Niagara Falls and Upstate New York with Kids

Niagara Falls and Upstate NY with KidsOne of my favorite things about homeschooling is that we have the opportunity to go places instead of just reading about them in a book. I have family in Upstate New York, and in recent years have been trying to go out annually to visit my paternal cousins, aunts and Gramma. This year, I only took seven year old Tater (my mom, aunt, grandparents, and friend all shared Junior duty for a few days), and we decided to spend a couple days in Niagara Falls, Canada before driving into New York to see our family. Here are some of the highlights from our trip!

1. Niagara Falls
Obviously the Falls are just awe-inspiring. Since we were staying on the Canadian side, we took the Hornblower Boat Tour (the Maid of the Mist operates out of the American Side.) It was definitely worth doing and we got some incredible pictures (plus getting soaked felt good since it was hot and humid out.) However, I wasn’t really a fan of all the touristy areas–so many restaurants, hotels, clubs, and gift shops, I honestly felt like we were in Vegas. So, we spent one morning at the Falls itself, a couple of hours doing Dinosaur Adventure Golf and the Sky Wheel in Clifton Hill (Tater LOVED the mini golf course), and that was the extent of the tourist trap. Instead, we drove into Canada a bit, and avoided a lot of the cheesy tourism. (Ages 4+)

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2. Butterfly Conservatory
The Butterfly Conservatory is part of Niagara Parks, and is located next to a Horticultural College, so there is also an amazing garden to walk through and see different trees, flowers, and Tater was especially impressed with the black squirrels. The Butterfly Conservatory itself has thousands of butterflies flying and landing around. One even landed on my foot. And some lady took a picture of my non-pedicured foot. Ummm, allllllllllrighty then. So, we spent a few hours there, and Tater was just tickled pink to see “sooooo many butterflies all in one place!” (All Ages)
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3. St. Catharine’s Lakeside Carousel
Just 20 minutes outside the busyness of the Niagara Falls tourism area you run into the town of St. Catharines. On the edge of Lake Ontario lies Lakeside Park, a charming little beach park  with an original turn-of-the-century carousel that has been kept in pristine condition. Each ride still only costs $0.05. Tater and I went on almost a half-dozen times. It was a quaint little scene that we hope to return to. (All Ages)
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4. The Laura Secord Homestead
Growing up in the States, what I learned about the War of 1812 was exclusively from the perspective of the Americans. Coming to the Laura Secord Homestead, I learned about the namesake, a woman who walked 20 difficult miles to warn the British of an impending American attack in 1813. The homestead is a charming little restored (original) home with period pieces and décor. The tour was educational and fun and there was yummy chocolate and ice cream to buy at the end! (Ages 6+)

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5. Niagara on the Lake
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a charming, quaint little town right on Lake Ontario. There are plenty of roadside farmer’s markets (try the fresh peaches!), little cafes and bakeries (amazing fresh pies!), gallery type shops, and is considered the “wine country” of the region. The Laura Secord Homestead, Ft. George, Brock’s Monument (in Queenston Heights Park), and MacKenzie Printery are all fun educational experiences for the kids. (Ages 6+) 

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6. Costco
Okay, don’t laugh. But I have this need to go into at least one local Costco when I’m traveling. And since I’d never been in an international Costco before, I just haaaaad to go to the Costco in St. Catharines. There were some really fun, unique, oddly spelled (flavour, colour, favourite, etc) products that were fun to browse. I got this book to bring home for Junior about Canadian animals. And, the best part–while we were there we met a little boy with bilateral cochlear implants! (All Ages)

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7. Crystal Beach
In the little town of Fort Erie just south of Niagara Falls is a nice (albeit crowded) beach on Lake Erie. Tater made friends immediately, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to catch minnows. The water was warm, super clear, calm, and was only wading depth  so I didn’t have to worry about Tater too much while we were swiming. (All Ages)
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8. Strong National Museum of Play
Our several day whirlwind in Canada done, we drove back into the States and headed to see my family in Upstate New York. One of the must-dos was the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester NY. It’s a HUGE children’s museum. The downstairs is a hands-on, interactive play area with a bunch of fun attractions. The upstairs is a toy and game museum with a full arcade of old video games. We spent 3 hours there but probably could have spent longer. (Ages 2-10)
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Then we spent 2 wonderful days with family spending time together, eating amazing food (Tomato Pie, Buffalo Wings, Salt Potatoes, Hofmann Hot Dogs) and having a great little family BBQ pool party. We can’t wait to go back next year!

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*I have no affiliation with any of the above named places or attractions. These were simply the highlights of our vacation. All opinions are my own. Make sure to verify all directions and hours of operation before traveling.

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