Western New York Family Magazine
Seven Sensational Fall Drives
There’s a definite crispness in the air and Mother Nature has painted the leaves a variety of red, orange, and yellow hues. It’s the perfect time of year to take a drive in the countryside to see the fall foliage. However, with gas prices hovering just under $3 a gallon, you just can’t jump in the car and drive aimlessly like you could a few years ago. Here are suggestions for seven sensational drives, most fairly close to home, which offer scenic beauty, as well as interesting attractions along the way.
1. Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park is probably one of the more popular fall foliage destinations for folks who live in western New York. There are certainly plenty of trees to look at in this 14,350 acre, 17 mile long park. The park is best known for its 600 foot deep gorge, referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” which the Genesee River flows through.
To fully appreciate the park, enter at either the northern end of the park (at Mount Morris) or the southern end (at Portageville). By doing this you will be able to drive the length of the entire park. There are many places along the park road to pull off to enjoy the view. 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.
If you visit the park on Columbus Day weekend, when the leaves are usually at peak, the annual Letchworth Arts and Craft Show, sponsored by the Wyoming County Arts Council (www.artswyco.org) will take place at the Highbanks Recreation area at the north end of the park. This open-air show features over 300 quality craft vendors.
The park has campsites and cabins available year-round; there are also overnight accommodations at the Glen Iris Inn. However, reservations have to be made months in advance, especially at the inn. (585-493-2622, www.glenirisinn.com )
For more information about the park, call 585-493-3600. The following websites can be of help too, www.friendsofletchworth.org , www.letchworthparkhistory.com , http://nysparks.state.ny.us Note that there is a $7 per car parking fee to enter the park.
You may also want to check out the Mount Morris Dam, which spans the Genesee River gorge. The entrance to the dam’s visitor’s center is off route 408 just south of Mount Morris. At 790 feet high and 1,028 feet long, it is the largest dam of its type east of the Mississippi. Call 585-658-4790 for more information.
To get to Letchworth and vicinity from Buffalo, take the NYS Thruway east to the Batavia exit; then follow Route 63 South. To get to the Mount Morris park entrance follow Route 63 to Route 36 South. For the Portageville entrance follow Route 63 South, Route 246 South, Route 39 south and Route 19A south.
2. Discover the Southerntier
Another popular fall foliage destination is western New York’s southerntier; you’ll find great scenery pretty much anyplace in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties.
Probably one of the more popular fall destinations is the village of Ellicottville, which has a huge fall festival on Columbus Day weekend. If you don’t like crowds, you may want to avoid visiting during this time. To get to Ellicottville, simply follow Route 219 south from the Thruway. 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 in Great Valley (716-699-2205, www.pumpkinville.com), which has numerous kid-friendly activities.
About 10 miles south of Ellicottville, on Route 219 in Salamanca 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. The annual Falling Leaves Festival takes place October 2-4. As with Letchworth, there is a $7 parking fee to enter the park.
While in Salamanca, you might also want to visit the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, which depicts Native American life and culture. (716-945-1760, www.senecamuseum.org ) Salamanca is the only city in the United States located entirely on an Indian reservation. The Salamanca Rail Museum, located in a 1912 restored railroad depot, has many artifacts documenting the railroad era. (716-945-3133, www.salamancachamber.org )
3. Exploring the Seaway Trail
You’ve probably seen the green and white Seaway Trail (www.seawaytrail.com ) signs if you’ve driven anywhere along Lake Ontario or Lake Erie. The Great Lakes Seaway Trail is actually a 518 mile long scenic byway through New York and Pennsylvania that takes visitors to places they may overlook if they traveled on super highways. The trail follows Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Driving along the trail in northern Pennsylvania and Chautauqua County, NY, you’ll see numerous vineyards. This area, known as the Concord Grape Belt region, is the second largest Concord grape growing area in the United States. There are 21 wineries in the region, if you wish to stop to sample some of the fruits of the vine. (www.chautauquawinetrail.org)
Some of the more picturesque stops along the trail include Barcelona Harbor near Westfield, where you can view the Barcelona Lighthouse (it’s a private residence, so don’t trespass). There is also a lighthouse in Dunkirk, which is open for tours during the summer months.
As the trail passes through Buffalo, the Tonawandas, and Niagara Falls it is not really that scenic. However, once you get past Niagara Falls, you’ll see many scenic vistas and fall foliage. One of my favorite stretches of the trail is route 18F between Lewiston and Youngstown, where the Niagara River Gorge is on one side and beautiful mansions on the other. You can end you journey at Fort Niagara State Park; Historic Old Fort Niagara is open year-round. Of course, the Seaway Trail continues on along Lake Ontario; part of this will be described later in the article.
4. The Cobblestone Trail
If you like historic architecture, farm markets and wineries, Route 104, which runs between Lewiston to beyond Rochester, is the perfect trail for you. Known as the “Cobblestone Trail” because of the numerous buildings of cobblestone construction that lines this route, which runs through Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne Counties.
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.cobblestonesocietymuseum.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.
If you like wineries, many of the 13 wineries that are members of the Niagara Wine Trail (www.niagarawinetrail.org) can be found on or near Route 104. The wine trail usually has a special event weekend each month; the Hallowine murder mystery event will take place October 24-25. There are also numerous farm markets along the trail, where you can find apples, pumpkins, and other seasonal produce. One of the larger markets is Hurd Orchards in Holley, on the Orleans/Monroe County border. (www.hurdorchards.com).
If you have kids in tow, be sure to stop at Ridge Road Station in Holley, which is the largest independent toy store in New York State. (www.ridgeroadstation.com) I have a friend whose son and husband are into trains. They will make a special trip here just to look at the huge train layout, which has 3,300 feet of track on four levels.
5. 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. This route is also part of the previously mentioned Seaway Trail. Begin this drive at Fort Niagara State Park. As you travel, stop and check out picturesque Wilson Harbor or the town of Olcott, which has a number of unique boutique shops in Lakeview Village Fair, which overlooks the lake. (The shops are open weekends only in October).
As you continue along Route 18, stop by Maryjim Manor Winery in Appleton if you have the time. Another nice place to stop is Golden Hill State Park, which has the 30 Mile Point lighthouse, a circa 1875 structure made of hand-carved stone.
When you get to Lakeside Beach State Park, look for the signs for the Lake Ontario State Parkway. While it’s a divided highway, there are many scenic vistas along the way, as many parts of the roadway travel almost at lakes edge.
For a unique diversion, get off the parkway in Kendall and head to Partyka Farms on Route 272 (585-659-9131, www.partykafarms.com). Here you can get maps to 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.
The self guided tour takes you in and around Kendall. In addition to the map, a cell phone tour is offered by calling 585-563-3505. Each design is of special significance to the family that has it displayed on their property. The block owners pay for the supplies and all the work is done by volunteers. The people in the community are very enthusiastic about the project, which was started by Lora to bring the community together and to bring visitors to the community.
Get back on the Lake Ontario State Parkwayand head east. You will eventually end up by Ontario Beach Park, one of my favorite spots along the lake. There is a very long pier at the park, perfect for taking a long stroll on. When I come here with my daughter, we like to walk along the “secret sidewalk,” which is about a mile west of the park. The entrance to the sidewalk is between the driveways of 490 and 510 Beach Avenue. This public walkway offers great views of Lake Ontario, as well as the chance to see the manicured grounds of the beautiful homes that overlook the lake.
If you continue beyond the Genesee River, you will drive through the 1,000 acre Durand Eastman Park, which has an arboretum, hiking trails and two small lakes. Still haven’t had enough traveling along the lake? Get on the I-590 to Route 104 east and cross over Irondequoit Bay to Webster. Turn left on Bay Roadand then right on Lake Road. You will be amazed at the size on some of the mansions located along the lake.
6. Niagara Parkway
If you have an enhanced license or passport, cross the border to Canada and take a drive along the Niagara Parkway. This 35 mile scenic route, which follows the Niagara River from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake, was dubbed “The prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world” by Winston Churchill when he visited Canada in 1943.
There are many spots along the parkway to pull off and enjoy the scenery. In my opinion, the prettiest stretch of the parkway is the portion between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Some of the attractions, besides Niagara Falls, include the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory (www.niagaraparks.com), the Floral Clock, several farm markets and even the tiny Living Water Wayside Chapel, one of the smallest chapels in the world.
The Niagara region is known for its wineries and several of them can be found along and near the end of the parkway in Niagara-on-the-Lake, dubbed “the prettiest town in Canada.” Stop by Queens Royal Park, Front and King Street, for a panoramic view of Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and Old Fort Niagara across the river in Youngstown.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has many shops and restaurants, so it’s easy to spend several hours here. Note that most of the shops and restaurants are better suited for older kids and adults. For more information on Niagara-on-the-Lake see www.niagaraonthelake.com.
7. 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 that has overnight accommodations and a dining room that is open to the public. Mackenzie-Childs pottery is headquartered in Aurora; they have a large retail shop and a decorated farmhouse that is open for tours.
On the southern tip of the lake is the city of Ithaca, which is known for its waterfall, with several located in the downtown area. After driving through Ithaca, follow Route 89 up the west side of Cayuga Lake. One of the prettiest places to stop is Taughannock Falls State Park, which has a 215 foot waterfall located in the gorge. You have to take an easy 20 minute walk into the gorge to see the waterfall. You can also view it above from the park road.
Just past the park are over a dozen wineries on the Cayuga Wine Trail, which are always fun to visit to sample their wines. If you have the kids along, most wineries have grape juice available for them. Upcoming wine trail events include the 16th annual Holiday Shopping Spree November 20-22. For more information see www.cayugawinetrail.com.