GETTING THERE: Whichever side you choose, the most economical option is to fly to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, about 400 miles from Washington, and rent a car. Then you can head straight into Canada, a 45-minute drive via Peace Bridge in Buffalo; check the Peace Bridge Authority (800-715-6722, www.peacebridge.com) for traffic info. Or head northwest to New York's Niagara Falls, a drive of 30 to 45 minutes, and cross over on the Rainbow Bridge.
Flights to Buffalo in mid-October are starting at $98 (Southwest's "fun fare" from BWI). Travelocity also has fares from $123, on Northwest from BWI via Detroit; for nonstop, take Independence Air or United from Dulles, for $141 and up. Another option is to fly to Toronto Pearson International Airport and drive 80 miles (it's 90 miles to the New York side); flights start at $264 on US Airways nonstop from Reagan National.
For a more leisurely (12-to-14- hour) trip, Amtrak (800-872-7245, www.amtrak.com) has stations on both sides of the border; $388 round trip. But the Niagara Falls stations, while only a short distance from the falls, keep commuter hours, which may complicate renting a car.
WHERE TO STAY: Sheraton on the Falls (5875 Falls Ave., 800-263-7135, www.niagarafallshotels.com/sheraton), with many good rooms, seems to peer right over the falls. It also has a restaurant with a knockout view. Double rooms start at $140 (all prices in U.S. dollars).
As pretty as any brochure, the Chestnut Inn Bed & Breakfast (4983 River Rd., 905-374-7623, www.chestnutinnbb.com) is well appointed and reasonably priced. Set on an acre three-quarters of a mile from the falls, the inn has four rooms with king or queen beds, all with fireplaces and most with private decks. Doubles start at $97, including a full breakfast, until the end of September, when the base rate drops to $80.
The Doubletree Resort Lodge and Spa (6039 Fallsview Blvd., 800-730-8609, www.niagarafallsdoubletree.com) is a dependable (if not too inspired) pick and one of the best values in town. Doubles start at $118.
WHERE TO EAT: The mostly Italian fare at After Hours Bistro (5470 Victoria Ave., 905-357-2503) isn't especially creative, but it's a cheery local eatery in a city of chains. Entrees start at $10. A bit less hearty and a bit more chic is the Carpaccio Restaurant & Wine Bar (6840 Lundy's Lane, 905-371-2063). Entrees start at $11.50.
WHAT TO DO:
* An old standby, the Maid of the Mist boat trip (5920 River Rd., 905-358-5781, www.maidofthemist.com) goes to the basin of Horseshoe Falls and gets you right into the spray for $11.50. Operating from spring through Oct. 24 this year, it's accessible from both sides.
* Journey Behind the Falls (6650 Niagara River Pkwy., 905-354-1551, www.niagaraparks.com) can mean a long claustrophic line, and the views are of mist more than falling water. Operates every day except Christmas; $8.25.
* Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours (61 Melville St., Niagara on the Lake, 888-438-4444, www.whirlpooljet.com) is another attraction you can access from both sides. For NASCAR fans (and others), this is the area's most popular motorized thrill. Runs through Oct. 22. Reservations required; $46.
* Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort (6380 Fallsview Blvd., 888-325- 5788, www.fallsviewcasinoresort.com) is the Queen Mary 2 of the Niagara gambling world with a luxury mall, wedding chapel and plenty of other amenities. A much simpler venue on the main drag is Casino Niagara (5705 Falls Ave., 888- 946-3255, www.discoverniagara.com/casino).
* Among other nature-focused attractions, the Canadian side lets you investigate flowers at the famous Floral Clock (14004 Niagara River Pkwy., 905-371-0254, www.niagaraparks.com/nature/floralclock.php; free), exotic birds at the Niagara Falls Aviary (5651 River Rd., 866- 994-0090, www.niagarafallsaviary.com; $12.65), insects at the Butterfly Conservatory (2405 Niagara River Pkwy., 877-642-7275, www.niagaraparks.com/nature/butterfly.php; $8.50) and sea life at Marineland Canada (7657 Portage Rd., 905-356-9565, www.marinelandcanada.com; $32.50).
* Like the U.S. side's tethered balloon ride, Canada's Skylon Tower (5200 Robinson St., 877-475-9566, www.skylon.com; $10) is a source for helicopter-high views of the falls and surrounding area.
* The Imax Theatre-Niagara Falls (6170 Fallsview Blvd., 905-358- 3611, www.imaxniagara.com) features a dizzying show, "The Falls Movie: Legends and Daredevils." Admission $12.
INFORMATION: Niagara Falls Tourism, 800-563-2557, www.niagarafallstourism.com.
-- Peter Mandel