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Horseshoe falls
The thundering power of the Horseshoe Falls is breathtaking aboard the Maid of the Mist.

Maid of the Mist: Must ride for every family

The Fourth of July was Niagara’s busiest weekend, so we knew we had to be early birds to enjoy the Maid of the Mist. While some sites declare this attraction “overrated”, it is strongly in our family’s Top 10 and the definitive highlight of our 2022 Summer Road Trip.

First State Park and 176 years of Rides

The Niagara Falls have always been an awe-inspiring barrier to travel along the Niagara River. Early travelers had to portage goods around the falls until the first of four Welland Canals connecting Lakes Ontario and Erie across was completed in 1824. But this still left the trouble of crossing the river to ferries and the first steamer christened the “Maid of the Mist” began as such a venture in 1846. But the completion of a bridge across the canyon deemed it obsolete within just 2 years. So, a business pivot and some clever politicking to create the longest continually operating State Park in the US fostered the conditions for the Maid of the Mist to become a 175+ year icon in NY state.

rainbow bridge ny
Completion of bridges across the Niagara River deemed ferry boats unnecessary, turning the Maid of the Mist into a sightseeing ship.

An ounce of planning for an iconic experience

After witnessing the crowds when we popped down for fireworks the night before, we knew we had to be in line for the 9:00am opening on Niagara’s busiest weekend. Since we walk faster than bumper to bumper traffic, we parked in a structure a few blocks away and beat feet for the ticket line. Normally I prepurchase tickets, but unsure if the long lines would result in a plan change, we purchased at the ticket booths. The Maid provides weather permitting rides to the falls April 1 – Nov 5, but Niagara Falls State Park is open 365 days a year.

entrance to Niagara Falls State Park
As the oldest continually operating state park in the US, Niagara Falls has a few charming old features like these gateposts.

Seriously organized endeavor

With line queues marked at over 2 hours long, this place is no stranger to huge crowds. Guided by a small army of employees, the lines moved swiftly toward multiple ticket windows. With a simple pricing structure, payment is quick, and we were quickly shuttled toward the elevators.

Maid of the Mist ticket booths
Many efficient ticket booths make lines move quickly.

Take the poncho, enjoy the mist

After the quick zip to the canyon floor, the line continued toward piles of blue ponchos emblazoned with “Maid of the Mist”. Childrens’ sizes are available, so no need for kids to swim in ill-fitting adult ones. With each boat carrying 600 passengers and trips embarking every 15 minutes, the wait to get on the boat at this point is short. We had just enough time to marvel at the canyon marking the border between the US and Canada before politely racing for a spot at the front of our boat.

maid of the mist queues
Queuing platform at the river level is super-efficient.

Feel the power of nature aboard the Maid

Most people raced to the top deck, but unsure if the kids would enjoy the mist, we opted for the front of the bottom deck, so the dry zone was quickly accessible. After just a couple minutes, we left the dock and headed into the center of the Niagara River.

leaving Maid of the Mist dock
The Observation Deck, Falls and Canadian side of the canyon are beautifully displayed from the Maid of the Mist dock.

The roaring falls provided heavy competition to the narration coming across the speakers. Normally, I hang on the guide’s every word, but being in this majestic canyon and feeling the immense power of the raging river was intoxicating. Turns out, the kids were enamored with the rainbows appearing in the backlit mist, dancing and laughing the entire ride.

rainbow in the mist
Rainbows danced in the mist during the 15-minute adventure.

While the boat doesn’t go under the Horseshoe Falls, it gets close enough to take your breath away and inflate the ponchos. Since the tour is a round trip, passengers on the starboard side that missed the grandeur of the American Falls on the way up can marvel at them on the way back.

Kids dancing in the mist of Niagara Falls
The kids loved dancing in their inflated ponchos surrounded by the Niagara mist.

Don’t miss pics at the Observation Deck and Crow’s Nest

While 15 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time, it was the perfect amount to experience the majesty of this world wonder. Once back to the dock, we bumbled through the crowds to get a quick photo op at the Crow’s Next beside the American Falls and let the kids to a little rock climbing to get their jiggles out.

Once finished at the bottom, a quick elevator ride to the top revealed another ridiculously beautiful view requiring a photo. Finally, as all attractions seem to these days, the herd reached the gift shop full of heavily inflated wares allowing passengers to proclaim they took a ride on the famous Maid. Shops full of cheaper trinkets also line the streets leading to the Falls, in case you like to pinch pennies like me:)

observation deck maid of the mist
Obligatory selfie on the Observation Deck overlooking Niagara Falls.

Missed Opportunities

After a perfect morning on the Maid of the Mist, we decided to head down to Buffalo for some wings and history. On another trip, we’d definitely hit up:

  • Cave of the Winds boardwalk is supposed to be a really neat way to walk below the falls. After reading that the actual cave has collapsed, getting so many great views on the Maid and seeing the crowds forming, we opted away from this experience this time.
  • Whirlpool State Park is a bit farther down the Niagara River and even more fun are the several jetboats take passengers up the river to splash around the swirling rapids.
  • The Canadian side has the better view of the falls with a stunning light show all year, Journey behind the falls and Skylon tower. We didn’t want to get stuck across the border from our puppy, so we’ll make plans to take the motorhome across the river next time.
Niagara Falls state park
Scenic walkway along the river above the Niagara Falls in the state park.

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