“Hello, I’m here to see the big waterfall,” is the thing I wanted to say to the customs agent after walking from America to Canada via the Rainbow International Bridge over the Niagara River. But, in the moment, I was stunned by the attractiveness of the Canadian border agent and how friendly he seemed as he reached out his paw to take my passport.
“Why are you entering Canada?” he asked, with deliberate eye contact.
“To see the falls,” I said, and he nodded, just a little, because yes, like all the other lunatics who had crossed before me, I wanted to see Niagara Falls.
“How long are you planning to be here?” was the next question he asked and I hesitated momentarily and reminded myself to not snark at a Canadian customs agent, shrugged and told him I’d probably be there for a few hours, at most.
And then he let me into Canada.
Everyone said the falls were better on the Canadian side, that I just had to get myself to Canada to see them.
“If you’re gonna go, go to Canada,” they said. “Canada is better.”
“‘MERICA!” was typically my response to their praise of our northern neighbor, but I got their point: The view was better from Canada.
I did a little internet investigating and learned that the Rainbow International Bridge crosses the Niagara River and that it’s around a 1.5 mile saunter from the parking lots on the American side to Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, the biggest and most badass-est of falls.
I parked at 10 a.m., wandered for a bit, walked to Canada and by noon I was back in America and, having scene falls from both sides of the river, I can definitively say that yes, the view is indeed better from Canada.
Not that the views from the American side are bad, not at all.
You’re still looking at an incredible series of waterfalls, no matter what side of the border you’re on, but if you want to look straight at the falls – the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls – Canada is your best bet.
“Where are you from?” asked the American customs officer when I tried to return to my native land. He was only a little less attractive than the Canadian officer was, but much less pleased with me.
“Richmond, in Virginia,” I said.
He looked up at me, scowled, stared at me for a few seconds.
“There’s a lot of people from Richmond crossing today,” he said.
“Oh, that’s neat,” I said, growing vaguely concerned by his accusatory tone, as if Richmonders were collectively fleeing Virginia and heading north via a bridge next to a big fucking waterfall.
But, he handed me back my passport, I turned and walked out the doors, back to America, where, I realized, I still had a lot of time. My flight didn’t leave Buffalo for another five hours, so I figured, fuck it. I’m going to get on a boat.
Maybe you’ve seen it, the tourists decked in blue or red rain ponchos getting pelted by the mist as their boat cruises up close to the falls, ponchoed families leaning over the railing of an upper deck posing for the perfect photo opp.
I’d discounted it as tacky and silly, but as I stood in Canada and watched boat after boat cruise the river and hover around the falls, I got curious.
I felt giddy when they handed me my blue poncho. This is ridiculous, I thought. It was early still, I was alone and the boat wasn’t crowded. Most people went upstairs or pushed toward the front, but I stayed in the back of the boat, enjoying the space and the ability to take a few pictures without elbowing anybody in the neck.
We launched, a recording started telling us the history of the falls, the basic details of all those gallons of water that crash down each day, and then we sidled up to the American Falls and, beside it, Bridal Veil Falls.
We were misted immediately, cruised slowly by and then motored ahead, toward Horseshoe Falls, the main event. The boat turned as we approached and I was immediately pelted with mist. It’s a lot, the mist of that big fucking waterfall. I was happy to be downstairs, away from the crowd and the full force of the mist.
We stayed for a bunch of minutes, the boat hovering near the falls, birds flying overhead and riding the waves, people posing for photos as the mist soaked any uncovered part of their person.
I couldn’t stop myself from smiling at this ridiculous adventure, this exposure to the misty force of a waterfall. There were birds, more than I expected, flying around the mist, floating in the water and riding the waves, doing their bird thing.
Sometimes I wish there was someone else with me to experience the things I see, but sometimes I don’t. This was one of the times when I was glad to be alone, glad to be able to carve out my own empty space to experience it, to lean over the rain without distraction and absorb the experience without having to share.
NICE TO KNOWS
- If you plan to cross the bridge to Canada, it will cost you $1 to return to America, to be paid in quarters. Coin machines are available at the crossing to break your small bills, American or Canadian.
- You’ll need a passport to cross the border.
- Plan to do a good bit of walking, no matter how you choose to experience the falls. There’s also a free shuttle available that runs a 14-mile, 15-stop circuit from Old Fort Niagara to the Falls.
- Like most tourist attractions, early is always better. I got there around 10 a.m. on a Friday and it wasn’t too busy and there was plenty of parking in the lots, but by noon things started to get considerably more busy.
- As much as I enjoyed telling people I walked to Canada, the best thing I did was get on the boat. Tickets are $20 and, depending on which side of the river you’re on, you can either ride the Maid of the Mist, which departs from the American side, or The Hornblower, which departs from the Canadian side.
- All-day parking is available on the American side for $10 in these lots.
- The mist is real and you will get soaked within a few minutes of close proximity to the falls. Be extra mindful of electronics and camera gear as mist is a sneaky fuck that will break all your shit.
- Be aware that your phone may lose signal once you cross the river and enter Canada or when you get on the boat. Be sure to have maps, etc. downloaded to your phone in advance, or consider adding an international option if you plan to spend more time in Canada.