There are some unforgettable sights in Niagara, Ontario. One vision that sticks in my mind is the convoy of large, leathery women in their 50s and 60s that I came across on my most recent visit to the falls a few weekends ago. Flicking fag ash as they slugged along on mobility scooters, folds of dimpled flesh spilling out of sleeveless crop tops rising above their bellies, the geriatric hooligans seemed oblivious – or impervious – to the fact they were hogging a path that expressly stated: “No electric vehicles of any kind.”
Yep, visiting Niagara Falls requires a tolerance for wheezing tourists, high-rise hotels, tawdry casinos, and gigantic winnebagos. None of this, however, detracts from watching six million cubic feet of water thunder down a 165ft vertical drop each minute, especially when combined with a trip to some of Niagara’s more serene spots.
A fun way to experience the region’s highlights, including the mighty falls, is by taking the Niagara River Recreation Trail from Niagara-on-the-Lake, a genteel town lined with regency and classical revival style buildings – the kind of place that the Lonely Planet might describe as “elegant”.
The 58 kilometre trail runs along the Canadian side of the Niagara River all the way from Fort George, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, down to Fort Erie. Both towns played major roles in the bloody war of 1812 between America and Great Britain, which helped to shape Canadian nationalism.
I cycled a section of the trail a couple of weeks ago, completing a 55km route over a very leisurely five hours.
If you’re driving to Fort George, you can park there for around $8 a day.
The most scenic part is the first section to Queenston, on a path that winds past vineyards to the right, and the river separating Canada from the USA on the left.
Punnets of locally grown plums, peaches and cherries are sold from stalls on the side of the road, and hand-painted signs invite you to pick your own.
It takes around an hour to reach Queenston; from there, the path heads up a fairly steep, shaded hill.
The ground soon levels off and, around half an hour later, the trail takes cyclists (rollerblading isn’t encouraged) past the butterfly conservatory and botanical gardens, which could make a nice detour. Zipping past, I spied a turtle lazing in the shady streetside undergrowth.
Immediately before Niagara, the path vanishes and you’re forced onto the busy main road for around 10 minutes.
As you freewheel down the hill, the falls suddenly come into view. Ta-da!
On the return journey, I wanted to see more of the countryside so branched left after Queenston and zig-zagged past rows of sleepy vineyards and orchards.
It’s hard to imagine a more scenic, relaxing, bike ride – and all within 90 minutes’ drive of Toronto.
The sunset on the way home topped off a pretty perfect day.
If you don’t have a car, the bike train runs all summer, taking passengers from Toronto to Niagara Falls station, which is situated a block away from the trail.