Our best Niagara Falls winter weekend itinerary
We have been to Niagara Falls multiple times and it is a different experience every time. The weather, crowds, and priorities can all change things dramatically. This trip, Feb.17 to 20, 2023, seemed to be a charmed trip, during which the weather and crowds all cooperated. We saw more than planned without running ourselves ragged.
Here is how things went:
We left our home in Western Pennsylvania around noon on Friday so that we could make the 5-hour or so drive at a peaceful pace while arriving at a decent hour to grab dinner and be rested for the next day.
We like to stay in smaller, boutique hotels when possible. This time we chose Sterling Inn & Spa. Another boutique hotel that we like a few blocks away is the Old Stone Inn.
Both of these options are historic buildings which have been converted into hotels. They offer great service and a very comfortable stay. The Sterling has huge rooms with modern decor, a spa, and a gourmet farm-to-table restaurant onsite. The Old Stone Inn was charming with a cozy wine bar, game area, and restaurant complete with winter domes. Plus, they welcome dogs.
We particularly like that both are a couple of blocks away from the excitement making them close enough to enjoy things without being in amongst the noise and bustle. Plus, the beds were very comfortable and I definitely did not need my Packable Bed Roll.
On Friday evening, we found a fantastic Italian restaurant that offered both gluten free pizza and pasta. Antica Pizzeria also had a very clever 4-season pizza and chocolate stout that Jim very much enjoyed. After dinner, we walked the two blocks or so back to the hotel and settled into our comfy room for the night.
Currency Note: Most places accept both U.S. and Canadian currency (which is very pretty), but give change in Canadian. It is likely easiest to use a debit or credit card to avoid leftover currency if you reside in the U.S. Be sure to check current exchange rate and any related bank fees.
The next morning started with the room service breakfast (included daily with the room).
We got a good giggle over the instructions with the French Press coffee. That was a new skill for us and we really enjoyed the result. The pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs were even still warm.
After enjoying our breakfast, we set off on our adventure. As is often the case, we love to share our travels with friends and family. On this occasion, we wanted to give the gift of travel to Jim’s mother for her birthday. She does so much for others so we wanted to do something special for her. We created fantastic memories together over this weekend. I can tell you that we should all be so lucky to have the energy at 83 that she does. She did not miss a beat and the places we visited always had a place to rest for a few minutes if needed. We had a wonderful time sharing the experience together.
I had purchased the Wonder Pass Plus. When you purchase online, you can pick it up at your first stop. It is a fantastic deal and the scannable card on a lanyard can be used numerous times at each place until it expires. In our case, it will expire in May as the seasons include different attractions and pricing. It even comes with multiple coupons, of which we used many.
Transportation Note: We had intended to take advantage of the WEGO Niagara Falls bus that is included as part of the pass, but this time of year they only run every 26 minutes or so and it was just too cold to wait so we took the car and parked down by the falls. It ran $30 for the whole day but it was nice to have the car there with us and the pass was still totally worth it. Uber is also an option that can save you some uphill climbing in town.
We hurriedly walked from the car to the walkway by the falls giggling like excited children. We have all seen them before, but it is still such an amazing thing to behold.
Our first stop was the Table Rock Welcome Center which is the home to multiple attractions. We started with the must-see Journey Behind the Falls.
There is an elevator for those who prefer to avoid the stairs, you just need to ask them at the desk (which is also where we picked up our card and lanyard). The elevator is conveniently located within the gift shop, for which you have a coupon that comes with your Wonder Pass. How convenient; especially if you love snuggly red and black plaid items.
After getting off to a wonderful start, we thought that grabbing lunch before the crowd might be a good idea and we were rewarded with an amazing view, fabulous service, and wonderful food at the Table Rock House Restaurant The view was perfect, food was fantastic, and service was fabulous. I advise arriving early, in-between meals, or making a reservation to get a seat with a view.
Next, we saw the Niagara’s Fury 4D Experience. It is a “4D” experience but it is not too much for those with motion sickness and ponchos are provided for the small bit of water used. It is a cute attraction with some interesting information about the falls.
The entrance to the Falls Incline Railway is right behind the building and the fee is included in the pass so we took a quick ride up and down to check out the view. It was worth the ride to get a bird’s eye view of the falls.
After we rode back down, we took the short walk over to the Niagara Parks Power Station & Tunnel. The Power Station has been turned into an attraction that includes a museum, tunnel, and a nighttime show (extra cost) that might remind one of the various immersive art experiences that have become popular. The Currents night show is only about 30 minutes and a bit expensive, but it is a fun experience for kids and adults alike.
The true showstopper for us here was the paved tunnel that leads to a patio next to the base of the falls (ponchos provided). It opened last year and the half a mile or so walk each way is well worth it. Wheelchairs are provided for those who may need assistance. As if on cue, a double rainbow appeared and made our day!
We found out that there would be fireworks that evening at 8 p.m. and were very eager to see the falls lit up as well so we hung out in the warm car for about 30 minutes in between the show and the fireworks before making our way down to walkaway again. We were rewarded with a short but impactful fireworks show that accented the lit falls. Definitely a site to make anyone smile!
After that, we called it a night and after 12 hours and 18,852 steps, we all slept well.
We decided that Sunday would be for seeing the American side of the falls so we grabbed our passports, hopped in the car and headed over the Rainbow Bridge. I strongly advise doing any bridge crossing early since customs can create a bit of a delay and the attractions become more crowded as the day goes on.
We began with our top priority on that side which was Cave of the Winds. We paid the $10 parking fee which covers all of the parking areas within Niagara State Park for the entire day. Upon arrival, we were lucky that there was hardly anyone else there. We took the elevator down to the platform and were mesmerized by the otherworldly feeling of the frozen landscape at the base of Bridal Veil Falls.
As I am often known to do, I had to look for new angles in an effort to capture the awe of the moment.
We walked around a bit in that area of the park and then moved the car over by the Observation Tower, which is also where the Maid of the Mist departs from in season.
A new Visitor Center is also under construction that looks like it will be amazing. There was no charge to enjoy the observation tower and there is an elevator for those wishing to avoid the steep ramp and stairs.
The view is wonderful but be advised that the wind is wicked and can kick up at any moment. I have no doubt that many a phone has ended up under that bridge. There is an enclosed area but the glass obstructs photography, so I chose to brave the wind.
As we were leaving around 11 or so, the crowds were quickly thickening so we decided to head out of the crowd.
Many folks had recommended Niagara-on-the Lake so we made the spontaneous decision to check it out. We were not disappointed! We made note of the numerous wineries and plan to make a trip back in the future.
After figuring out where and how to pay to park in the public lot, we asked a nice gentleman about where he might recommend, we grab lunch. We followed his advice and very much enjoyed our meal at Olde Angel Inn. Poutine is a Canadian delight of french fries with cheese curds and brown gravy. Jim really enjoyed his Steak and Guinness Poutine dish.
We wandered the streets for a bit and checked out some of the cute shops and then got a quick view of the Toronto skyline from the park on Lake Ontario.
We then chose to head back to the hotel for some down time, or in my case, to process photos. The next morning, we checked out and made our way home.
Niagara Falls and the wonderful people working there put on quite a show for us! This trip exceeded our expectations, and we highly recommend Niagara Falls in every season.