Niagara Falls With a Dog – Ontario – Canada
I don’t often go to super touristy places, but you know what, Dear Reader? Sometimes you go and it turns out that the place is popular because it deserves to be. Now granted, the city of Niagara Falls isn’t much to go on about. It’s pretty standard stuff: lots of cookie cutter homes in odd mismatched neighbourhoods, big hotels, no landscaping along the roads, and parking lots. Lots and lots of parking lots. A sea of asphalt.
But don’t let that first impression of Niagara Falls fool you.
It turns out that Niagara Falls is hiding a wonderful secret behind its less than attractive approach: a wonderfully scenic pet-friendly walk along the river’s edge. The walk even includes Niagara Falls’ most famous landmark—the Horseshoe Falls.
If you want to know all sorts of fun trivia about the Falls, check out these two articles. The first one has information about the geography of the Falls and the second one has information about the social history. Did you know that the Falls are a result of the Ice Age and that the first person to attempt to go over the Falls in a barrel took her cat with her? Both survived! (The cat had an edge: they have nine lives after all.)
Introducing the Niagara Parkway
We will be mentioning the Niagara Parkway in our post on Niagara-on-the-Lake and the post on the surrounding region, known as Queenston. That is because the Parkway winds its way from Fort Erie, through Niagara Falls, then Queenston, and ends in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Parkway is so lovely that it is reputed to have prompted Winston Churchill, that bulldog of a British prime minister, to declare that it is “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” Wow. How’s that for an endorsement?
So, for this post, we’ll focus on the tail end of the Parkway that crosses the city of Niagara Falls proper. The Niagara Falls area is not that big—very walk-able, in fact—but there is so much to enjoy!
We left the Stone Mill Inn where we were staying (more on that later), and made our way through a parking lot (one of oh, so many, parking lots!), and passed the foot of the Skylon Tower, a big tower that looms over the entire area. There is a restaurant at the top of the Skylon Tower that’s supposed to have an incredible view, but since pets are not allowed, we gave the restaurant a pass. Instead, we crossed a small pedestrian bridge over Murray Street (the street that leads you down to the Horseshoe Falls, if you’re driving), and checked out Queen Victoria Park, a Niagara park that runs behind the Fallsview Casino and along the Niagara River.
The Park and the Funicular
The gardens were a delightful surprise. The flower beds were being replanted for summer since the spring tulips were done and wilting. There’s a great view of the Niagara River and the American Falls on the other side of the river. The little secret gardens tucked away here and there are charming. We enjoyed a wonderful morning coffee poking around. (Coffee was taken “to go” from the hotel.)
From the gardens, we made our way up the park to the Falls Incline Railway. It’s an inclined funicular that connects the Fallsview Tourist Area up top (where we were) to the Table Rock area at the falls below. This little funicular was originally called the Horseshoe Falls Incline when it was built in 1966. I thought I had seen something like it before and, sure enough, I had … in Switzerland!
Turns out the funicular was built by the Swiss. Such a small world. When the Swiss originally built it, the Incline cars were open-air. It wasn’t until very recently, in 2013, that the cars were rebuilt as closed cars, allowing the funicular to be open all year round. The distance the funicular covers isn’t very great and it is an insanely slow ride. Normally we would walk such a short distance, but we wanted to experience the little ride at least once.
Sadly, the funicular is not pet friendly. It is, however, open to service animals and even ESAs. Having said that, if your dog is tiny like me and you have a discrete bag … not that you got the idea from me. *wink*
When you ride the Incline, you realize why the ride is so slow. It’s the view. It’s pretty darn stellar and the quiet, slow pace allows you to take it all in and record it with a few photos.
The Incline drops you off at the Table Rock Welcome Centre, a retail and observation area located right at the edge of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Part of the building dates back to 1926, and it just sort of kept growing from then. It now has two buildings with souvenir shops, a welcome center with very nice staff …
… a food court, and a semi-formal restaurant that wasn’t pet friendly, so we did not go in to try the menu. Should you be travelling without a canine companion, the Centre is where you can buy your tickets to the Journey Behind the Falls. It’s supposed to be a great experience but is, sadly, out of bounds for dogs.
There is, however, plenty to look at right around the Centre. For one thing, other than going down behind the falls, this is the closest you can get to the Horseshoe Falls. Be warned: there will be mist! I had to suffer the indignity of my fur crimping. *sigh*
But the noise, the humidity… it’s all very exciting. There is an electrifying energy in the cool and damp air.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we decided to follow the pathway along the river. We headed south and found the Lover’s Tree. It’s a tree that grows in what looks like the wrong direction! The tree’s branches fall to the ground, creating a natural tent with a canvas of lush green leaves.
Of course, Mom and Dad felt compelled to go in “en famille” and take a “kissy selfie” hidden from all the tourists. Those big kids … I tell you. I have to admit that I did find this natural tent intriguing and busied myself with sniffing the above ground roots. I am happy to report that the bipeds did not carve their names in the tree. Good humans.
We strolled onwards through the area known as Rapids View Park, which led us straight to the Canadian Niagara Power Station (Rankine Generating Station). With all that water powering over the falls—about 6 million cubic feet per minute!—it really is no surprise that this area has played a larger part in Canadian hydroelectric history. The Rankine Generating Station is no longer operational, but it is maintained intact. (Check out this article about the building, with photographs taken inside.)
As we continued our walk, we came across yet another generating station, the Toronto Power Station. It is not functional any longer either, but it, too, is kept intact.
We took a number of little bridges to cross over water reservoirs and came face to face with yet another exceptionally beautiful building, all boarded up. The building looked like it had been accidentally teleported over from Europe and now was sitting abandoned, no one quite sure what to do with the building now that it had landed in Niagara Falls.
Most of these buildings no longer serve their original purpose and there is a lot of debate about what to do with these extraordinary structures. I do hope they are preserved and someone comes forward with some great ideas to give these beauties another lease on life. I can honestly say that over my travels in Canada, I have not to date ever seen anything like them. I think that at least one of the buildings could host a massive one-stop-shop for all the local wineries. Mate wine with food pairings, and add a museum on wine in the region. Oh, and add an inn! An inn–restaurant–wine cellar–museum. Maybe I should send in my idea to the Niagara Parks Commission now that they are in charge!
Dufferin Island Park
The sun was hot at this point, so I was more than happy to finally make it to Dufferin Island Park. Here, everything changed. We entered into a little world of miniature lakes, dirt paths, and the quiet buzzing hum of dragonfly wings and the thrilling songs of birds.
Canada Geese could be spotted here and there, and I even spotted my first “fuzzies” of the year (what we call the newly hatched goslings). I had read about this park on Trip Advisor. The post stated that this was where the locals went to walk their dogs and that the park is often overlooked. I was glad we made the trek over. It was such a relaxing spot. We sat down on a bench for a while, had some water, and rested our legs before heading back the way we came.
When we walked back, we were on the other side of the street and so no longer along the river. That led us to the Floral Show House. Although pets are not allowed inside, you can enjoy the outdoor garden with your canine companion so long as they remain on leash. The bipeds did a quick handoff to see the lobby inside where orchids bloomed and tropical plants were displayed. Apparently the inside theme changes eight times a year!
Outside, I enjoyed the fun fountains, the rose garden that was just starting to bud, ponds, a fragrance garden, and artists’ garden. It was so quiet that I honestly totally forgot we were in Niagara Falls.
By now we were hungry, so we went up Murray Street and found the only pet-friendly patio in the city: a Starbucks. We ordered some sandwiches, some cold drinks, a coffee and iced tea, and relaxed under the sun umbrella and rested. By then, we had been walking for about five hours and I was kind of pooped, but I was also happy and itching to find out what was next!
Queen Victoria Place
Walking past the Horseshoe Falls again, we made our way back through Queen Victoria Park to Queen Victoria Place. This spot is the best place to get a photo of the Falls. Why? Because you can also get the American Falls in your shot! And if you just want the Horseshoe Falls (the bigger Canadian ones), this spot is just far enough away to get the Falls in your shot and avoid mist on your lens and fogging everything up. In my humble opinion, this is where you will get your money shot.
On the other side of the street, away from the river’s edge, you can enjoy rock gardens, hanging baskets, garden beds, and well groomed lawns where folks settle for picnics. It is always changing: hundreds of thousands of daffodils in early spring (500,000 to be precise), followed by magnolia trees and tulips in bloom, which we got to enjoy. Later in the summer, there are fuchsia, cannas, and coleus, and in the fall, it’s all replaced with chrysanthemums, and then finally in the winter, everything is covered in snow and ice formed from the mist from the Falls. If you love to photograph gardens as they change with the seasons, this is a great place to do just that.
Oakes Garden Theatre
Next up was yet another garden! (The Niagara area is known for its gardens and that whole part of the province has a long and diverse agricultural history.) This garden was a more structured space known as the Oakes Garden Theatre. This garden is at the foot of Clifton Hill at the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Canada to the United States. Rainbow Bridge was named because you can frequently see rainbows from the bridge due to the mist from the Falls. The view is stellar!
Oakes Garden Theatre may well have been my favourite spot along this walking tour. The garden is technically the entrance to Queen Victoria Park, but I feel like it deserves to be its own park.
When it was built in 1936, the designers really used the natural landscape to lead the eye to the curved pergola overlooking a central amphitheatre.
There was so much colour and beauty—all of it very “French garden meets British garden” … in a way, very Canadian! Rock gardens flank formal looking lily ponds; ornamental iron gates mark the entrances; and the walls and infrastructure are all built with local limestone. It is no surprise that concerts are held here all summer.
Finding shade under a massive weeping willow, we sat down on a big rock and enjoyed the music of a guitarist nearby while taking in the glorious and showy display of rhododendrons in bloom.
The one thing you will not find in the park? Oak trees! So that led me to wonder why the park is called Oakes Garden Theatre. Turns out it’s not a “what” but a “who.”
Sir Harry Oakes was an American-born British gold-mine owner, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He earned his fortune in Canada but the sneaky man moved to the Bahamas for tax purposes. He was later murdered there in 1943. The cause of his death and the circumstances surrounding his death have never been entirely determined, and have been the subject of several books and at least two films. You have to love the intrigue!
Anyway, in 1936, while a member of the Niagara Parks Commission, Mr. Oakes donated the land at the foot of Clifton Hill and the Niagara Parkway to the Commission. In exchange, all he requested was that the amphitheatre and gardens would always carry his name, hence Oakes Garden Theatre, which was opened in September 1937. Makes sense now, doesn’t it?
Maybe Not So Fun Street
When we left the park, we tumbled into a jarringly different space: fun street!
Here we found all we generally dislike: all things cheesy, touristy, and clichéd. They all converge here, so we walked past rather quickly. The only thing we did want to do, we couldn’t. We wanted to go on the big ferris wheel, but no dogs allowed. So we kept on our way towards the Inn, but only after Mom had Dad take a silly photo of her being chased by dinosaurs. *sheesh*
Don’t worry, the dinosaurs are fake. Of course, then Mom had to take a photo of Dad. Finally, with all that goofy silliness out of the way, we finished our long and wonderful walking tour of Niagara Falls. Total hours spent outside just walking and having a good time? Eleven hours!
Our only gripe? Not enough access for pets, in particular, at patios. But honestly, other than that, wandering Niagara Falls truly is a perfect way to spend a sunny day with your canine friend. Just remember to bring water and to wear sunscreen! In the summer months, you may also want to make sure you bring a cooling vest for your canine companion.
In review: A magnificent walk you can take with your dog, which will last all day and dazzle you with ever-changing vistas. Well worth the time! From one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls to beautiful architecture to immaculately kept gardens … there is so much more to Niagara Falls than the casino, souvenir shops, and parking lots.