With a chill in the air and your breath turning to mist in front of you, Niagara Falls becomes a different place over the winter.
The nights are still lit as usual, but with Christmas colours; the water still roars as it tumbles over the falls, but the mist it creates turns to ice on the metal railings, making Table Rock appear like a scene from an oil painting.
People still travel from around the world to come here, but the crowds don’t seem so “busy.” The pace is a little more relaxed, and in some ways it’s a better way to see the city that way.
There is plenty to do here that won’t cost you a penny.
Let’s say you arrive over the winter, in November, December or January. Start by parking for free at Dufferin Islands, about one kilometre upriver from the falls themselves.
You can walk along the Niagara River down toward the falls. Stop for a while and look at the barge, stranded for more than a century out in the water atop the falls.
Ice-covered now, underneath the iron is rusting. Your parents and grandparents probably looked at it when they were young.
But it’s falling apart; time and water are tearing it to pieces, and it might not last for many more years.
Pause at the top of the falls and just take in the beauty. There is still mist in the air over the waterfalls, but in the churning whirlpool below ice is probably forming.
Some years, an entire bridge of ice collects. In the old days, people were actually allowed to go down to walk and play on it.
The water is still moving underneath it, though, and while the scenery is beautiful conditions are terribly dangerous. No one is allowed on the ice now.
Make this same walk at night, and you can enjoy the annual Winter Festival of Lights, which kicks off November 16 with a day of festivities and runs until January 12.
Thousands and thousands of lights are mounted on fascinating displays, some of them interactive.
Nighttime Niagara Falls comes alive in a way it just doesn’t during the warmer months, and the festival route runs along the falls area, through Clifton Hill and to Victoria Avenue and the Fallsview Boulevard district.
Depending on the weather, Parks Canada opens a free outdoor skating rink on the grounds of historic Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
It’s a little special, skating with your family on that site with the wood-walled fort in the background. And it’s strictly for skaters, not hockey players, which makes it ideal for a fun family outing.
If you enjoy hiking, doing it in winter at Queenston Heights a few kilometres north of the Horseshoe Falls is a pretty special outing.
The Bruce Trail starts there, but even if you don’t walk it there are still plenty of paths, and even a few caves, to explore.
A trip to Niagara Falls doesn’t have to be expensive. But if you would like to go out for a nice meal at the end of the day, there are dozens of restaurants to choose from that can suit any taste or price range.
The city is known for its thrills and chills and gambling venues. But days-out like this are a reminder it can be a nice, satisfying place for families to enjoy together too.