When we decided to include Niagara Falls as part of our journey, I was thinking of the actual Falls and looking forward to a boat tour. Our visit to this area yielded a few other unexpected finds that made it even more worthwhile and put it at the top of our list for another visit in the future.
Crossing through New York from the Rondout Valley to Niagara Falls took us through the mountains of upstate New York and small, run-down towns. Nothing of particular note other than feeling a sense of despair as we drove through areas that seemed to have lost their sense of purpose. One interesting sight was the number of minivans we saw as we drove through Woodbourne, NY. There appeared to be a large orthodox Jewish community in this town, and we saw dozens and dozens (easily a few hundred) of the same minivan (same make, model, and color!) parked around town! It is as if the community bought a whole fleet of them to provide to families. Other than that, it was a long, uneventful trip.
When we arrived at Four Mile Creek State Park (https://parks.ny.gov/parks/6/details.aspx), on the shores of Lake Ontario in the top western section of New York, we discovered a tent camper set up toward the back of our reserved spot. Of course, we arrived after the office closed, and the camper wasn’t there. Not quite sure what to do, we decided to back in and detach our Airstream in the same spot. We had reservations for it and decided we would talk with the tent camper when he arrived.
His name was Richard, touring the country on his BMW motorcycle with his little rescue dog, Dude. He had arrived the night before and erected his tent on our site not knowing we had reservations. He was planning on leaving the next day, so he just moved his tent over to the edge of our site—we didn’t mind as the site was large.
Four Mile Creek State Park is a very nice campground, probably one of my favorites so far on this trip. The sites are large, trees dot the landscape, the grounds and roads are well maintained, and it is right on Lake Ontario. However, there is a huge drop from the land to the water with no easy access points for kayaking, boating, or swimming. These activities are better accomplished at other parks down the road.
Sunsets come late in this part of the country—well after 9:00pm—and we joined others along the waterfront of Lake Ontario to watch the sky turn beautiful colors as the sun dropped below the horizon. A faint skyline of Toronto could be seen in the distance.
We spent our first full day at Niagara Falls. We drove a (not very) scenic parkway from just outside the entrance of our campground to Niagara Falls State Park, about 15 minutes away. Because of our campground pass, we were able to park for free near the Rainbow Bridge, which is one of the bridges to the Canadian side. There was zero traffic on this bridge due to the COVID border closure between the U.S. and Canada.
Niagara Falls State Park (https://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/)includes a visitor’s center (which was closed), the Maid of the Mist boat ride, Goat Island, and the Cave of the Winds (which was also closed). The Maid of the Mist had just opened back up to the public the weekend before. We bought our tickets with no line wait, and got on the first boat tour of the day. And it was WET, WILD, and FUN! A blue rain poncho was provided to all who rode, which helped keep our clothes dry, but forget about the hair, glasses, and camera lens! Tickets were $22.25 each, and I think it lasted less than 30 minutes—which was more than enough given the nature of the ride. We were taken to the base of both Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls.
After that, we walked along the Niagara River and over to Goat Island to see what we could of Horseshoe Falls. Although the views of both Falls are better from the Canadian side, the U.S. side features walking along the fast-rapid river that feeds the Falls, standing close to the edge of the Falls, and hearing the power of the falling water.
We also visited another little park downstream that overlooks the Whirlpool Gorge. The Canadian side actually has a 100-year-old Aero Car (much like a trolley car) that still operates via cable spanning across the Whirlpool Gorge. The starting and stopping points are both on the Canadian side, so that ride will have to be done at a later date.
We tried to find someplace to eat close to the park, but the wait for Hard Rock Café was around the block, and many other eateries were still closed to the public. So we drove across town to Applebee’s, and we were able to eat inside. It was eerie because of the restrictions and table spacing. We felt like we were the only ones inside, even though there were others.
Driving around the city of Niagara Falls was disappointing. Near the Niagara River and the State Park—within about one to two blocks—are many “touristy” places to eat and shop, and I’m sure it is lively when everything is open and tourists from Canada and the U.S. are bebopping around. Once we drove beyond that area, however, the city and surrounding areas looked sad and in decline. Buildings were empty and decaying. Homes were in disrepair. An air of dispiritedness. Even the drive toward Rainbow Bridge and the State Park was unappealing. I wonder if the city of Niagara Falls used to be more vibrant, or if it ever was? Why hasn’t it been able to “bank” on the beauty of the river and Falls over the years? I don’t know what Canada’s side looks like beyond the skyline right along the Falls and river, but their side 1) has the better view of the Falls; 2) appears to have some fun things to do like ziplining across the river, the Aero Car across Whirlpool Gorge, a large Skywheel to ride, casinos, huge hotels, and more. Is Canada’s Niagara Falls Centre thriving beyond the waterfront? I hope so, and I plan to find out on our next visit to this area.
We came back to Niagara Falls State Park the next evening to see what we could of the Falls “in color” at night. As I mentioned before, sunset comes late in this part of the country, and it didn’t get dark until well after 9:30pm. From our vantage point on Goat Island, right next to Horseshoe Falls, we could see crowds forming on the Canadian side to see the light show, and we could see the large bank of lights used to illuminate both the Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls. The colors became more vivid as the night sky grew darker. And Canada sent us some love—lighted windows in one of its high-rise hotels were shaped in the form of a heart for the U.S. side to see.
Although our trip to the Falls was limited due to the pandemic and the border closure, it was still worth every minute we were there. The power and beauty are awe-inspiring. We plan to revisit the area when the Canadian border is open, so we can enjoy all that side has to offer.
Before we headed to Ohio, we spent a day touring a few other areas. In a small town called Lockport, NY, we took an Erie Canal tour (http://lockportlocks.com/) of locks 34 and 35. The famed Panama Canal was actually modeled after the locks on the Erie Canal. We were two out of the three customers on the tour boat, so it was like a private tour! The other lady, Becky, has been a single full-time RVer for eight years, usually staying in an area for a month and immersing herself in the community.
After the canal tour, we found a sweet café in downtown Lockport called Scripts (http://www.scripts-cafe.com/). It was delicious, and we highly recommend it to anyone going to that area.
We then stopped at Schulze Vineyards & Winery (https://schulzewines.com/). This area of New York, as well as the northern portion of Pennsylvania, is serious grape country, with thousands of acres of vines and many wineries. The downside with visiting a local winery is that you might discover a new favorite that is not distributed nationwide, thus you might not get to drink it as often as you’d like because you don’t live there, and shipping it to where you are might be costly. This is what happened to me. I cannot help it. Schulze Vineyards has a crackling (their term) wine called Mon Cheri, and it is my new favorite. It is definitely a wine to share while casually sitting and chatting with family or friends. Please note that calling the winery to order it for shipment is advised; the ordering portion on their website blocks shipment to some areas.
A personal goal of mine that I established while at Four Mile Creek State Park is to kayak or cruise all five of the Great Lakes while full-time RVing. We will accomplish 3/5 of this goal this summer. We found what we thought was a “hidden gem” of a location to launch our kayak at the end of a local road next to a local park. There was one other car parked there when we arrived, and its owners were swimming in Lake Ontario along a tiny rocky beach area. Carl started inflating our Sea Eagle kayak while I pulled out the paddles and life jackets. Before we had everything ready to go, this hidden gem of an area had turned into a hotbed of activity with a steady stream of cars loaded with swimmers and huge floaties arriving! Luckily, the footpath was not blocked as we carried our kayak to the shore to launch, and we were able to maneuver around the revelers when we returned.
One place checked off; others added; goals accomplished; lists started. Go to Niagara Falls. Go when the Canadian border opens. And, when you go, go BEYOND! Go to Lake Ontario, Lockport, and other surrounding towns. Visit the wineries. It will make your trip so much more worthwhile!