If you’re the type of person who likes to have a jam-packed itinerary filled with some great adventure-filled memories then this Niagara Falls, Ontario weekend guide is what you need. Longtime We Explore Canada contributor Hans Tammemagi breaks down how to get the most out of your Niagara Falls Weekend Getaway.
The Niagara Wonder pounds and bucks against the powerful current as the boat, its powerful engines roaring, edges perilously close to the thundering Niagara Falls. Soaked in mist, I feel very small next to the awesome power of the spraying, cascading water.
I’ve come to explore Niagara Falls, Ontario but I’m having to cast aside its image as one of the most-visited waterfalls in the world or a romantic honeymoon site or an historic centre of electrical innovation. With my heart pounding, I’m learning it is also a destination filled with adrenaline and nerve-wracking excitement.
Ziplining in Niagara Falls
Disembarking and shaking off the spray, I head to the top of the gorge, and climb a two-story platform.
I stand nervously at the edge while I am strapped into a harness hooked to a steel cable that leads ever downward to where the Niagara Wonder looks like a tiny bathtub toy. The attendant gives me a slight push and, suddenly, I’m racing down the seemingly frail wire of the Mist Rider Zipline (which you can read more about here).
OK, when I reach the frightening speed of 70 km/h, or maybe it was a bit before, I scream. Luckily, the 660-metre distance to the base of the Falls flashes by quickly and soon I’ve landed and am struggling to regain my composure.
I feel like one of the daredevils who have long sought out these cataracts. In the 1800s, tight-rope walking across the Falls was popular and included many tricks such as cooking an omelette on a stove then lowering it to passengers on a boat below. With incredible fool-hardiness, fifteen individuals have intentionally plummeted over the cataracts sealed inside various forms of “barrel.”
Only ten survived.
Checking Out Clifton Hill
Night is falling as I board the Niagara SkyWheel. I’m apprehensive for this is Canada’s largest Ferris wheel, which rotates to the dizzying height of 53 metres. My nervousness dissipates as I reach the top and am greeted by spectacular views of the American and Canadian Falls lit up with the mist highlighted by ever-changing coloured lights.
Directly below, rather incongruously, is a herd of dinosaurs. As we rotate past the jaws of a ferocious Tyrannosaurs Rex, I realize it’s part of a miniature golf course. Perfectly normal, I realize, on Clifton Hill with its garish neon, penny arcades and houses of horror.
Views of the White Water
Next morning, I head north along the Niagara Parkway to the White Water Walk, where an elevator carries me down to water’s edge and a boardwalk that leads onto viewing platforms. I edge up to the railing hesitatingly, for the ferocity of the Niagara River’s Class 6 white-water rapids is frightening with standing waves taller than me.
I think of the Maid of the Mist passing through here in 1860 when it had been sold, with the condition it had to be delivered to Lake Ontario. The captain and the engineer directed the Maid through these rapids where the powerful waves tossed it like a leaf, tearing off the smokestack. However, the boat emerged, was repaired and worked for many more years.
The tour also teaches me about the 470-million-year-old, fossil-rich dolomite layers that form the Niagara Gorge. The plant and animal life are fascinating, but I ascend and proceed along the Niagara Parkway. After all, I’m here to seek adventure.
Before boarding the Whirlpool Aero Car, built in 1916, I carefully inspect the six support cables along which the car travels. I’m trying to understand how in 1975 Henry Rechatin made an illegal crossing on one of the cables … on a motorcycle. With his wife dangling upside down below! Truly a monument to marital trust.
The Aerocar carries me high over the embayment of the Niagara River that contains the swirling Whirlpool Rapids. Even from a height of 61 m, the river is white with foam and the waves immense in size. Matthew Webb, the first man to conquer the English Channel, tried to swim through these colossal waves in 1883. His body was not recovered for four days. As I watch, a powerful jet boat full of tourists comes upstream, fighting against the current. Wisely it doesn’t enter the Whirlpool but stays at the periphery.
A Little More Niagara Falls Adventure
Continuing northward I stop across from the Whirlpool Golf Course where a forest of dark poles awaits. This is the Wildplay Whirlpool Adventure Course and attached to the poles are various platforms and suspended objects.
This isn’t nearly as high as the SkyWheel so easy-peasy, I think, climbing up. Attached to a safety line I start to inch along. OK, balancing on a wire while dodging logs and climbing nets is far more difficult than I expected. And it gets tougher, a lot tougher. I fumble through numerous obstacles, swinging and cursing.
Finally, I zip line to the ground, my aching muscles a testament to the strenuous workout. Perhaps, I should trade my gym membership for an adventure-course pass?
Driving onward along the Niagara Parkway, I pass the Butterfly Conservatory, the Botanical Gardens and then the Sir Adam Beck electricity stations, which harness some of the immense power of Niagara Falls. If you want to learn more about that, consider visiting the Niagara Parks Power Station.
If driving is your style, by the way, you can learn more about all the sights along the 56 kilometres of the Niagara Parkway between Lakes Ontario and Erie here.
Some History Before Heading Off
At Queenston Heights, I’m drawn to the Landscape of Nations Memorial. It is steeped in Indigenous symbolism and describes the significant contribution of the Haudenosaunee and other Natives in supporting the British and Canadian soldiers throughout the War of 1812. I pass under a symbolic longhouse and came to the Memory Circle, where eight limestone blocks radiate from the centre like a sunburst.
Next is the soaring Brock’s Monument, where Sir General Isaac Brock, a hero of the Battle of Queenston Heights, is interred. Inside, I climb a narrow, claustrophobic, spiral staircase that seems to go on forever (235 steps) but finally, I’m at the top with grand vistas stretching in all directions.
I see Niagara Falls surrounded by mist and the long gorge the river has carved back from the escarpment. What a daredevil’s playground!
Hans’ writing is eclectic including travel, environment, Indigenous culture and things quirky. He has penned 10 books including one national best seller. Hans writes for Canadian Geographic, Westworld, Ensemble, Zoomer, British Columbia magazine, Explore, Northwest Travel, Canada’s History, the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun. A member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and former adjunct professor, he has a strong affinity for the environment around us. He lives in the Gulf Islands where he enjoys kayaking and photography.