Part of the country’s oldest state park, Niagara Falls — including Bridal Veil, American and Horseshoe Falls — is a staggering natural wonder that thunderously spouts more than 3,000 tons of water every single second. It’s a breathtaking sight that everyone should see, but with its mix of history, culture and rollicking adventure, Niagara Falls USA has so much more to offer. See the Falls from top to bottom, explore the historic Old Fort Niagara and face off with a 10-scoop sundae at The Silo, all on one epic family vacation.
First stop, of course, should be the main attraction. With so many ways to approach the Falls, choose the best fit for your crew. The most classic route is the Maid of the Mist. In operation since 1846, the fleet of boats has hosted everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Mick Jagger, ushering passengers up to the base of the Falls during the 30-minute tour. Get a sweeping view of the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls with a walk out onto the deck of the Observation Tower, which perches over the Niagara Gorge. For families with intrepid hikers, the Gorge features several trails that range in difficulty; beginners can try the one-hour round-trip Great Gorge Scenic Overlook hike, while families with kids 8 and older might opt for the two-and-a-half-hour round-trip hike to Devil’s Hole Rapids and Giant Rock. Either way, the vistas are incredible. For a more relaxing spin around Niagara Falls State Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the famed landscape architect also responsible for New York City’s Central Park), ride the Niagara Scenic Trolley.
Nearby, the cobblestoned Old Falls Street USA is perfect for families, with a three-block stretch of restaurants, live music, bike rentals and free games. For a dose of history, head to Old Fort Niagara — the oldest continuously occupied fort in North America dating back more than 300 years. Situated on a picturesque stretch of waterfront land overlooking the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, 18th century structures are the backdrop for guided tours, musket and artillery demonstrations, and displays of exhibits and artifacts, like an original flag from the War of 1812.
Just a short drive south of Niagara Falls, Buffalo beckons with museums, gardens and waterfront fun. Make your first stop the Buffalo Museum of Science, where exhibits and hands-on activities like Bug Works, with more than 1,500 insect specimens, appeal to kids of all ages. After a morning at the museum, continue south to Canalside for lunch on the water. The city’s multimillion-dollar revitalization project includes an ice-skating rink and other cold weather activities in winter, and boat cruises, bike rentals, yoga and concerts throughout the year. If there’s time afterward, make for the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Also designed by Olmsted, the indoor and outdoor gardens include ponds, pathways and plenty of colorful plants and flowers. Stroll the grounds, and don’t miss the family garden and kids art workshops and other programs. On the way back, take a detour to visit Platter’s Chocolate Factory for an ice cream sundae and a behind-the-scenes look at how the chocolatiers make the homemade treats.
Parents who are eager for a taste (or sip) of Niagara Falls brews should plan a lunch at Woodcock Brothers Brewery. Once an old cold storage building, it’s the only brewery in Niagara County with on-site production. From pizza to prime rib, the entire menu is wood-fired and crafted from scratch. And if you choose to sit at the bar, you can catch a glimpse of the brewing vats through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. They also serve a variety of local wines. For another family-friendly option, Chill 443 is within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park. Choose from a variety of flatbreads, salads, sandwiches and mouth-watering pub grub like southwest nachos and jumbo chicken wings. While you're there, enjoy a friendly game of pool or darts, or kick back and plot your next Niagara Falls USA adventure.