If you’ve been at UR for a little while, there’s a good chance you’ve visited the iconic Niagara Falls. Conveniently located an hour and a half away, Niagara Falls is a great day trip for any time of year. 

As a Rochester native, I’ve seen the falls in summer and winter, on both sides of the border. While the Canadian side is currently inaccessible, the American side has plenty of fun activities even in the unforgiving cold of Western New York winter!

This past January I visited Niagara Falls State Park to check out the newly upgraded Cave of the Winds and to take advantage of their free snowshoe offer.

Once I got there, I quickly learned that you can’t trust the Niagara Falls live webcam to tell you if there’s snow or not. The whiteness in the video masking the ground was not actually fresh snow, but a thick layer of ice formed by the mist of the falls. This ice closed multiple walkways and all the best viewing areas nearest to the moving water, but there are still some decent viewing areas along the salted sidewalks surrounding the Cave of the Winds Pavilion and Terrapin Point on Goat Island.

A closeup of ice coating a clump of grass.

Cave of the Winds tickets are available for $5, and it’s open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. Despite what its name suggests, Cave of the Winds is actually just a few wooden platforms that bring you pretty close to Bridal Veil Falls. There used to be a cave behind the falls, but due to safety concerns about falling rocks, it was officially closed in 1955.

Cave of Winds viewing platform.

Last year a new platform was built for winter viewing of the falls, and I finally got around to checking it out. Unlike in summer, you don’t get drenched by the mist. You’re still pretty close to a section of the falls, and there are tons of cool (pun intended) ice formations surrounding the rushing water. 

Fun iPhone photo tip you may not know: If you take a live photo and swipe up on the photo you can choose to make it a “long exposure.” This works best if you can hold your phone very still for a few seconds before and after you take the photo.

After spending about two hours enjoying the Cave of the Winds and walking around to the different viewpoints on Goat Island, I headed back to the mainland to visit the Niagara Falls Observation Tower, which has free entry in the winter. It offers some great views on an observation deck of the Canadian city, both falls and Rainbow Bridge. A quick walk away is a more up-close viewing of the American Falls and the rapids of the Niagara River. I spent around a half hour at the observation deck before heading home in time for the Bills game, like the loyal fan I am.

If you aren’t constrained by football, the Aquarium of Niagara is nearby, along with some touristy restaurants and the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino. In the summer months, the Maid of the Mist is open, and two nearby state parks — Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole — are in safer conditions. 

I’d recommend arriving early to avoid crowds, not only because they’re annoying but because they’re also relatively dangerous now. Stay safe, keep your mask on, and keep a distance from other tourists if you can. 

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