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The Best Times to Visit Niagara Falls

June 11, 2019
7 min read
American & Bridal Veil Falls
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Thinking of visiting Niagara Falls? It’s quite the sight to see! This awe-inspiring destination encompasses three waterfalls – the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls – and straddles two countries – the United States and Canada. The thunder and spectacle of approximately 750,000 gallons of water rushing over every second thrills and amazes about 8 million visitors from around the world each year.

Nothing beats the view plus there are plenty of ways to get up close and personal with the falls. Something is bound to engage every single member of your family, from the youngest to the oldest. Determining the best time of year to visit depends on your travel goals.

The Best Weather in Niagara Falls

Since the falls are situated in the northeast, weather conditions vary widely from season to season and can change quickly. June through August brings the warmest weather with average daytime highs in the high 70s and low 80s. It’s peak season so you’ll spend more money and face more crowds but on the upside, all area attractions are in full swing. The crowds drop off in the spring and fall but so do the temperatures, typically running between 30 and 60 degrees. Winter is for hardy souls since it’s common for the thermometer to dip below freezing.

Maid of the Mist (Photo courtesy of Administrative Office Maid of the Mist Corp.)

The Best Time for a Close Encounter with Niagara Falls

May through October, boat tours below the falls are the thing to do. The Maid of the Mist departs from the American side (Ticket prices: $19.95 USD per adult, $11.20 USD per child [6–12 years], 5 and under are free) while Hornblower Niagara Cruises set sails from the Canadian side ($28.95 CAD per adult, $18.95 CAD per child [5–12 years], 4 and under are free; includes a funicular ride to boarding area). The approximate 20-minute tours bring passengers within feet of the cascading falls. Plastic rain ponchos are provided because there’s a good chance you’ll get wet! Reservations aren’t necessary although to avoid long lines you’d do well to avoid peak hours between 11am and 4pm. Patrons are advised to not bring strollers on board.

If you visit the Canadian side of the falls (highly recommended as it offers the best panoramic views), it’s possible to in effect go backstage and Journey Behind the Falls. First you take an elevator that descends 150 feet through bedrock to tunnels which lead to viewing portals behind the massive sheet of water. Then you can access Upper and Lower Observation decks at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. The cost is $21.95 CAD per adult, $14.00 CAD per child (6–12 years), and children under 5 are free. This attraction is open year-round although icy conditions in winter prevent the Lower Observation deck from remaining open due to safety reasons. On the upside, this closure means winter rates are reduced.

Cave of the Winds (Photo by Grant Taylor Photography, Inc. / Destination Niagara USA Media Library)

Meanwhile, on the American side of the falls, Cave of the Winds offers a similar up close and personal experience. You’re delivered via elevator into the Niagara Gorge, then a series of wooden walkways bring you within feet of the crashing Bridal Veil Falls. In colder months, the tour is somewhat abbreviated. It’s possible however, even in the depths of winter and when weather permits, to at least take the elevator down into the Gorge and experience Niagara in all its frostiness! Peak season admission is $19.00 USD per adult, $16.00 USD per child (Ages 6–12), and children under 5 are free. Prices are considerably lower the remainder of the year.

When to Visit Niagara Falls for Events

Every evening beginning at dusk, Niagara Falls’ natural beauty gets enhanced by a special light show. Since 1925, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board (NFIB) has provided nightly illumination with custom colors tied to significant dates on the calendar – green every hour for 15 minutes on St. Patrick’s Day, red, white and blue every hour for 15 minutes on the 4th of July, etc. Meanwhile, firework displays light up the skies from late spring through early fall. Check the seasonal fireworks and color illumination schedule here.

Photo by Stephen Matera / Destination Niagara USA Media Library

The annual Winter Festival of Lights brightens up the holiday season. Millions of twinkling lights and animated displays transform Queen Victoria Park (on the Canadian side) and other points in the Niagara Parks system from mid-November through mid-January.

The Best Times to See Wildlife in Niagara Falls

The Niagara River Corridor is internationally recognized as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA). Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, ducks, geese, 19-plus species of gulls and more flock here all year long. The Niagara Falls Observation Tower is even outfitted with “bird-friendly” glass which features a special striped design to prevent birds from colliding into it.

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Photo courtesy of Destination Niagara USA Media Library

When to Visit Niagara Falls to Avoid the Crowds

Tourism climbs in May, peaks in July and August and begins to decline in September. The cooler months in early spring and late fall are typically slower, although some attractions are either unavailable or restricted. Those willing to brave bone-chilling temps during the winter months may get to witness the unique beauty of the famous “frozen falls.”

The Cheapest Time to Visit Niagara Falls

Affordable Airfare

Based on historical data collected by the travel search engine for 2017 and 2018, flights to Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) – which is 24 miles from the falls – from New York and Los Angeles are cheapest in January. If you’re coming from Chicago, however, flight prices drop in September and October. Keep in mind that all family members will need to have a passport to cross the border and visit the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.

Affordable Hotels

Historical data collected by Priceline in 2017 and 2018 revealed that July is the most expensive time to visit Niagara Falls no matter which side of the border you stay. The average daily rate for 2–4 star hotels in both Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, NY was $177 USD in July 2018. The summer time frame (June–August) is overall the most expensive with average daily rates ranging from $168–$179 USD. Prices begin to rise in May, but are more affordable ($149 USD in 2018). Comparatively, cooler months (November–January) are typically less expensive with November being the least expensive for the combined areas with an average daily rate of $106 USD. The New York side is typically more affordable than the Ontario side of the Falls. Average daily rate for New York hotels overall is $122 USD compared to $141 USD in Ontario.

If you’re looking to cash in points for a free stay any time of year, you can use 45,000 IHG Rewards Club points at the Holiday Inn Niagara Falls — by the Falls, Ontario; 35,000 Marriott points at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Niagara Falls, NY; and 50,000 Hilton Honors points at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Niagara Falls, NY.

Bottom Line

While what time of year you visit Niagara Falls will determine what you experience, both summer and winter offer their unique charms. Once you marvel at the falls you'll realize what's important is not so much when you visit Niagara, but that you visit. Whenever you go, you won't regret it.

Featured image by New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation