Searching for things to do in Niagara Falls, NY, for families is overwhelming. Most of the information focuses on the Canadian side, and let’s face it- some of us do not have it together enough to get passports for everyone. As a family of six children ranging from one to ten years old, our family faces unique needs while planning what to see on the USA side of Niagara Falls.
The vast park has incredible vantage points and attractions. Before visiting, you will maximize your travel with an itinerary for Niagara Falls, NY. Otherwise, there are astounding sites (and delectable treats) that you could miss. After reading reviews complaining about the New York side, we were pleasantly surprised. There is more to see than you might think! (And it’s way easier to keep your children alive near such death-defying heights than I expected!)
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I made a note on the itinerary if any item was free or cheap. Some of us are slightly miserly and prefer saving our dough. Besides, it would be best if you didn’t have to break the bank to experience paradise in our backyard. Follow along for the picture-perfect 48-hour itinerary for a family weekend.
Things to Do in Niagara Falls, NY for Families
If you can take your time driving to Niagara Falls, New York has a lot to offer. There are wineries in northern New York, quaint lakeside towns, and concord grapes to stuff your belly. We also stopped at a charming ice cream stand called the Frosty Treat in Irving, New York, that served striking sundae combinations. He’s totally my second cousin… or first cousin once removed (I always forget how that goes). Nepotism rears its ugly head.
Day One: The Arrival
- To complete all of the family-friendly activities, plan to arrive and check into your hotel by 6 P.M.
- Niagara Wax Museum of History: While it is incredibly cheesy and the wax figures are old-fashioned, you have to see it at least once. I was expecting a celebrity mausoleum. While they inexplicably have wax figures of Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Julia Roberts (but seriously- why???), everything else focuses on the region’s rich history. The museum could use a refresh (probably since the 1960s) and, unfortunately, still uses the term ‘Indian’. But it was interesting to learn all about Niagara Falls and see the type of devices that daredevils have used to go over the falls. Did you know that a tightrope walker successfully crossed the falls with someone on his back? Neither did I until I visited. For those of us who are cheesy tourists obsessed with photos, you can score the above photo at the very end of the exhibit FOR FREE. BONUS- I found a Groupon that made it only $14 for four, and the two littles were free, as are all children five years old and younger. After experiencing the museum, there is a souvenir shop if you crave a touristy sweatshirt or shot glass. The museum lets out onto Old Falls Street, which is a three-block entertainment district.
Old Falls Street: Even if you’re not hungry, there are more photo opportunities to be had! (Hopefully, your family is more photogenic than mine!). Casey Milbrand of Buffalo, New Y0rk, created a large mural with hearts and the phrase “let’s fall in love” that is Instagram-worthy for all to enjoy. The street also features food trucks and festivals: tag @OldFallsStreetUSA and @CaseyMillbrand in any photos and hashtag #letsfallinlove on Instagram and Twitter. Here you can rent bicycles, strollers, wheelchairs, and wagons.
- Walk the Shoreline Trail to the falls (free): If you go down to the Niagara River, you can walk along the Shoreline trail and pass the American side of the falls. You can view all of the waterfalls along the way.
- Dinner: You have a couple of options. Since our kids are on the younger side, we chose the Rainforest Cafe near our hotel because it looked like an adventure. I also found a Groupon that made the jungle themed restaurant cheap. Plus, if you sign up for the survey site Mypoints.com, you can earn free Landry’s gift certificates that can be used at the Rainforest Cafe. Others with older kids may opt for the Hard Rock Cafe. However, if you have adventurous eaters, there are many fantastic local restaurants that are worthy of support, like the Griffon Gastropub.
Day Two: A Busy 24 hours
- Eat Breakfast at the Red Coach Inn (by 8:30 A.M. or earlier). The Inn is historical, and the outdoor seating is nestled in a garden with a koi pond. The restaurant is a Triple Star AAA restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day except for Christmas. Breakfast features classics like steak & eggs, eggs benedict, and a breakfast sandwich. However, there are also unique options like crab omelets, creme brulee french toast, and strawberry french toast. Make sure you eat a hearty enough meal to get you through several hours of sightseeing. You may want to send someone to Cave of the Winds to purchase a ticket for later in the day (after 11 A.M.) if you are going during a busy season as they are not available online.
- Observation Deck: If the observation deck is open, you can walk out on this before getting on the elevator to stand in line for your ride. The observation tower extends out over the Niagara Gorge. Checking out this unobstructed view of Niagara Falls and the raging Niagara River is a must-do and certainly better than standing in a line. Bonus- during the offseason for Maid of the Mist, the tower is free.
- Maid of the Mist: The Maid of the Mist heads up the Niagara River towards the Horshoe Falls. The steel, double-decker, the 145-ton boat passes both the American and Bridal Falls. The iconic boat ride has been running since 1846, when its maiden voyage occurred on a sidewheel steamboat ferry. The ride is seasonal and open from either April or May until October. Be prepared for an incredible twenty-minute boat ride, but you will get very wet. However, our ponchos protected us from the spray! Children under 5 are free, and all receive a souvenir blue poncho.
- If you’re looking for a tour that will take the guesswork out of it, Viator has some incredible Niagara Falls options that include Maid of the Mist, but they are more costly.
Niagara Scenic Trolley: This wooden trolley is not an actual guided tour but gives historical facts, fun anecdotes, and tips about Goat Island and Niagara Falls State Park along the way. The trolley only costs a couple of dollars, and children five years and younger are free. At the first stop, get off to visit the Cave of the Winds, the Nikola Tesla Statue, and Terrapin point.
- Cave of the Winds: These stairs take you down 175-feet into the Niagara Gorge, where you can be closer than imaginable to the Bridal Veil Falls. Unlike the Maid of the Mist, you control how wet you get. The more steps that you climb, the wetter you are. Anyone with tiny kids most likely will avoid the “hurricane deck.” Fun fact: Most of the stairs are torn out and reconstructed every year. The company provides a yellow rain poncho and flimsy flip-flops to everyone. While the Cave of the Winds does not accommodate strollers, children five and under are free. You can wear babies and little kids in a front-facing carrier, and they make small ponchos.
- Nikola Tesla Statue (free): After Cave of the Winds, head to the American Falls. You can get an excellent view, and there is the hidden gem of the giant monument that was a gift to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1976.
- Pack a light picnic lunch or swing by the snack bar at Cave of the Winds on your way back. I prefer a backpack that I can wear instead of one that I have to drag around. Check prices here for my favorite backpack cooler to cpombine the superpowers of a diaper bag and cooler.
- Terrapin Point (free): While it may not sound like it, this was the absolute highlight of our trip. Seeing the mammoth U-shaped waterfall spraying water nearby is incredible. On this far end of Goat Island, you are right next to the Horseshoe Falls. I was not expecting this view. There is a gift shop and Top of the Falls restaurant, a poorly rated eatery with an incredible vantage point.
Trolley: Go back towards the plaza outside the Top of the Falls restaurant and wait for the scenic trolley. The trolley will take you back down Goat island to the original stop near the Maid of the Mist.
Niagara Adventure movie: Experience the history of Niagara Falls and immerse yourself in the experience. The price was honestly way too much for the film’s length, and we preferred the wax museum.
Adam’s Power Plant Transformer Plant (free): This is not an attraction to visit, but it is worth driving past. My kids found it fascinating, but we’re history nerds. The Edward Dean Adams Power Plant was the first to transfer commercial electricity over significant distances. When the switch flipped in 1896, the alternating current pulsing towards Buffalo satisfied Nikola Tesla’s dream of harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. The plant closed in 1965, and most of the power station was destroyed. All that remains is the Transformer House, a dilapidated building on the National Registry of Historic Places that remains vacant.
Adrian’s Custard & Beef– For dinner, you can save a ton of money and enjoy a local favorite- beef on weck! The menu also had burgers, hot dogs, fries, custard, and other frozen treats. This beef on weck was one of the best I have ever had and my family lives in New York. However, this requires driving (but is worth it, I promise!)
Check out our entire post about beef on Weck in Niagara Falls, New York.
- Sunset at prospect point (free): Watch the sunset fade into the dark while listening to the Niagara River’s peaceful roar. Seriously, I fall asleep to the video we took of the river and waterfalls.
- Niagara Falls illuminated at night (free): The falls are majestic any day. However, when they have giant spotlights on them- it is unforgettable. During tourist seasons, they even have fireworks over the falls.
Day 3: Homecoming
- Marketside restaurant: A family-owned local joint since 1939, they offer big portions and a quaint atmosphere.
Marketside is the last item on the itinerary. If you don’t have to leave immediately following breakfast, plan an eight-minute drive for one last peek at the falls. If you have more time, there are many additional attractions that you could check out.
Things to Do in Niagara Falls NY for Families
Planning the best Niagara Falls NY itinerary does not have to be stressful. There are so many things to do in Niagara Falls NY for families that we couldn’t do them all in one short weekend. But you could easily add an extra day to see it all.
- Aquarium of Niagara
- Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino is on the USA side
- Schoellkopf power plant ruins site (free) and hiking trails
- Devil’s Hole State Park with the cave (free) site of the Devil’s Hole Massacre
- Niagara Discovery Center and hiking trails
While there are many things to do in Niagara Falls, NY, for families, these are the experiences that my kids still remember. There is a lot to do besides the falls.
If you’re looking to gorge yourself on another delicious beef on weck sandwich, visit the Silo in Lewiston, NY, made famous by Man vs. Food on the Food Network. No judgment here- we did. Try the haystack sandwich if roast beef on kummelweck rolls isn’t your thing.
What’s your favorite thing to do on the USA side of Niagara Falls? Let me know in the comments.