BY: JENN FRENCH
Niagara Falls — it’s not a destination that many people associate with peaceful vistas and quiet countryside. Instead, you might be thinking of crowds of tourists and cheesy attractions in the Clifton Hill District. But a road trip to Niagara Falls brings the opportunity to take in breathtaking country scenery, quaint lakeside towns, local wineries and historic sites.
Start your north-to-south journey to Niagara Falls at the picturesque lakeside town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. You may want to set aside a few days to spend taking in the sights and exploring here. There’s a lot to see and do in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The town is home to the Shaw Festival, so be sure to catch one of the many theatrical productions put on as part of this event, which stretches from April to October every year.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is also famous for its wineries; bus tours are available which will take you to many of the best wineries in the region, so that you don’t have to worry about tasting too much wine to drive! You may also enjoy hiking on the nearby Bruce Trail and some of its side trails.
Historic Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake was the site of several battles during the War of 1812. Fort George is a living history museum, with staff dressed in period-appropriate costumes. War reenactors from both the U.S. and Canada meet here in May to reenact the battle of May 1813. Among the many educational exhibits available at Fort George, visitors can have the opportunity to learn more about the infantry tactics used during the War of 1812, as well as how to use period weaponry.
Niagara River Parkway
The Niagara River Parkway is a 55 kilometer (34 mile) highway that runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie. This scenic roadway follows the bank of the Niagara River, for stunning views of the falls as well as access to some of the area’s most interesting — and most overlooked — attractions. Plan to take your time as you travel this scenic roadway.
Niagara River Parkway Recreation Trail
Along the Niagara River Parkway runs the Niagara River Parkway Recreation Trail. Start your road trip with a nice day of cycling that will allow you to take in some of the scenic vistas on the Niagara escarpment, including views of the American city of Buffalo. Or, use the trail as a way to get out of the car and stretch your legs for a few minutes.
Niagara Glen is the lowest geographical point on the Niagara escarpment, and its four kilometers (2.5 miles) of trails give hikers access to geological formations that are hundreds of millions of years old. You’ll also get up close and personal with the roiling waters of the Niagara River. Bouldering is permitted here, as long as you stop in the office to buy a permit. Be warned, however; you’ll need to climb down (and up) a lot of stairs.
River Brink Art Museum
Located on the Niagara River Parkway, the River Brink Art Museum features numerous important works of Canadian art, as well as works by famous British and French artists like Augustus John and Edgar Degas. River Brink also features a large collection of decorative arts, including works by First Nations, English, and Quebecois artisans.
After the falls themselves, the Floral Clock is perhaps the most-photographed attraction in the Niagara Falls area. Niagara Parks horticultural staff plant and maintain as many as 16,000 plants in the face of the floral clock; these plants are replaced, and the clock face redesigned, twice yearly. The clock mechanism itself is the work of Ontario Hydro. The clock chimes every 15 minutes.
A few minutes down the road from the Floral Clock, you’ll find the Botanical Gardens. Entrance to the gardens is free, but parking costs $5, and admission to the butterfly conservatory is $16. Whether you’re enjoying a scenic Niagara Parkway road trip or just need a break from your Niagara Falls hotel, the Botanical Gardens offer a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of touristy Niagara Falls.
Before taking in the mighty Horseshoe Falls or the American Falls, many visitors to the Niagara Falls region want to glimpse the Niagara Whirlpool, a series of class 6 rapids in the Niagara River above the Falls. You can gaze on the whirlpool from the overlook along the highway, or take a cable car above the gorge. If you’re brave enough, you can tour the whirlpools on a jet boat.
There’s a lot more to Niagara Falls than just the falls themselves. This summer, take the time to enjoy a scenic road trip down (or up!) the Niagara River Parkway. You’ll find peaceful villages, scenic hiking trails, rushing rapids and lasting memories.