If the sizzling late-summer temperatures have you hallucinating a mirage of cool, cascading water, you can make that dream a reality. Niagara Falls, located in New York's northwest corner, is one of the world's most well-known sites for a reason. Between now and October 23 you can experience its refreshing mists firsthand.
A three-for-one deal, the "Falls" are a composite of American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the New York coast, and Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side (the Falls separate New York from Ontario). The centerpiece of the three falls themselves would be sufficiently mesmerizing, but none other than Frederick Law Olmsted -- the designer of a series of parks in nearby Buffalo and the landscape architect behind NYC's Central Park -- shaped the grounds of this 400+ acre park to beautifully frame these natural wonders, establishing in 1885 what is now America's oldest State Park. In fact, Olmsted was the leader of the Free Niagara movement, fighting to keep industrialists from encroaching on the Falls' hydraulic power, and instead dreamt of protecting and preserving the Falls as a place where the "masses could renew."
Entry to the park is free, but you can't properly earn your Niagara Falls stripes unless you take a cruise on the Maid of the Mist. What at first seems like a gentle glide becomes quickly very wet, windy and loud from the 3,160 TONS of water -- feeding in from Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie -- that rush over the Falls every SECOND. The experience of nature's sheer power, a humbling and important reminder, makes stories of Niagara Falls stunts, including Annie Edson Taylor's swim over (and survival of) the Falls while nailed inside of a barrel, all the more mind-boggling. A Discovery Pass is your best deal. At $33, the pass grants you a Maid of the Mist tour, access to the Niagara Adventure Theater, the Aquarium of Niagara, the Cave of the Winds Trip, and the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. The season runs from May to October, with 2013's closing day coming on Oct 23.