Even though gas prices are skyrocketing, sometimes you just can’t resist the urge to get into the car and hit the open road. Of course, 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. Taking a fall drive is even more spectacular with Lake Erie or other nearby waterways in the background. Described below are several scenic drives that will take your breath away with their beauty.
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, along Lake Erie. (If traveling from the United States, be sure to bring along citizenship documentation to cross the border).
As you travel north, 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 midway through the drive you’ll arrive in Niagara Falls; be sure to take some time to view the falls.
The next leg of the journey, from the falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake, is in my opinion, the prettiest part of the drive. After driving past stately bed & breakfast inns, the scenery turns more rural. One unique point of interest is the Niagara Totem Pole and Woodcarving Park in the Niagara Glen, which features over 650 hand-carved totem poles made by one man. You’ll also drive past the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, which has a glass-enclosed butterfly conservatory. As you approach Niagara-on-the-Lake, you’ll see the Living Waters Wayside Chapel, one of the smallest chapels in the world.
Since fall is harvest time, be sure to stop at one of the farm markets along the way or sample some locally produced wine at one of the many wineries that are in the region. The parkway ends in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a charming place known as the prettiest town in Canada. Its beautifully landscaped streets are lined with shops and restaurants, and it is home to the world-renowned Shaw Festival, which attracts people from all over the world.
Explore the Seaway Trail
Across the border, you’ll find a portion of the New York State Seaway Trail, a 454 mile scenic route that runs parallel to Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is the state’s only National Scenic Byway. The segment of the drive along Lake Erie, marked with green and white Seaway Trail signs, takes you past scenic vistas and unique attractions, such as the historic 1823 Buffalo lighthouse, and Graycliff, which was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. A Seaway Trail visitor’s center is located in Hamburg.
Enter Chautauqua County and soon you’ll be driving past vineyards, as the county is known for grape growing. In Dunkirk, a circa 1876 lighthouse overlooks the harbor. If you’re traveling on a Sunday morning, stop by Vinewood Acres Sugar Shack in Westfield for a pancake meal, with maple and fruit syrups produced on their farm.
The scenic route along Lake Erie extends 64 miles into Pennsylvania. One of the must-sees along here is Presque Isle State Park. Located on a 3,200 acre peninsula, it has 7 miles of beaches and gorgeous sunsets.
Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail
The nearly 300 mile long Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail was designated a National Scenic Byway in 2005. This trail, which connects to the scenic trail in Pennsylvania, follows Lake Erie’s shoreline in Ohio. Melinda Huntley, Tourism Program Director for the trail noted that the signage was just completed earlier this year, as it is a very young trail.
If you like lighthouses, you’ll find 20 along or near the route, along with several maritime museums. Huntley shared a comment that a visitor to the trail posted on the National Scenic Byway website. “The Marblehead Peninsula (in Ohio) is in my opinion, one of the best inland coastal areas in the United States. The lighthouse was beautiful.” The traveler went on to say, “Lake Erie has so many wonderful places to visit and one will not be disappointed by traveling it.”
The nearly 300 mile long Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail, designated a National Scenic Byway in 2005, connects to Pennsylvania’s scenic route. Along with great scenery, this trail, which follows Ohio’s coastline along Lake Erie, has access to a number of attractions, including wineries, lighthouses and museums.
Northeast Ohio has more wineries per square mile than any other region of the state, so plan on stopping at some of the wineries that are close to the trail. Several can be found in Conneaut; there are also a couple wineries with great views of Lake Erie in the town of Geneva-on-the-Lake: the Old Firehouse Winery and Restaurant and the Lakehouse Inn Winery.
If you like lighthouses, you’ll find twenty along or near the trail. While many of these lighthouses are closed to the public, several are open seasonally for tours. The Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail publishes a brochure that describes them all in detail. Two lighthouses of note include the Fairport Marine Museum and Lighthouse, a National Historic Landmark, located between Ashtabula and Cleveland, and the Marblehead Lighthouse, near Sandusky.
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.
Past Cleveland, the scenic byway continues on through the region known as Lake Erie Shores & Islands. “There are plenty of beautiful sites in our area in the fall,” said Jill Bauer, Public Relations Coordinator for Lake Erie Shores & Islands. “My favorites are the Huron River and the Lake Erie Islands.”
Bauer added, “Because the islands are surrounded by Lake Erie, the leaves tend not to peak until later in the season. The colors seem to last a little longer out there and the colors are extremely rich.”
Niagara Parks Commission (877-642-7275; www.niagaraparks.com )
Seaway Trail (315-646-1000, 800-SEAWAY-T; www.seawaytrail.com) The Hamburg Visitor’s Center (www.lakeerieseawaytrail.com) is open weekends.
Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail (419-609-0399; www.coastalohio.com) PO Box 1639, Sandusky, OH 44870