The Canadian side of Niagara Falls has a 35 mile linear park, called Niagara Park, with seemingly endless attractions stretched along the full length of the Niagara River. I recently spent several days driving to each, sampling fantastic wines and great food while enjoying the rugged beauty of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. It became one of the shortest road trips ever and a friend and I had a blast doing it!
From tunnels under the falls, to zip lines into the gorge, and from a soaking boat ride to the base of the falls, to a challenging hike along the shore of the grade 6 rapids, Niagara Park’s attractions are amazing. There are tranquil gardens to stroll, a butterfly house to get lost in, and historic sites to visit between the adrenalin rushes these outdoor adventures kept causing. We had no idea that there was so much to do in this elongated park.
For all you hikers out there, Niagara Park has 9 miles of walks and trails along the Niagara River which are accessed through six different nature areas. Some are handicap accessible while others are quite rugged. Some have stairs and elevators from the escarpment down to the water’s edge, while others are a hike, so no matter your level of ability you can visually experience the class 6 rapids below the falls. Good thing, because there’s no way you’re going in them. They’re far too dangerous!
If you want to be on the water, just upstream from the rapids is the modern Hornblower Niagara Cruise. As many as 700 passengers every 15 minutes depart from the festive restaurant and park landing for the cruise to Horseshoe Falls. The Hornblower fleet alternates with the American side’s venerable Maid of the Mist, but only one boat at a time is in the powerful, raging waters of Canada’s Horseshoe Falls. Dressed in iconic free ponchos, red for Hornblower and blue for Maid of the Mist, passengers brace themselves as the decks are awash with some of the 600,000 gallons of water that pommels over the falls each second. Each Second!
You can only get closer to the falls by taking the Journey Behind the Falls, descending by elevator and stairs to the 126 year old tunnels behind (and under) the falls. There, in damp and thunderous tunnels, you can feel the vibrations of the crashing falls and the roar of the cascading river feeding them, before walking out to the edge for a full behind-the-falls soaking. There is also a tunnel to the side where you can walk out and look down at the boats entering the falls below. It is amazing to go from one attraction to another and see just how close the boat gets to the falls from a different, dryer, vantage.
When you are ready for some more tranquil entertainment, The Botanical Gardens offer a large diversity of plants and environments with tree-studded lawns, bogs and ponds planted both naturally and formally, all surrounded by dramatic plantings and landscapes of trees, shrubs and flowers. I found myself walking down a long allée of tall hemlock trees leading into a fabulous rose garden.
There is also a walled herb garden, wildflower butterfly fields and a pyramidal glass conservatory filled with exotic butterflies. Inside I walked through rocky paths around large waterfalls and under towering jungle trees, and everywhere I looked were thousands of colorful butterflies in all shapes, hues and sizes. That was an amazing experience!
Continuing the horticulture theme, the road back to the falls passed the Floral Clock, an odd attraction of a large mechanical clockface tilted upward and planted in a different elaborate design for each season. It was a colorful mosaic of standard annuals that only briefly caught my attention.
Then we went on past the falls for a truly unique horticultural experience at the Floral Showhouse. At first I thought it would be a redundant rehashing of the extensive plantings of the Botanical Garden, only on a much smaller scale. And then they blew my socks off with their most impressive collection of Amorphophallus Titanum, a.k.a. Titan Arum.
I’d read about a National Geographic expedition into the jungles of Sumatra in search of these extremely rare plants. It ended at the site of the rotting remains of its giant flower, still a rare sighting of a floral oddity fast disappearing in its native setting.
When we first walked into the Floral Showhouse’s magnificent greenhouse I thought the toilets had backed up. Then the stench got worse and I thought someone had died. I was almost right. What the guide proudly showed us was the huge flower of the Titan Arum, commonly known as the corpse plant.
Since 1878, when the western world first discovered this unusual plant, fewer than 200 documented bloomings have been recorded outside its dwindling jungle habitat. Only 40 blooming-size plants are known to exist outside of Sumatra. What I’d stumbled upon was the largest collection of those plants in the world – and one was in bloom! Now you know what I meant by a “truly unique horticultural experience.”
The flower only lasts 24 hours. In that time the 8 ft tall flower opens, attracts the insects needed to fertilize itself and then collapses into a stinking, rotting mass. Sometime after that a large, tree-shaped leaf grows up into a 20 ft. canopy of green and lasts for months, or longer, feeding the corm-like roots below. Then that collapses and eventually the cycle begins again. It is an amazing sight to behold.
The Floral Showhouse has more than 60 plants now, some just seedlings, but enough blooming ones that it experiences 2 or 3 similar shows a season. Plan your trip in advance and try to be there when the Titum Arum blooms. It is an unforgettable event!
I know I casually mentioned that we passed the falls to do this and were near the falls to do that, but I don’t mean to diminish the falls themselves. Six million cubic feet of water pour over the falls every minute. They are captivating, mesmerizing, and steal your eyes away from everything else in a demand for your undivided attention. We took turns dragging each other away from the hypnotizing gigantic deluge of water to take in all the other attractions Niagara Park offers.
The brand new ziplines down to the old power generating plant below the falls fly over the Hornblower’s landing, while the 100 year old Whirlpool Aero Car crossed the giant whirlpool a mile below the falls on cables strung over to the American side. Thrilling and sedate, respectively, both offered another view of the raging river below.
There were wineries for tastings, early Canadian military and literary sites for fascinating educational tours, and great restaurants to frequent. We drove 35 miles in three days, had artisanal brews, local cheeses and excellent farm-to-table fare, to complete the shortest road trip ever.
For a base camp there are lavish Casino Hotels, chain lodgings and the particularly elegant Double Tree Fallsview Resort and Spa by Hilton.
The particularly honky-tonk downtown sported a great brew pub with the perfect third story aerie for views of the seemingly nightly firework displays. More elegant dining was had at Queen Victoria Place Restaurant and Elements on the Falls, both with spectacular (and dry) views of the falls, and there are fast food and casual dining chains dotting the landscape.
Adventure Passes are available for discount admittance to a variety of attractions. Ranging in price from $54.95 to $84.95, each include a two-day “hop on and hop off” WEGO bus transfer if you want to pass on the road trip aspects and avoid the parking hassles everywhere. Visit http://www.niagaraparks.com