Well, the holidays may be long over, but Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland is still very much in season. Here in Western New York the magnificent Falls of the Niagara River offers unique winter charm, and a wonderland of frozen beauty.
A recent afternoon trip to Niagara Falls State Park on a cold, sunny day offered a range of both indoor and outdoor delights, starting with the interpretive center at the Cave of the Winds. The hands-on exhibits explore the industrial and commercial history of the Falls, from its days as a center of grain mills which used the Falls to power their mill wheels, to its current use as a source of hydroelectric power. There are also exhibits about the extreme hucksterism that developed around the Falls in the 19th century, turning it into an overbuilt center of the worst sort of tourist traps.
Finally, a truly wonderful short film “The World Changed Here” tells the story of the Free Niagara movement, led by Niagara Falls State Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, which wrested this magnificent natural wonder from industry and commercialism and returned it to the people of New York as the first State Park in the country and the inspiration for our National Parks system. It also tells the story of Nikola Tesla, who electrified Buffalo using hydroelectric power and alternating current.
Outside the Interpretive Center, some paths down to the very edge of the Falls are closed for the season, but the rising mist has coated nearby trees with ice, turning them into shimmering natural sculptures. In addition, a journey to the bottom of the Niagara Gorge, a Cave of the Winds experience, is a special attraction for the 2020 winter season. It was well worth bundling up to take a walk along the upper paths, admiring this unique scenery, with the ice coated branches reminding one of wild Dr. Seuss trees or Narnia in the reign of the White Witch. Fortunately the snack bar remains open, so you can pause afterwards to have a hot chocolate and warm up a bit!
All in all, indoor and out, Niagara Falls offers Winter travelers many rewards.