The Niagara Falls even as grand as they are aren’t the only worthy attraction in this part of Canada. There is also a very scenic drive along the Niagara River Parkway with lots of interesting spots to check out. This route runs from the town of Fort Erie on Lake Erie in the south to Niagara-on-the-Lake on Lake Ontario at its northern reaches. Everything from the area called Table Rock in Niagara Falls northward is designated as an Ontario Scenic Highway however the southern stretch is also very nice. The Parkway runs right along the Niagara River for 55 Kilometers (using Kilometers since we are in Canada eh...)
So what is there to see along the Niagara Parkway? Well we weren’t very sure either so we called in the professionals… Who were the professionals?? Well, none other than Jeff and Martine, a wonderful Canadian couple we met during our first winter in Bonita Springs Florida. We remembered that Martine was once a tour guide in Canada for the Niagara Falls area and she had urged that if we were ever in Niagara she and Jeff would love to show us around. We emailed them and sure enough they were glad to meet up with us and show us around Niagara Falls, lucky us!
The plan was to take us to the places we might not otherwise see. Along the Niagara Parkway they showed us oodles of places to visit. There is the Whirlpool Rapids, the Botanical Garden, the Butterfly Conservatory, Brock's Monument at Queenston Heights and at the end of the northernmost part of the Parkway there is Fort George and the quaint little village of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
This is not a road in which to be in a hurry with all the turnouts for views of the Niagara River and the fact that it is only 40 km/h for a speed limit in many parts (about 25 mph).The total length of the parkway is 55 km (34 mi) and since the Niagara Parks Commission manages the whole parkway the attention to detail in the landscaping is impeccable. A really nice thing about this Parkway is that there are plenty of places to park for free (unlike anywhere in the town of Niagara Falls). There are even many spots along the Parkway with benches and picnic tables, for you to stop and enjoy lunch at some of the scenic lookouts. One really cool find for me was that there are lots of Horse Chestnut Trees growing along the parkway and what beautiful trees they are.
Some other interesting stops our guides treated us to were the Niagara Floral Clock which is one of the largest floral clocks (made entirely out of flowers) in the world with a diameter of about 40 ft. There was also a brief stop at Brock's Monument, a column which commemorates the death of Sir Isaac Brock during the Battle of Queenston Heights and the parkland walkways around the monument offer up a nice walk and some fantastic views of Lake Ontario and neighboring Toronto in the distance. A stop was also made to see The Old Scow which is more interesting after hearing or reading the tale about how this ship became grounded and the harrowing rescue of the crew just short of going over the largest of the Niagara Falls, Horseshoe Falls.
Our tour guides also took us past a place called Niagara Glen and told us about the great hiking there. This intrigued us so much that the next day I hiked down the trail that begins with an 80 step metal stairway located in the back of the picnic area that leads down into the Niagara River gorge. The trails spread out along the densely forested river basin that is strewn with gigantic slabs of rock. At the bottom I watched as the jet boats navigated the frothing rapids of the river. The trail is very rocky, a bit slick, and has some steep inclines and of course ends with the staircase back up out of the canyon (now you know why I know how many steps there were). A great hike and worth doing if you like such things and best of all the parking and park entrance are FREE
There are many other interesting stops one can make anywhere along this Parkway. You can visit Laura Secord Homestead or take a stroll or picnic at the Dufferin Islands Nature Area. History buffs will rejoice with all the War of 1812 forts and sites and historical plaques to read. At the end of our wonderful tour our fantastic tour guides took as to a really great Brazilian eatery, the Copacabana, where we gorged ourselves on all kind of grilled meat delights. Fantastic food but at a high price as everything in and around Niagara Falls is very expensive. Get a few miles away from the Falls and prices will become more normal for this part of Canada…
I shouldn’t fail to mention one of the neatest spots our tour guides took us to that was not along the Parkway but was over to the nearby Welland Canal. What is there? It is a canal that was engineered by man as a means of getting around the precipitous drop at Niagara Falls that no ship built could withstand. It was such a treat to watch how these locks work and how the engineers solved how to utilize gravity and water to do the work of lowering ships with such heavy cargo. It is quite tricky to navigate the big oceanic vessels through the locks and they are required to give control to local Captains to pilot them through (Martine's dad was one such Captain). The Locks are not to be missed as they are definitely a highlight for those like us who have never witnessed such a feat!
Now it is back into the states to pick up our solarized RV and then back into Canada for a visit to the city of Toronto…