Road Trip Reminiscing, Part I: Niagara Falls

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog with a post…lately life has been busy, busy, busy, and while I’ve had this blog post in my notebook for a while now, it had taken me some time to type it up, edit it, etc. This week provided me with some free time, though not really for the right reasons…as I write this, I am practicing social distancing because of the worldwide spread of COVID-19. I worked remotely for the past two days and will continue to do so for the near future, and without a commute and therefore with more time to myself in the evening, I used the time to type this article up. It provided a much-needed distraction — and hopefully it will give you some positive distraction too.

I’ve taken part of the past two months as a period of reflection on 2019 and all that I’ve done and accomplished last year. One of those things was travel – I actually traveled to Canada twice in 2019, once for a weekend trip to Montreal (a year ago today, actually!) and once as part of a week-long road trip to the Niagara region of Ontario. I was recently looking at all of my (many!) photos from these trips and thought I would write some blog posts dedicated to my 2019 travels, starting with my summer road trip.

There’s something about travel that ignites something in me. Visiting somewhere new and experiencing what life is like in different places can open our eyes to how connected we all are, all over the world. The decision to embark on this road trip came out of a need to reconnect with two of my college roommates. It had been a year since we graduated from college and moved in our own life directions. Though we communicated regularly and saw each other often, a group vacation seemed to be exactly what we needed. After going through many different ideas, we finally settled on a road trip to Canada and back, with stops at Niagara Falls, St. Catharines/Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Letchworth State Park. We settled on a week in August to embark on this 5-day trip.

August soon came and we packed up my (brand new) Subaru Crosstrek and started the journey. First stop: Niagara Falls.

Below: A map of the key destinations visited during our road trip. Click on each of the points for more details!

There’s always been something soothing about waterfalls for me. I had never been to Niagara Falls before, so I was very excited that this was our first stop on the trip.

Maid of the Mist passing under a rainbow

The first day of the trip was entirely driving – we didn’t reach Niagara Falls until around 9 pm. But that’s part of the appeal of a road trip; half the adventure is the journey. We drove through Pennsylvania and upstate New York, past farms and fields and forests and rest stops. The views were breathtaking. We drove through a thunderstorm about three hours in, in one of the mountainous valleys. The sight was spectacular; lightning flashed straight from the sky to the ground far off in the distance, striking the tops of high mountains and the crevices of the valleys. To the right, there were dark, threatening clouds, while to the left were rays of sunshine trying to fight its way through thinner clouds. Meanwhile, we had to push our way through down-pouring rain for about fifteen minutes – before reaching bright sunshine again.

By 9 pm, we reached our destination of the Hyatt Place Niagara Falls. Which was perfect timing, because at 10 pm there were fireworks over the Falls, which we could see from the rooftop balcony. Though we couldn’t see the Falls from the angle of the hotel, the fireworks themselves were amazing, complimented by mist and spray as it floated up from the water, reflecting the hue of the rainbow lights shining on the Falls. Watching the bright mist rise and hearing the thunderous roar of the crashing water gave me chills, a teaser of what was yet to come the next morning.

We woke up early the next morning to explore Niagara Falls State Park, entering shortly after the gates opened. To beat the crowds, we went to the Maid of the Mist boat tour first — but not before catching a glimpse of the Falls from the observation deck. Stretching out before us was the brightest blue water I had ever seen, looking pretty tropical for the border between upstate New York and Canada!

The weather changed quickly three times that day.

From the deck there was an elevator heading to the Maid of the Mist dock. After descending, we were handed plastic blue ponchos to stay dry, and we piled onto an almost-packed boat – which would have become a can of sardines had we waited for the next one! – and embarked on a 20-minute ride along American Falls. Being this close to the water, with the sun and the spray hitting my face, was a fantastic feeling. We headed next into Horseshoe Falls, where we rocked back and forth, fighting the current of the river, and being drenched solely by the mist created by the force of the Falls and the water. The feeling of the spray hitting my face was so refreshing, and my roommates and I were giggling and grinning from ear to ear the whole time.

When the Maid of the Mist returned to its dock, we had the opportunity to explore the Crow’s Nest, the rocky side of American Falls with rainbows, stairs, and wildflowers. It was absolutely beautiful.

Equally as beautiful – or even more so – was the Cave of the Winds, located on the other side of American Falls. Neither really a cave, or windy (though to get there we had to take an elevator to a tunnel under the Falls, which used to be a cave), the Cave of the Winds is a collection of platforms and stairs that bring guests as close to the base of American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls as possible – which was pretty close! This was my favorite part of the park, as we were able to experience the power of the Falls firsthand.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Cave of the Winds was when we were in between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. On one side of the platform were rough rapids, rushing down the rocks from the Falls with so much power and force. But on the other side was a peaceful, meandering brook, gently rolling by bright green grass and the most amazing, vivid display of purple wildflowers. The brook was an amazing juxtaposition from the Falls themselves, and a peaceful oasis tucked between two of the most magnificent waterfalls.

The peaceful brook between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

My other favorite part of Cave of the Winds was the Hurricane Deck. Here we were able to stand almost directly underneath Bridal Veil Falls and get doused by water splashing up from hitting the rocks. And boy, did we get soaked! My shoes didn’t dry for three days!! But that was a small price to pay for getting to experience the power of the Falls so up close and personal.

After Cave of the Winds, we got lunch at Top of the Falls, a restaurant on Goat Island (I recommend their buffalo wings with the sweet wine sauce!), viewed Terrapin Point, which overlooks Horseshoe Falls, and then visited Three Sisters Islands. Further up river from the falls, Three Sisters was another one of my favorite parts of the park, and seemed to not be as popular as the attractions closer to the Falls. These three tiny islands, connected by bridges, didn’t have many other visitors as were exploring them ourselves. That added to their charm; walking through the islands felt like strolling through a magical and enchanted forest, complete with stone bridges, lush trees, and the rushing water of the river.

One of the enchanted Three Sisters Islands

Soon, our time on the New York side of the Falls was coming to an end. We took the trolley back to the entrance of the park and made our way back to my car. Here, a moment of hilarity typical of any adventure I have with my former college roommates ensued; because we were soaked, I parked in the hotel’s tiny 15-minute parking lot and changed clothes in the hotel bathroom. Then, I realized that my windshield was dirty. I tried cleaning them with the windshield wipers and fluid, but each time the wipers swiped by, the smudges on the window got worse. My roommates and I got out of the car and peered at the windshield – to see hundreds of tiny squashed gnats covering the whole thing. Turns out, I must have driven through a swarm of bugs the night before when it was too dark to see them, and they were completely squished all over my window!

Gritting our teeth, my friends and I teamed up to scrub down my windshield with wet paper towels from the bathroom – as we didn’t have anything else heavy duty enough to clean that many bugs off at once. After finally cleaning (most of) the dead bugs off, we made our way into Canada, stopping to view the Falls from the other side. These views were absolutely breathtaking; we were able to see the entire, panoramic view of the Falls and appreciate their full beauty. We also overlooked Horseshoe Falls from up close again, this time from the other side, which was breathtaking and awe-inspiring, especially with views of rainbows and Maid of the Mist and the Hornblower slowly traveling back and forth along the Falls.

Overall, Niagara Falls was a stunning, gorgeous, and breathtaking experience. Getting to see it with friends made it even more special. And it was a fantastic start to the road trip! Next stop: St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

This article is Part I of a three-part series. To read Part II, please click here.

This article originally appeared on the Wix site.

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