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A wheelchair accessible family guide to Niagara

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The Niagara Falls

I bet this isn’t the view you’re used to! Did you know 90% of Niagara’s visitor’s skip out on the U.S. side of the falls? I used to make that same mistake. It’s said that in Canada you can see the falls, but in New York you can feel the falls. Not only does the U.S. side offer unique views of Horseshoe Falls, it also gives an unparalleled experience in walking over, between, and through the rushing waters.

Niagara Falls U.S.A. recently went through a $70 million dollar renovation that largely focused on making the park and scenic areas ADA accessible. It’s easy to navigate with a wheelchair, there’s loads of fun beyond just the breathtaking falls, it’s significantly more budget friendly than across the border, and, for now, it’s the only side we can get to!

When to Go

Summer months are the most crowded, but that could be because it gets really cold at the falls in the winter! In fact, if you’re willing to brave the low temps, you can catch the amazing spectacle of a frozen Niagara Falls. We’ve been in June and had temps as low as 40 degrees. We’ve also hit highs in the 70’s in that same month. Moral of the story? Pack a jacket, whenever you go!

The falls are equally stunning regardless what season it is (the area is on fire with color during fall foliage and the park has plenty of spring blooms).

Getting There and Around

You can fly right into Buffalo (about 30 minutes from the falls), or drive in from wherever. Before you snag that budget flight into JFK, just keep in mind that it’s about a seven hour drive from there to Niagara! It may be worth the extra ticket money… Because we only live a few states away, we drive in. Once we’re there, we rarely use the car. There are plenty of hotels within walking distance of the falls, and almost all of the fun is in that same walking zone. This is an easy place to stick the car in a garage and just come back for it when you’re done (or skip out on a costly rental car!).

Parking

Admission to the park is free, but parking is not. Your hotel will likely charge you $20 for parking – some will charge for that for each re-entry. If you’re up for it, you can park once and walk/roll on your own for the rest. There is free handicap parking in Niagara Falls State Park, but it’s still a bit of a walk from the main falls. The free handicap parking is just before lot 3, near the Three Sisters islands (past the first two main lots). You can also pay $10 to park in the main state park lots. This will still be cheaper than paying for street parking, or an outside lot, and walking in.

What to Do

Go for a Walk/Roll 

Obviously the main attraction is the head of the falls.  The farther you walk, however, the more splendor you’re able to take in.  I cannot begin to explain, and pictures cannot do justice to, the breath taking beauty along the trails that lead up to, through, and around the falls.  There is an intimacy with the falls that is unique to the U.S. side.

All of the main trails and vistas are wheelchair accessible, with the exception of connecting to the Bridal Veil falls, where you’ll need to back track for the ramp (so the view is still accessible).

Head to the Bottom

I wouldn’t have thought to do the Cave of the Winds because, well, all those steps!  Turns out, you can take ramps most of the way in.  I’ve read mixed reviews on this, and I’m not sure if the view has improved with recent upgrades, but I feel 100% comfortable saying the view is worth it, even from the accessible point.  You can’t access the hurricane deck, but I wouldn’t have wanted to try that with a wheelchair, anyway.  There was plenty of mist and stunning view to keep both my son and me happy.  Actually, his brother and sister didn’t go up to the hurricane deck by choice.  The Cave of the Winds, the Maid of the Mist, the observation tower – it’s all accessible.  The tour also includes interesting back story on the falls and the park.

Keep Walking/Rolling

Falls Blvd. and the surrounding area offers fun shops, wine tastings, and restaurants.  There are plenty of pop-up shops, which makes for some more affordable souvenir options.  Having so much available right off the street also makes for easy accessibility. My kids don’t like shopping, but there were plenty of things… and treats… to keep them engaged along the way.  When we visited before the pandemic, we were able to play corn hole, life-size connect four and other kid games on our walk back to our hotel. I’m not sure when things like that will return.

Get Charged Up

The Niagara Power Vista is an incredibly “powerful” experience, and it’s free to the public! We learned, we played, and we had a blast. Plan to spend some time here – we didn’t get to do it all in the two hours we’d allotted. There were plenty of buttons to push for the littles and more engaging experiences for the big kids.  It even included a 4D film experience where you live the life of a water droplet making energy! Fully wheelchair accessible.

Stop and Sip

I mentioned the wineries along Falls Blvd, but did you know that Niagara Falls U.S.A. has its own wine trails? You can make an entire side trip of just wineries. If wine is your thing, you may also want to head just a tad south to the Finger Lakes – the wine region of the East Coast

Feed the Penguins

The Aquarium of Niagara is filled with friends of the underwater variety – and penguins! This is a fun place to visit, and you can even go into the penguin exhibit for a feeding. The entire place was easy to navigate by wheelchair. Follow the sidewalk from handicap parking to the side door and ring the bell for admission through the accessible entrance.

Walk Through History

Old Fort Niagara is just up the road (driving) and offers a unique opportunity to jump 300 years back in time. In addition to the fort and lighthouse, they have several exhibits and demonstrations. You may even be able to catch a reenactment.

Where to Eat

Falls Blvd.

Just take a stroll and pick a favorite. From food trucks to favorite chains, there’s something for everyone along the strip.

Rainforest Cafe

Rainforest Cafe is a fun one, since we usually only find them in major vacation spots! We had dinner at The Rainforest Café, which doesn’t sound budget friendly, until you learn that happy hour brings $1 hot dogs, $2 pizzas, and $3 nachos!  Our family of five had dinner and drinks for about $20.  Win.  If you’re not up for eating in, you’re also welcome to take the kids through to see the animals, without being a customer.

Top of the Falls Restaurant

Top of the Falls Restaurant is the best place to dine with a view. The food isn’t anything to write home about, but you’re paying for the view. I suggest lunch or a midday snack. The elevator is just inside the main entrance on the left.

Where to Stay

The hotels in Niagara run incredible deals. We typically stay in chains that would be outside of our norm, because they’re offering rooms cheaper than the campgrounds!

Sheraton 

The Sheraton in Niagara Falls, NY, is the best hotel for families in Niagara Falls U.S.A.. Hands down. I typically avoid hotels that don’t include breakfast, but this one was worth the exchange.  It’s one of those places that you’d go on vacation just to stay in the hotel.  We didn’t have enough time to take full advantage of all they had to offer (let’s talk about spa packages…).  Also, they have family suites – meaning bunk beds and closed doors. And a shark tank… because, why not? The Rainforest Café is inside the hotel, along with a large arcade and a TGIFriday’s that serves a spectacular breakfast. Book through Groupon for a steal.

Holiday Inn

The Holiday Inn is positioned just outside of the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park – making it an easy place to stay and play. Their customer service was top notch.

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