Walking to Canada

By Sharon Kong Perry

Originally published at www.thetravel.com

Niagara Falls is famous for the parks on each side of the Falls, filled with family-friendly activities and even some unexpected things that travelers can do. Both the New York and the Canadian sides of Niagara Falls, as well as the surrounding towns on both sides, have so much to do and see. From famed Niagara wineries with the best ice wines to historical monuments to the American Revolutionary War or the War of 1812, there's a lot to cover across these parks and towns!

Though some may say that Niagara Falls is average compared to other waterfalls around the world, during my last trip to the Falls, I was eager to take in everything about the area, on both sides of the border! I wanted to see it all because Niagara Falls is, in my opinion, quite mighty. I knew I could cross from the Canadian side to the American side via the Rainbow Bridge that crosses over the Niagara River Gorge, but I didn't have a car to make that trip.

After a little research though, I realized, I could literally just walk into the United States from Canada, and while the few snippets online I read made it sound easy (and yes, it was simple enough), there are some things travelers should know before you try to make this border crossing between the Great White North and the Empire State, yourself.

The Rainbow Bridge opened on November 1, 1941, after King George VI and Queen Elizabeth dedicated the site three years prior. A joint project between the governments of New York State and Ontario, the modern bridge measures 950 feet (289.5 meters) in length and 50 feet (15 meters) above the Niagara Gorge's waterline. It is an engineering marvel and was meant to replace the lost "Honeymoon Bridge" (known formally as the Falls Views Bridge), which collapsed the year the royals visited the Falls.

After witnessing the tragic collapse of the bridge after severe icing issues, the commission that built the Rainbow Bridge ensured the bridge's strength; the bridge is reinforced with upwards of 3,500 tons of steel and is supported by solid rock foundations on either side.

  • No loss of life was documented during the bridge's building thanks to life-saving nets set up under the bridge during construction.

Why Do People Cross Between The Canadian And American Sides of Niagara?

There are plenty of reasons why travelers and locals alike cross between the two countries. For tourists, crossing the Rainbow Bridge allows them to discover how each side of Niagara Falls is actually different from one another, maximizing their Niagara Falls experience.

Not only are the views and vantage points different on each side of the Falls, both the New York State Parks and the Niagara Parks Commission offer different museums, tours, and on-site restaurants. Similarly, locals cross the Rainbow Bridge, usually by car, to go shopping at country-specific shops (Target gets us all, really), and to attend sports games in the nearby city of Buffalo.

I was surprised to learn when I was on the Canadian side of the border that there are quite a few Buffalo Bills team supporters who live in Niagara Falls, Canada!

How To Cross the Rainbow Bridge As A Pedestrian

The Rainbow Bridge is the only bridge with a pedestrian crossing

A popular activity on both sides of the border is to cross the Rainbow Bridge and say you were in two countries at once! The border, officially, is in the middle of the Niagara River Gorge, so halfway across the bridge, flags indicate the inter-country stewardship of the border.

While there are two other bridges which connect these two sides of the Niagara River Gorge from Canada to the U.S., the Rainbow Bridge is the only one that permits pedestrian crossings. As a car-less traveler, this was the best bet for me to get across the border.

Even if you're not planning to cross all the way over the border into the other country, the Rainbow Bridge is a beautiful spot to see some amazing elevated views of the American Bridal Falls, and, further down the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

What Do You Need To Cross?

Walking across the border may seem "less serious" than, let's say, flying to another country, but you are still traveling from one country to another despite how walking makes it feel. With that being said, be sure you have a valid passport that fulfills border entry requirements with you before you start your journey.

While there are other forms of identification accepted on both sides of the border, having a valid passport is the most efficient way of crossing between the two countries.

Also, to the surprise of many of my fellow pedestrians crossing the bridge, there is a small bridge toll for pedestrians! Turnstiles at the entrance of the pedestrian walkway will prompt travelers to deposit either $1 USD or $1 CAN in order to move through the turnstile.

There are bill-breaker machines on the Canadian side that return small coins (including Canadian dollar coins) so that you can pay the toll. Remember, due to currency conversions, paying $1 CAN is technically cheaper (about $.70 USD), if you are extremely budget conscious.

How Long Does The Crossing Take?

Even though the bridge is almost 1,000 feet long, and looks like it takes a while to cross on foot, the actual crossing (barring any picture taking or pausing to take in the view of Niagara Falls and the Niagara River Gorge) only takes about 10 to 15 minutes total. This is a very different story for the cars crossing the bridge — I was walking faster than most cars were moving in line!

When I walked into the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Facility (there are plenty of signs that indicate where pedestrians need to go after you finish the bridge crossing), it only took an additional five minutes to be screened by the U.S. CBP officer.

I also want to note that my CBP officer was quite friendly, a stark contrast to many of the CBP officers I encounter at airports! The officer will buzz you out of the exit — it is a secure area, and they don't want pedestrians looking for the bridge entrance to accidentally cross into the screening area of the facility. It's, evidently, a common mistake!

Once you're through, you'll be right at the start of the Niagara Falls New York State Park!

All in all, the pedestrian crossing on the Rainbow Bridge between New York and Canada is an easy, not-intimidating way to cross the border for a day trip or when, in my case, you pack lightly and don't have a car. Just be prepared with your travel documents in hand, a $1 USD/CAN to spare, and your camera out to enjoy the views!

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified