Niagara Falls on a Budget: 5 Free Things to Do

Niagara Falls is one of the world’s great natural wonders. Tourists have been taking in the sights and sounds of these gigantic falls since the construction of the Erie Canal in 1825 made the region easily accessible for the first time. And travelers on a budget will be happy to learn that you can enjoy the views, hikes, picnic areas, and many local attractions for free.

Whether you want to get out in the fresh air for an active vacation, stroll through the flowers at the local botanical gardens, or learn about the area’s history, there are plenty of things to do in Niagara Falls for absolutely free. With the money you save, you can sample some of the best local restaurants, take the kids to a local waterpark, or splurge on a Fallsview hotel room to take in the nightly light and fireworks shows. Here are some of the best budget-friendly things to do at Niagara Falls.



1. Explore Local Geography at Niagara Glen

Niagara Glen is a beautiful park nestled right in the Niagara Gorge. A perfect slice of southern Ontario's natural beauty, and located within walking distance of the best hotels and attractions near Niagara Falls, this park offers views of the Niagara River Whirlpool and other sections of the Niagara River. If you’re interested in the geology of the Niagara Escarpment, head here to examine prehistoric rock formations, or just to hike the 2.5 miles (4 km) of trails through deciduous Carolinian forest. You can enjoy guided hiking tours, go bouldering, and pick up some refreshments and souvenirs at the Niagara Glen Nature Centre.

2. Bike the Niagara River Recreation Trail

Okay, so this might not technically be free, since you might have to rent bikes -- unless, of course, you bring your own bike on the Ontario bike train. But the Niagara River Recreation Trail runs alongside the Niagara River Parkway, which Winston Churchill called “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world” when he visited the province in 1943.

The Niagara River Recreation Trail is 35 miles (53 km) long. It begins at Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake and follows the Niagara River on the Canadian side all the way to Fort Erie. Each of the four scenic sections takes about one to two hours to complete at a leisurely riding pace, making this the perfect afternoon excursion. Some of the sights you’ll see along the way include Brock’s Monument and the Floral Clock.



3. Enjoy a Picnic at Dufferin Islands

Locals and tourists alike love the quiet, peaceful, and secluded 10-acre (4-hectare) park that is Dufferin Islands, a collection of islands on the Niagara River, about half a mile from the Horseshoe Falls. Footbridges and paths connect several tiny islands and invite visitors to explore. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much wildlife you can see here, especially since bird boxes, bird feeding stations, and new plantings have been incorporated to attract more birds and fish. In addition to picnic areas, there is also a swimming area available to visitors. In the winter, Dufferin Islands hosts the Winter Festival of Lights.

4. Stroll the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden

The Niagara Parks Botanical Garden is about a ten-minute drive north of the Falls on the Niagara Parkway. Here you’ll find the Butterfly Conservatory, home to more than 2,000 gorgeous tropical butterflies. The gardens themselves contain 99 acres (40 hectares) of rhododendrons, perennial flowers, azaleas, vegetable and herb plantings, shade trees, and a world-renowned rose garden featuring more than 2,400 roses. Admission to the garden is free, but parking costs $5 and admission to the Butterfly Conservatory is $16.



5. Visit the Niagara Falls History Museum on Thursday Night

If you’re a history buff or just want to take the kids on an educational excursion, the Niagara Falls History Museum is free on Thursday nights after 5:00 p.m. Visitors can try on a British redcoat uniform from the War of 1812, complete with a musket, and peruse the museum’s three newly renovated and expanded galleries. Absorb the civil, political, and geological history of the region with War of 1812 displays, an interactive bridge-building exhibit, a simulated tight-rope walk across the Falls, and a community gallery that tells the stories of those who have made their homes in this region. The museum is located mere steps from the Drummond Hill Cemetery, site of the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812.

Are you looking for an affordable vacation with lots of outdoor adventure? Niagara Falls, Ontario offers plenty of outdoor and indoor activities for the best price of all -- free! So head north this summer and make memories to last a lifetime at Niagara Falls.

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