It was spring break 2022 for my school. Having only one week to capitalize on the time off as a teacher, my wife and I decided to take a “mini-moon” to somewhere neither of us have visited before. We wanted a chance for us to explore and learn about the U.S. and see some of its natural beauty. Orlando, the Pacific Northwest, and Grand Canyon were all taken into strong consideration, but ultimately we wanted a place that was within a day’s driving distance. Niagara Falls became special for both of us, so we could have a chance to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world in person.
A daunting task was ahead for me and my wife Lauren on the morning of March 24: Can we make it to Niagara Falls from Milwaukee in one day? A 9-hour (650-mile) drive was no small feat. The furthest either of us had ever driven was just under 300 miles.
The short answer was “no” because we didn’t want to run into notorious morning traffic around Chicago. However, we wanted to make it to the falls by Thursday night, so instead of leaving from Milwaukee, we stayed with my brother in Lake County, Illinois, on Wednesday night to help us avoid the morning rush.
When the alarms went off at 4:15 a.m. the next morning, our mission was to make it to Niagara Falls that evening. Getting through Chicago by 5:30 a.m., we barely hit any traffic and made it to Indiana within an hour. Driving through Indiana took about 2 hours, stopping only twice for coffee and gas near the Ohio border. Crossing into Ohio, we knew the trip was more than halfway complete.
From rock and roll to roaring waterfalls
While planning this trip, Lauren asked me if there was anywhere I wanted to stop along the way. Knowing the general layout of the Midwest I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head—until I realized that we would be passing through Northern Ohio. As a music fan, I knew I wanted to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
We stopped for a few hours and took in the sights and exhibits. During this time, the museum was holding fan voting for members of the class of 2022 inductees. Among others, fans ended up choosing Dolly Parton, Eminem, Lionel Richie and Duran Duran. Seeing artifacts and exhibits from every major name in music completely blew us away.
After leaving the museum, we drove for a couple of hours to Western Pennsylvania, and finally made it to Western New York. After a few more hours of driving, we arrived in Buffalo, New York, where we crossed the bridge that connects Buffalo to Niagara Falls. Having never been to Niagara Falls, I was looking forward to learning about what makes this place so special to millions of people.
“The World Changed Here!” is the phrase seen at the theater before entering the Cave of the Winds. Even during the late winter and early spring months, it’s hard to match the raw power and beauty of this spectacle in its full force. There’s something completely captivating about watching the falls and simply sitting in stillness, taking in the unmatched, natural power of one of the world’s seven natural wonders.
Going down to the Cave of the Winds only magnifies the power and beauty of the falls. Standing under Bridal Veil Falls, you can hear the constant thudding of the water against the rocks and massive chunks of ice. It forces visitors to realize how uncontrollable the power of nature truly is.
At the conclusion of our tour, Lauren and I rested before going to dinner at a small Italian restaurant a couple blocks from our Airbnb, called Fortuna’s. When we returned around 10 p.m., the falls were illuminated by high-powered lights coming from the Canadian side. In magnificent hues of blue, green, red, and yellow, the lights provided more awe-inspiring views.
A successful, snowy return
On top of the myriad other activities we intended to do, like crossing the border into Canada because of outdated passports, we weren’t able to take one of the Maid of the Mist boat tours. The March weather was unfavorable and unpredictable during our trip, and it snowed 4 inches the night we planned to leave––forcing us to postpone our departure until the storm cleared our route home. The only stop we made on our return was to stock up at a Tim Horton’s in Erie, Pennsylvania.
As Lauren and I began the drive back, we both agreed that the next time we visit, we want to take the Maid of the Mist ferry in warmer weather. Lauren also commented how the most enlightening part of the trip was the Underground Railroad Heritage Center in Niagara Falls. The center explained how freedom seekers stopped in Niagara Falls before making the cross into Canada. Being a history teacher, the deep dive into one of the significant spots along the Underground Railroad opened my eyes to how ordinary people make history with bold choices.
Despite hitting Chicago traffic, the trip home was smooth, and we were able to make it back to Milwaukee by Monday afternoon, after nearly 7 hours in the car. The road trip was a success and it was fun to experience this region of the Midwest.