After two days of city walks on our walking tour of Canada we needed some wide open spaces, and where better than our next destination, Niagara Falls.
There are in fact three falls that flow into the Niagara River which forms a natural boundary between Canada and the US, but the Canadian falls, the Horseshoe Falls, are the biggest. The other two falls are the American Falls and the much smaller neighbouring Bridal Veil Falls, separated from the American falls by Luna Island, a mere 130ft (40m) wide.
All three falls are best viewed from the Canadian side and many American visitors used to walk or drive over the Rainbow Bridge that connects the two countries – so called because the spray from the Falls often creates rainbows on sunny days. However, in today’s environment of tighter security a passport is now needed and since around 60% of Americans don’t have passports the number of visitors from the US has fallen considerably.
Many people think that the Falls are in a remote area but in fact they are in the city. We walked along footpath and roadway that follows the river bank towards the falls. On the opposite side of the road to the river the area consists of smart hotels and manicured gardens, some of which need little in the way of watering thanks to the spray from the falls. The closer we got the more we needed a waterproof jacket or umbrella, and the more crowded the pavements became. This is a hugely popular area we were very impressed, not only by the magnificence of the Falls but also how the Canadians had made them so accessible. Not a single toll gate in site; the area is free and open to all and we got to within feet of the top of the Horseshoe Falls – surely one of the most popular places in the world to take photographs.
Just behind the smart hotels and gardens is downtown Niagara. Much of this part of the city and particularly the Clifton Hill area, look more like an amusement park with a range of attractions, lower priced accommodation and eateries catering for families. Attractions such as the upside down house, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum and several wax works, one cheekily named ‘Louis Tussauds’, can keep kids, young and old, amused for hours. Niagara is not just for honeymooners and sight-seers, it is very much a family destination.
Of course, no visit to Niagara would be complete without a boat ride into the whirlpool at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. For many years this was provided by the famous “Maid of the Mist” but a few years ago she transferred to the American shore and Canadian trips are now handled by Hornblower Cruises, one advantage apparently being that there is a part of the ship where you can stand and not get wet, although we never found it. Along with all the other passengers we were provided with hooded plastic ponchos to help keep out the water which feels like driving rain as you approach the Falls. It is from the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, cascading 2.2 million litres of water a second into the Niagara River, that you really appreciate the might of the second largest waterfall in the world.
Whilst the Falls are the central attraction, the area boasts numerous vineyards, many of which are happy to welcome visitors in the hope that you might buy a bottle or two, and of course we paid one of them a visit. Typical wine production here includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling.
We visited nearby picturesque townships such as Niagara on the Lake, Jordan and the Balls Falls Conservation Area. It is one of the earliest settlements in this part of Canada and includes the Grist Mill dating back to 1809 and St George Church, built in 1864.
We also walked along part of the famous Welland Canal and seven of its locks. The canal allows cargo ships to sail between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. It is part of a network of canals linking the Great Lakes that allows cargo from both Canada and US cities such as Detroit and Chicago to reach ocean-going vessels at ports such as Montreal and Quebec. The locks are required to overcome the natural obstacle of the Niagara Escarpment which, in 1990, was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
Our final walk, shorter but tricky, was along part of the famous Bruce Trail. The Trail was named after one of the Governor Generals of Canada, James Bruce, eighth Earl of Elgin. Originally conceived in 1959, this hiking trail follows the edge of the escarpment for over 500 miles (800 km), from Queenston Ontario, on the Niagara river, to Tobermory, some 300 km north west of Toronto. The trail also has over 400 km of side trails and is the longest marked trail in Canada. A number of local clubs have sprung up along its path and they provide volunteers to help maintain the trail, its pathways, bridges and stairways. It is clearly on the ‘to do’ list of hikers from around the world.
Canada may take a bit of getting to, but the journey is well worth the effort. As with the other places we visited, we found Canadians welcoming, happy to see us and happy to help, and we were assured by an assistant in a sandwich shop that we could feel perfectly safe in Canada, something that we had already realised.
For more information on this and other walking holidays contact HF Holidays on 0345 470 8558 or visit www.hfholidays.co.uk
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