Niagara Falls isn't exactly off the beaten path, but it is a spectacular place to explore, geocache and letterbox. There's history here too. On our most recent trip, we found some things that you won't see in the tourist brochures - hence this page. We couldn't decide if it belonged in Parks or Cool Places. Prospect Point Park on the American side and Queen Victoria Park on the Canadian side certainly fall into the first category. So we compromised and linked to both.
Here are some "falls fast facts " about Niagara. We came across most of these while doing virtual geocaches along both sides.
Planning Your Trip
We spent two days on the American side and three days on the Canadian side. Surprisingly, we preferred the American side. It is much less developed and much more park-like with more places to explore like Goat Island and The Sisters. The Canadian side is beautiful along the gorge, but two blocks up the steep hill it starts to look like Las Vegas. There are lots of high-rise hotels, casinos, restaurants and some schlocky tourist attractions like Dracula's Wax Museum. The conventional wisdom has always been that the American side is bit run down and the Canadian side is nicer and safer. We found that to not be the case. The two sides are very different and offer something for everyone. There's lots of security and we felt safe on both sides at all times.
There are three things you should be aware of in planning your quest. First, all people 16 and up need a passport to cross the border from either direction. This new requirement has been bad for business on both sides but it isn't going away. Be prepared for some real scrutiny and long lines. The days of being waved across the border are over.
Second, if you are traveling with minor children who have a different last name, have some sort of documentation that they are yours and/or you have permission to take them into Canada or the US.
Third, the traffic during peak season is really bad on either side and parking is very scarce. Both sides have very good transportation systems, so you should plan to park somewhere, buy a tourist pass for all the attractions and ride the shuttles. Taxis are reasonable too. We combined shuttle bus, taxi and walking to see everything easily.
There are four bridges that cross the river between the US and Canada - Peace, Rainbow, Whirlpool Rapids and Lewiston/Queenston. You can check current bridge condition at the Niagara Falls Bridge website. The Rainbow Bridge is the most crowded. It's not uncommon to have 30-60 minute delays at Rainbow and much less on the other three. The Peace Bridge has its own website. All have tolls. Cars average about $3.00 USD. Bikes and pedestrians are 50 cents. Tolls are paid one way - into Canada.
For History Buffs
There is a little known but important battlefield on the Canadian side just north of the Floral Gardens and not too far from the Spanish Aerocar attraction. The Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812 was the first major land battle of the War of 1812 and the most important battle ever fought on Canadian soil. The Americans invaded Canada by crossing the Niagara River below the whirlpool gorge. Their mission was to take out an artillery position that was targeting Lewiston, NY and to establish a permanent beach head on the Canadian side to open a northern front before the onset of winter. At first, things went well, but reinforcements didn't arrive and a determined British counter attack resulted in total defeat of the American force, which suffered over 1,000 casualties. That was the end of the Niagara northern front, although there was fighting throughout the region for the rest of the war. There was even a naval war on Lake Erie. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won a decisive victory for the United States at the Battle of Lake Erie giving the Americans control of the lake and opening a path for the Queenston Heights invasion. "Don't give up the ship" and "We have met the enemy and they are ours" are famous quotes from that campaign.
There is an extensive multi-cache called The Battle of Queenston Heights which will take you all over the battlefield. Additionally, there are at least a half dozen traditional geocaches nearby on some great hiking trails along the bluff with views of the Niagara gorge.
Geocaching at Niagara Falls
There are geocaches and letterboxes galore on both sides. They run from above the falls all along the gorge down to the whirlpool and beyond. There are several down in the whirlpool gorge itself and three on Goat Island just above Horseshoe Falls right next to the river. There are virtuals, traditionals of all sizes, urban caches and caches in the wild throughout the area. Ditto for letterboxes. If you do some planning, you can tour the whole area, pick up a couple dozen geo-hides and see things that the regular tourists would miss. Here are a couple of our favorites.
The Green Cascade - This is a virtual geocache that takes you to a geological feature on the far edge of the Three Sisters Islands. Only about 400 yards from the brink of Horseshoe Falls, you have to practically step into the river to get the right camera angle. It looks like there's a 20 foot wall of water bearing down on you, which there is. But then it hits the remains of an ancient canyon left by the glaciers and flows away into the main channel of the river and over the falls. Very cool.
The Other Sister - This is a traditional geocache in the same area as the Green Cascade. It is an ammo box tucked away in the rocks just a few feet away from the river. It's a bit difficult to find and has lots of DNF's but it's there. You do have to be a bit nervy to find it and to retrieve it. If you miscalculate and end up in the river, you're going over the falls. If you like geocaches with a bit of a pucker factor, this one will do nicely.
While doing this cache, you can also pick up the Goat Island letterbox, which is nearby. The link takes you to the clue page on Atlasquest. You'll also need a compass.
We plan to head back to Niagara Falls soon. It's close, safe and we don't need to go through the indignities of airport "security". There are lots of trails, caches and parks we didn't get to, especially in the lower gorge. Maybe we'll see you there.
The GPS coordinates for the center of Rainbow Bridge are 43.090135, -79.067686. Click on the coordinates to bring up an interactive Google Map.
Cheers....The Cachemanian Devils