Drive the Great Lakes Seaway Trail
The bluffs above Lake Ontario at Chimney Bluffs State Park
Photo by Christine A. Smyczynski
Traveling long distances in these uncertain times can be challenging. Fortunately, our region boasts many beautiful places that are perfect for scenic drives and day trips. To see charming towns with picturesque venues, check out parts of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail (www.seawaytrail.com), a 518-mile scenic byway that extends from Western Pennsylvania along Lake Erie, then to the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and up the St. Lawrence River.
Here we explore the portion from the Niagara River in Youngstown to Chimney Bluffs, just past the Rochester area. Drive time without stopping would be about two and a half hours one way; if you make several stops allow more time or turn this drive into several day trips. Before heading out, double-check that places are open and their current hours of operation.
Start your journey along Lake Ontario at Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown, where you can visit Old Fort Niagara (oldfortniagara.org), a National Historic Landmark preserved as it stood in the eighteenth century. Allow several hours if you decide to visit the Fort. The journey continues along Route 18 toward Wilson where you’ll find Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, a 400 acre park with picnic areas, hiking trails, and a beach. Then check out views of Lake Ontario and the harbor from the nearby Wilson Pier.
Your next stop along the trail is the quaint community of Olcott Beach; many boutique gift shops—quirky to elegant—line the boardwalk along the Lake Ontario Shore in Lakeside Village Fair and are open daily. If you enjoy wine, be sure to stop at Marjim Manor (marjimmanor.com) a charming winery located in an 1853 mansion just east of Olcott on Route 18. Nearby, you can sample a variety of ciders at BlackBird Ciderworks (blackbirdciders.com), which was featured in Forever Young last month, on Lower Lake Road in Barker. (To get there head north on Hartland Road from Route 18.)
Another state park along the way is Golden Hill State Park, home to the 1875 Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, which is open for small group tours on weekends. As you continue east, you’ll come across the Lyndonville “Shoe Tree” (Lakeshore and Foss Roads), where hundreds of shoes are hung from its branches. According to legend, if you make a wish while throwing a pair of shoes up into the tree and they catch, your wish will come true.
Once you pass Lakeside Beach State Park, start looking for signs for Lake Ontario State Parkway, a thirty-five-mile scenic parkway that follows Lake Ontario through Orleans and Monroe Counties. exit the parkway at Route 98 and head north to Point Breeze to see a replica of an earlier lighthouse built here.
Continuing east on the parkway, you’ll find Braddock Bay Wildlife Management area, a popular place to view waterfowl. The next must-see attraction is Ontario Beach Park, which is said to have the best natural sand beach in the Great Lakes region. The park has a very long fishing pier to stroll on and a 1905 Dentzel carousel. Nearby, the Charlotte Genesee Lighthouse overlooks the Genesee River and the Port of Rochester. Built in 1821, it is the second oldest lighthouse in the region. They hope to be open for tours this summer; check their website for current information (geneseelighthouse.org).
Cross over the Genesee River on the Stutson Bridge to get to Lakeshore Boulevard and drive through Durand Eastman Park. Soon you will be at Culver Road and Seabreeze Amusement Park, the fourth oldest amusement park in the country. Check their website (seabreeze.com) for operating hours.
Continuing east, cross Irondequoit Bay on Route 104, to Bay Road to Lake Road to continue your drive along the lake. When you get to the village of Sodus Point, check out the view of the lake from the grounds of the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum. Unfortunately, the museum is closed for the season due to the pandemic but put it on your bucket list.
The final attraction on this drive is Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wolcott (from Sodus Point take Route 14 south to Ridge Road; head east to Lake Bluff Road, then head north on Lake Bluff Road to the park). The centerpiece of this park is the massive bluffs along the lake. There are several hiking trails through the park and one along the bluffs, which is right on the edge of a steep cliff, so use extreme caution when hiking this trail. There is an additional trail along the lakeshore at the base of the bluffs.
Christine Smyczynski is the author of Explorers Guide Buffalo Niagara Falls and Backroads & Byways of Upstate New York.
On the western end of the trail, Presque Isle State Park, in Erie, Pennsylvania, about ninety miles from Buffalo, has eleven beaches on a seven-mile-long peninsula, along with hiking and biking trails.
In Western Pennsylvania and Chautauqua County New York, you can visit numerous wineries in Lake Erie Wine Country (lakeeriewinecountry.org) on this fifty-mile wine trail.
The eastern portion of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail goes through the Thousand Islands region. Attractions include the Antique Boating Museum in Clayton, New York (abm.org), with boats displayed in over 29,000 feet of exhibit space.
Boldt Castle (boldtcastle.com) on Heart Island in Alexandria Bay was built in the early 1900s by millionaire George Boldt. It is open for tours. A short distance away, Singer Castle, on Dark Island, is also open for tours and has a royal suite that can be booked for overnight accommodations (singercastle.com).
In Massena, New York, visitors to the Eisenhower Locks can watch freighters as they go through the locks on the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
For more information on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, visit seawaytrail.com.