Free Things To Do
There’s no denying that Niagara Falls can be an expensive place to visit, but it doesn’t have to be. All that’s required to enjoy Niagara Falls is a willingness to slow down, enjoy the scenery and soak in the atmosphere.
Happiness on my Cell Phone… Two people enjoying Niagara Falls!
Your hotel will likely be your biggest expense. As with any other major tourist destination, lodging can be steep. If you do your research beforehand and choose your amenities wisely however, chances are you’ll have an incredible stay at Niagara Falls without going bankrupt in the process.
The taller the hotel, the steeper the price. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but on a budget, you may want something closer earth.
We routinely stay at the Comfort Inn on Clifton Hill, right in the heart the action on the Canadian Side. The Hotel is clean, well-staffed, has a nice pool and even has a basic breakfast available for free every morning. The Comfort Inn folks are very friendly and sincere in their desire to make our stay enjoyable. More than anything, we feel the Comfort Inn provides good value for the money… It’s not a ‘Mint-On-Your-Pillow’ hotel by any means, but neither is it one which is so ‘affordable’ that basic standards of cleanliness and professionalism are abandoned.
It’s no frills but it’s free, and you can eat as much as you want at Comfort Inn! Planning on this as a meal helps knock the cost down a bit, since you’ve already budgeted for your hotel.
When this piece was written, my family and I had just returned from Niagara Falls only a week earlier and the great majority of our plans centered around activities which had no price tag at all. We allowed some money for a visit to the Canadian Midway and Dave & Buster’s on one night and Pizza another night, but that’s about it… yet we still had a very enjoyable time and were all able to consider it one of our best vacations ever. I think we came home with about $50 worth of souvenirs… sweat shirts, maple-flavored tea, fudge and items of that nature… not too bad.
Mass Quantities of Tickets!! The Universal Goal in any electronic gaming arcade… while having fun of course!
If you look in one direction at Niagara Falls, the area is like a big park with immaculate flower gardens within groves of stately trees. If you turn and face the other way however, you see a huge microcosm of gift shops, fast food restaurants, arcades and high-rise hotels. The trick to being happy at Niagara Falls to know how to find a nice balance between that which is free and that which is exorbitant.
…while some parts of Niagara Falls look like this. Each are great, depending on what you’re in the mood for.
Some of the advice in this piece is best-suited to people who visit Niagara Falls in a car. If you’ve flown in to Niagara Falls, it will be more challenging to experience some of the places way-up or way-down river from the falls (unless you spring for a rental a car, but naturally this adds to your expense.)
Don’t be disheartened however, because there are many things to do which are either within walking distance from the hotel, or at least accessible by the many People Mover busses which are always in the area. The People Movers are convenient and very reasonable in cost. They operate morning till dusk, arriving and dropping-off at strategic points along the Niagara tourist area at fifteen minutes intervals, saving tourists a ton of legwork! The People Movers are well worth the money and there are no limits to how many times you can ride them.
These are fun and are a great way to get around!
One of the wildest ‘Free’ places at Niagara Falls is the Upper Rapids Area. These rapids are truly amazing from the walkway, but if you were to see them from a boat, they’d be among the very last things you’d see in your life, for the obvious reason.
From a stream leading out of Dufferin Islands, the water flows into the Upper Rapids… The water is awesome here and must be seen to be believed!
The Upper Rapids area as seen from the safety of the grassy bank. Keep a close eye on your little ones here, as there are no railings in this area!
Now is as good a time as any to remind our readers that although all of Niagara is beautiful, there is a universal rule which must be obeyed everywhere along the Niagara River: Enjoy with Respect. You can literally walk right up to the water and stand on the rocks… but it’s crazy to do so. The water is only shin-deep just right at the bank, but only a few feet away it gets much deeper and the sweeping current of the river is encountered. From there it’s pretty much a Done Deal… you will go over the falls, and your family will go home without you.
Niagara Falls straight ahead!
It’s best to stay the heck out of the water, no matter what, and keep a close eye on your children as there are no railings preventing your little ones from wading. It’s simple then… enjoy the Upper Rapids from the walkway or the grassy bank only, and you’ll be safe as can be and have a wonderful experience!
A beautiful day at the Upper Rapids Area of Niagara!
Just across the Upper Rapids Area is the Dufferin Islands Nature Preserve which is absolutely free of charge. Dufferin Islands is a place dear to our hearts. We go there on every visit without fail to feed the ducks and geese and to marvel at the wildlife. How many words are there for beautiful? All of them would apply here.
One of my favorite Dufferin photos!
At Dufferin Islands you’ll find solitude, wildflowers, trees, birds, frogs, dragonflies and cat tails. If you want to grill some lunch, just bring your own charcoal. There are picnic tables on soft grass and even enough room to toss a Frisbee around, all with the muted roar of Niagara Falls in the background.
What Springtime is all about at Dufferin Islands!
What’s great about Dufferin Islands is that you can choose to limit your visit to a few minutes on a park bench feeding the critters, or you can take a moderately long hike through the well-maintained trails that run through the surrounding woods…. A few minutes or a whole morning.. it’s all up to you.
On some days, this is as crowded as it get at Dufferin Islands. If you go here and it appeals to you, then you understand that Niagara Falls is much more than tourism spots.
Among the most regal of all waterfowl… the stately and good-natured Canada Geese!
Just one word of caution: No wading or swimming! Not only is it illegal, it can hazardous to your feet. My family and I spotted a snapping turtle in one of the marshy areas nearby who was large enough to ruin any careless person’s day. He didn’t threaten us, but with a shell size of 18 inches across, we certainly didn’t threaten him either. We paid him a few compliments and curtesies and kept on walking.
‘Chuck’, our Dufferin Island groundhog friend. He looks exactly like the groundhog which lives under our shed back home… who is coincidentally also named ‘Chuck’!
A duck’s eye view of feeding time at Dufferin Island!
If you are nature lovers who also have an appreciation for the geological origins of the falls (as we do) then you will love paying a visit downstream to Niagara Glen and Bowman’s Ravine. Niagara Glen is where the falls began some 12 thousand years ago, and Bowman’s Ravine leads intrepid hikers to the very shore of the whirlpool basin.
A view of the staircase from the path. From here the descent gets very steep, and the path is often lined with rocks and exposed tree roots.
Where Niagara Falls began, some 12 thousand years ago. Niagara Glen is free, but you must be able-bodied for this hike.
Evidence of Early Niagara is everywhere in the Glen. Huge boulders are strewn about, all of which are pock-marked from water erosion.
Niagara Glen is quiet and serene now… not so 12 thousand years ago. It gives you an idea of what the underwater world of the Niagara Falls plunge pool must be like, which no one alive today will ever be able to see.
Niagara Glen will give you an immense impression about the origin of the falls… littered about like gravel are enormous boulders which are the left over debris of centuries of falling water. Bowman’s Ravine… and its ultimate end point, the Whirlpool Basin… leave quite an impression about the deceptive perils of the whirlpool rapids… which on the edge seem calm enough to for a cooling swim, but would certainly drown you if you tried. (Don’t even wade here!)
Picnic Area at the top of Bowman’s Ravine… much like the one at Dufferin Islands.
Please respect Bowman’s Ravine… and all of Niagara Falls Canada and USA. You’d be surprised how many don’t and leave their garbage behind.
Easy so far… the pathway entering into the woods for Bowman’s Ravine!
One thing I must make clear about Niagara Glen and Bowman’s Ravine is that the trails which lead to each were never intended for the average tourist. To access Niagara Glenn, one must traverse many flights of stairs on a very tall outdoor steel staircase… which is difficult enough going down, but which probably triples the effort required going back up. Once in the gorge, the trails which descend even further are rocky and steep and are sometimes blocked by fallen branches.
Beautiful scenery… it’s so nice in the Bowman Ravine woods.
If that’s not extreme enough for you, then Bowman’s Ravine is even more demanding. The trails through the ravine are so steep and daunting as to be harrowing to any elderly person, and should be considered absolutely positively off-limits for Grandma and Grandpa. (This is no exaggeration. If you fall on the trail leading down into Bowman’s Ravine, you will likely keep tumbling down at and increasing speed until you reach the edge of the whirlpool… unless the impact of a maple tree stops you first.)
On the shore of the Whirlpool Basin, with the Whirlpool Aerocar crossing the gorge in the distance. Only 10 feet off shore, the water boils with dangerous undercurrents… Don’t even think about swimming here!
Only dangerous if you get in the water… but if you stay on shore, the Whirlpool Basin is a popular spot for Niagara residents to fish!
While at the whirlpool, a Viceroy butterfly landed on my daughter for a rest (we’re guessing) then took off again after a few moments… now one of our Niagara Memories!
Either of Niagara Glenn or Bowman’s Ravine will reward a hiker with a breathtaking insight into the 12-thousand year old history of Niagara Falls… but I highly recommend keeping your travels to the walker-friendly Dufferin Islands area if you have any physical issues or balance problems of any kind.
The Floral Clock, in morning light with lack of crowds. All flowers, these designs are changed twice a year and none have ever been repeated in long history of the clock. Very beautiful! SPECIAL THANKS to DallasRay from TripAdvisor.com for permission to use this photo!
Also downstream from the falls is something known as the Floral Clock which also is free of charge. It’s a large diameter clock face formed completely out of arranged flowers and plants, set behind a running-water fountain pond with colorful fish.
Another look at the Floral Clock, later in the day with camera-clicking tourists. The Floral Clock is a ‘Classic Niagara Thing To See’ and makes for a pretty photo op for the Family Album. SPECIAL THANKS to Bob at BoarderLineMadness.com for permission to use his photo!
Although undeniably beautiful, it only takes a few minutes to look at and some might not think it worth the effort, and I might be inclined to agree… were it not for its proximity to the Botanical Gardens which are much expansive and which (for some reason) receives much less press.
No doubt where you’re at when you read this sign!
By all means, do visit the Floral Clock (very much a classical ‘Niagara Thing’ to do) but please also stroll the grounds further and marvel at the Botanical Gardens. They are immaculate, incredibly beautiful, full of songbirds and butterflies and are also absolutely free. Bear in mind however that the Botanical Gardens are sprawling and will involve some considerable walking for a complete look, so make sure you are up for those types of physical demands.
The flowers are exquisite in the Botanical Gardens… and will make lasting memories of your trip to Niagara Falls.
As a ‘Typical Guy’, I thought I’d be bored out of my mind the first time my wife took me to the Botanical Gardens… but I was happily mistaken. I was in awe of what these artists can create with flowers.
Simply put, the Botanical Gardens are a ‘must-see’, and they won’t cost you a dime. They are free to enjoy!
Relaxation in The Gardens for a young girl and her Best Friend! A SPECIAL THANKS to James Fouts for his permission to use all the preceding Botanical Gardens Photos!
A personal favorite of our family, the ‘Scooby Doo Tree!’, looking like it’s out to scare Shag and Scoob! (If you have to ask, you’re probably not in your late forties!)
If you choose to view the Floral Clock or the Botanical Gardens on a hot summer day, make sure you take sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen and a bottled water with you. I’m a man who normally doesn’t relish gardening, but even I enjoy with the Niagara Park Commission is able to do with flowers, mulch and a staff of super-dedicated and talented individuals!
(On a side note, please visit my friend Bob at his www.BorderLineMadness.com site and have a good look around! Bob promotes the goodwill which exist between the United States and Canada.. it’s quite a unique and informative site!)
Free Evening Rock Band reflected in the glass of one of the Illumination Building’s giant lights
Before you think that the ‘Free Things’ at the falls are limited only to the daylight hours, let me just add that on selected summer evenings, live rock bands play on the stage near the Illumination Building. I’ve listened to several of these bands over the past few years and can tell you that they are very competent musicians! It all contributes to a very cool nighttime atmosphere and costs absolutely nothing to lay a blanket on the grass and relax to some great music!
Niagara Falls at night has an atmosphere like nowhere else!
Fireworks after the band!
These are some of the ‘Free Things’ to do at Niagara Falls, but are by no means all of them. It never ceases to amaze us what we can do for Free at Niagara Falls, but to appreciate these things and to find some yourself, you really must hearken to what I said at the very beginning of this section… “All that’s required to enjoy Niagara Fall is a willingness to slow down, enjoy the scenery and soak in the atmosphere.” Once you’ve done that, you will find strolling around the grounds with a backpack full snacks and drink is enough for a very enjoyable outing at the falls. You’ll arrive back at your hotel knowing you’ve barely spent any money at a place with a reputation for costing a fortune!