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Niagara Falls on a Budget With Kids (U.S. Side Only)

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Niagara Falls on a Budget with Kids

Niagara Falls on a Budget with Kids

Find my "I wish I had known ahead of time..." tips, full itinerary, & more. I spent LOTS of time planning for our trip to Niagara Falls & want to share everything I learned. I've included our schedule for our trip and all the helpful tips I found out ahead of time or learned afterward! Also included are our favorite children's books, guide books, and YouTube videos we used while preparing for our trip.

Cave of the Winds Tour is a must!

Cave of the Winds Tour is a must!

Our Itinerary (Summer Times & U.S. Side Only)

  • 6:30 - 9 pm - Explore Niagara Falls State Park: Rapids, Prospect Point, Goat Island, Luna Island, Terrapin Point, & Three Sisters Islands
  • 9:15 pm - Falls Illumination
  • 10 pm - Fireworks
  • 10:30 pm - Head to a hotel

The NEXT morning:

  • 9 am - Park
  • 9:30 am - Cave of the Winds Tour
  • 10:30 am - Luna Island & Prospect Point

Where to park?

If spaces are available, grab a parking space in one of the first two parking lots on the left to get FREE parking. (The first parking area is about 1/2 a mile from the bridge to Goat Island. The second parking area is about 1/4 a mile from the bride to Goat Island.)

Otherwise, you can either park on Goat Island or near Prospect Point (at the end of the main road) for $10/day (weekdays) or $15/day on weekends.

1. Rapids on the Way to Prospect Point

Rapids

Rapids

Enjoy the amazing views of the rapids as you walk toward Prospect Point, at the end of the main road.

2. Prospect Point: View American Falls & Bridal Veil Falls

Prospect Point

Prospect Point

Prospect Point: View American Falls & Bridal Veil Falls with Horseshoe Falls in the distance. Also keep an eye out for black squirrels & chipmunks!

3. Walk across the bridge to Goat Island. Be sure to note the statue of Nikola Tesla!

Nikola Tesla's statue

Nikola Tesla's statue

Nikola Tesla's statue on Goat Island - He harnessed AC hydro-electricity from Niagara Falls to provide power for Buffalo.

*Stroller or Wheelchair? If you need to use a ramp rather than stairs to get to Luna Island, you'll need to take the ramp that is on the right just after you cross the bridge and turn the corner on Goat Island. The ramp is about 1/4 mile from the stairs. You can stop by the Nikola Tesla statue AFTER visiting Luna Island.

4. Take the steps or ramp to Luna Island to get a different view of Bridal Veil & American Falls.

Luna Island

Luna Island

Luna Island: Get a different view of Bridal Veil & American Falls.

5. Note the Adams Arch on the way to Terrapin Point.

Adams Arch

Adams Arch

Scroll to Continue

Adams Arch on Goat Island - This arch originally stood at the entrance to the Adams Station, which was the world's first hydroelectric power plant, opened at Niagara Falls in 1895. The entrance arch was relocated to Goat's Island in 1966.

6. Walk to Terrapin Point to view Horseshoe Falls.

Walking to Horseshoe Falls

Walking to Horseshoe Falls

Walk to Terrapin Point to view Horseshoe Falls - There is a ramp off to the left if you need a ramp.

7. Walk to Three Sisters Islands to get another view of the Canadian Rapids.

Three Sisters Islands

Three Sisters Islands

Walk to Three Sisters Islands to get another view of the Canadian Rapids. (You could skip this if your kids are getting too tired or walking.)

8. Watch the Falls Illumination from Prospect Point.

Niagara Falls Illumination

Niagara Falls Illumination

9:15 pm - Head to Prospect Point & enjoys some snacks (we brought) while watching the Falls Illumination. (It fills up quickly, so get there around 9:15pm if you want to take photos.) You can watch the illumination from an viewing platform.

If you want something more substantial to eat, there is a Papa John's within walking distance & it stays open late.

9. Watch Fireworks over Niagara Falls.

Fireworks over Niagara Falls

Fireworks over Niagara Falls

10 pm - Watch the fireworks show from Prospect Point.

It will probably be crowded but you'll be able to see the fireworks even if you don't have front-row viewing. You can view the fireworks from any of the viewing platforms.

11. Head to a hotel (or campground) for the evening.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn at Niagara Falls, which had decent rates during the week. They didn't offer free breakfast, though.

Because the closest fast food restaurants and grocery stores to Niagara Falls State Park are about 15 minutes away near the interstate, we brought quick breakfast foods (granola bars, apples, beef jerky, etc.) so we could head straight to Niagara Falls the next morning & eat breakfast on the way.

If the nearby hotels are too pricey, some families recommended an Airbnb in Lewiston, NY.

If camping is more your preference, Branches of Niagara Campground was highly recommended.

12. Start the morning with the Cave of the Winds Tour.

Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds

9 am (the next morning) - Park & then head straight over to the Cave of the Winds booth on Goat Island to buy tickets. (We again parked at the free parking next to the rapids. You can park on Goat Island for $10/day.)

We arrived at the ticket booth by 9:30 am & were able to walk straight in. Had we been about 15 minutes later, we would have had to wait in a LONG line.

Cave of the Winds was the FAVORITE part for everyone in my family. Everyone in my family agreed that if you go to Niagara Falls, definitely do the Cave of the Winds Tour.

It begins with a short video. They pass out water ponchos. Then you walk over the elevator & ride down to the platform at the base of American Falls. You can walk around the platforms as long as you'd like. You don't have to go on the Hurricane Deck & get pelted by "bullets" of water...but you might as well since you probably won't get this experience elsewhere.

Tips:

  • Should you do the Cave of the Winds tour? Yes! Everyone in my family agreed this is a must if you go to Niagara Falls.
  • Should you bring along a water poncho? No. They're included. They work quite well. Only two of my children got semi-drenched because their hoods broke. Everyone else stayed dry.
  • Should I bring extra shoes? Yes, bring along flip flops or sandals. We went by the Dollar Tree before our trip to buy flip flops for all my children who didn't have a pair that fit. (Cave of the Winds still had free sandals when were there at the beginning of June 2022, but they said they'll probably run out soon and won't be ordering more.)
  • Should I bring other shoes too? We did. Lots of people leave their shoes near the elevator.
  • What should I do about my cell phone and/or camera? Put them in Ziplock bags. You'll definitely want to take photos while you're down there. Just to be safe, we took turns having someone stay further away from the spray to take photos and to hold the electronics so that they never had to go under the full force of water. We only used one cell phone for photos and kept all the other electronics in sealed Ziplock bags under someone's poncho.
  • What should I wear? If possible, don't wear pants as they'll get wet.
  • Should I bring towels or extra clothing? We did, but we didn't use them.
  • What should I do with my stroller? There's a stroller-parking area at the top near the elevator. Just don't leave valuables in it.

What about Maid of the Mist?

We let our children choose either Cave of the Winds or Maid of the Mist. My children opted for Cave of the Winds because you actually get to be under the waterfall (rather than just get sprayed by the mist from it) and you can be down there as long as you'd like (rather than be limited to 10 minutes on the 20 minute boat ride.)

If you'd like to do both the Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist, buy the Niagara USA Discovery Pass as it is a better deal and also includes entry to the Aquarium of Niagara and an all-day trolley pass.

13. Walk to Luna Island to view the Cave of the Winds platforms.

Luna Island

Luna Island

10:30 am - Walk to Luna Island to get another view of the platforms we were just on during the Cave of the Winds tour. (Yes, we could see the rainbow from the bottom of the falls as well.)

14. Walk to Prospect Point for a few last glances at Niagara Falls before heading out.

Prospect Point

Prospect Point

10:45 am - Walk to Prospect Point to grab a few last glances at Niagara Falls before heading out.

Whirlpool State Park

Whirlpool State Park

If you'd like to spend more time in the area, a few options include:

Near Niagara Falls:

  • Old Fort Niagara (*highly recommended by many families*) in Youngstown - Cost (in 2022): Ages 13+: $17, Ages 6-12: $12, Ages 5 & under: Free
  • Niagara Gorge Trail
  • Whirlpool Rapids State Park
  • Devil's Hole Park
  • Deveaux Woods State Park
  • Schoellkopf Power Station remains with a free elevator ride

In Buffalo, NY:

[If you don't know about the ASTC (science & children's museums), NARM (art & history museums), & AHS (gardens) reciprocal programs, definitely check them out! Using them is our favorite way to save money when we travel. I explain all about what they are and how they work here: Free Museum, Zoo, Garden, & Park Tickets.]

  • Paula's Donuts (*highly recommended by many families*)
  • Fun playground near Buffalo Harbor is located at 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd
  • Buffalo Museum of Science & includes Tift Reserve (free entry with ASTC membership)
  • Albright-Knox Art Gallery (free entry with NARM membership)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff in Derby (near Buffalo) (free entry with NARM membership)
  • Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College (free entry with NARM membership)
  • Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (free entry with AHS membership)
  • Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural House & Museum

Erie Canal at Lockport

Erie Canal at Lockport: Locks 34 & 35

Erie Canal at Lockport: Locks 34 & 35

We first stopped in Lockport to see the Erie Canal. Thankfully, we arrived when a tourist boat was in the lock, so we got to see the lock gate open. It doesn't appear like the canal is used for more than just tourist boats. If you have extra time, taking an Erie Canal boat tour might be fun.

We all agreed that this was an okay brief stop but not a must-see location.

My kids were excited that Lockport has an Aldi (& Walmart), so we could pick up fresh fruit and ice cream on our way out of town.

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park has 3 beautiful waterfalls, including the middle falls, which frequently has a rainbow in the mist. There are stroller-friendly hiking trails along the gorge, but you can also drive to each look-out if needed.

In addition to the waterfalls, the park also has a small history museum and a historic area with the relocated grade of Mary Jemison (an immigrant captured during the French and Indian War & married into the Seneca as described in the children's chapter book Mary Jemison: Indian Captive by Lois Lenski). The site includes a statue of her, an oak tree planted by her grandson (I think), a house she had built for one of her sons, and a Seneca Council House.

Tip: Bring a paper map because we lost cell service after leaving the state park.

Cost: $10/vehicle -- and the entrance fee payment can be used as a $10 credit at the Glen Iris Inn Restaurant in the park

After leaving Letchworth State Park, we drove to Corning, NY.

Corning, Hershey, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., & Fayetteville

Corning, Philadelphia, & Washington, D.C

Corning, Philadelphia, & Washington, D.C

What we did for the rest of our trip:

[If you don't know about the ASTC (science & children's museums), NARM (art & history museums), & AHS (gardens) reciprocal programs, definitely check them out! Using them is our favorite way to save money when we travel. I explain all about what they are and how they work here: Free Museum, Zoo, Garden, & Park Tickets.]

Wednesday: Corning, NY & Hershey, PA:

  • Corning Glass Museum (free with NARM membership)
  • Rockwell Museum of Art (free with NARM membership)
  • Hershey Chocolate World
  • Hershey Gardens (free with AHS membership)
  • Drive to Philadelphia

Thursday: Philadelphia

  • Historic Sites: Liberty Bell, First White House, Independence Hall (we didn't get tickets so only saw it from the outside), Visitor's Center, Benjamin Franklin’s grave (from outside the gate), Betsy Ross's house (outside), Elfreth’s Alley, Christ Church (outside because it was closed to visitors when we were there), First Bank of the U.S. (outside)
  • Museum of the American Revolution (free with NARM membership)
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art (might be free with NARM)
  • Rodin Museum (included with Philadelphia Museum of Art) (We had to skip because it's closed on Thursdays)
  • Penn Museum (free with NARM membership)
  • Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum (free with NARM membership)
  • Drive to Maryland just outside Washington, D.C.

Friday: Washington, D.C.

(We've been to Washington, D.C. before, so we asked our children where they wanted to visit again and only visited those sites.)

  • National Zoo
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Museum of American History
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Drive to North Carolina

Saturday: Fayetteville, NC & Drive home to FL

  • Cape Fear Botanical Garden (free with AHS membership)
  • U.S. Army Airborne & Special Ops Museum near Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville (Free - Donations are accepted)
  • Drive home to Florida

We love reading lots of books ahead of time on where we're going to create a more exciting and enriching trip for our children. These were our favorite children's books on Niagara Falls:

  • Where Is Niagara Falls? by Megan Stine
  • Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Barreling over Niagara Falls by Nancy Kelly Allen
  • Crossing Niagara : the death-defying tightrope adventures of the Great Blondin by Matt Tavares
  • King of the Tightrope : when the Great Blondin ruled Niagara by Donna Janell Bowman
  • Sam Patch : daredevil jumper by Julie Cummins
  • The Maiden of the Mist by Veronika Martenova Charles (a Seneca legend)
  • The Niagara Falls Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner (Boxcar Children chapter book that takes place on the Canadian side) - If you want an elementary level chapter book that's more educational, get The Wild Water Mystery at Niagara Falls (Real Kids Real Places) by Carole Marsh instead.
  • Who Was Nikola Tesla? by Jim Gigliotti AND if you want more good children's books on Nikola Tesla, most of which do not include his relationship to Niagara Falls, you can also look for: Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch, A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla by Azadeh Westergaard, Nikola Tesla's Diary - How I Lit Up The World by Melissa Young, I Am Nikola Tesla by Marilyn Easton, & Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge by Monica Kulling

Travel Guide Niagara Falls by Expedia (3:49 minutes)

Niagara Falls Tour (6:16 minutes)

Niagara Falls Documentary by the History Channel (44:48 minutes)

Washington, D.C. on a Budget with Kids

Washington, D.C. on a Budget with Kids

  • Washington, D.C.: Find out our full 5 day itinerary and tips on food, parking, and more at Washington, D.C. on a Budget with Kids. I also included our favorite children's books, guide books, and YouTube videos we used while preparing for our trip.
  • Grand Canyon: Find my "I wish I had known ahead of time..." tips, full itinerary, & more at my page Grand Canyon on a Budget with Kids. I've included our schedule for our trip and all the helpful tips I found out ahead of time or learned afterward! Also included are our favorite children's books, guide books, and YouTube videos we used while preparing for our trip.
  • Helen, Georgia: From multiple waterfalls to a miniature German village to freshly-churned ice cream, find our schedule for our one-day trip to Helen, Georgia along with all the helpful tips we discovered along the way at my page What to See and Do in Helen, Georgia. This is focused on traveling with children and on a budget. I also included where we visited on the way back from Helen, Georgia to Florida.
  • North Florida: To find our favorite fun, free (or inexpensive) activities and events in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, & Gainesville, go to my post Family Fun & Activities for Kids in North Florida. I included my favorite links to find out about local events and our favorite spots to visit and to take visitors from out of town.

© 2022 Shannon

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