New York Scenic Drives: Lakes to Locks Passage

Driving through the villages and hamlets of New York's Lakes to Locks Passage, travelers are swept into a place of history. State parks and preserves offer hiking trails, lakeside beaches, and wildlife-spotting opportunities. Paralleling Lake Champlain and the Champlain Canal, the byway promises scenic views mixed with plenty of history.

Pre-colonial history is woven throughout the names of places and historic sites. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain named Lake Champlain in 1609. The struggle between nations and people occurred here between the Huron, Algonquin, and Iroquois. During the French and Indian War, the

French and British built settlements and fortifications all along the passage. Since then, many changes have moved through the Lakes to Locks Passage, but the natural beauty remains as a constant appeal to new explorers and visitors.

Explorers along the Lakes to Locks Passage travel the road by car, but those who know a little bit about the area bring a bicycle along, too. Lake Champlain Bikeways are known as some of the best cycling roads in the country.

Whether you travel by bicycle, on foot, or in the car, all the routes along the byway offer access to unique points of interest.

Cultural Qualities of Lakes to Locks Passage

Residents along the Lakes to Locks Passage look at their part of the country as a working land; the seasons harmonize with the agricultural activities that take place along the byway. From sugar in the winter to strawberries in the summer, the land along the passage is continually productive. This productivity began long ago with the Iroquois and Abenaki, who were able to develop strategies of survival there. The culture along the byway today is one that cherishes resources both agricultural and natural.

With bountiful harvests of fresh-cut hay and ripening tomatoes and gardens, life along the byway is bright and thriving. The people who live and work here enjoy the lakes, rivers, and forests as much as travelers do. During the Industrial Revolution, the rich iron deposits and the forests of the Adirondacks fueled the country. Later, another resource was discovered. Remember that yellow pencil you chewed on in elementary school? Ticonderoga was the name written on the side of the pencil, and it was made from the rich graphite deposits found along the shores of Lake Champlain and Lake George. In fact, the region is known as the paper and pencil capital of America.

As you travel the Lakes to Locks Passage, check out a few of the places where you'll get a glimpse of the local culture. The Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center offers a closer look at the oldest incorporated village in the United States. Many of the exhibits offer insight into colonial farming, and the museum overlooks the Mohawk River. Rogers Island Visitors' Center provides a look at the early cultures that lived in the area, and the Ticonderoga Heritage Museum exhibits the history of industry at Ticonderoga. Many other museums and centers offer a piece of byway culture that allows you to understand the way of life along the Lakes to Locks Passage. You'll find that byway culture enhances your ride and may even give you an inside look at the best things to do along the way.

Historical Qualities of Lakes to Locks Passage

Lakes to Locks is a passage of early American history. From the first Native Americans to the European explorers to the colonists, the geography and history of the land has played an important part in creating a passageway along the corridor that is now a byway. Expeditions and battles have been carried out on its soil. The growth and development of a new nation has also occurred along the byway, making it the well-known passage that it is today. The many historical sites along the byway are evidence that it has always been a land much sought after.

When Samuel de Champlain arrived in the area in 1609, he found people there who loved the land and who struggled for it. The Iroquois were battling with the Algonquins and Hurons, who were joined by the French. As de Champlain explored the area with the Algonquins and Hurons, they reached a beautiful lake with four islands and mountains in the distance.

View Enlarged Image Follow this map of Lakes to Locks Passage.

The lake was beautiful and, being the traditional explorer that he was, de Champlain called it "Lake Champlain." Meanwhile, an English sea captain named Henry Hudson anchored his ship in what is now Albany on his journey to find the legendary Northwest Passage to China. His naming of the upper Hudson River through Lake George and Lake Champlain later influenced trade routes and Dutch settlements in the New World.

By 1709, the British had settled the southern end of the passage, while the French had settled the northern end. Eventually, this separation determined the boundary of New York and Canada, but the arrangement would also play a part in the French and Indian War as several different nations fought for control of the land.

The French and Indian War continued for seven years until 1763, when the French ceded Canada to Great Britain. For 15 years, the passageway that is now the Lakes to Locks Passage was under the control of Great Britain, but another war was about to take place. In 1775, American colonists began the Revolutionary War that changed the country forever. The American Navy gathered at the south end of Lake Champlain to delay British invasion. A year later a victory at Saratoga won French support and further control of the area. The battles at Saratoga are now considered the turning point of the Revolutionary War as the rebels gained control and a new country was formed.

A new country meant new growth, and settlements were founded all along the Hudson and Champlain Valleys. But the peace and prosperity were interrupted once again by war. This time, the War of 1812 set the British against the Americans once again. At the end of the war, the border between the United States and Canada was finally drawn, and peace and growth returned to the area. As the nation expanded, road and canal building became important endeavors. The Champlain Canal allowed movement of mineral and timber resources from the Adirondacks throughout New York. As the land was developed and population grew, New York became the influential place that it is today. Drivers can see the history of a nation in the communities, forts, and battlefields all along the Lakes to Locks Passage.

Natural Qualities of Lakes to Locks Passage

The natural lakes and rivers of the byway flow through a landscape dotted with mountains. Chasms and forests create scenic places for hiking and adventure. The natural qualities of the Lakes to Locks Passage are closely tied to the scenery and the recreational opportunities that abound on the byway. Lake Champlain or one of its connecting waterways is on the east side, while the Adirondack Mountains are on the west side. Open landscape creates scenic views and inviting places to stop along the way.

Glaciers from an ice age created the landscape along the byway. The mountains, lakes, and rivers were all affected by the presence of these great blankets of ice. The mountains were eroded and rounded, the lakes were filled to the brim, and the rivers ran away with the surplus water. The discovery of a whale skeleton on the shores of modern Lake Champlain is an indication of the vastness of the ancient glacial lake. The gorge now known as the Ausable Chasm is sandstone sculpted by the fast-moving Ausable River.

Today, Lake Champlain is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, full of many varieties of trout, bass, perch, pike, and other fish. And fish aren't the only kind of wildlife along the byway. Lakes to Locks Passage is host to a natural migration via the Atlantic Flyway. The Champlain Birding Trail allows you to watch for birds of all kinds as they migrate through the area. From Canada geese to red-winged blackbirds, creatures with feathers are well represented on the byway.

Recreational Qualities of Lakes to Locks Passage

The land that surrounds the Lakes to Locks Passage has been a vacation destination since the early 1800s, when it was part of "The Northern Grand Tour." Artists, writers, and the elite of the time would enjoy the scenery on a train ride or from a canal boat. Today, gazing out the car window is only the beginning. The Lakes to Locks Passage is a place for boating, bird-watching, biking, and diving beneath the surface of Lake Champlain. The waterways are the center of recreation here, but even if you don't like the water, you'll find plenty to do.

Waterways connect Lake Champlain to rivers and canals. Boaters will find access to this beautiful lake by the Champlain Canal, the Hudson River, or the Richelieu River of Quebec. Lake Champlain is the sixth largest freshwater lake in the United States, and the boating and fishing are superb. Boaters, kayakers, and windsurfers can all find communities with marinas, supplies, and places to relax. And if you don't have a boat, rentals and tours are available all along the lakeshore. Trout, bass, pike, or perch may be the reason you decide to take a boat onto Lake Champlain—fishing Lake Champlain is such a dynamic experience that experts participate in fishing tournaments held there. With 585 miles of shoreline, professional and amateur anglers can fish and enjoy a picnic on the shore of the lake.

The sights beneath the surface of Lake Champlain also interest visitors to the byway. America's best collection of freshwater shipwrecks can be found at the bottom of Lake Champlain, and diving is the best way to see them. You can find diving services as well as information on which sites are accessible. The Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve and the Submerged Heritage Preserve are the places to start when searching for an exciting dive. Your dive may even include Champ, the legendary Lake Champlain Monster.

A name like Ausable Chasm just calls for adventure, and that is exactly what kayakers and rafters find as they travel down a two-mile stretch of the Ausable River. If you prefer exploring on foot, steel bridges afford a bird's-eye view of the chasm. You can cross from one end of the gorge to the other to observe massive rock formations or walk along the cliffs through a forest. On the edge of the Adirondack Park, this part of the byway is the perfect place for camping, hiking, or cycling. The Champlain Bikeway is one of the best cycling spots in the country. The route is nearly 360 miles long and goes through many parts of the byway and into Quebec. The walkways and bikeways allow you to see the byway and its recreational opportunities from several different perspectives.

Find more useful information related to New York's Lakes to Locks Passage:

  • New York Scenic Drives: Lakes to Locks Passage is just one of the scenic byways in New York. Check out the others.
  • Glens ­Falls, Ticonderoga, Plattsburg: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Lakes to Locks Passage.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond New York? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Highlights of Lakes to Locks Passage

©Byways.org Ausable River and Chasm are visible from Lakes to Locks Passage.
©Byways.org Ausable River and Chasm are visible from Lakes to Locks Passage.

Part of the fun of driving New York's Lakes to Locks Passage is the variety of landscapes and terrains you pass along the way. Lakesides and forests are accented by historic buildings and quaint towns of America's early days. In the setting of lakes and agricultural countryside, the occasional colonial building or fort can be spotted. Meanwhile, the open valleys and rolling landscape of the passage provide a route for cyclists and visitors who are interested in a scenic walk. The road gently curves past rivers and through bits of northeastern mixed forest to bring you to destinations such as Lake Champlain, Ausable Chasm, and Adirondack Park.

The passage begins in a place where canals and rivers converge, and then it follows the path of the Champlain Canal where visitors and residents are boating and canoeing. You will definitely want to stop at Fort Ticonderoga and, before you leave, obtain directions to nearby Mount Defiance, where an incredible vista of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga, and Mount Independence in Vermont are visible.

At the north end of Lake Champlain, you can catch glimpses of Valcour Island and drive to Plattsburgh for a historic tour and scenic views of the lake. At Point Au Roche State Park, enjoy the Lake Shore Road that guides you through scenic farmland and views of the northern lake islands in Vermont. To make the journey through the Lakes to Locks Passage even more interesting, information and signs are placed all along the route to provide an extra story or two about the history of the land and the development of the lake, the canal, and its locks.

Begin the Lakes to Locks Passage in Waterford, and make your way north to Plattsburgh and Rouses Point.

Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center: Head north from Troy on Route 4. At the town of Waterford, stop at the Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center, located in an 1830 Greek Revival mansion overlooking the Mohawk River and the old Champlain Canal. The museum has exhibits about Waterford, the oldest continually incorporated village in the United States.

Saratoga National Historical Park: About five miles north of the town of Stillwater, watch for Saratoga National Historical Park, site of a 1777 American victory that marked the key turning point of the Revolutionary War. A ten-mile auto tour runs through the battlefield.

Saratoga Springs: To visit the historic resort town of Saratoga Springs, take Route 29 west from Route 4 a few miles farther north. Saratoga Springs is the site of the beautiful Saratoga Race Course, the nation's oldest thoroughbred racetrack, and a public spa where the rich and famous have long taken the waters.

Adirondack Park: Continue north on Route 4 to Route 22 north. Off to the left are the southeastern fringes of 6.1-million-acre Adirondack Park, the largest park in the lower 48 states. The multi-use park covers much of eastern upstate New York, encompassing dozens of towns as well as recreational lands that include 46 mountain peaks more than 4,000 feet high, some 1,000 miles of rivers, and more than 2,500 lakes and ponds. The byway passes near the eastern shores of resort-lined Lake George, and then continues north along the eastern edges of the park for much of the rest of the route.

Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Defiance: Occupying a strategic location at the outlet of Lake George and above the southern tip of Lake Champlain is Fort Ticonderoga, built in 1755 by the French. Americans later captured it from the British in 1775, the first major victory of the Revolutionary War. Daily ceremonies (May to mid-October) feature fife and drum parades and cannon firings. A scenic road leads from the fort up to the summit of Mount Defiance, for great views stretching into Vermont.

Lake Champlain: East of the byway lies Lake Champlain, the sixth largest freshwater lake in the United States. The byway continues along its western shores for most of the rest of the route. The lake is a natural wonderland, ideal for fishing, boating, scuba diving, bird-watching, and bicycling.

Crown Point State Historic Site: Farther north just off Route 9N/22 is Crown Point State Historic Site, where the ruins of two Colonial era forts, St. Frederic and Crown Point, are preserved. They were occupied by a succession of French, British, and American soldiers during the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars.

Ausable Chasm: Continue north (following Routes 22 and 9) to Ausable Chasm, a tourist attraction since 1870. The chasm, more than a mile long and up to 50 feet wide and 200 feet deep, was carved by the Ausable River, which plunges in falls and rapids past sandstone cliffs and huge rock formations. Paths and bridges crisscross and line the chasm, and river rafting trips are available.

Plattsburgh: Nearing the Canadian border, the city of Plattsburgh is worth a stop. Among the historic homes is the Kent–Delord House Museum, which served as British officers' quarters during the Battle of Plattsburgh in the War of 1812. Ferries leave for Vermont from Cumberland Head north of town, 24 hours a day year-round.

Lakes to Lock Passage transports byway enthusiastis through a land rich with history and activities. Enjoy eveything from boating, camping, and ferries to cycling, lighthouses and watching for a glimpse of a lake monster named "Champ" when you take thie New York scenic drive.

Find more useful information related to New York's Lakes to Locks Passage:

  • New York Scenic Drives: Lakes to Locks Passage is just one of the scenic byways in New York. Check out the others.
  • Glens Falls, Ticonderoga, Plattsburg: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Lakes to Locks Passage.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond New York? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.