Eight Great Fall Road Trips
One of the best times of the year to take a scenic drive is in the fall, when Mother Nature paints the landscape brilliant hues of orange, red and yellow. Described below are several nearby drives; some are closer to home and can be explored in a few hours, while others lend themselves well to explore leisurely over a weekend.
Letchworth State Park
One of the most beloved fall foliage destinations for folks who live in western New York is Letchworth State Park. There are certainly plenty of trees to look at in this 14,350 acre, 17 mile long park, which is best known for its 600 foot deep gorge, referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East.”
Letchworth is usually pretty crowed this time of year, especially on weekends, so expect slow moving traffic, particularly near popular viewing spots, like by the Middle Falls and Glen Iris Inn.
Many people visit the park for the annual Letchworth Arts and Craft Show on Columbus Day weekend, when the fall foliage is usually at peak. This open-air show features over 300 quality craft vendors.
For more information about the park, call 585-493-3600. The following websites can be of help too, www.friendsofletchworth.com , www.letchworthparkhistory.com , http://nysparks.state.ny.us Note that there is a parking fee to enter the park.
To get to Letchworth and vicinity from Buffalo, take the NYS Thruway east to the Batavia exit; then follow Route 63 South to Route 36 South.
Discover the Southerntier
Another popular fall foliage destination is western New York’s southerntier; you’ll find great scenery pretty much any place in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties.
Check out the village of Ellicottville, on Route 219, which has a huge fall festival on Columbus Day weekend. Ellicottville has numerous shops and restaurants, along with spectacular scenery. If you’re in need of some pumpkins, follow the signs to Pumpkinville, located a few miles away from Ellicottville in Great Valley, which has numerous kid-friendly activities. (716-699-2205, www.pumpkinville.com),
In Salamanca, about 10 miles south of Ellicottville, is Allegany State Park, which at 65,000 acres, is the largest of the New York State Parks. The park has numerous hiking and biking trails and camping is available year-round.
You can also check out the foliage in Chautauqua County when you head to Peek ‘n Peak Resort for their annual Fall Festival, which includes a craft show with over 90 vendors, a farmers market, musical entertainment, ski lift rides, and more. The festival takes place on two weekends, October 13-14 and 20-21. www.pknpk.com
A bit closer to Buffalo is the WNY Southtowns Scenic Byway, which runs through the towns of Aurora, East Aurora, Boston, Concord, Colden, Orchard Park, and Springville. Along the route, which is marked by brown scenic byway signs, you’ll find historic sites and recreational activities, as well as places to shop and dine. For more information and a map, see www.wnyssb.org
Explore the Great Lakes Seaway Trail
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail is a 518 mile scenic route that runs through New York and Pennsylvania, parallel to Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. This route, marked with distinctive green and white signs, takes visitors to places they may overlook if they traveled on expressways. Drive along the trail in northern Pennsylvania or Chautauqua County and you’ll see row upon row of vineyards, as this is the second largest Concord grape growing area in the country
One of the must-sees along here is Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.
North of Buffalo you can also follow the trail through Niagara, Orleans, and Monroe Counties, along the shores of Lake Ontario. Part of the trail takes you along the Lake Ontario State Parkway, a 35-mile long scenic highway along Lake Ontario that was built in the 1960’s. (www.seawaytrail.com)
The “Prettiest Sunday Afternoon Drive in the World”
Winston Churchill once commented that the Niagara Parkway in Canada was “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” This 35 mile scenic drive, maintained by the Niagara Parks Commission, follows the Canadian shores of the Niagara River as it flows between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Start your journey in Fort Erie and travel north (Be sure to bring along citizenship documentation to cross the border). As you drive, you’ll find that there is a place to pull off the road every mile or so, so you can fully appreciate the scenery. About half way through the drive, you’ll pass Niagara Falls and continue north towards Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Since fall is harvest time, be sure to stop at one of the farm markets along the way or sample some locally produced wine. The parkway ends in Niagara-on-the-Lake, known as the prettiest town in Canada, which is noted for its many shops and restaurants, as well as the Shaw Festival Theater. (www.niagaraonthelake.com)
The Cobblestone Trail
If you like historic architecture, farm markets and wineries, as well as rural scenery, Route 104, which runs between Lewiston to beyond Rochester, is the perfect trail for you. It’s known as the “Cobblestone Trail” because of the numerous buildings of cobblestone construction that lines this route.
In Childs, which is just north of Albion in Orleans County, you’ll find the Cobblestone Museum complex, which is open Sunday afternoons in October (www.cobblestonemuseum.org). This unique museum has seven historic buildings, three of cobblestone construction, a popular building style unique to western New York in the mid-1800’s. In fact, Route 104 has more cobblestone houses along it than any highway in America.
Along Lake Ontario’s shore and the Country Barn Quilt Trail
Probably one of my favorite scenic drives is along Lake Ontario from the Niagara River to beyond the Genesee River in Rochester, which is part of the previously mentioned Great Lakes Seaway Trail. Begin this drive at Fort Niagara State Park. As you travel, stop to check out picturesque Wilson Harbor or the village of Olcott, which has a number of unique boutique shops; open weekends only in October. As you continue along Route 18, stop by Maryjim Manor Winery in Appleton if you have the time.
Continue on to Kendall and head to Partyka Farms on Route 272 (585-659-9131, www.partykafarms.com). Here you can get maps to the self-guided tour of the Country Barn Quilt Trail (www.countrybarnquilttrail.com), which was created by Lora Partyka in 2006. Over 40 barns and other buildings throughout the community have painted wooden quilt blocks displayed on them.
Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway
If you’re looking for a longer drive, perhaps an overnight trip, check out the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway in the Finger Lakes Region. This 87 mile loop route circles Cayuga Lake. (www.cayugalake.com)
The best place to begin this route is to get off the NYS Thruway at exit 41 (about a ninety minute drive from Buffalo) and head towards the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Fall is a great time to visit the refuge, since it is migration season.
After leaving Montezuma, head down the east side of Cayuga Lake on Route 90. You’ll pass through the picturesque village of Aurora, which has a beautiful restored inn.
On the southern tip of the lake is the city of Ithaca, which is known for its waterfalls, with several located in the downtown area. From Ithaca, follow Route 89 up the west side of Cayuga Lake. Stop at Taughannock Falls State Park, which has a 215 foot waterfall located in the gorge; an easy 20 minute walk from the parking lot. You can also view the falls from above from the park road.
Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail
Another interesting trail that’s also a bit further from home is the nearly 300 mile long Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail, which was designated a National Scenic Byway in 2005. This trail, which connects to the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, follows Lake Erie’s shoreline in Ohio. If you like lighthouses, you’ll find 20 along or near the route, along with several maritime museums, some open seasonally.
Since the trail winds through Cleveland, you might want to stop to check out some of the city’s many attractions, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Great Lakes Science Center. www.coastalohio.com