Although Niagara Falls is clear across the other side of the country from Raleigh, NC, you can get to this esteemed natural wonder by car, and in less time than you might think, too.
If you’re interested in planning a family getaway to Niagara Falls from Raleigh, what do you need to know?
The drive from Raleigh, NC to Niagara Falls requires you to pass through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and most of New York before you reach Niagara Falls, but you don’t need to drive through Canada. The entire trip takes about 11 and a half hours without heavy traffic.
In today’s guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to successfully plan your family vacation to Niagara Falls from Raleigh, NC.
I’ll expand on the driving route, provide you drivetime information, and recommend sights and attractions to make the trip more special.
Let’s get into it!
The best route from Raleigh, NC to Niagara Falls
In about three nights (maybe four if your kids are especially impatient during long car rides), you can drive all the way from your home in Raleigh to Niagara Falls.
I do recommend overnight stops, as there’s no reasonable way to get straight to Niagara Falls in one day, nor should you want to!
There’s so much to explore throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York before you’ll reach Niagara Falls, as I’ll talk about later.
In the meantime, here’s your driving route as you embark on your family vacation.
Raleigh to Kerr Lake
From Raleigh, you’ll drive north for about an hour to reach Kerr Lake. Without too much traffic, it should be a straight shot.
Kerr Lake, borders Virginia and North Carolina. You’ll be more on the Virginia side.
The lake is truly worth spending some time in. This reservoir offers fishing, strolling, and sightseeing. It’s the perfect starter for your trip and will get everyone excited about Niagara Falls!
Kerr Lake to Richmond
Once everyone is back in the car and ready for the next part of the drive, it’s time to head deeper into Virginia, namely, Richmond.
You’ll drive for roughly two hours northeast until you reach Richmond. Heavy traffic could delay your arrival time.
Richmond is Virginia’s capital, and it’s just dripping in history.
If you’ve heard the classic, “Give me liberty or give me death” speech from the United States founding father Patrick Henry, this occurred in Virginia’s St. John’s Church back in 1775.
This city, which is one of the oldest in America, has many Civil War museums, but that’s not all. The museums, zoos, and amusement parks ought to entertain kids of all ages!
Richmond to Alexandria
Your tour through Virginia will take you through another major city in the state, Alexandria.
You’ll drive straight north from Richmond, and in about an hour and a half, you’ll get to Alexandria.
I’d recommend parking it here for the night, as you’ve driven for about four and a half hours already (unless you hit a lot of traffic, and in that case, it was even longer!).
Alexandria is a beautiful place for overnight lodging. Sitting on the Potomac River, it’s not too far from Washington, DC.
If you and the kids are into history, Alexandria is quite the treat.
You can check out the Carlyle House Historic Park with an authentic (and restored) Georgian mansion or visit the Gadsby’s Tavern museum, which was once a restaurant the founding fathers preferred.
You can also see specialty shops and boutiques on King Street or stroll through Old Town and take in the architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The kids won’t be bored with water parks and gardens in the area!
Alexandria to Sideling Hill
When you wake up the next morning feeling fresh and rested, it’s time to continue leg two of your journey to Niagara Falls from Raleigh.
Your next stop is Sideling Hill.
It will take you about two hours to reach Sideling Hill from Alexandria if you can evade most heavy traffic. You’ll drive northwest from Alexandria.
Sideling Hill is also known as Side long Hill.
It’s a mountain ridge in the Appalachian Mountains that’s technically in Maryland’s Washington County. Sideling Hill is near Pennsylvania, which is the next state on your list, which is why it’s a great part of the route.
The beautiful sights in the area make a great place for a rest stop so you and the kids can stretch your legs for a bit.
Sideling Hill to Black Moshannon State Park
Once you finish driving through Sideling Hill, you’ll be in Pennsylvania proper.
Continue heading north and you’ll reach Black Moshannon State Park in Philipsburg. This part of your drive is another two hours prohibiting heavy traffic.
Black Moshannon State Park in Rush Township is a generously-sized 3,480-acre state park. It’s named after Black Moshannon Lake, which the park surrounds.
The park is open all year long and welcomes visitors to enjoy strolling, biking, bird-watching, hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, and hunting depending on the season.
Bird watching is especially renowned here, as you can see 175 unique bird species.
Plenty of uncommon animals and plants are in the area as well thanks to the nearby Allegheny Plateau.
Black Moshannon State Park offers cabins for lodging, which I would recommend after your long day of driving.
Black Moshannon State Park to Ellicottville
As you wake up to a beautiful Pennsylvania sunrise, it’s time to continue your voyage to Niagara Falls.
You’ll officially reach New York State when you roll into Ellicottville.
The drive from Black Moshannon State Park to Ellicottville should take you approximately two hours if you don’t run into traffic.
You’ll drive slightly northwest to reach your destination.
Ellicottville in western New York is a village with a lot to offer visitors, including an arboretum, two ski resorts, and McCarty Hill and Rock City state forests.
Ellicottville to Niagara Falls
Now that you’re in New York, it won’t take long before you reach Niagara Falls.
For about an hour and a half, drive north from Ellicottville and you’ll be there!
How long will it take you to reach Niagara Falls from Raleigh?
You’ve seen the route to Niagara Falls, but approximately how long will it take you to get there?
You’ll drive for 11 hours and 24 minutes one way to get to Niagara Falls from Raleigh.
This time does not include the three nights you’ll lodge on your route, the time you’ll spend enjoying family-fun activities, or traffic.
While you can plan your drive to avoid traffic as best you can, running into at least some traffic is inevitable and will delay your arrival.
Must-see attractions on the road to Niagara Falls
Getting to Niagara Falls needn’t be such a rush. As I made clear in the earlier section, there are plenty of extraordinary sights throughout your journey that are worth stopping and appreciating with the whole family.
Here are the ones I most recommend!
Kerr Lake Destinations
- Bullocksville Park
Along Kerr Lake by Manson, North Carolina, you’ll find Bullocksville Park, a public park that affords visitors one of 63 campsites to select from.
The available amenities here include fishing, public picnic areas, and public boat launching.
- Fox Pond Park
In Henderson, North Carolina near Kerr Lake is the Fox Pond Park.
This park has a playground with equipment for the children. From slides to swings and everything in between, the kids will be able to burn off some energy before you load them back into the car to continue the drive to Virginia.
- Children’s Museum of Richmond
Once you reach Virginia, make it a point to see the Children’s Museum of Richmond.
This nonprofit museum has an assortment of exhibits that will delight your children to no end.
Here’s an overview of some of the must-see exhibits.
- Wegmans: Your children can feel like mini adults when they shop in a faux Wegman’s, making educational and nutritional food decisions. The exhibit teaches spatial reasoning, counting, and sorting.
- Water Play: If you don’t mind the kids getting a bit wet, the Water Play exhibit will foster their social-emotional development, math, and problem-solving skills.
- The Playhouse: All nature of storytellers, creators, and dreamers are welcome at The Playhouse, where kids can create their own stories and then bring them to life on the stage!
- The News Studio: If your child has a future in newscasting, they won’t want to miss The News Studio exhibit. Kids can commandeer their own faux station called WCMOR and use the control station and news desk to report on what’s going on in Richmond.
- The Dino Zone: Learn all about the prehistoric origins of our planet at The Dino Zone. Kids can even make a dinosaur using foam blocks.
- Sun Tubes: The hands-on, interactive exhibit called Sun Tubes allows the kids to connect a series of tubes and then send objects through them. The children will improve their hand-eye coordination in the interim.
- Little Farm: The Little Farm exhibit combines elements like storytelling and comprehension, play and movement, counting and grouping, pointing, singing and talking, and stress management.
- The Back Yard: The KABOOM! Playscape for kids up to 12 years old lets them slide, balance, climb, and have fun outdoors!
- Carousel: Wrap up your day at the museum at the Carousel, which is available to ride for an additional fee.
- Kings Dominion
One of the most beloved and famed amusement parks in North America, Kings Dominion is a theme park with an attached water park called Soak City.
Kings Dominion offers all sorts of attractions and rides, including those for kids, families, and older kids and adults such as roller coasters and thrill rides.
If you feel like splashing around at Soak City, there are plenty of great rides here too.
Kids can enjoy a multi-level play structure that’s 45 feet tall, the Coconut Shores mini wave pool for kids, the Baja Bends four-slide ride, the Zoom Flume, the 65-foot Hurricane Heights slide tower, or the Lazy Rider lazy river.
After working up an appetite, you and the children can snack on funnel cakes, soft pretzels, French fries, burritos, chicken, pizza, ice cream, hot dogs, tater tots, floats, burgers, subs, popcorn, and so much more.
- Metro Richmond Zoo
Housing 2,000 animals and counting, Metro Richmond Zoo has a rich assortment of birds, reptiles, and mammals available.
If you want your kids to get up close and personal with some of these creatures, you can always look into an animal experience for an additional fee.
Children can feed giraffes or penguins, linger in a budgie aviary, and greet some barnyard animals.
Metro Richmond Zoo has an assortment of rides too, including the multi-level Play Ground, the Safari Train Ride, the Safari Sky Lift, the Jungle Carousel, and the Penguin Falls Drop Tower.
All cost an additional fee.
- Crump Park
If there’s still time in your itinerary, make it a point to see Crump Park. This park in nearby Henrico County features kids’ play equipment.
There’s also a section of the park dedicated to farm life via a living history museum.
- Great Waves Waterpark
If you’re driving through Alexandria in the summertime, then a visit to the Great Waves Waterpark is a must.
The park features an assortment of zigging, zagging, and swirling water slides as well as shallow pools.
Paradise Play is a kid-friendly splashpad with wobble hoppers, kid conveyors, mazes, spiral slides, a rock wall, pogo bounces, spiral climbs, and triple sides.
This attraction is recommended for children between three and 12 years old.
You can also rent a cabana for some rest and relaxation, play mini golf at Cameron Run (on the grounds of the water park), or teach some baseball fundamentals at the batting cages.
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon is a historical site and the former home of George Washington.
You can request specialty tours to learn about certain historical aspects of the estate, visit the onsite museum, or pass through the Education Center.
The Education Center features the Be Washington Interactive Theater with a 4D film on the Revolutionary War as well as exhibits about Washington’s illustrious life.
Treat the kids to a meal at Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant before leaving or at least fuel up at the food court.
- Green Spring Gardens
The beautiful Green Spring Gardens is a welcome sight after driving for three or four hours at a clip.
More than merely gardens, Green Spring Gardens also features a national historic site, a museum, and an outdoor classroom.
The gardens include over 20, each with a different theme. On the grounds of Green Spring Gardens are also a horticulture reference library, a historic house, two gift shops, a plant shop, and a greenhouse.
Sideling Hill Destinations
- George Washington’s Bathtub
In Berkeley Springs State Park in nearby Bath, Virginia is George Washington’s Bathtub.
No, this isn’t a literal bathtub, but a stone monument erected in 1749 dedicated to the then-president’s bathing habits. It’s certainly a unique attraction!
- Chesapeake & Ohio Canal: Maryland Scenic Byway
If you pop over to Hancock, Maryland, you’ll reach the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which is one of many scenic byways in Maryland.
Known as The Grand Old Ditch, this byway features 200 miles of trail for bird-watching, cycling, or hiking.
Sometimes, barge rides led by mules are even available!
- Green Ridge State Forest
The appealing Green Ridge State Forest is a wonderful place for a day trip or even an overnight stay if you can swing it.
The state forest in Maryland spans 46,000 acres, stretching from Allegany County’s Town Hill to Green Ridge.
Hunting, boating, fishing, biking, hiking, and camping are the most common activities here.
When you need to take a break, you can witness any of the scenic overlooks across the Potomac River.
- Sky High Adventure Park
The Sky High Adventure Park in the Holiday Valley resort will certainly enchant the kids!
The park is five acres and offers 13 courses, some of which are easier to do than others.
Kids must be at least seven years old, and no participant can weigh more than 265 pounds.
The park also features chairlift rides, Mister Happy Gem Mining for kids two and up (for an additional fee), and the 3D Climbing Forest.
When you get hungry, the onsite Tannenbaum Lodge serves fries, chicken tenders, hot dogs, and burgers.
- Sky High Mountain Coaster
Also a part of Holiday Valley is the Sky High Mountain Coaster for up to two riders at a time.
The riders sit in a car and then ride down the mountain! All along, you can toggle the brakes to adjust your speed.
Holiday Valley recommends that riders of the Sky High Mountain Coaster be at least 54 inches tall and eight years and older.
What to do around Niagara Falls?
You’ve finally made it to Niagara Falls. Now what can you and the family do?
I’ve recommended many attractions in the area in past blog posts, but here are a few more great ones to check out.
Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum
The only thing more fun than riding a carousel is learning about one!
At the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, that’s exactly what you and the kids can do.
This North Tonawanda museum offers guided tours for groups of no more than 10 people to learn about the history of the museum.
The kids will also appreciate The Kiddieland Testing Park Exhibit, which is open on Saturdays and Sundays and offers all sorts of rides.
The rides do cost an additional fee.
Cave of the Winds
The cave known as Cave of the Winds in Niagara Falls is adjacent to the Falls’ Bridal Veil Falls.
Cave of the Winds is 30 feet deep, 100 feet wide, and 130 feet tall.
You and the kids can briefly stop in and then check out the nearby pavilion with an exhibit on the cave’s cool history!
Castellani Art Museum
The Castellani Art Museum is a great way to spend an afternoon indoors at Niagara Falls.
Here, you and the kids can see all sorts of unique art exhibits. The rotating display of art always gives you a reason to come back.
Are you itching to take a road trip to Niagara Falls from Raleigh, NC? Now that you know all the ins and outs, you and your family can plan an amazing vacation!