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Niagara Falls & Hocking Hills - June 2024

Updated: Jun 30

We took our much-anticipated camping road trip from Minnesota to Niagara Falls. Staying in Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. When planning this trip, we knew we would have several long drives, so we stayed 2 nights in 3 of the locations to break it up a bit. Matthew, Whitney and I drove in the truck pulling the camper and Galytea and Ben followed behind us in the Terrain.

We were packed and ready to hit the road at 7am on Friday morning. I had originally planned to stop for a night in Wisconsin and drive further into Indiana or Ohio for our second night, but Matthew thought we should just go and get closer to New York, so the first leg was calculated at 7 hours of driving not counting stops. Traffic in Chicago added around 3 hours to our drive, so with gas and bathroom stops, plus traffic delays we drove for 11 hours day 1. This is definitely more than we want to drive in one day, we were all exhausted by the time we arrived. The wind on this vacation was also a factor. Pulling our travel trailer is already a little anxiety inducing, but adding windy conditions makes it worse. There wasn't anything severe, just enough to make it uncomfortable to pull.

I booked us a campsite at Michigan City Campground in Michigan City, IN. We've already been to Indiana, so this stop was just to sleep. The campground was a nice typical RV campground. It had full hookups, pull through sites, a pool, basketball court, and a general store. We made a quick dinner and played a few card games before going to bed.

Saturday morning, we were up and on the road again by 9am. The drive was mapped to take just over 6 hours, and we made it in about 8 hours. We were also crossing into the eastern time zone, so we arrived right around 6pm.

We stayed at Lake Erie State Park for two nights. This campground was nice as well but lacked privacy. The campground overlooks Lake Erie, but the lake isn't accessible from any of the sites. You can walk down to a small beach area easily. The campground has showers and restrooms, electric hookups, several playgrounds, disc golf and of course the lake.

When we arrived, we set up and made a quick dinner. Then we walked to the lake to dip our toes into our fourth Great Lake (for Whitney and myself). After, we showered and played games before going to bed.

Sunday was our Niagara Falls day. We wanted to be there when they light up the falls, so we opted to leave a little later, close to 10am. Ben didn't get his passport in time for this trip, so Galytea and Ben drove to Niagara Falls, NY, stopping in Buffalo for brunch and a state park along the way. Matthew, Whitney and I cut up to Canada to see the falls from that side, which we'd heard has better views. Customs took us awhile to get through, but it wasn't terrible.

We went straight to Niagara Falls and it was chaos. The Canada side is what Matthew calls Vegas for kids. The streets are lined people and tourist activities.

We didn't stop to walk these streets, but instead found parking relatively close to the falls. You have to walk downhill quite a bit to reach the falls viewing areas, and we walked through a wooded area that was nice and shaded. Once we reached the viewing area, we were able to see the falls perfectly!

While the views were amazing as expected, you are pretty far away. We did sit and admire them for a while and snapped a few pictures, then walked back up the hill to find lunch. Our parking was right outside the Skylon Tower, so we went inside to use the restroom, and shopped at their gift shops. We checked out the menu for the restaurant here, but Whitney wouldn't have eaten anything on the menu, and it was pretty expensive.

Since we were going to eat quick and then go meet up with Ben and Gal, we wanted something close and easy. We walked to an IHOP at a hotel a block from our parking area. When we arrived, we were told that it wasn't open to the public, so I found another spot that was only another block up.

We ate at Shoeless Joe's Sports Grill. The food was good, the service was ok. After lunch we walked back to our car and crossed over the Rainbow Bridge back into New York.

Parking isn't cheap here, but you do only pay once and can reenter any of the State Park parking lots, which we took advantage of several times as we drove to different areas.

We met Gal and Ben on Goat Island and decided to do the Cave of the Winds attraction first. You have to purchase tickets at the gate, you can't do in advanced, but when I bought them, we only had a 20-minute wait to enter. By this time of the day, it was hot, and we were all sweaty, starting to sunburn and a little miserable. While we waited, we walked in the park to find the Niagara Falls State Park sign and get a picture, and then we went back to the Cave of the Winds entrance and were able to walk right in a few minutes early.

You take an elevator down 175 feet to the series of decks where you walk basically right under the Bridal Veil Fall. They issue ponchos, but we were still soaked. You are sprayed with water from the fall as you walk, and some of the decks have water rushing at your feet. This was an experience I am glad I didn't miss. You can feel and hear the power of the falls up close and personal, and it cooled us down nicely as we were soaked from the spray.

After Cave of the Wind, we drove to the Maid of the Mist area. I pre-purchased tickets for this ride, but there are no times assigned, you can go whenever it is running during the season. Once we made our way to the entrance we saw the line, which was likely an hour wait. With the sun beating on us and our skin already pretty pink, we decided to drive north to hit up Lake Ontario and come back later. It was around 5pm at this time, and we had to be back before 8pm to get on the Maid of the Mist.

Fort Niagara State Park was approximately a 30-minute drive north of Niagara Falls. It was much cooler here. We walked on a really nice beach and stepped foot in our fifth and final Great Lake, Lake Ontario. You could see Toronto skyline across the lake here. We didn't stay long before heading back to Niagara Falls. We did detour to get Whitney McDonald's, as she hadn't eaten all day.

Once back to the Niagara Falls State Park, we walked back to Maid of the Mist and the line was completely gone! Not only were we able to walk right in, but the boat was almost empty making it extremely easy to find good viewing areas as the boat moved along and turned by the falls. We got on the boat around 6:30pm, and the crew said earlier in the day they had almost 600 people on at a time. The decision to leave and come back definitely paid off.

They issue ponchos as you board Maid of the Mist, and you do get wet as they turn the boat around at the bottom of Horseshoe Falls, but the ponchos did keep us dry this time. It wasn't as intense as Cave of the Winds, but definitely worth doing. We saw a double rainbow over Bridal Veil Falls, and you get right up under Horseshoe.

When the boat docked, we drove back to Goat Island and parked. We walked to the Horseshoe Falls viewing deck so we could see the falls once they light up. It was just before 8pm, and the lights were supposed to go on at 8:30pm. We sat waiting until 9:30pm, only to realize that the lights shine from the Canada side onto the falls, there aren't actually lights behind the falls. So, we couldn't see anything at all. Maybe if we had waited until later when it was darker it would have been like you see in pictures, but we were tired and done with the Falls. My guess is you have to see it from the Canada side to get the full effect anyway.

We got back to camp after 11pm, with a detour for gas that was not anything I'd like to remember. It was basically straight to bed after a long day.

Monday morning we woke up and made a bigger breakfast. Checkout was 11am, and we couldn't check in at our next destination until 3pm. The drive was 3 hours, so we had an hour we had to kill on the way. On this drive, I missed a turn. We were on a back highway, and the road jogged left and I went straight. GPS rerouted and I ended up on a one car width, curvy, hilly dirt road. It was scary enough pulling the camper on the road, but we came up on a utility truck that was laying gravel. Luckily where we met the other vehicle the road was slightly wider, and the side he was on was flat enough he could pull off a little and we were able to pass. The shoulder on our side went straight down so we would have been stuck.

Eventually we made it back onto our route the rest of the way without incident. The roads became very hilly which was slightly nerve-wracking with the trailer. I am used to driving on flat ground and with the hills and the wind the camper definitely handled differently. As we approached Racoon Creek State Park there was a 10mph double curve uphill, and my truck did struggle a little. Coming down when we left was worse though!

I booked the next two nights at Racoon Creek State Park Campground. This campground was very secluded with huge sites. We were on the end of a loop, just before the bathrooms, so we only had neighbors on one side, and behind us was all woods. The campground is spread out with 5 separate loops of campsites. There was no one at the entrance the entire time we were here, and the visitor center was not part of the campground. The campground has showers and restrooms, electric sites, and we were able to fill our water tank with potable water. I refused to use the showers because they weren't the cleanest, and I don't want to shower with bugs or spiders, but Matthew did and said they were fine.

Our goal for Pennsylvania was to just relax a bit. It was hot, around 98 degrees, and we were tired from our travels and day at Niagara. When we arrived, we set up badminton, had a fire and relaxed at our campsite. The site had plenty of trees and a slight breeze so it was tolerable outside even with the heat, but the humidity certainly affected us when we played badminton. We drove to the boat launch, which is privately owned, and purchased firewood and campground sticker. Just as we were leaving the wind picked up and a storm moved in. It didn't start raining until we made it back to our site, so we did have time to put chairs and everything away before they were soaked. We spent the evening playing games.

Tuesday was beach day! We went to the lake within the park and spent several hours just lounging. We laid in the sun and cooled off in the water, enjoyed some ice cream and passed most of our day.

After returning to the campsite we played more badminton, sat by a fire, and relaxed. Matthew and I drove to the Wildflower Reserve and walked an uninspiring trail to a lookout that had views of basically nothing but trees. It was still nice to get out and it was an easy, shaded trail. Afterward we went to the visitor center, then back to camp.

We spent the rest of the evening around the fire, playing badminton and playing games. We had a racoon visit our site, watched lightning bugs and enjoyed the lazy evening.

Wednesday, we had a longer drive as we made our way to Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. This was not my favorite drive. It was super hilly winding roads, and it was all backroad highways. We stayed at Top O' the Caves Campground right within the park. The Campground was nice, but the sites were small. They had electric and water hookups, and we didn't have neighbors on either side of us, so it wasn't too bad with our smaller site. The campground also has a laundromat, an arcade room, showers, and a general store. It was hot here too with temps in the mid 90s.

Once we set up camp, we ate quick and then went to Ash Cave Trail. This is an easy trail with most of it being handicap accessible. At the end of the paved trail there is a series of steps that you can climb for gorgeous views. The trail is only a 1/2 mile and is in and back out.

After Ash Cave we walked Cedar Falls Trail. This is also a 1/2-mile one way trail, but a little more strenuous than Ash Cave Trail. It wasn't very difficult, but you are walking on a dirt path with tree roots, rocks and elevation changes. Our vacation was in June, so the falls weren't flowing, but you could see where water does run off when it rains.

Once we finished Cedar Falls Trail, we went back to our camp. It was pretty warm and humid, and we all went to shower. After we were clean, we ate and then checked out the arcade. We played pool, air hockey and other arcade games, spent a bunch of money playing for tickets that you can turn in for cheap toys, and enjoyed the evening.

As soon as it started to get dark, we drove to John Glenn Astronomy Park. This is supposed to be a perfect place to view the stars and you can see the Milkyway clearly here with little light pollution. Unfortunately, the moon was almost full, so the sky didn't get very dark, but it was still a really cool place.

Thursday morning Matthew and I started our day at the visitor's center, then to Conkle's Hollow Reserve and walked Conkle's Hollow Trail while the kids slept in. We walked the Gorge Trail, which was another handicap accessible trail and 3/4 miles. It was cool in the gorge, and nicely shaded with trees lining the path and large cliffs on either side. It was a nice walk and once the pavement ended you could walk a short dirt trail to a cave and beautiful rock formations.

After our walk we went back to get the kids and then drove to Old Man's Cave. This trail starts at the visitor center and is a 1-mile loop trail. This isn't a difficult hike but does have areas that are elevated and many stairs. It is a beautiful walk with several bridges, water, and rock formations. Here there was a small trickle of water, but waterfalls were dry.

Once we finished Old Man's Cave Trail, we went to the visitor center. We purchased souvenirs and read the walls lined with facts about the park.

When we left the visitor center, we decided to stop at John Glenn Astronomy Park again so we could see it in the daylight before starting another hike.

We were all hot and a little tired after our hiking so decided to go back to Conkle's Hollow so the kids could walk that trail, knowing it is easy and shaded. Then we went to our campsite to eat lunch.

I had a headache and laid down for an hour, and when I woke up, Matthew was determined to hike Whispering Cave Trail. I had tried to talk everyone out of this trail because it was rated "difficult" and my legs and feet were swelling from the heat and humidity paired with all the walking. I relented and we drove to the Lodge to start the trail, Whitney staying behind, and Ben reluctantly joining us. This trail is only 1/2 a mile but has significant elevation changes, steep inclines, stairs and several narrow sections on a dirt trail. It started pretty elevated, so it wasn't as cool or shaded as the other trails we had walked. The hike was pretty, and the cave was fun to see. By the time we completed the trail, we all agreed we were done.

We returned to camp and showered, made s'mores and had dinner. Then played cards until we went to bed.

Friday was another long drive, as we made our way to Champaign, IL. Interstate 70 in Indiana was the worst road we traveled on with the camper. It is super uneven with a ton of patch work, paired with the wind it kept us going much slower than we otherwise could've. We had to detour due to a car fire closing all lanes of the highway.

We stayed at D&W Lake RV Campground. The campground was a typical RV park with pull through sites, full hookups and a shower house. It was clean and well-kept, and the owners were very friendly.

We had no plans for Illinois. We hung out at camp, played badminton, enjoyed a fire and played cards. It was a nice relaxing, no agenda evening.

Saturday, we left camp around 10am and started our drive home. There were storms in the forecast at several points in our 9-hour drive, but we missed most of them and only saw some short patches of rain.

This vacation exceeded expectations. Niagara Falls and Hocking Hills were both incredible experiences. I am unsure if we will alter our future camping road trip, as the wind, lack of ability to explore along driving routes and uncertainty with backroads made the long distances less enjoyable.

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