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The American side of Niagara Falls got shafted: we don’t have the same full-frontal views of the waterfalls that Canada boasts. Everything is either a partial view or a side glance…except we do have one major advantage because we have Cave of the Winds, which is the best falls experience on either side of the border.
What is Cave of the Winds?
Cave of the Winds is an up-close, bottoms-up view of Bridal Veil Falls, one of Niagara’s three major cascades. You’ll hear the roar of the water and potentially get soaked by the spray. It will feel like you can reach out and touch the falls.
I’ve always loved Cave of the Winds — in fact, it’s my favorite thing to do in Niagara Falls. In 2020, they opened it to winter access for the first time. Now, you can enjoy this world-class attraction year-round (and it’s even better in winter).
Before I oversell it, you should know that Cave of the Winds is basically just a platform at the bottom of the falls. There is a spectacular view and you’ll be snapping photos left and right, but this isn’t a guided tour. You’ll probably spend 20-30 minutes enjoying the view, looking for rainbows, watching ice flows in the river, and snapping selfies.
For what it’s worth, in the summer there is a series of boardwalks weaving around the waterfalls but these are removed in winter for extra safety: if you slipped and fell, it would be catastrophic. Hurricane deck — where you end up super soaked — is also not open in the winter. Trust me, you’ll still end up with close views and you don’t want to be blasted by ice-cold water anyway.
Even though there’s less to see in winter, I thought the views were better than summer. The icicles are other-worldly and seeing semi-frozen flows is an absolute wonder. If you’ve already come in good weather, it’s still worth the effort to come again and see it all snowy and icy!
Cave of the Winds Tickets
Here’s where the experience fails: timed tickets are required and you can’t buy tickets online. It’s always been popular in summer and turns out, it’s popular in winter, too. The first time we went, they were sold out of tickets for the entire day by 1pm. The second time we were successful but had an hour to kill until the next available entry time (I’ll share a few ideas on what else to do in the section below).
Winter tickets are $5 per adult or $3 per child as of February 2021. You should expect to pay for parking as well — the closest lot is “P2” on Goat Island for $5 per car. You can also walk in from P3 (the second-closest) or P1 (a bit farther, but with the advantage of waterfall views along the way). Private parking lots outside of Niagara Falls State Park are also available.
During winter, Cave of the Winds is only open from 10am-3pm which is a major reduction compared to summer service. It’s closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Niagara Falls Goat Island in Winter
Cave of the Winds is located on Goat Island, inside Niagara Falls State Park. It’s a beautiful place to walk around, so once you get your ticket, spend the next 30-60 minutes exploring the park while you’re waiting for your timed entry to begin.
Terrapin Point is a good spot to see the water rushing down the Niagara River right before it plummets over the falls. You can’t get too close in winter — it’s all roped off — but it’s still powerful to see!
This area is also great to see the “ice trees”. There is so much moisture in the air here that the trees get coated with thick, heavy ice. It’s beautiful but be careful: the ice is heavy and huge chunks of ice fall off frequently so don’t stand too close.
Unfortunately, because of the extreme moisture, the pathways closest to the water can be slick skating rinks. If you have Yaktrax or other snow cleats, you’ll want to wear them. If you don’t, channel your inner penguin and take slow, short steps that are like a little waddle.
Other Niagara Falls Winter Views
While you’re in the area, you can also walk over the bridge to the American Falls viewing point (it’s about a 10 minute walk each way).
There’s also an observation tower here for an unobstructed view of Niagara Falls in winter.
Visiting Cave of the Winds During Covid
There are a few changes to the attraction right now for community health and safety:
Masks are required. You’ll also see (most) people wearing them in the park around Cave of the Winds because it can get too crowded to properly distance.
The elevator to Cave of the Winds is reserved for a single party. You’ll access Cave of the Winds by taking a 175-foot elevator down to the bottom of the gorge but you won’t need to share the elevator with any strangers.
The museum is closed. Sadly, the very good (indoor) exhibit at the World Changed Here Pavilion is closed. I’m hopeful that it will reopen in future seasons.
Hand sanitizer dispensers are available near elevators, although in winter you’ll likely be wearing gloves. Public bathrooms, if you’d prefer to wash with soap and water, are on the upper level near ticketing booths.