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A Fall Trip Around Lake Ontario - Through Canada & the United States
October is a lovely month for us, both because our Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the second weekend of the month, and within the same weekend, give or take a day or two we always celebrated my husband Craig's birthday. Add to that the changing of the leaves and some of the most beautiful weather of the season, it is hard to beat.
Back in 2007, it was a special milestone birthday for Craig and we wanted to do something different, just the two of us. We thought about our options and came up with a plan which we thought would be a super nice trip around Lake Ontario, starting out on our Canadian side, crossing the border into New York State and entering back into Canada again at the far end of Lake Ontario. We would be circling the entire lake and thought this was a wonderful idea.
There was just one hitch and that was Thanksgiving dinner and celebrating Craig's birthday with the family. We compromised - moved Thanksgiving dinner from the Monday to the Saturday night and then left early Sunday morning, the very day of Craig's birthday, to begin our trek around the lake.
Lake Ontario is shared by both the Province of Ontario in Canada and the State of New York in the U.S. and in my opinion some of the most beautiful scenery is in Upper Western New York state and the Eastern end of Ontario, by the lake, especially in the fall.
Leaving Hamilton, which you will see on the map far left edge of the map - near St Catharines, we headed for the border, crossing at the Lewiston-Queenston bridge traveling over the Niagara Gorge and immediately joined up to Route 104 - no interstate highways for this day. Our goal for mid afternoon was to reach Rochester, New York - look around for a bit, book in to a hotel and find a nice place for dinner.
Traveling along Route 104 is scenic enough - just a two lane highway known as the Wine Route. We would have loved to take in some of the wineries along the way, but this was not the purpose of this trip, so we motored on delighting in the display of festive decorations that many people had already put together for Halloween and the fall season itself. Witches, ghosts and goblins sat out in fine array amidst bales of hay and pumpkins and as we got further into the country the beautiful fall colours only helped finish off the scene with brightly coloured maples, golden yellow birch and many shades of orange.
The Wine Trail
- Niagara USA :: Wine Trail
If you're in this area you might want to check out one of the wineries listed here on this website.
We pulled into Rochester about 1PM in the afternoon, checked into a motel and immediately asked where we might relax, look at some shops and maybe have a drink or two. We were directed to Schoen Place which is actually in Pittsfield, I guess a suburb of Rochester. Schoen Place sits on the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal was built n the 1800's as a way for settlers to move produce from lake Erie down into the Hudson River in New York State. On the canal there are 18 aqueducts and 83 locks with a rise of 568 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie.
Arriving at Schoen Place we found a perfect place to relax right by the canal. We ordered a couple of drinks, Pinot Grigio for me, beer for Craig and settled in to watch the canal traffic. It was a perfectly beautiful fall day, sunny and warm, and we thought we couldn't have asked for more.
Rochester has something in common with my hometown of Hamilton in that it is known for its beautiful gardens. First known as "The Young Lion of the West", and then as the "Flour City". By 1838, Rochester was the largest flour-producing city in the United States. It is now known as the "Flower City". It was also home to "Eastman Kodak" founders of the Kodak film.
Later on that night we found a nice restaurant to dine in that I would recommend if you are in the area called Mario's. http://www.mariosit.com/
The next morning after breakfast we took the ring road around Rochester and headed for Route 104 again which on the east side of Rochester now ran closer to the lake and became part of the Seaway Trail. It was a while before we saw any evidence of Lake Ontario, traveling through little towns until at last we reached the town of Oswego. Oswego was one of the ports that was added to the Erie Canal system in the early 1900s and it connects directly to Lake Ontario at the far East end.
We got out to look around a bit here, this port being of interest to us because of a friend who sailed his boat through here from home in Hamiton, through Lake Ontario, entering through this port and continuing on down the Erie Canal to the Hudson River, into NYC and out into the Atlantic Ocean heading for Florida. In fact he had been traveling the Hudson, and indeed was stuck there for a while, on that fateful day of September 11. A day none of us has forgotten.
The Seaway Trail
- Great Lakes Seaway Trail
Visit the Great Lakes Seaway Trail National Scenic Byway - New York and Pennsylvania’s premier vacation destination along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Niagara River, and Lake Erie.
Leaving Oshwego we picked up Highway 3 which eventually took us to Interstate 81 around Watertown and then headed for the New York/Ontario boarder to continue on with the Canadian end of the trip. We crossed over what is considered one of the most beautiful places on the planet - The Thousand Islands, once again shared by New York State and Ontario. This is called "Garden of The Great Spirit" by the Native people and you can certainly see why.
At this part of Lake Ontario you are actually crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway which is the common name for a system of canals that permits ocean going vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes as far as Lake Superior. Legally it extends from Montreal to Lake Erie, including the Welland Canal and the Great Lakes Waterway. The seaway is named after the St Lawrence river which it follows from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.
Once again we had a glorious day for weather. Crossing over the bridge we looked down on islands of all different shapes and sizes scattered everywhere, some with cottages on them. Once through the border we are in a little community called Ivy Lea, but down the road about 10 miles is Gananoque where will have lunch.
Thousand Island Tours and Information
- VISIT THE 1000 ISLANDS
A comprehensive website giving information about things to do and things to see while in The Thousand Islands. It is well worth the visit. We've done the boat cruise amongst the islands back a few years ago, and it was very enjoyable.
Gananoque - pronounced "Gana-noc-way", is situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and is considered the Gateway to the Thousand Islands on the Canadian side. Traveling west along Highway 2 we were able to follow all along the river and take in the sight of the islands, along with the various juts of land poking out into the river. On the right side of the road there is a paved path where we passed people either cycling, jogging or just plain out for a walk. This is one of our favourite areas and it follows all along into Gananoque. We had a nice lunch once we reached town. Having been here several times already, we did not stay much longer just heading out toward Kingston.
Kingston is a city that we had yet to stay in, and every time we passed through it we promised ourselves that one day we would spend a weekend there. Well it was never to be. But on this day we enjoyed looking around at the great architecture, many of its historical buildings being made out of the local limestone.
The city is situated right at the point where Lake Ontario runs into the St. Lawrence Seaway, and at the start of the Thousand Islands. Besides being settled by the Mohawks from the Six Nations in New York, it is very much a Loyalist Country. During the War of 1812 Kingston was the base for the Lake Ontario division of the Great Lakes British Naval fleet which engaged in a vigorous arms race with the American fleet based at Sacketts Harbor in New York for control of Lake Ontario.
Kingston was also chosen as the first Capital of the United Canadas and served in that position for only a few years in the 1840s before it was considered not to have enough amenities, along with its close proximity to the border, thereby making it vulnerable to attack. The capital was therefore moved to alternating locations in Toronto and Montreal before it was finally settled in Ottawa. Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald was from Kingston.
Kingston also has a long history with the Military supported by CFB Kingston (Canadian Forces Base); a first rate university - Queens University along with the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as St. Lawrence College. It also houses two maximum security prisons - Kingston Penitentiary (which I believe is now being closed down) and Milhaven.
Prince Edward County
Leaving Kingston, it was such a nice drive along the lake that we decided to carry on until all of a sudden the road petered out and we ended up at a Conervation area. No problem, we always loved exploring, so we just turned around, and after asking directions made our way to Highway 33 - The Loyalist Parkway, where we knew we could once again travel along the lake heading for the town of Picton.
We'd been to Picton twice for overnighters and so this time we would not be staying; just simply driving through. This is always a nice experience anyway as it is a quaint little place with lots of antique shops, nice Inns and Spas. Sitting on a little jut of land on Lake Ontario in Prince Edward County we were looking forward to the short ride on the ferry which would get us across to the mainland. We were not sure even if the ferry would be running at this time, but were happy to round the corner and see a line of about 25 cars waiting. In no time we were on board crossing a small part of the Bay of Quinte, starting out at Youngs Point in Adolphustown for no more than a mile and landing at Glenora in Prince Edward County.
Prince Edward County - There's Lots To do
Driving on through Prince Edward County we were now heading for Belleville. Our goal here was to have dinner at a restaurant we had stopped at a couple of times before and really enjoyed. It is called Earl & Angelos and is a very nice little restaurant on Front Street in the small downtown area. Unfortunately it was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Sometimes these things happen, particularly in small towns.
We checked into a motel and asked the clerk for a suggestion for dinner. She sent us over to the Marina to a restaurant called the Boathouse and we would have to say that our choice of Tiger Shrimp sauteed in butter and garlic were the best we'd had in a long time - so all was not lost.
A little bit about Belleville: This is yet another city originally the site of a Native settlement, but then settled by the United Empire Loyalists in the late 1700's. Back a few years when we lived on the East end of Toronto and in the town of Peterborough, we had often driven down to Belleville to wander around or have lunch. It was just another nice little escape.
http://www.earl-angelos.com/ Earl & Angelos, in case you are ever in Bellville. I highly recommend it.
A Beautiful Gift
The next morning bright and early at 6:30 we were having breakfast and then hitting the road by 7AM. What's that all about? We should have been sleeping in on our last day out. But what happened next was such a beautiful experience, that I have since realised was meant to be. Leaving Belleville we decided to head for the 401 pointing toward Toronto. Now, in this part of the world the 401 - which is a major highway traversing Ontario, is still pretty much in lovely countryside and very rolling landscape. The sun was not up yet and the windows were wet with dew, which was slowly dissipating as we drove along.
Looking behind us the sky was just turning a lovely shade of pink signaling the impending sunrise. All along the highway were very dense thickets of trees, not only rolling up and down the hills along with us, but stretching out and away from us on either side. We could tell that there were some pretty good fall colours but it was still a little too dusky to see them very clearly.
All of a sudden the sun peeked up over the horizon behind us and we couldn't believe the sight before our eyes. It was as though there were huge spotlights shining out over the multitudes of colours, making them sparkle like jewells. Shades of brilliant reds, golden yellows, orange, peach, russet, burgundy, were still spotted here and there with the green and blue of pines and spruce. Every now and then, mounded in front of the trees on the sloping shoulders were huge masses of sumac in fiery shades of red and orange. One could imagine a giant artist at work, literally taking his brush and splattering his vivid pallet of colour, here,there and everywhere..
Driving on through Toronto and returning to Hamilton, where we started, we agreed that this had been a lovely trip. Oftentimes we do not realize just how enjoyable a small jaunt not far from home can be. We do not always need to travel far and wide to find beauty. It is often right here in our own backyard.
For my Craig
This travel piece is in memory of Craig, whose birthday it would be on October 12th. Another Thanksgiving will come and go, but I will always remember this Thanksgiving with special fondness. This is what memories are made of! Always & Forever!