their own versions of Clifton Hill. But I guess there’s a demand.

Gray Cargill July 22, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Oh for sure, Cathy. Just like the National Enquirer wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people buying that rag. Places like that wouldn’t exist if they weren’t making money.

yeison July 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Great pictures I love them !

Gray Cargill July 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Thanks, yelson.

cthulhu57 July 12, 2013 at 7:59 am

Now I have to go to Niagara Falls so I can go to see the giant dinosaurs in Clifton Hill! There’s something in me that just loves tacky tourist traps! I love the phony (in the sense that most of the items made overseas) Native American road sided stands in the southwest, I love Rock City, and I love “South of the Border”. Clifton Hill sounds like it would be right up my alley.

Gray Cargill July 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Oh you will love Clifton Hill, then. Enjoy!

Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels July 10, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I actually find the juxtaposition of the natural beauty of the Falls with the manmade kitch of Clifton Hill kind of interesting. I don’t spend my money there but the cartoony facades amuse me (I missed the dinosaurs). I was there in June too and it hasn’t changed much since I was 9, which is oddly comforting. Although the wax museum scared the bejeezus out of me I have some good childhood memories from there. If anyone tells me that they’re thinking of visiting I tell them about the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde nature of the area but I think they should check out both – just know in advance.

Gray Cargill July 10, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I suspected some people find it appealing–otherwise why would it be on so many “must see” lists of Niagara Falls?–it just didn’t do anything for me. OMG, wax museums are the freakiest places, aren’t they? Some of the figures are way too real-looking.

Alouise July 10, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Gray I completely agree with your sentiments about Niagara Falls. I spent a night there on the Canadian side, and the falls are amazing (never did Maid of The Mist, but I did enjoy walking around taking photos). Clifton Hill however was just really cheesy, and a lot more touristy than I expected. It’s definitely something I could skip if I ever went back to Niagara Falls. I actually walked over to the US side, and found it to be a bit calmer (although there were still lots of people) than the Canadian side. Perhaps because you get to see a state park right away, and you know not a giant Frankenstein monster beside a Burger King. The US side is developed too, and I was only there for a couple hours, but it’s quite funny to see how over developed and commercialized the Canadian side of Niagara Falls was.

Gray Cargill July 10, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Glad to hear I wasn’t alone in that sentiment, Alouise. And you know, that really surprised me about the difference between the US side and the Canadian side. I’d have bet cold, hard cash that if one side was overdeveloped and the other wasn’t, the overdeveloped side would be the US. Good thing I didn’t bet!

Lauren Meshkin July 10, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Oh wow, thanks for the tip about Clifton Hill! Niagra Falls is definitely on my must-see list. I would probably choose the Skylon Tower too. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the boat ride if I’m worrying about my camera the whole time!

Lovely post and pictures 🙂

Gray Cargill July 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Well, you and I are definitely in the minority, Lauren. From what I could tell, the Maid of the Mist is very, very popular. Actually there was a guy on my tour with a nice camera and he said he just kept it under the poncho and it was fine. If I were to go to Niagara Falls again, I’d like to stay overnight and that way I could leave my camera in my room safe and go do all the wet activities without worrying about it.

Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels July 10, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Yep, the ponchos are actually pretty good if you don’t poke a finger through them. My camera and the rest of me was bone dry where it was covered. My feet were a different story. Pro tip: bring a spare pair.

Gray Cargill July 10, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Aww, bummer, Melissa. There’s nothing worse than having wet feet for the rest of the day.

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