Niagara Falls has enough attractions to fill months of vacation fun, but if this isn’t your first trip to this particular natural wonder of the world, you may start to wonder what’s waiting just down the river. In fact, just a short drive down to Lake Ontario is one of the most rewarding day trips from Niagara Falls, as long as you visit the charming community of St. Catharines.
1. Explore Downtown
While not nearly as quaint as Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Catharines is a cute town, and downtown is filled with stylish and darling shops as well as fun pubs and restaurants. St. Catherines’ main street, Jordan Village, is packed with boutiques peddling antiques, vintage clothes, superb art, and more to fill countless hours of shopping. Then you can stop in the renowned Inn on the Twenty Restaurant for lunch and Cave Spring Cellars for a wine tasting at happy hour.
2. Watch the Ships
St. Catherines is home to one of the many platforms for trading located around Lake Ontario, and as such gargantuan ships regularly make port in town. The careful guidance of these colossal crafts is a fascinating procedure, and tourists and locals alike regularly gather to watch the methodical and artful movement of these metal behemoths. The best viewing platform is near Port Dalhousie, but you can get even closer to the ships just off Lock 3 on the Welland Canal while they’re traveling in and out of the lake.
3. Traverse the Escarpment
The Niagara Escarpment is the huge ridge off which the Niagara River careens to create the Niagara Falls, but it extends hundreds of miles in either direction. Just outside of St. Catharines, you can explore an entirely different section of the escarpment.
The Bruce Trail is Canada’s most thrilling trek that extends all along the escarpment, but rather than endure a month’s worth of backpacking, you can take a hike for an hour or two on the trail. Alternatively, you can wander around the Balls Falls Conservation Area, which has a couple water falls of its own as well as historic buildings and beautiful picnic spots.
4. Learn St. Catharines History
Most Americans are familiar with the plight of African Americans enslaved in the South and struggling for freedom and equality throughout the 1800s. Many black slaves escaped from their white masters and attempted to flee to Canada, where slavery was already illegal, with the aid of white sympathizers and freemen along the Underground Railroad. Most Americans don’t realize that this historic secret trail terminated in the Niagara region, which subsequently developed a rich black community and culture that has left its mark even today.
The BME Church of Salem Chapel is National Historic Site that commemorates the plights of black Americans throughout the continent. Additionally, the St. Catharines Museum boasts a permanent exhibit on Niagara’s role in the Underground Railroad and the greater abolitionist movement.
In between activities in Niagara Falls, branch out to the surrounding communities, like St. Catharines, to discover what they offer interested visitors. The Niagara region is rich in culture and history — not to mention natural beauty — and devoted travelers would do well to explore.