Yes, I know, Niagara Falls isn’t really a “hidden gem.” It’s not something you’d be likely to overlook and miss seeing should you find yourself in Canada’s Niagara Region. However, given Niagara’s proximity to Toronto it should be on your list if you’re planning to touch down in Canada’s most populous urban centre, and not just for the falls mind you. There’s so much more to be done in Niagara.
Located 126 kilometres (about 1.5 hours – depending on the traffic of course) south of Toronto, the Niagara Peninsula is a stunning region of Ontario where the natural landscape will take your breath away. One of the country’s main centres for winemaking and tourism, one place to start your Niagara journey is along the Niagara Wine Route where visitors can visit any one (or two or three) of the 70+ Canadian wineries scattered throughout the Niagara Peninsula. While some of the wineries are just starting out, there are countless that have been around for ages and produce award winning wines that rival any Californian Zinfandel or French Bordeaux (e.g. see Stratus Vineyard).
If hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are your things there are plenty of trails that dart in and out of dense Canadian forest, with the most infamous being the Bruce Trail. Canada’s oldest and longest, the Bruce closely follows the geographical wonder which is the Niagara Escarpment and provides trail blazers with an opportunity to photograph amazing scenery and watch wildlife in their natural habitat. Anytime of the year. Rain, sun or snow.
On the way to Niagara there’s also the floral clock, which is about 2 kilometres north of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. Though it’s not the pièce de résistance of the region it’s worth a quick look especially if you’re into flowers and quirky little sights. Built in 1950, the clock is apparently one of the largest in the world and the pattern that makes up the face of the clock – comprised of flowers – is changed four times a year.
And there’s the falls, by God those falls. That natural wonder that millions of visitors flock to year in and year out and that doesn’t cost a penny to gaze upon. The area around Niagara Falls has been settled since the 1600s when the First Nations people (Iroquois) arrived and set up shop. They were followed by the French not too long after as the Europeans found themselves just as attracted to the plunging falls and the air of power and mystery they provided.
The three waterfalls (Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil) are fed by the Niagara River and if you find yourself on the Canadian side you’ll be afforded with great views of both the Horseshoe (the largest of the three) and the American falls. As the river bends, turns and swirls towards the falls there’s a sidewalk/promenade that will lead you to the edge where you can stand slack-jawed and mesmerised by the 2,271,247 liters of water that drop 50 meters into the Horseshoe’s basin every single second.
How’s that for Mother Nature asserting her power?
The promenade gets busiest at the spot where the water starts to tumble over the edge of the falls. Behind this viewing point there’s a modest mini-mall where you can rock up to Timmies and grab a coffee/Timbits you can munch on as you ooooohhh and ahhhhh over the majesty of it all. There’s plenty of other man-made draws along the river: things like observation towers, casinos, souvenir shops and theatres should you want a distraction from the main attraction.
My advice? Start your walk at the far end of the gorge and end your journey at the Horseshoe Falls. She will not disappoint and you’ll have a far greater appreciation for how amazing the falls are when you see how the water seems to calmly meander and skip along before it picks up the pace to churn and rollick ahead. Before you know it she’ll be roaring, the thunder filling your ears, as countless cubic feet of liquid make their way over the Horseshoe’s edge. Regardless of the time of day, or the season when you choose to visit, make the trip to Niagara and document your journey. Take a few photos. Observe how she moves through your viewfinder. Then put your camera away and enjoy the show.
Every colossal and awe-inspiring second of it.