Niagra Falls; American History tour road trip for families with kids

This is the 5th installment of our month-long family US History road trip. You can find the first four installments here:

US History Road trip with kids

Washington D. C.: All the awesome things to see with kids

US History Road Trip: Battlefields, Philadelphia and NYC

17 Riveting Boston historical sites everyone should see


We left Boston early in the morning so we could make the stops we wanted to as we drove through New York and still make it to our destination, Palmyra, by evening. Harmony, PA and Palmyra, NY are religious historical sites for us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka ‘the Mormons’. I should give you a brief history.

After Jesus Christ was crucified, His apostles carried on His work until they were killed. Over time, greedy and wicked men changed the ordinances and doctrines that He and His Apostles had established. Because of apostasy, there was no direct revelation from God. The true Church, including the priesthood that Christ held, was lost.

Men organized different churches that claimed to be true but taught conflicting doctrines. There was much confusion and contention over religion. The Lord had foreseen these conditions of apostasy, saying there would be “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. … They shall … seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11–12).

The Savior promised to restore His Church in the latter days. He said, “I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14).

For many years people lived in spiritual darkness. About 1,700 years after Christ, people were becoming more and more interested in knowing the truth about God and religion. Many people could see that the gospel Christ had taught was no longer on the earth. Some recognized that there was no revelation and no true authority and that the Church that Christ had organized no longer existed. The time had arrived for the Church of Jesus Christ to be restored to the earth.

In the spring of 1820, one of the most important events in the history of the world occurred. The time had come for the marvelous work and wonder of which the Lord had spoken.

At that time a religious fervor had overtaken much of the young United States. Some members of the Smith family had joined the Methodists, and some had joined the Presbyterians. As a young boy, Joseph Smith was confused. He wanted to know which of all the churches was the true Church of Jesus Christ. He had been taught the Bible and was familiar with James 1:5 which states, ‘If any of ye lack wisdom, let him ask of God.’

Joseph took that advice to heart and went into the woods near his home in Palmyra, NY. He knelt and prayed humbly and intently to his Heavenly Father, asking which church he should join. On that morning a miraculous thing happened. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith.

The Savior told him not to join any church because the true Church was not on the earth. Beginning with this event, there was again direct revelation from the heavens. The Lord had chosen a new prophet. Since that time the heavens have not been closed. Revelation continues to this day through each of His chosen prophets.

In restoring the gospel, God again gave the priesthood to men. John the Baptist came in 1829 to confer the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 1327:8). Then Peter, James, and John, the presidency of the Church in ancient times, came and gave Joseph and Oliver the Melchizedek Priesthood and the keys of the kingdom of God (see D&C 27:12–13).

Later, additional keys of the priesthood were restored by heavenly messengers such as Moses, Elias, and Elijah (see D&C 110:11–16). Through the Restoration, the priesthood was returned to the earth. Those who hold this priesthood today have the authority to perform ordinances such as baptism and confirmation, as well as temple sealings, where a couple is sealed (married) for all eternity.

The priesthood restoration site at Harmony, PA, includes a visitors center and meetinghouse, the reconstructed homes of Joseph and Emma Smith and Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, the woods where John the Baptist restored the priesthood, the baptismal site at the Susquehanna River, trails and a statue commemorating the restoration of the priesthood.



Fayette, NY

After visiting Harmony, we visited the Whitmer farm in Fayette, NY, in the Finger Lakes. Peter and Mary Whitmer were early supporters of Joseph Smith. Their 100-acre farm in Fayette was a place of revelation as the Restoration unfolded. The translation of the Book of Mormon was completed here.


Whitmer farm LDS church history tour
Whitmer Home


Palmyra, NY

We then drove farther northwest to Palmyra, where we visited the Smith family farm, the Sacred Grove, Hill Cumorah, the Grandin Building, the Erie canal lock that brought the Smith’s to Palmyra in the first place. The Smith family farm was purchased after the family had lost their farm in Vermont. Under economic distress, Father Smith and the older boys built a log cabin for the family, and Father Smith worked as a cooper, in addition to farming and hiring out for odd jobs.

After living in the log home awhile, Father Smith and the boys  built the family a beautiful frame home. The cooper shed sits right out front, on the corner of an apple orchard, with the Sacred Grove right behind.



The Sacred Grove is where Joseph Smith prayed to know which church was true, since part of his family had joined the Methodists and another part had joined the Presbyterians. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ both appeared to young Joseph and told him that none of the churches were true. The true church of Jesus Christ had yet to be restored to the Earth.

The Sacred Grove, Palmyra, NY. LDS Church history road trip.
The Sacred Grove, Palmyra, NY

Following Joseph’s first vision in the Sacred Grove, he received further instruction. Among other things, he was shown the location of a set of gold plates buried in a hillside not far from his home; the Hill Cumorah.

After a couple of years, Joseph was able to obtain and translate the gold plates, which was a group of records from ancient prophets in America, compiled by the last ancient prophet before the civilization died out, named Mormon. Thus, its name ‘The Book of Mormon’.

Palmyra, a small town along the Erie Canal, was the only place in the entire world at that time that had a printing press that could handle publication of The Book of Mormon. Friends of Joseph loaned him the money to have it printed on the spiffy new press at the Grandin Building.

The culmination of the restoration and the gospel, in my opinion, is that, through the priesthood, families can be sealed together forever. See those sweet kids in the photos above? I love everything about every one of them; the chubby thighs, mischievous smiles, curious and shy expressions, and the love they have for one another! If you have kids of your own, you know exactly what I mean. And my husband is truly my best friend. I am so grateful to know that those relationships continue beyond this life into eternity! Death is nothing but passing from this life into the next — it doesn’t separate us. Nothing can separate us — families are forever!


The Palmyra LDS temple
Palmyra LDS Temple. This is where families are sealed together for eternity.

We loved learning more about our church history and strengthening testimonies, so we sadly waved goodbye to Palmyra as we left. Next stop, Niagra Falls.

Niagra Falls

If you are visiting Niagra Falls, you will want to stay on the Canadian side. It has a much better view. Don’t forget your passport! We stayed in a Holiday Inn on the Canadian side that was right next to Horseshoe Falls. We were on a super high floor and could practically look right down over the edge of the falls. Opt for a falls-view room because there is a nightly fireworks show over the falls at 10 p.m..

Maid of the Mist boat tours

There were an awful lot of casinos, although there is also plenty of family-friendly entertainment. The Maid of the Mist tours were our favorite. Tours depart from both sides of the river and travel upriver and get quite close to the falls; close enough that everyone on the boat is drenched. The attraction provides a poncho, but you should still wear shoes that won’t be ruined by water.

Maid of the Mist is the name of the tour from the US side, and tours from the Canadian side have a different name. We’ve taken tours from each side and loved them both equally.

Niagra Falls; American History tour road trip for families with kids
Niagra Falls


Journey Behind the Falls

For a unique view of Niagara Falls, the Journey Behind the Falls attraction brings you behind the waterfall—literally. Descend 150 feet in an elevator, then walk through 130-year old tunnels carved into the bedrock towards two portals located behind Niagara Falls. You can’t see much past the rushing water crashing down in front of you, so next, head to the lower observation deck, where you’ll stand pretty much as close to the Falls on land as a person can get. You’ll definitely want to wear the provided poncho to keep dry. Keep it as a souvenir, or return it for recycling.


Only about 20 minutes north of Niagra Falls is the small, quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It will remind you of Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls), with old-fashioned shops lining its main street. You simply must visit the fudge shop and the gelato shop.


You could also take a helicopter ride, see a fabulous magic show, or spend some time at a midway-style arcade. We didn’t because we didn’t want to spend the time or the money. Our trip was more about history and learning than entertainment, though it was still very fun and enjoyable.




Complete our road trip with us as we visit historic sites at Kirtland, OH, Nauvoo, IL and Winter Quarters in Nebraska.


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