There are few experiences like the Maid of the Mist (Niagara Falls State Park, 716/284-8897, 10am-5pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-6pm Sat.-Sun. Apr.-mid-May and Sept.-early Oct., 10am-6pm daily late May-late June, 9am-8pm daily late June-early Aug., 9am-7:30pm daily early Aug.-late Aug., 10am-5pm daily early Oct.-late Oct., $17 adults, $10 children 6-12). What begins as a gentle, 20-minute boat ride suddenly transforms into a journey into the heart of the falls. From the safety of the vessel, you are buffeted by heavy mist. It’s awe-inspiring to see the 17-story-high thundering wall of water that slams into the Lower Niagara River. For more than 150 years, this ride has thrilled millions of tourists and is the top attraction in Niagara.
People looking to avoid getting soaked can find limited shelter on the lower deck in the middle of the boat.Once you’re aboard the boat, relax and enjoy the view. After the boat pulls away from the dock, it passes American Falls. Notice the stairs along the left (north) side of the falls. This is part of the Crow’s Nest, and can be accessed after the boat ride.
As the boat moves onward, you’ll approach Bridal Veil Falls, flowing between Luna Island and Goat Island. You’ll see brave folks underneath this waterfall, experiencing the Cave of the Winds. There’s a deceptively calm stretch of water, the quiet before the storm. Thousands of waterfowl can be seen resting or building nests in the rocky ledges of the gorge.
The chatter of the birds gives way to the ominous din of Horseshoe Falls. As the boat enters the basin beneath the falls, water thunders down from a precipice 17 stories above. Wind whips mist from all sides as the boat bobs upon a boiling cauldron of water. For five intense minutes, the boat fights the surging waters and the unpredictable wind dictates visibility.
Riders on the upper deck or in the lower bow area receive the brunt of the mist. People looking to avoid getting soaked can find limited shelter on the lower deck in the middle of the boat. How wet you get depends mostly on the wind’s velocity and direction, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll stay dry. The poncho provides sufficient protection for your camera and phone during the heaviest periods of misting.
As the boat travels back to the dock, consider heading to the rear of the lower deck. The boat’s stern provides an excellent vantage point for capturing the panorama of the gorge. The Maid of the Mist boat ride affords a rare opportunity to photograph the falls and gorge from water level in the Lower Niagara River.
The ticket booths are near Prospect Point, about 500 yards from the visitors center. Board the boat via the elevators at the base of the Observation Tower. Avoid a long line for the Maid of the Mist tour by arriving before 11am, though you won’t usually wait longer than 20 minutes (except on U.S. holidays like Independence Day and Labor Day). If you plan to visit both sides of the border, there are advantages to taking the tour on the U.S. side. It is less expensive and there are usually shorter lines. There’s also an added attraction, included in the price of the boat ride, called the Crow’s Nest, which leads you up a set of stairs along American Falls.
After exiting the boat, continue past the elevators and you’ll see the Crow’s Nest. The Crow’s Nest is an excellent natural observation deck at the base of American Falls, set atop giant boulders that are the remnants of a massive rockslide. The stairs that lead to the Crow’s Nest are somewhat steep, but safe, and they permit an up-close view of American Falls. Keep your rain poncho from the Maid of the Mist if you plan to visit the Crow’s Nest. At the entrance to the Crow’s Nest are park benches (a great place to catch your breath) and bathrooms. Buying a ticket for the Observation Tower ($1) will also gain you access to the Crow’s Nest, if you aren’t riding on the Maid of the Mist.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Niagara Falls.