ABOVE PHOTO: American Falls and Maid of the Mist boat on Niagara River. (Vlad G/Shutterstock)
By Renee S. Gordon
The 400-acre Niagara Falls State Park is situated on the New York side of the Falls and is the oldest state park in the country.
It was developed in 1885, approximately 10,000 years after its natural creation, and receives nearly 10 million tourists annually. There are a trio of falls: American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe and an extensive list of activities at all skill levels for visitors to enjoy. (@niagarafallsusa)
The World Changed Here Pavilion is a good place to start your tour. The exhibits and orientation film relate the history of the Falls, the role of Nikola Tesla with balancing the splendor of the Falls and its use as a power source. The theater is state-of-the-art with 180-degree screens and authentic artifacts.
At the conclusion of the film, visitors proceed to the Cave of the Winds and a 175-ft. descent into the Niagara Gorge. After a brief elevator ride, clad in a souvenir poncho and sandals, guests find themselves on a wooden walkway that leads them to decks within a few feet of Bridal Veil Falls and the buffeting wind and water of the Hurricane Deck.
The wooden decks are dismantled each year to protect them from the icy conditions. (www.niagarafallsstateparks.com)
The Maid of the Mist cruise has been operating since 1846 and is the oldest tourist attraction in the country. The Maid has a long and storied history, some of it connected to the Underground Railroad because it plied the waters between New York and Ontario, Canada.
The boat cruise takes you into the heart of Horseshoe Falls. This is a bucket list experience. (www.maidofthemist.com)
The Niagara area has a reputation for producing outstanding wines, so why not take the Niagara Wine Trail, USA, while taking advantage of discounts by purchasing a Vino Visa in advance; here are more than 20 wineries on the trail as well as distilleries, breweries and dining options. Information is available online. (niagarawinetrail.org)
The DoubleTree by Hilton is a good hotel option for the Niagara portion of this trip. It offers free parking and is within walking distance or a five-minute drive to most attractions. The hotel features a fitness center, on-site restaurant, state-of-the-art technology and 192 accommodations outfitted with upscale linens and amenities. (www.doubletree3.hilton.com)
The Enchanted Mountains can be found in Cattaraugus County. Their charm encompasses the scenery, history and unique sites including the Amish Trail featuring more than 125 family operated venues, identified by latitude and longitude instead of address, and designated with a special sign.
Visitors can purchase an amazing array of handcrafted items including quilts, toys, candy, baked goods and furnishings, dine on farm fresh meals or simply take in the passing bucolic scenery. Complete information, including maps, guides and business listings, are available at the sites and online. (www.AmishTrail.com)
New York has also established two Amish Geo Trails (NYAGT). Each trail has 12 caches as well as a trackable Geo Coin. A magnetic geo-button is earned for locating individual caches, and the lucky explorers who find 10 of the caches will be gifted with a limited NY Amish Geo Trail Coin. (www.AmishTrail.com/Geotrail)
The earliest culture fostered within these mountains remains as serene and steadfast as the hills themselves. The sovereign Seneca Nation has lived here for centuries and probably encountered the first Europeans in the 1500s. They call themselves the Onöndowa’ga:’ and consist of eight clans: Turtle, Bear, Wolf, Beaver, Snipe, Heron, Deer and Hawk.
They are the “Keepers of the Western Door” because they were the westernmost of the nations and guarded the land any foreigner had to cross to gain access to the Confederacy. Records indicate that the Seneca assisted freedom seekers crossing their land.
The Great Confederacy, formed in the late 1500s, is credited with being the oldest participatory democracy in the United States. The Sacred Tree of Peace, the Iroquois Constitution, was created to establish peace and promote justice, morality and the rule of civil authority. Decisions made under The Great Law of Peace required a council mandate based on one vote per tribe and absolute agreement. Concepts in the Iroquois Constitution were used as a model for the U.S. Constitution.
Just as the Seneca were gatekeepers of the Confederacy, they now serve as guardians of their culture. The 33,000-ft Deyonöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center campus is a state-of-the-art museum, cultural center, educational facility, Seneca-Iroquois Living Cultural Village and performance space. Visitors can eat traditional cuisine and purchase native crafts as well as view the more than 85,000 artifacts in 10 exhibit galleries. (www.senecamuseum.org)
A guiding principle in the Seneca belief system is that we are all spiritual beings living an earthly existence. Our spirits are renewed in the Seneca-Iroquois Museum and our earthly desires can be fulfilled in the nearby Seneca Allegany Casino and Resort, whether you are a high roller or a lover of art, history, leisure and luxury. Architecturally the resort focuses on the symbols and beliefs of the Seneca culture through use of natural materials, iconic images and indigenous art.
The AAA Four Diamond resort is the winner of numerous honors. Visitors can choose from 413 luxury accommodations with panoramic views of the cultural center and surrounding area, world-class dining venues, live entertainment and a plethora of award-winning gaming options. The spa and salon offer a complete menu of services with feature-themed and specialized treatments. (www.senecaalleganycasino.com)
You will fall in love with the Allegany State Park, the largest in New York and third largest in the nation. In summer you can enjoy hiking and multi-use trails. There is a large lake for water sports including kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding. In winter, it transforms into a ski and snow fun resort. There are 424 campsites, 375 cabins, a covered bridge, a Stone Tower, a small museum and much more. (www.stateparks.com)
Nearby Ellicottville is the quintessential small town filled with shops, eateries, a winery and a town museum. I suggest you stop here to soak up the ambiance and reflect on your adventure. (www.ellicottvilleny.com)