Exploring Around Niagara Falls (US & Canadian Sides)
Based on my last post you might well think there’s enough to see and do at Niagara Falls without going anywhere else, and you would be absolutely right! We spent 4 out of our 7 days in the area just at the Falls themselves, and if it hadn’t been for our blog readers encouraging us to get out and explore the surrounding areas, we might never have made it any further.
As it turns out there is LOTS to see in the surrounding area, more than I ever imagined at first glance. There are locks, historic forts, cutesy towns, wineries and lighthouses (yes, multiple!!). If you decide to visit both sides of the border (US & Canada) and do it on separate days (which I really do recommend), then you can make a full day of it and explore some of the surrounding area at the the same time.
So, for example a “full-day excursion” on the US side might start at the Falls early AM (= less crowds), followed by a drive to Lockport to see the locks (maybe have lunch there), then another drive up to Lake Ontario to see 30 Mile Point Lighthouse, followed by a visit to Old Fort Niagara (and 2nd lighthouse), finishing off with a stroll/dinner through Youngstown or Lewiston before you go home.
On Canada side a ” full-day excursion” might start at the Falls early AM (= less crowds), followed by a leisurely drive up the river to Niagara-On-The Lake, perhaps stopping at the Botanical Gardens (and Butterfly Conservatory), a few wineries and Fort George along the way. Then you’d have lunch in town, followed by maybe a few more wineries (or a brewery) and finally the border crossing home.
There are lots of possibilities!
Lastly, a few disclaimers before I start the post. In our case we brought Polly along to ALL of these outings which means we missed several non-dog-friendly activities, but for us bringing the dog always makes us happier so it’s a no-brainer. Also, our outings are heavily skewed to the US-side of Niagara, simply simply because that’s the side we were staying on so we had more time to explore there (we only spent 1 day on the other side of the border).
With that said, here’s what we got up to and Part II of our Niagara adventures:
The Locks At Lockport (US Side)
I have to admit the Locks at Lockport were never on my radar before we came into this area. It wasn’t until multiple blog readers suggested we visit that I even looked at the place, and it wasn’t until I’d read a bit more about them that I became intrigued.
The 338-mile Erie Canal, which was commissioned in 1816 and is a man-made wonder in and of itself, reached the city of Lockport in 1824. Here a rather famous set of locks called the “flight of five” was created, later replaced by two much larger locks E34 and E35. They were the last set of locks on the Canal before the western terminus of the Canal in Buffalo and represented a 65-foot ascent, a formidable barrier. The history of the locks is an integral part of the waterways of this area, and the cool part is that you can still see it all today!
We brought Polly along for the trip and simply walked around the locks and along the canal, visiting the small on-site museum and reading the plaques about the history.
If you’re dog-less you can do a more in-depth exploration at the Canal Discovery Center followed by a live tour with either Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Rides, or Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises. A lovely little side-trip which is well worth a few hours of your time!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ The Locks are open year-around and can be visited anytime, although the canal is drained during the winter (so there won’t be much water in it at that time). The boat tours typically take ~2 hours and only only run in season (~May-Oct) at specific times, so consider booking online ahead of time if you want to do this. As mentioned above dogs are not welcome on the tours, but can be walked on the canal walkway as well as on-top of and around the locks themselves.
Old Fort Niagara & Fort Niagara Lighthouse (US Side)
If you’re staying at Four Mile Creek State Park, as we did, Fort Niagara is literally only ~2 miles away so it’s a super easy visit to do.
Not only is this the site of a rather majestic Colonial-Era Fort (built in 1726), but it’s ALSO the site of Fort Niagara Lighthouse (originally the very first light on the Great Lakes, although the current tower is a more modern build from 1872). Plus there are miles of trails and historic buildings all around the grounds.
The lighthouse is simply on the side of parking lot near the Fort and can be viewed (but not visited), while the Fort is a wonderful visit with lots of restored buildings, folks in period costume, regular re-enactments and sweeping views of the lake. It’s the oldest continuously occupied military site in North America, with an active history spanning more than 300 years so it really is a very interesting place to explore.
The only thing that’s confusing about visiting here? The Fort (called “Old Fort Niagara“, or sometimes “Old Fort Niagara Historic Site”) is actually a separately-managed entity from “Fort Niagara State Park“, despite the fact that it’s physically located inside the State Park. This probably won’t matter to most folks, but if you’re bringing your paws it most definitely does. You see Fort Niagara State Park (and all the trails in it) are dog-friendly, but Old Fort Niagara is NOT and there seems to be no way to know this until you actually turn up with your dog (like we did) at the entrance.
So bottom line definitely come to visit, but if you spend in-depth time at the Fort you may want to leave pooch at home.
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Old Fort Niagara is open 9AM-5PM and costs $12 to visit. As mentioned above the Fort itself is NOT dog-friendly, but the entire State Park surrounding the Fort is. So if you bring pooch and there’s two of you it is possible to visit the Fort one-by-one while the other walks doggie outside on the trails. It takes anywhere from 30 mins to a few hours to explore the Fort (depending on how detailed you want to be) so just plan for that. If you’re only visiting the State Park side there’s a $8 car entry fee (FREE if you have the Empire Pass or are staying at another NY State Park (just bring your camping pass)).
30 Mile Point Lighthouse (US Side)
Being lighthouse nutters this Lighthouse had shown up on our radar well before we got to the area.
30 Mile Point is a beautifully preserved light on the south shore of Lake Ontario ~30 miles east of the Niagara River. She’s a coastal light built in 1875 to warn mariners of the treacherous shoal and sand bar that exists just off the coast here. Her gorgeous 70-foot stone tower sits on the back of a magnificent keepers house and originally held a 3rd order Fresnel lens.
These days she’s managed by a non-profit and sits right smack in the middle of Golden Hill State Park (where you can RV camp too!) and her second floor can be rented for overnight stays.
Once again we took Polly along for this trip, taking turns to visit inside the tower while the other person walked Polly on the outside grounds. And we absolutely loved it! Well-preserved light, wonderful trails, beautiful sweeping views of the lake and so very, very quiet. If we’d known beforehand that we could camp here (we only found out afterwards) we would have parked “the beast” here. Super cool spot!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ The lighthouse is located inside Golden Hill State Park which has $6 car entry fee (FREE if you have the Empire Pass or are staying at another NY State Park (just bring your camping pass)). It is open for tours 9AM-5:30PM Wed-Sun, from mid-May through mid-October and tours cost $1 per person. Dogs are not allowed inside the lighthouse, but are allowed everywhere in the surrounding grounds and State Park trails.
Youngstown & Lewiston (US Side)
The two towns of Youngstown and Lewiston are cute little stops along the Niagara River between Niagara Falls & Lake Ontario.
Youngstown is a teeny little place with historic roots back to the 1800’s, whereas Lewiston is a larger town that played a significant role in the war of 1812, and lays claim as the birthplace of Niagara Falls around 12,000 years ago. They’re great places to walk the streets, hang for coffee, go for lunch or learn about the history of the area.
Also, right next door is the Niagara Power Project which is a hidden gem of a place! It’s an interactive museum dedicated to hydro-electric power generation, and it’s a great place to learn about electricity and just have some fun. Plus it’s FREE to both park and visit!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Both towns are open for visitation all-year, and any restaurant/cafe with a patio will typically be dog-friendly. The Niagara Power Project Visitor Center is free (free parking, free museum) and is open 9AM-5PM. No dogs allowed however.
Other US Side Visits
In our limited time in the area we only managed the trips above, but there is more! Some of the things we missed include Whirlpool State Park and Devil’s Hole State Park, the bike ride along the Niagara Scenic Parkway and of course a slew of wineries.
Niagara Wineries (Canada Side)
The Canadian side of Niagara is rather famous for its wines. The area was first known for its ice wines (= a rather sweet concoction made from grapes left to ripen and subsequently freeze on the vine after final harvest), but has continued to grow and expand over the last 30 years or so. There are now over 20 wineries and plenty more varieties to chose from including classic whites, rosé, and even reds. We’re not sweet wine drinkers so we avoided the ice wine, but we found some excellent (non-sweet) whites and some very tasty rosés too.
Our only issue? Finding a place to bring Polly! Our previous 3 weeks in the Finger Lakes (NY) had completely spoiled us for dog-friendly wineries (they’re practically ALL dog-friendly there), but when I researched the Canadian side I had a tough time finding anything at all.
Eventually I found a spot (or so I thought), Inniskillin Wineries which had numerous on-line reviews, blog posts and pics of folks with their furry family. So after our morning stroll by the Falls we drove over, sat down with Polly at an outdoor table and got ourselves a glass from inside the winery. The place was empty so we were literally the only folks outside. Lovely!
All was fine until we got up from the table to walk back to our car. That’s when an employee came running out of the winery looking rather panicked. “You aren’t planning on staying here are you?” he asked “we don’t allow dogs!!”. We explained we were about to leave, but were surprised at their policy since we’d seen pics (and read reviews) of folks coming here with their furry family. He dutifully explained that the winery HAD been dog friendly, but a barking dog last year had caused them to change their policy to ban all dogs, even at outside tables. Ugh!
Ah well, at least we had already finished our tasting! So really nice wines folks (we really did enjoy them) but strike this one off your list if you’re bringing pooch.
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Most wineries on Canadian side open at around 10AM and stay open until evening (7-9PM). As for paw-friendliness I don’t know! Subsequent to our trip I contacted Wineries Of Niagara On The Lakes to ask them which of their members were dog-friendly only to receive the dismissive response “we don’t know”. So unfortunately I can’t give you any firm recommendations of dog-friendly wineries on the Canadian side. If you find or know of any, please post a note in the comments section below!
Niagara-On-The-Lake (Canada Side)
Everyone who comes to this area talks about the town of Niagara-On-The Lake. It’s a small town on the very northern tip of the region that was voted Canada’s #1 Food & Wine Destination by TripAdvisor in 2015. And it’s cute, it really is.
It’s the kind of town that’s only around 6 blocks long, but it’s packed with fine restaurants, cutesy shops, and art. The streets are lined with multi-colored flowers and shade trees, the buildings are finely restored 19th-century masterpieces, and it’s home of the Shaw Festival, a series of theatrical productions featuring the works of George Bernard Shaw. So, yeah it’s got all of that in one place.
But…and here we may be bucking the trend of the majority of folks who come here, we found it a little too packed and over-touristy for our tastes. The streets were thick with people, and there was not a single restaurant that allowed us to sit with Polly (lots of outdoor dog bowls and lots of restaurants with patios, but none of them allow dogs). So, our visit was more like a 20-min walk through and we were done.
I think if you come here without pooch, and maybe plan to visit in slightly less busy times (mid-afternoon? off-season?) it would be a much more pleasant experience. Plus, I do think it would be fun to come back and see some live theater. Definitely worth a visit, but just plan ahead for the best experience.
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Parking near downtown Niagara-On-The-Lake is metered (see parking map HERE) and can be paid by cash or credit card at any pay station along the road. For the paws, the streets at Niagara-On-The-Lake are all paw-friendly but none of the restaurants allow dogs, so if you plan on eating here either leave pooch at home or bring a picnic lunch and go to the next-door park (Queen’s Royal Park) to enjoy it. THIS post by Montecristo Travels goes into more doggie-related details so check that out too.
Other Canadian-Side Visits
We only managed the two visits above, but other things you can look at on the Canadian side are the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens (dog-friendly!), the Butterfly Conservatory, the Whirlpool Aero Car, and Fort George (dog-friendly! Read more about it in THIS post by Montecristo Travels).
That’s it folks! The final wrap-up of our week in Niagara Falls. We saw A LOT but honestly could have used at least another week in the area. I’ve got a campground review coming and then we head to yet another very special place, the “Grand Canyon of the East”. See you there!
Useful External Links:
- Lockport, NY (US side): Visitor website HERE and tour boat websites HERE and HERE
- Fort Niagara (US side): State Park website HERE and Old Fort Niagara website HERE
- 30-Mile Point Lighthouse (US side): State Park website HERE
- Niagara Wineries: Link to Canada-side map HERE and US-side map HERE
- Niagara-On-The-Lake (Canada side): Visitor website HERE
- Blog post by Montecristo Travels: Visiting Fort George In Niagara With a Dog, Canada
- Blog post by Montecristo Travels: Niagara-On-The-Lake With a Dog, Canada
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