Beyond the rushing falls and flashing casinos lay Ontario’s only 56-kilometer outdoor adventure museum. A collection of parks, gardens, cycling and hiking trails; Niagara Parks is changing the way visitors experience the historic and picturesque region.
With its gorgeous scenery, top notch eats, outdoor adventures, and of course natural wonders this trip turned me from wine sipping and wax museums to unexplored wonders all skipped on my 8th grade class trip.
The Blooming’ Botanical Gardens
“I love nature, I just don’t want it to touch me”, has been my outdoor motto for many years. And while it stands when walking Niagara’s 15 kilometres of lush hiking trials, I abandoned it completely at the Botanical Gardens.
Roaming its 99 acres of gardens, historical buildings and real-live Butterfly Conservatory, I was compelled to jam my face in each herb and seasonal bloom, hoovering up every fragrance in this whimsical oasis.
Cycling the Great Lakes
Niagara Parks is home to a whack of cycling paths and trails. While true cycling enthusiasts can pedal their way from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario along the Niagara River Parkway, tipsy bike-renting beginners can choose from a range of paved multipurpose pathways including, the Niagara River Trail, the Waterfront Trail, and the Niagara River Recreational Trail.
On board my very own ‘Freedom Machine’ I completed the 60KM round trip up the Niagara Parkway from the falls proper to Niagara on the Lake and back.
A beautiful and cathartic ride, this route provided incredible view of the Niagara River escarpment, fields of twisting grape vines, historic sites, and lavish rich-people homes.
Mostly flat and clearly marked this path is safe, easy to follow and a delightful challenge for any rider.
Refuelling With High Tea
After a few hours on the bike I pull over to refuel at McFarland House. Beautifully situated along the river, this purveyor of traditional high tea welcomed me—sweaty jersey and clacking cycling shoes—to sit in their fancy conservatory.
One of several historical houses and forts in the area, McFarland House is known for two things: flavour-rich loose leaf teas, and the most delicious scones on planet Earth.
In this 200-year-old former farmhouse guests seeking an authentic tea-time experience are greeted and seated by costumed interpreters and given a range of traditional sandwich and snack options.
Famished I order the Newark Tea for lunch. A mix of all of the traditional tea-time sandwiches, seasonal fruits, and premium cheeses it also comes with a cup of fresh English Breakfast that makes me rethink my coffee addiction.
A meal meant for four, my riding partner and I devour the delicious three tiered treat whole both impressing and alarming our 1800’s era hostess. Our lunch peaked with a traditional blueberry scone topped with real cream and fresh berries that I’m sure fuelled us for days afterwards.
Let’s Ride a 100 Year Old Cable Car!
For a little entry-level high-flying adventure, I visited the Spanish made Whirlpool Aero Car. A combination of epic views and danger-free excitement, the Aero Car is perfect for those seeking a harness-free thrill.
Now in its 100th year of operation (don’t worry the cables aren’t that old) this big red sky trolley glides riders 3,500 feet across the Niagara River in a metal basket. The smooth ride provides incredible aerial views of the swirling, powerful river and cliffs below.
Visitors wanting to maximize their outdoor experiences can buy an Adventure Pass, which includes transportation and a ride on the Whirlpool Aero Car as well as other outdoor attractions.
Feed Your Tummy and Your Instagram
In a region producing some great wines, it’s no surprise that Niagara farms yield the equally delicious foods served alongside them.
I can (and do) vouch for taking your meals on the links at the Whirlpool Restaurant and (public) golf club where I ate the fluffiest or heirloom tomatoe and candied walnut topped quinoa salads, paired with a perfect Pinot Grigio.
Or on the patio at the famed Queen Victoria Place Restaurant overlooking the falls while stuffing your face with rainbow trout wrapped in sweet potatoe strudel.
And finally, romance is weird, but it’s hard to resist after a few glasses of wine—shout out to Trius Merlot—and a melt-it-yourself dessert of chocolate, more chocolate and ice cream at Elements on the Falls Restaurant.
Zipline High Ropes Adventure Course
For harness-wearing, adventure-loving thrill-seekers there’s the newly minted Mist Rider Zipline. Open for the first time this year, this 2,200-foot cable simultaneously delivers four riders suspended on separate lines from the Niagara Falls path down into the base of the Canadian falls at high-flying speeds.
Opening July 20th, you can reserve your ride online or buy tickets onsite. Though I visited before the grand opening I can’t imagine this will be anything but incredible views high-pitched fun!
Where to Stay
DoubleTree Fallsview Resort & Spa by Hilton was the perfect choice for this trip. While it’s close to the falls proper as well as Clifton Hill, I loved this place for being bike path adjacent and having a most excellent pool and hot tub where I could recharge after long active days.
This hotel also gets a gold star for happily accommodating cyclists and their gear as well as offering warm cookies to guests checking in. Rooms boast excellent views of the falls and surrounding attractions and the hotel even houses a day spa, sauna and modern gym.