While often thought of primarily as a summer destination, Niagara Falls is an amazing place to visit in the winter months as well. If you live only a few hours or less away, Niagara Falls is a great year-round day trip.
As someone who grew up in Rochester I’ve been to Niagara Falls a few times in both seasons and both the American and Canadian sides. While the border is currently closed, causing an unnervingly empty Rainbow Bridge, the American side has plenty of fun activities even in the frigidness of Western New York winter!
Most recently, I visited Niagara Falls State Park this past January to visit the newly upgraded Cave of the Winds and hopefully take advantage of their free snowshoe offer.
What to do at Niagara Falls State Park
I quickly learned once I arrived that you can’t trust the Niagara Falls live webcam to tell you if there’s snow. I naively assumed the whiteness covering the ground was fresh snow, similar to what we got in Rochester. Instead, what I found was grass coated in a thick layer of ice formed by the mist of the nearby falls. This ice closed multiple walkways and viewing areas that are closer to the falls and Niagara River but there are still some decent viewing areas along the salted sidewalks surrounding the Cave of the Winds Pavilion and Terrapin Point on Goat Island.
Cave of the Winds tickets are available for $5 at the pavilion and it’s open from 10 to 3 every day. Despite what it’s name suggests, Cave of the Winds is not a cave and is composed of a few wooden platforms that get you pretty close to Bridal Veil Falls. There used to be a cave behind the falls but due to safety concerns of falling rocks, the cave was officially closed in 1955.
Last year a new platform was built for winter viewing of the falls and I finally got around to checking it out. Unlike in the summer, you don’t get drenched by the mist, which I found out after I traveled all the way down in snow pants. You’re still pretty close to part of the falls and there are tons of cool (no pun intended) ice formations surrounding the rushing water.
Fun iPhone photo tip you may not know: if you take a live photo and swipe up on the photo you can choose to make it a long exposure. This works best if you can hold your phone very still for a few seconds before and after you take the photo. As you can tell in the photo below, my hand moved a bit while taking it so it’s a little blurry when displayed on a bigger screen.
After spending about two hours enjoying the Cave of the Winds and walking around to the different viewpoints on Goat Island, I headed back to the mainland to visit the Niagara Falls Observation Tower which is open for free in the winter. It offers some great views on an observation deck of the Canadian city, both falls, and Rainbow Bridge. A quick walk away is a more up-close viewing of the American Falls and the rapids of the Niagara River. I spent around a half hour at the observation deck before heading home in time for the Bills game like the loyal fan I am.
If you aren’t constrained by football, the Aquarium of Niagara is nearby, along with some touristy restaurants and the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino. In the summer months, the Maid of the Mist is open and two nearby state parks: Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole are in safer conditions.
If you are staying longer in Western New York in the winter, I’d also recommend checking out Canalside in Buffalo, going skiing (either downhill or cross-country) at Bristol Mountain near Canandaigua, and visiting Letchworth State Park.
I’d recommend arriving early to avoid crowds, not only because they are annoying but are now relatively dangerous. Stay safe, keep your mask on, and keep a distance from other tourists if you can.
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