The Saint Lawrence River to Niagara Falls
|Mileage||346 miles (557 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||6 hours, 24 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||New York Highways 104, 104B, 12, 18, and 36, Lake Ontario Parkway, and Robert Moses Parkway|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, pharmacies, etc.||Massena, NY▼, Cornwall, ON▼, Ogdensburg, NY▼, Brockville, ON▼, Alexandria Bay, NY▼, Clayton, NY▼, Sackets Harbor, NY▼, Watertown, NY▼, more...Calcium, NY▼, Pulaski, NY▼, Oswego, NY▼, Webster, NY▼, Pittsford, NY▼, Rochester, NY▼, Brockport, NY▼, Newfane, NY▼, Lewiston, NY▼, Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON▼, Niagara Falls, ON▼, Niagara Falls, NY▼, Grand Island, NY▼, Ellisburg, NY▼, Gates, NY▼, and Greece, NY▼|
2.9 average from 173 votes
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Navigate your way through history following the shoreline of the Saint Lawrence River and Lake Ontario to the incredible fury of Niagara Falls. Learn about the War of 1812, the French and Indian War, pass charming small towns, lighthouses, and spectacular views, nature and recreation opportunities.
One of the first National Scenic Byways, this drive is long for a day trip. Take your time and experience it by breaking it up with an overnight stay or two, or do a section of it. The scenic drive begins in Massena and heads to Niagara Falls, but can be done in either direction. To reach Massena from the Adirondacks, head north on NY-30 to NY-37. If you’re coming from Quebec or Ontario, take the TC-401 to exit 58 for ON-138 which will bring you to NY-37.
Once on NY-37, the first section of the drive parallels the mighty Saint Lawrence River. Carved by vast glaciers over 20,000 years ago, and filled by their melting ice, the river provides hydroelectric power for the region and is a major throughway for shipping.
In Massena, stop at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Locks (A6). The Visitors Center is open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day and from its large deck, observe ships from countries around the world transporting grain, iron ore, steel and other goods as they are lowered or raised approximately 38 feet. The highway continues through a tunnel which incredibly, runs underneath the locks.
At Robert Moses State Park (H1), enjoy the large, sandy beach, boat rentals, and great fishing. Take part in environmental programs at the year-round Nature Center and join a guided hike learning about the diverse flora and fauna. Tent and RV campsite are available as well as accessible cabins. The crisp, fresh winter season is a delight for a snowshoe hike, or cross-country along gently rolling terrain. Inexpensive equipment rentals are available on-site. Most New York State Parks charge a vehicle entrance fee. If you are visiting often, or wanting to explore the many parks featured in this drive, consider purchasing an Empire Passport which offers unlimited entry for one year. Learn about the Saint Lawrence-FDR Power Project and the seaways’ importance to power and transportation through hands on exhibits and programs at the Frank S. McCullough, Jr. Hawkins Point Visitors Center.
Continuing on NY-37, you pass Waddington and 1-mile ahead is the entrance to the quaint Village of Waddington. Stroll the paved walking path along the river, offering a front row seat to views of big ships, a myriad of small pleasure craft and vivid sunsets. The tiny downtown Main Street is home to historic buildings, antique and local craft stores, a tavern and restaurant. The playground and life-guarded Waddington Town Beach (W1) is a popular with kids.
In several miles, you arrive in the town of Ogdensburg. Visit the fascinating Frederic Remington Art Museum (M1), housed in a stunning historic 1810 Parish Mansion. Frederic Remington made his name as an illustrator in popular magazines between the late 1880s and 1990, primarily of western and military subjects. At the museum, view an unmatched collection of his illustrations as well as incredible bronze sculptures, paintings, prints and other memorabilia and artifacts depicting life in the Old West. Nearby is the oldest federal building still in operation, the 1809 Robert C. McEwan U.S. Custom House (A1).
The Ogdensburg Harbor Lighthouse was built in 1870 and in 2011 was put back into service to aid navigation. There are 30 lighthouses along the Seaway Trail each with its own unique story to tell.
After the town of Morristown, continue on NY-12 West. Amid stunning views you arrive in Alexandria Bay and exploring the Thousand Islands is a must. Actually, the Thousand Islands are an archipelago, comprising 1,864 islands. The 1000 Islands Welcome Center (I1) is a wealth of information on activities such as boating, cruises, scuba diving and hiking. Connecting New York to Ontario, Canada, is the graceful Thousand Islands International Bridge (B1). Built in 1938, the bridge stands 150-feet above the Saint Lawrence River and a walk to the center of the span affords spectacular views. If you cross the bridge to the Canadian side, experience a breathtaking 360-degree panorama from the 400-foot high Thousand Islands Skydeck (A2). An entrance fee charged. Remember, when crossing to or from the US and Canada, a passport is required.
Rising royally from Heart Island is Boldt Castle, built by George C. Boldt for his wife Louise, on an island he had re-shaped to resemble a heart. The elaborate Rhineland-style castle is exquisite, and includes 120-rooms. drawbridge, Alster Tower, Italian gardens, a Dove-Cote and more. Construction began in 1900, but 4 years later, Louise died suddenly and Boldt, who could not imagine his dream without his wife, stopped construction and never returned to the island. The abandoned, unfinished castle was repaired and opened in 1997 to visitors. The castle is open seasonally and is only accessible by tour boat or personal watercraft. There is a fee to enter.
The Thousand Islands are punctuated with many New York State Parks and four are located on Wellesley Island. Wellesley Island State Park (H3) is over 2,600 acres and along with a great swimming beach, boat rentals and playing fields, it has one of the largest campgrounds in the Thousand Islands region. Anglers will enjoy excellent fishing for muskie, pike, bass and perch or hike the many short trails that criss-cross the island each offering superb views and a chance to spot wildlife. The Minna Anthony Common Nature Center (H10) features a museum that explores the animals and habitats of the islands, as well as a season butterfly house. Explore more than eight-miles of hiking trails which are also popular in winter for cross-country skiing and don’t miss the 1.1-mile Eel Bay Trail to see four glacial potholes as well as ducks and osprey.
The region is also well-known for its award-winning wines. Tour vineyards, taste wine and discover the passion of the winemakers along the 78-mile Thousand Islands Seaway Wine Trail which include the Thousand Islands Winery, Coyote Moon, Otter Creek Winery, Tug Hill Vineyards, Yellow Barn Winery and The River Myst Winery.
Continuing west on NY-37, the town of Clayton is home to the Antique Boat Museum (M2). Sitting on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, view over 320 boats, canoes, runabouts, skiffs. Included with admission fee are extra activities to sign up for such as a tour of the 1903 houseboat La Duchesse, and rowing on French Creek Bay. The museum is open Mid-May to Mid-October. Clayton, as well as many of the towns near here, are replete with outfitters for adventures in the area. Whether its rafting, diving, sailing, kayaking eco-tours, horseback riding, snowmobiling, etc. find information at the Clayton Chamber of Commerce (I2).
The town of Cape Vincent has a distinct French heritage and if you’re timing is right you can participate in the French Festival held every year on the second Saturday in July, in honor of Bastille Day. Housed in an elegant stone building, visit the Cape Vincent Historical Museum (M8) to learn more about the Indian settlers, the arrival of the French and more. The museum is open July and August and has limited hours. Artists, photographers and visitors will find inspiration in Tibbetts Point Lighthouse (A3) which was built in 1827 and is still in use today. Stroll the grounds, gaze upon the water through a telescope and consider spending the night in the light keeper’s quarters which now a hostel.
The charming village of Cape Vincent features art galleries, restaurants and lodging. Horne’s Ferry is the only ferry crossing the Saint Lawrence to Ontario, Canada. Open seasonally, the ferry travels from Cape Vincent with a stop at Wolfe Island (which is a Canadian Island) and then to Kingston Ontario. Have your passport on hand. While on Wolfe Island, don’t miss the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fort Henry (M9), a museum and historic site. Originally built between 1832-1837 the Fort protected the naval dockyard at Point Frederick. The museum features a stunning collection of British and Canadian military artifacts. Embark on your self-guided tour through the officer’s quarters, powder magazine, ramparts, bakery and much more. Every day from May-Sept at 3:00 pm is the Garrison Parade, where the squad or drum training unit practice their routines. There is an entrance fee to the fort. Big Sandy Bay (W2) is a diverse ecological with rare plants and flocks of migratory birds. Walk the 1.8-mile shoreline trail, explore the sand dunes, wetlands and woodlands. For those who enjoy secluded beaches — there’s a beauty here, but be prepared to walk for 20 minutes from the parking lot. There is a fee to enter this Management Area that goes towards protecting and conservation.
Continuing west on NY-12E until Limerick, then turn right onto NY-160 where you will soon merge onto NY-3 and arrive in the town of Sackets Harbor, site of the most crucial battles of the War of 1812. At the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Park (H4) follow the “History Trail” which is narrated through your cell phone, and via exhibits and interpretive panels, Visit the restored 1850’s Navy Yard and Commandant’s House and the barracks where Ulysses S. Grant was stationed prior to the Civil War. In summer, enjoy costumed interpreters and reenactments. Stop at the Seaway Trail Discovery Center (M3) which doubles as a visitor center and museum showcasing the history and culture along the trail.
A few miles ahead is Southwick Beach State Park (H5) known for its superb beach and swimming on Lake Ontario. Discover 60-foot high coastal sand dunes while hiking or in winter cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Two of the trails, Big Beech Trail and Big Dead Maple Tree Trail are handicap accessible. It is also home to the Lakeview Wildlife Management Area which protects the habitat of beavers, otters, and herons. If possible, this fascinating environment is best explored from the water, but there are also 3-miles of foot trails and two viewing towers. Two dune walkover structures allow you to cross the fragile dunes to the shores of Lake Ontario.
Soon you will merge with the NY-104B which brings you to the NY-104 East. In Alton, lighthouse fans will want to detour north on NY-14 to the Sodus Bay Lighthouse (M4). Built in 1871, the first floor of the three-story stone structure features a small museum (which charges a fee). In summer, picnic while listening to one of the free concerts. Historically, Sodus Point was one of the busiest stations along the Underground Railroad. Nearby, Chimney Bluffs State Park (H6) is one of the most dramatic geologic sites along Lake Ontario. Fascinating pinnacles, the eroded remains of drumlins which are made of glacial till create an unusual and awe inspiring landscape. There are four trails that explore this unique terrain or relax on the pebble-studded beach with picnic or fishing. Stay back from the edge of the bluffs and they are not stable.
In 30-miles, you arrive in Rochester, New York’s third largest city. With so much to do, stop at the High Falls Visitor Center (I3). Along with tourist information, explore the art galleries and interactive exhibits learning about the people and ideas that developed Rochester. This exciting metropolis is cultural hub, featuring several great museums, including the International Museum of Photography and Film (M5). One of the many entrepreneurs in Rochester was George Eastman who founded the Eastman Kodak Company. His 35,000-square-foot Colonial Revival mansion is now a museum. Explore 37 rooms, featuring a vast collection of photography, photographic equipment, revolving exhibits, films and lectures. Kids and adults alike will love the National Museum of Play (M10) for its vibrant exhibits including the National Toy Hall of Fame. Also visit the Susan B. Anthony House (M6) to learn about the woman activist arrested in 1872 for the crime of voting.
On the Genesee River, dropping 96-feet, is the powerful Rochester Falls, once the center of commerce due to factories on both sides of the gorge using waterwheels to generate power. Great views can be had from the pedestrian-only Pont du Rennes Bridge. Stop by Highland Park (H7) one of the oldest arboretums in the United States. Incredible year-round, the arboretum is especially dazzling during the Lilac Festival in May, where you can immerse yourself in the scents and colors of over 500 varieties of lilacs in bloom.
A short side-trip south from Rochester lies Letchworth State Park (H11), known as the Grand Canyon of the East for the magnificent gorge and three major cascades and incredible natural beauty. Enjoy the 107-foot middle falls illuminated from May to October, stonework by the CCC, hiking, biking, kayaking, hot air ballooning, and the thrill of Class II-III whitewater rafting on the Genesee River. Winter offers snow-tubing, cross-country skiing ad snowmobiling. There are inns and lodges within the park, and tent and trailer camping available.
The next section of the road passes picturesque farming communities along Lake Ontario on the Lake Ontario Parkway. Thirty miles from the mouth of the Niagara River is the Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, located within Golden Hill State Park (H8). The Lighthouse was built in 1875 to warn sailors of a dangerous sandbar and shoal as opposed to other lighthouses built to guide ships to safe harbor. The Lighthouse Cottage is full-service vacation rental or pitch a tent and revel in spectacular views and a vast array of year-round recreation opportunities.
At the end of the Lake Ontario Parkway, you rejoin NY-18. As NY-18 merges onto the Robert Moses Parkway, Old Fort Niagara (A4) stands high on a bluff. Built in 1726, tour the provisions storehouse, the powder magazine, the earthworks and more. There are 16 buildings in all, spanning 300 years. There are activities year-round, among them reenactments of the French and Indian War and the War of 1812.
Most of the power in New York State is generated by Niagara Falls. Before the falls eroded to their current location, 12,000 years ago, they were in Lewiston where the Niagara Power Project (A5) now stands. View the spectacular gorge and the 300-foot decline, perfect for generating power. The visitor center explains the process and history.
Niagara Falls lies just ahead, the incredible grand finale of this drive. Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls. The 184-foot American Falls and the 181-foot Bridal Veil Falls are both located in the United States and the 167-foot Horseshoe Falls is on the Canadian side. The sheer power and volume of water is astounding with an average of 8,000 to 90,000 cubic feet of water falling per second depending on which falls. You can learn about the forces that have shaped the falls and geology at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center (M7). Part of the Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the U.S., the Center provides a hands-on learning experience with interactive displays and film. Here you will also find the Niagara Gorge Trailhead Center featuring incredible hiking and biking trails. Explore the majesty from four hikes including the Great Gorge Scenic Overlook, a 1-hour easy hike to the more challenging 3-hour Whirlpool Rapids Adventure Hike through boulder fields to intense whirlpool rapids. Note that these hikes are guided and a small fee is charged.
In Niagara Falls State Park (H12) enjoy jaw-dropping views as you walk over the bridge to Goat Island. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, also referred to as Luna Falls are located here. Delight all five senses when you take an elevator ride down 175-feet into Niagara Gorge on the Cave of Winds Tour. Wearing a souvenir rain poncho and sandals, cross the wooden walkway aptly named Hurricane Deck and stand less than 20 feet from Bridal Veil Falls. Hear the thunderous roar, feel the crisp spray, and marvel at the unbelievable view. The infamous Maid of the Mist takes you to the base of the American Falls and the basin of Horseshoe Falls on a boat for the stentorian sound of immense power, churning waters and humbling massive rock formations. More than 6 million cubic feet (168,000 cubic meters) of water go over the crestline of the falls every minute. Raincoats are provided but be prepared to get soaked. There is a charge, but this is one attraction not to be missed.
Hike the loop around Goat Island for awesome views, especially at Terrapin Point to see the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. A small bridge leads to Three Sisters Islands where you can gaze upon the Upper Rapids before they tumble over Horseshoe Falls. Paying homage to the father of commercial hydroelectric power is a statue of Nikola Tesla and nearby is the bridge to Luna Island. The small uninhabited piece of land stands precariously surrounded by rushing, roaring water and of course the views are stunning. Niagara Falls is also beautifully illuminated at night making for a romantic evening.
Every view of the falls offers an incredibly unique perspective. And everyone wonders which side is best. We recommend visiting both sides, just be sure to have the proper documents for the border. Cross the bridge into Ontario, Canada and explore Queen Victoria Park (H9) and the impressive Horseshoe Falls. At the brink of the falls is the Table Rock Welcome Center where you can get information and tickets for various attractions. The park is free to enter and paved pathways line the gorge offering unparalleled panoramic viewpoints and great photo ops.
The scenic drive comes to an end in the Niagara Falls region, but you can continue to Buffalo, known for its great architecture, and then along Lake Erie.