In late May of 2017, my cousin Lisa and her partner Christoph visited me in New York from Germany. One of the top travel experiences on her list was to see Niagara Falls during her visit. When she told me this, I started planning our 8 hours drive from Long Island to Niagara on the western border of NY.
With stops at my parents', relatives', and brother's house along the way, I strategized our visit to Niagara Falls so that it would fall on a weekday. The weekend we were traveling upstate was Memorial Day weekend. The last thing I wanted to do was wind up on long lines again like I did the year before on July 4th weekend. No way would I put myself through that again!
But I wasn't completely certain that our visit would be without crowds. On a Tuesday attached to a holiday weekend, I thought others might have the same idea. I discovered they didn't. Like I pro, I got to show Lisa and Christoph the beauty and exhilaration of Niagara Falls without the long lines and wait times. I'm happy to say I had an amazing time there, completely making up for the horrible experience I had previously!
When Should You Visit Niagara Falls?
Weekdays in late spring, summer, or early fall are the best days to visit Niagara Falls.
We visited Niagara Falls on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. We even arrived at around 10am—an hour after opening—and easily found parking and short or non-existent lines throughout the day.
Where to Park in Niagara Falls?
On a slow day like a weekday, you can drive right into any of the main parking lots and find plenty of spaces. I even found a spot in the shade—oooOOoohh! I chose to park in lot #1 off Prospect St. to the left of the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. Lot #1 is closest to the Orin Lehman Visitor Center and ticket booth for Maid of the Mist.
I had an Empire State Parks Pass sticker on my car ($65 for a year pass) so I knew I could park in this lot for "free." Without the pass, it costs $10 to park in lot #1 which is still $10 less than the other commercial lots in the area. On my 4th of July visit, I paid $20 for the lot next to Smokin' Joes—a total rip off! I just had to take a photo of my pass and show it to a worker inside the visitor center in order to park in Lot #1 for free.
What Tours in Niagara Falls?
Busy or slow, I do not recommend taking a tour at Niagara Falls! It was such a waste of money when it was busy and there's no need for it when it's slow.
With no lines and no worries, we could pick and choose which parts of the park to see and see them quickly. We could easily drive to other parts of the falls (e.g., Whirlpool Point) without concern about traffic or parking issues on a tour bus.
Last time, the tour cost $65 plus the $20 for parking. It was an $85 experience that I could have had for less than $50. And I could have seen more considering all the time wasted sitting on a bus in traffic and waiting around for others in the tour group.
Is Maid of the Mist Worth It?
I was so happy that we were there on a slow day because I got to take my cousin on the Maid of the Mist. It was a real treat for me, too, because I missed it last time due to the long wait. So I had not been on the Maid of the Mist since I was a kid visiting Niagara Falls with my family.
For $18.25 each, we got tickets quickly and easily (the price went up $1.25 from previous last season).
After getting tickets, we traveled down an elevator to the river where we got on a very short line for the Mist. We were given ponchos to put on while we waited. It took maybe 10 minutes for the next boat to arrive, unload its passengers, and board our group for the next departure.
This was an incredibly different experience from the 2-hour wait that I decided not to stick around for the year before!
Another benefit of fewer passengers was that we weren't crammed in like sardines. I remember seeing so many people crammed on the boats when we were there during July 4th weekend.
Instead, we got a great viewing spot on the bow of the boat at the railing. The captain brought the boat right up to the falls—so the railing is a great spot for lots of waterfall action!
The boat ride was about 5-10 minutes to get to the falls from the dock. The captain lingered at the falls for a surprisingly long time probably because there was no pressure to get back to droves of holiday visitors.
We floated for a good 10 minutes, getting sprayed by the falls the whole time.
I was impressed by all the birds that braved this area, flying through the mist with ease. The spraying water, white-capped waves, and zooming birdlife was insane!
After we got off of the boat, we took a short hike up along the side of the river to another small waterfall. There are some nice riverside views there and tons more seagulls to admire.
Where Is The Niagara Falls Observation Tower?
The Observation Tower and deck is located where you take the elevator down to the Maid of the Mist (or where you return back up top). It stretches out into the river a bit and overlooks the boarding area for the Maid of the Mist as well as the path leading up to one of the falls.
I absolutely loved this spot as a vantage point for viewing the entire area. We could get some great photos from this spot, especially without many people there blocking our view.
I also got a really neat birds-eye view of the Maid of the Mist from this location.
I never would have known about these views if I had not gotten tickets to experience the Maid of the Mist without all the crowds.
Is there Wi-Fi at Niagara Falls?
There is a great free Wi-Fi connection for travelers at Niagara Falls. In fact, the connection was so good, Lisa was able to have a quality Skype call with her family back in Germany from the Observation Tower area. She sent photos she took from this spot and updated them on our trip.
I wonder if the connection would have been so good if there were more people there?
Is Cave of the Winds worth it?
After Maid of the Mist, you may have gotten your fill of wind and water. But I still think Cave of the Winds is an awesome attraction for $17. Standing on the Hurricane Deck is way more intense than anything you'll experience even on the bow of the Mist!
We walked about 15 minutes from the Observation Tower across a bridge to Goat Island. By now it was nearing 11am and I was shocked by what I saw: A completely empty ticket line for Cave of the Winds.
The last time I was standing in this exact spot, there was a 30-minute line for tickets and then a 1-hour line to take the elevator down to the attraction. It was absolutely insane to see this place like a ghost town. And I was so happy about it!
Lisa and I decided to go for it. Christoph stayed behind to take photos of us from above. Cave of the Winds was just as exciting as when I experienced it the first time. Lisa concurred—she said she was really glad we did Cave of the Winds!
What Else Should Be Seen at Niagara Falls?
We also walked over to Terrapin Point for top-of-the-falls views. These were easy to visit even when it was busy.
But I was glad I didn't have to wait for people to move away from the railing to see the view. I also didn't have to fight off selfie sticks to get a clear shot of the falls!
What About Lunch Near Niagara Falls?
We had to drive back to my brother's place in Rochester after our day in Niagara. So we decided to stop in the city of Buffalo for lunch on our way.
We stopped at The Cheesecake Place because they served lunch and I could feed Lisa and Christoph some real New York cheesecake. We had already tried some in Manhattan, but this place had all kinds of flavors to try.
We got a sampler as well as a full cake to bring back to my brother's.
We arrived back to my brother's house at a totally reasonable time in the afternoon. It was such a splendid day and a completely different experience than the time I went on July 4th weekend.
And so my recommendation is to do everything in your power to visit Niagara Falls on a weekday. You'll have an amazing, smooth-sailing experience!