GETTING THERE: USAir has frequent flights between Washington and Buffalo. The lowest current fare is $120 round trip, for travel on weekends. Tickets must be purchased seven days in advance, and you must stay one Saturday night. Niagara Falls is about 25 miles north of Buffalo via a series of well-marked interstate highways. To tour the rim of the Niagara gorge, you probably will want a car, although a number of sightseeing bus excursions are offered.
There is no easy, direct route for driving to Niagara Falls from Washington. But it's about a 400-to-450-mile drive, depending on the roads you choose.
WHEN TO GO: The falls and parklands are, of course, open year-round, as are most of the lodgings and restaurants. Crowds and traffic are heavy in summer. The Maid of the Mist boat ride runs from mid-May to mid-October.
WHERE TO STAY: On the American side, there are a number of moderately priced chain hotel/motels, including the Niagara Hilton, the Holiday Inn, Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge and Quality Inn -- good, basic accommodations. John's Niagara Hotel is an older high-rise that recently has been renovated. All are within an easy, one- to three-block walk of the falls. Budget-priced motels are clustered on Niagara Falls Boulevard, a short drive away.
The hotels and motels with the best views, and penthouse dining, are on the Canadian side, among them the Foxhead Sheraton and the Brock Sheraton, which stand between the falls and the noisy carnival strip along Clifton Hill. Many motels can be found along Clifton Hill, all within easy walking of the falls.
A number of private campgrounds are located within a short drive of the falls.
WHERE TO EAT: Since you are there to see the falls, you will probably want a restaurant with a view. You will find them in the sightseeing towers and hotels on the Canadian side. Several Ontario park restaurants are located at the falls and along the gorge. On the American side, there is a fine cafeteria, Top of the Falls, on the northern end of Goat Island.
For lunches and snacks, the Rainbow Centre Shopping Mall, adjacent to the Niagara Reservation, offers a variety of carry-out meals. Clifton Hill, across the river, has most of the fast-food establishments.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS: The Native American Center for the Living Arts, located just a block from the falls, provides an interesting look at the Six Nations of the Iroquois, the "People of the Longhouse" who have lived in the Niagara region since before the Europeans arrived. A museum, theater and restaurant occupy a captivating building designed to look like a giant turtle, and it is commonly called "The Turtle." According to Iroquois legend, the earth was created on the back of a giant turtle. Adults, $3; children 13 and under, $1.50. For information: Native American Center for the Living Arts, 25 Rainbow Mall, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14303, (716) 284-2427. Table Rock Scenic Tunnels on the Canadian side is where you get a glimpse of Horseshoe Falls from its backside. You are handed a rain slicker, and an elevator drops you 125 feet underground. First stop is the Rainbow Observation Plaza for the view at the base of the falls. Down a side tunnel are Cararact Portal and Great Falls Portal directly behind the falls. The slicker protects you from the spray splashing into the tunnel mouth. Adults, $3.40; children 6 to 12, $1.
INFORMATION: Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, Carborundum Center, Suite 101, 345 Third St., Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14303, (716) 278-8010. Niagara Frontier State Parks, Niagara Reservation, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14303, (716) 278-1770. Niagara Falls, Canada, Visitor and Convention Bureau, 4610 Ontario Ave., Niagara Falls, Ontario L2E 3P9, Canada, (416) 356-6061. The Niagara Parks Commission, Box 150, Niagara Falls, Ontario L2E 6T2, Canada, (416) 356-2241. A number of historic sites important in the War of 1812 line both sides of the Niagara River. For a better understanding of the conflict, you might want to read "The War of 1812," by Harry L. Coles, part of the Chicago History of American Civilization series edited by Daniel J. Boorstin. The paperback book is available at the Old Fort Niagara gift shop for $5.