ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
The northern edge of New York State stretches from its most eastern point at Lake Champlain, along the St. Lawrence River into Lake Ontario, and across to the southern coast of Lake Erie. The spectacularly beautiful St. Lawrence separates the United States from Canada, flowing eastward for some 700 miles from the eastern end of Lake Ontario to the sea. This river has historically provided the means for the westward expansion into the interior of the country and has been used as the major shipping route of goods both into and out of the Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence, its tributaries, and the more than 1,700 islands comprise what is known as the Thousand Islands region of New York State. Whether your journey begins in the Lake Champlain Valley and goes west, or begins at the state’s most western point on Lake Erie and goes east matters not-you need only to determine the best point at which to begin and which of the many things to do are of greatest interest to you.
Recommended Pacing: This itinerary begins in Plattsburgh, New York, winds west to the St. Lawrence River at Rooseveltown and then follows the river along its path to Lake Ontario. You may choose to visit part of the Thousand Islands region before reaching Rooseveltown or at one of the other river towns along Route 37. After a visit to Alexandria Bay, the itinerary turns south to Syracuse and the Finger Lakes where among other things you visit the state’s wineries. Skimming along the top of the Finger Lakes on Route 20 then connects you to I-90 where you will continue west to Buffalo and then north to Niagara Falls. Traveling south from Buffalo to Westfield and then to Jamestown puts you on the route back east through Corning where a visit to the Corning Glass Museum is a must. At this point you can travel north to Ithaca and the southern part of the Finger Lakes or continue east on to Binghamton. From Binghamton travel east on I-88 toward Albany, perhaps with a side trip to Cooperstown. This routing will take more or less five days, depending on the number of stops along the way.
To begin this journey westward along the water’s edge, take Route 374 west from Plattsburgh (just north of the end of our Hudson River Valley itinerary-see itinerary for more details), to Route 24 west to Malone. Here you pick up Route 37 traveling initially northwest then turning southwest to follow the scenic path of the St. Lawrence River. (An alternative to proceeding directly to the St. Lawrence is to leave Plattsburgh going south on I-87 to Routes 9N and 86 to Lake Placid and some of the lakes in this Thousand Lakes region. Route 3 west from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake is wonderfully scenic. From this area you can drive north on Route 30 to Malone or take Route 56 north to the river.)
The Frederic Remington Art Museum is located in the town of Ogdensburg on Route 37. Remington spent his childhood years here and summers here thereafter. In this house where he lived, and where his widow lived after his death, is the largest single collection of his paintings, watercolors, and sculptures. (315-393-2425)
Continuing along on Route 37, follow Route 12 to Alexandria Bay, a town built out onto a promontory into the bay, which is now the center of much of the area’s tourism. Boat tours depart from the town and while cruising the bay one can see many of the homes built by wealthy vacationers in an earlier era. Eleven miles farther on in the town of Clayton is the Antique Boat Museum, in which are displayed some 150 of the freshwater boats that plied the waters of the area (315-686-4104). From Clayton proceed south to Sackets Harbor, now a commercial center for local tourism. The positioning of Sackets Harbor is such that it played a historical role as the center of naval activity in the early 1800s.
As you drive south either on the picturesque Route 3 along Lake Ontario or more speedily on I-81, you arrive in Syracuse. Here you find the Erie Canal Museum, which depicts the history of the development of the Erie Canal and its role in the growth of trade in the areas it served. On display is a 65-foot replica of a canal boat, which gives the visitor a great sense of what traveling on a canal was all about. (315-471-0593)
Syracuse marks the eastern edge of the Finger Lakes region of New York. This region is one of the most beautiful parts of the state and has within its boundaries a series of long, slender lakes with miles of shoreline unencumbered with towns or homes. The Finger Lakes have become one of the state’s major wine producing regions, with the vineyards being concentrated in the Seneca, Cayuga, Keuka, and Canandaigua Lakes area. Staying at a nearby country inn and exploring and tasting the wine produced here is one of the major reasons for visiting the area. There is a series of towns at the northern tips of the lakes along Route 20 that are interesting to visit, including Canandaigua with the Sonnenberg Gardens and Museum (585-394-4922 weekdays, 585-393-9404 weekends) and the Granger Homestead and Carriage Museum, a showcase of the history of this region (585-394-1472). In Geneva you can visit Rose Hill Mansion, a Greek Revival mansion built in 1839 (315-789-3848).
Halfway between Buffalo and Syracuse just north of I-90 lies the city of Rochester, the state’s third-largest city. This is a city of learning institutions, including the University of Rochester with the Eastman School of Music- University of Rochester. The city is also the home of the Rochester Symphony and the Strong National Museum of Play. This museum is an eclectic one, with over 300,000 objects including a collection of 27,000 dolls, dollhouses, pattern glass, folk art, Tiffany glass, toy trains, and miniatures of a large and varied lot (585-263-2700). Be sure to explore East Street, beyond the inner ring, a wide boulevard that is graced with the city’s grandest estates-one of which belonged to George Eastman. The George Eastman House and Museum of Photography is the home of the father of photography and on display are the furnishings of his home and all things related to the industry of which he was the leader-cameras, photographs, and films (585-271-3361).
(While this itinerary continues west from here, if your time is short, you could join our routing back towards Albany by driving south on the I-390 to connect to I-86 east.)
So very different from the eastern part of the state is its rural western fringe with its important farming industry. There are many small towns in this area, interconnecting with one another on winding roads that force the traveler to slow down and enjoy the region. Most of the visitors coming here include a visit to Niagara Falls, where the Niagara River plunges into the boiling cauldron below (716-278-1796). The falls are located north of Buffalo off I-190. On this New York side of the falls, the land banding the pounding expanse of water is owned by the State Park. Look across the churning of water to Canada where, by dramatic contrast, high-rise hotels and casinos line the edge of the cliffs. Niagara Falls State Park offers a luxurious expanse of lawn and trails and a spectacular overlook of waterfalls, rapids and gorge: Niagara Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls (which stretches across to the Canadian border). There are three principal parking areas. P1 is near the visitor center on the tip of the Prospect Point peninsula. P2 and P3 are located across the small bridge on Goat Island. One can walk everywhere or take advantage of the scenic trolley. The Observation Tower and the departure point for the boats (Maids of the Mist) are located near the visitor Center/Festival Theater. Privately operated, the boats travel (May to October) to the edge of the thundering water (716-284-4233). Take the trolley or cross the pedestrian bridge to Goat Island and you can view the water surge over the brink from Terrapon Point or take the elevator down to the Cave of the Winds-where unbelievably, wearing protective raingear, you can actually walk under and in the spray of the falls.
From Niagara Falls take the Robert Morris Parkway, a beautiful drive that hugs the edge of the gorge and then past the Power Authority to Old Fort Niagara. Located 15 miles north of Niagara Falls, this 18th-century fort at the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario was at various times in its history commanded by the French, British, and American military forces. Its position controlled access from Lake Ontario to the other four Great Lakes and thus played a strategic role in the shipping of goods. The views from the fort are well worth a visit. (716-745-7611)
The city of Buffalo, the second-largest city in the state and the center of business and the arts in western New York, is just south of Niagara Falls. Downtown Buffalo has many 19th- and 20th-century buildings built in the then-popular art deco style of architecture. On the 28th floor of the city hall is an observatory (716-896-5200). Delaware Park, designed by the noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, is a haven of quiet in the midst of this bustling city-open space and woods are there for the visitor to enjoy, as well as the country’s third-oldest zoo. A world-class art museum, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, is located in Buffalo (716-882-8700). Its holdings of contemporary and modern art are extensive but there are also smaller collections of Asian, European, and Greek art and sculpture. Foremost in the collections are the works of American abstract expressionists.
Southeast of Buffalo in East Aurora via Route 400 south is the Roycroft Campus and the Elbert Hubbard-Roycroft Museum, located on the former site of the manufacturers of furniture and accessories in the Arts and Crafts style. The museum, in the home of a leather-craft worker of this era, has carved woodwork, copper fittings, stained glass, and furniture that reflect the best of this time and style. (716-652-4735)
Chautauqua County to the south of Buffalo is largely farm country. What has given it an international reputation is the Chautauqua Institution, to which politicians come to learn and to teach, and at which concerts are held each summer for a nine-week period. As many as 7,500 students come to attend courses during the day and more join them in the evenings for lectures or concerts. (716-357-6250 or 800-836-ARTS) The quickest way to reach Chautauqua is to take I-90 (the New York State Thruway) from Buffalo to Westfield and then drive south on Route 394.
From Chautauqua, cross the lake at Stow and travel east to Jamestown. Set on the river just inland from the lake’s eastern shore, Jamestown was Lucille Ball’s childhood home and there is a museum, the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center (716-484-0800) that serves as a tribute to the first couple of comedy. For wildlife enthusiasts follow signs to the outskirts of town to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Set on 27 acres, the institute has a wonderful exhibit of this century’s greatest naturalist. Enjoy the art, the photography and if time allows, take advantage of the extensive wooded trails.
After this visit to the western part of New York State take I-86 east to Corning. Be sure to plan a stop and tour of the Corning Museum of Glass. The primary reason for visiting the museum is to see the exhibits of glass spanning 3,500 years-these are extraordinary exhibits and one cannot help marveling at the glass utensils and objects of art created before the birth of modern times. (607-937-5371) Besides the museum, within the Corning Glass complex are a hot-glass demonstration area, a hall of science and industry, and a retail store for Corning products. Also in Corning is the Robert Rockwell Museum with its collections of American western art, toys, and more than 2,000 pieces of the art glass of Frederick Carder, co-founder of the Steuben Glass Works. (607-937-5386)
From Corning, the quickest way to reach Albany is to travel to Binghamton and pick up the I-88 from there. However, you may want to detour northeast on Route 13 to Ithaca, site of Cornell University, founded in 1886, which sits high above the town. Cornell has tours of its campus, best done by walking after you have parked at the Plantations headquarters. The tour takes you through the oldest buildings on campus on a walk named Founders Loop. (607-254-4636)
About 24 miles before Ithaca there is an interesting side trip via Route 14 to the Watkins Glen State Park, considered to be the finest glen in the Finger Lakes region. With its deep gorge and rushing waters, there are dramatic waterfalls and breathtaking views from the suspension bridge 85 feet above the river. (607-535-4511)
Depending on your route to Albany, retracing your tracks south to the I-88 or continuing north from Ithaca and turning east on Route 20, there are several areas of interest, including the Mohawk Valley, an area where settlers and travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries moved along the valley paths and on the Erie Canal to new lands and the promise of a new life on the rich farmlands of the west; Schenectady, home of Union College; the Howe Caverns (518-296-8900); and numerous other historical sites.
Nestled on the south tip of Lake Otsego, Cooperstown, equidistant between I-88 and Route 20, is best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, whose three floors contain the history, memorabilia, data, and records of those who made this sport what it is today. There is a theater with a multimedia presentation, and a library housing records from this great sport, information about baseball reporting, and film clips of the great moments of baseball. (607-547-7200) Other worthwhile things to see in Cooperstown include the Farmers’ Museum, a collection of 19th-century buildings moved to this site and in which are now displayed the trade buildings of the time (doctor’s office, school, church, farmhouse, and a general store) and within them the tools and artifacts of the tradesmen. There are also demonstrations here of the trades that were part of the rural life in an earlier era (607-547-1450). The Fenimore House Museum, located on the shores of Otsego Lake, houses a collection of Native American and American folk art. There is a new wing focusing on the crafts of textiles, beadwork, basketry, masks, and costumes of various Indian tribes (607-547-1400). The Alice Water’s Glimmerlass Opera(607-547-5704),to the north of town on the edge of the lake, affords a spectacular backdrop of lake and mountain for its seasonal concerts.
When you reach Albany you may return south on the New York State Thruway (I-87) to New York City or head north to Saratoga Springs and the Adirondacks.