Day 2 started bright and early at 7 a.m. The six-hour road trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario, would involve a stop at the border in Port Huron, Michigan. You can never be sure how long a border-crossing will take, and I wanted to arrive in Niagara Falls around 2:00 p.m.
Michigan is a beautiful state. In traveling from one end to another along I-94, I saw miles of tall trees and small lakes without the dense urban jungle. Even when driving through the larger cities of Lansing and Flint, it was still a calm and peaceful drive. (It wasn’t the speedway, either).
I was on a personal deadline to get to the hotel in Niagara Falls by a specific time. If you want to really go in and explore the off the road towns, don’t schedule long drives. Break them up. You start passively staring at the clock and will keep driving without stopping. I had done so with my initial trip through the mountains of Tennessee but did not with the last-minute change of plans.
I have always used the port crossings at the Rainbow Bridge or Peace Bridge in upstate New York into Ontario. This was my first time going through western Ontario from Port Huron. It was a great crossing, and it wasn’t complicated at all. I only got a side-eye from the crossing guard due to my enthusiasm to enter Canada for Victoria Day weekend. He was probably thinking, “Why would someone with such a thick Texan accent be excited about this…”
Reality check. This whole trip was utterly spontaneous; just a last-minute idea to go back to Canada to start off this new adventure. I had no idea it was Victoria Day weekend until I saw it on Blog TO’s twitter account that morning. I underestimated the flow of traffic.
I drove through London, Ontario on QEW 403. At a rest-stop, I had stopped to use the restroom and was surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot. It was packed. It was the start of summer. I had ironically left a week early to beat the U.S. Memorial Day traffic and drove straight into holiday traffic in Canada. Traffic was at a stand-still as I neared the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway outside of Hamilton. It was bumper-to-bumper, and as I continued down Queen Elizabeth Way to 420 to towards the Falls, the average speed was 19 kph (15 mph). I was so bemused at the whole situation.
Siri then led me on a trip through every closed road in the town of Niagara. I finally broke free and started following the signs that pointed to the Falls themselves and to the Casino. I knew that the hotel was near the Fallsview Casino, so I decided to get there and look for the tall building. I arrived and immediately ran down to take a few photos of the Falls.
Google Street View is your friend. Use it before your trip. In cases where your GPS or smartphone has an old map or loses its connection (my phone kept reminding me I that I needed an international data plan). I had looked at the street view the night before, so I knew what buildings were near the hotel and where the hotel itself was. I was able to say things like, “Yes! The Radisson and the Convention Center. I’m almost there!” It helps give you a visual clue in case Siri decides to take you to a dead-end road up against a lot under construction.
I also need a light-up sign I can put in the back windshield that will flash, “It’s not me, it’s Siri!”
Niagara Falls Marriott on the Falls
I stayed at the Niagara Falls Marriott on the Falls, with a room that I had reserved two nights prior. I could have paid more for the nearby Niagara Falls Fallsview & Spa but it was more expensive, and I felt that the view was probably very similar. It was! I only paid for a Fallsview King with no upgrades and my room was phenomenal. I also asked for a higher-floor through my Marriott account and was put on the 24th floor! I had a great view of both falls and the nightly fireworks.
I left the Marriott and first took the WeGo Bus to the Falls on the first trip. I waited for thirty minutes for the bus going in and then over an hour trying to come back on the bus. A good samaritan near the Falls told me to take the incline railway back up, exit out into an alleyway between the two hotels (one being the Embassy Suites on the left part of the photo below), and turn left. Less than 10 minutes later, I was standing in my room!
If staying in one of the hotels along Portage or Fallsview Blvd (even Stanley Avenue), I would not take the bus pass to the Falls. I would take the Niagara Parks Falls Incline Railway instead. If you walk down Fallsview Blvd (take Stanley Ave to Dunn St, then take a left on Fallsview Blvd), look for the alleyway between the Embassy Suites by Hilton/ Niagara Falls – Fallsview and the Oaks Hotel. You can also find signs that will lead you there (or basic signs to the Falls).
You will also cross over the Locks Bridge. Couples usually purchase locks with their names engraved or written on it along with a special date, such as their anniversary. You can purchase a lock at the Embassy Suites Hotel Gift Shop and chain it to the bridge.
The incline runs about every five minutes and will take you straight down to the gift shop. As of May 2018, it was $2.50 for one-way or something like $7.50 for the day. This is a great deal. You can also walk down to the Falls, courtesy of a map from the hotel (it is a 3-mile walk versus a half mile with the incline).
In all fairness to the WEGO bus system, however, it was a holiday weekend. There were a lot of people at the Falls. Travel time may typically be more than one bus per hour, but on Victoria Day weekend, it was not easy to use.
As expected, the Falls themselves were beautiful both from on top of the hill to up close. I had a great view from my room, and from the top of the bus stop, but up close, you can see how pure the water looks. If you can bring along your own binoculars, or a camera with high-powered zoom, you can get an even better view.
Video of the Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Most people tend to think of the falls as just two waterfalls, but, there are three. Two are just very close to one another. The Horseshoe Falls are on the far right and are in the shape of a horseshoe. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are on the American Side, and you can view them head-on from the Canadian park.
The park was packed with people. It was great to hear a mixture of different languages, picking out the small amounts of Russian, Mandarin, and French that I know and being able to ascertain that nope, that was Cantonese and I was lost again.
No matter the language, however, two things remained constant.
The first was the love of Niagara Falls; everyone was genuinely awe-struck.
The second were selfies. No matter what culture, religion, or age you were, everyone I saw had their back to the falls taking selfies. A few shot the standard family picture, but the vast majority made their own. Some while leaning startling backward over the railing (I guess that’s one way to meet Superman). I wonder how many smartphones are sitting at the bottom of the lake because more than one selfie-taker seemed startled by the misty breeze coming off of the lake.
Either way, the selfie-peace sign is the universal symbol at Niagara Falls.
It was inspiring, however, especially after so much political and cultural unrest this past year. In the end, we’re really all just humans (with an addiction to smartphones).
Try to go as early in the morning as you can to escape the crowds. By 9 or 9:30 a.m., the balustrades are already lined with people. You can also go later, but the mist from the falls will start spreading by then so your view may become obstructed. You will also have to walk back in a foggy haze. Could be an adventure!
That night had the (now standard) set off fireworks at 10:00 p.m. I had the perfect view from the hotel room, so I did not venture out. I was also slightly afraid of having too much mist from the Falls obscure my view.
Fireworks display over Niagara Falls on Victoria Day weekend, 2018.
The perfect way to end the day! From Paw Paw, Michigan, to Niagara Falls, Ontario.