Resembling a giant mushroom cap on a tall, skinny stalk, the Skylon Tower has been an icon of the Niagara skyline since 1965. Windowed elevators, nicknamed “yellow bugs,” depart from the lobby and ascend 775 feet above the river to an observation deck and the rotating restaurant. It is here, reading little placards while sipping frozen drinks, that Elly and I commence what turns into a trip-long hobby of gathering bits of local trivia. Getting caught up in our collecting, we barely have enough time to finish our berries and crème fraîche before racing back to our hotel balcony—the fireworks are about to begin. Every day at dusk, 21 colored spotlights illuminate the falls; on weekends for much of the year, a pyrotechnic display adds to the spectacle. Crowds gather along the river, but Elly claims a prime viewing spot: our bathroom’s double whirlpool.
The following morning, we hit the ground walking. Crossing the Rainbow Bridge, steps from our hotel, to the American side, we pick up a paved pedestrian path along the upper Niagara. It is remarkably free of crowds and, somewhat alarmingly, physical barriers between us and the rapids. Taking care to stay on the walkway, we follow a two-mile loop through Niagara Falls State Park—across meadows, woodlands, and five small islands, each leading us closer to the cascade. At Terrapin Point, a lookout that hangs precipitously over the Horseshoe Falls, mist rising from below coats our faces. “I wonder if this is what the woman at Lancôme meant when she said I need to hydrate more,” I bellow, as the deluge soaks up my words.
Our face-to-face with the water has just begun. Continuing along the path, we arrive at a spot I remember from childhood, the Cave of the Winds, where disposable plastic ponchos and soft-foam Velcro sandals have supplanted rubber outerwear. We take an elevator down to a boardwalk that spans large boulders; stairs and platforms bring us almost within hand’s reach of the Bridal Veil. Despite our gear, we get drenched.
Farther along the trail, we board the Maid of the Mist. While our vessel bobs right in front of the Horseshoe, sheets of water douse us mercilessly. The sun emerges as we make for land. Sopping but exuberant, we walk up to Crow’s Nest, a landing at the north end of the American Falls. By now, we feel like shriveled-up raisins before the torrent. Returning to the Canadian side, we get sucked up in a different sort of current. With its palm trees and undersea murals, the six-story Falls View Indoor Waterpark is more Disney than Niagara, but there’s no saying no to 16 water slides an elevator ride away. When we finally wash up in our hotel room at the end of the day, we’re exhausted. “The falls were great,” Elly murmurs before drifting off to sleep. “But they should have designed nicer sandals for the Cave of the Winds....”
Because the Niagara escarpment, a 450-mile ledge of rock, slopes slightly downward on one side, the Niagara River travels from south to north.
The escarpment’s microclimate is ideal for growing fruit. The next day, as we drive downriver to Niagara-on-the-Lake, 15 miles north at the mouth of Lake Ontario, hotels give way to grapevines. Elly and I are meeting friends at the Hillebrand Winery for a wholly different kind of liquid pursuit.
When we get there, the seven of us are ushered into a room where tables are set with beakers, glasses, pencils, and paper. Our task: to create a Bordeaux-style blend from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. We pour, sniff, taste, discard, remix. The minors guzzle sparkling grape juice and bring us their concoctions to sample. We funnel the final products into bottles, and cork and label them—then reward ourselves at the winery restaurant, the adults with goat cheese tarts and Ontario flank steak, the kids with mini-burgers.