New York Scenic Drives: Seaway Trail

By: the Scenic Drive Authors

New York's Seaway Trail brings the nation's earliest days to life and makes the nation's present days more lively. Follow this 454-mile byway paralleling the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Niagara River, and Lake Erie and discover historical scenery that is anything but sleepy.

Delight in this drive through naturally scenic landscapes, welcoming harbors, city skylines, and quaint villages. Plan time to pause at fresh fruit and vegetable stands or sample apple pie and the sweetest corn in the country at farmers' markets, country fairs, and u-pick farms.


You'll find festivals from Chautauqua's vineyards to Niagara Falls celebrating every season. Beyond the flavor of the rural community, travelers will find high culture in the cities along the byway as well. Cities such as Rochester and Buffalo offer a myriad of museums and a slew of historic sites.

With some of the world's best year-round sportfishing, anglers looking to catch the big one just may find it along the Seaway Trail. The shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie present plenty of options for water recreation. Historic lighthouses also line the trail, creating stops for further exploration. And if you enjoy a picnic in the park, there are many sites to choose from at the state parks lining the byway.

Cultural Qualities of Seaway Trail:

The state of New York has been developing its culture for hundreds of years. Cities and towns along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River add flavor not only to the Seaway Trail, but to the nation as well. As you travel this National Scenic Byway, spend a night in a cozy bed-and-breakfast, or tour a historical site from the War of 1812.Whatever you do, you will become acquainted with the culture of the Seaway Trail. It is a culture immersed in history and at the cutting edge of change.

The cultures of the Iroquois and the Mohawk leave an intriguing legacy that reflects an America of the past. These cultures can be rediscovered on the Seaway Trail in places like the Seneca Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca or the Akwesasne Cultural Center in Hogansburg. Businesses all along the trail display the crafting of the past in beautiful beadwork, cornhusk dolls, and silversmithing. The presence of these cultures is also apparent in their seasonal festivals and powwows.

Eventually, these cultures mixed in with the British and the French as they arrived to stake their claim in the New World. The roots of these lasting European influences are commemorated at Old Fort Niagara as well as many other historic sites. As the country opened up to other European cultures, Italian and Greek immigrants made their way to New York as well. Their mark can be seen in the Old World architecture and woodcarvings in towns along the way. The cultures of a few religions also have roots on the Seaway Trail. Travelers on the trail will be able to visit Amish farms, remnants of Shaker heritage, or historic sites significant to the Mormon Church. These cultures have been mixing over the years to form the diversity of festivals and monuments along the trail today.

One of the best places to experience the culture of the Seaway Trail is in the local restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts. Here, you will discover an old-fashioned hospitality that has been preserved and handed down from eras that came before. In the towns and the cities on the trail, historic buildings have been converted to places to rest and enjoy the local cuisine. The people of the Seaway Trail are just waiting to share their heritage in their architecture and their recipes.

Ultimately, the Seaway Trail is a byway where visitors enjoy the diversity that the country has to offer. From festivals to fine dining, the Seaway Trail is sure to have a cultural style that intrigues you.


Sea captains and military captains have created legacies along the Seaway Trail. Their stories are told, sometimes recreated, and sometimes only imagined all along the byway in the 42 different historic sites. Learn about the history of the war that inspired the "Star-Spangled Banner." Many sites from the War of 1812 are located all along the byway and marked for visitor convenience. Quiet towns along the way offer a portal into the past where sea captains built their homes and simple businesspeople lived and worked. Visit America's oldest freshwater port in Oswego, and see if you can spot all 28 lighthouses located along the way. The ghosts of a maritime culture still haunt this byway. The Seaway Trail is full of history and dozens of ways to explore it.

Old forts and battle structures still remain all along the byway, one of which is Old Fort Niagara. This fort is located close to the famous falls of the same name and boasts 300 years of history of being passed from the French to the British and finally, to the Americans. As a gateway to the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and thus, the interior of the country, the Fort was situated in an extremely strategic position. As a result, it has a colorful history of battles and wars. Travelers will encounter a different world as they step through the gates of the fort. Soldiers and townspeople "from" 300 years ago are roaming about the area, ready to explain a black-powder rifle or the history of a battle. Historians who choose to live history come here to explain the past to visitors of the present.

Other structures along the byway leave more a sensation of mystery than of history. Visit Boldt Castle of the Thousand Island Region for a glimpse of true love and tragedy at the turn of the 20th century. The magnificent stone structures located in this area will transport travelers to another time and country through the architecture that is found only in the castles of Europe. All along the shores of the Great Lakes, lighthouses spring up to lure visitors to get out their cameras to capture their picturesque quality. Among the most significant of the Seaway's lighthouses are Dunkirk Lighthouse, Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, and Sodus Point Lighthouse. These lighthouses, as well as many of the others, date back to the early 1800s when navigation in bad weather was dependent upon these beacons. Exploring the sites along the byway will only lead to a discovery of more of the abundant history that is embedded along the Seaway Trail.


Bays along the byway's edge sprout cattails, and the rivers and lakes create coves and overhangs of rock from another time. The bluffs that are familiar on the Seaway Trail often hold swallows' nests in the pockmarks in the rock. Because of natural sites that can be seen from the river, canoe trips are perhaps one of the best ways to see the natural world that thrives on the Seaway Trail every day. But whether you paddle or hike, the Seaway Trail offers a look at coexisting wildlife and geology.

Recognized for its bird-watching opportunities on some of America's most well known lakes and rivers, the Seaway Trail offers a natural view of New England. Bird species from waders to warblers flock to the Seaway Trail to enjoy the moderate climate with plenty of freshwater sources. Usually a hiking trail on the byway will take you into the thick of bird country where they can be seen with and without binoculars. From spring to winter, bird-watching remains an activity that can be enjoyed on the byway year-round. In the winter, visitors may catch a glimpse of a snowy owl, and in the spring, birds of prey visit the byway on the Lake Erie shoreline. All along the St. Lawrence River, beavers, ducks, and porcupine continue to make a home as they have for thousands of years.

It would seem that the land itself is alive on the byway. Lakes are lapping, rivers are rushing, and stone is being sculpted ever so slowly. Some of the most prominent geological features on the byway are the Chimney Bluffs. These peaks and spires amid a mixture of clay are found inside a drumlin on Lake Ontario. Traveling down the St. Lawrence River, you'll notice rocks of a pink hue beneath the water's surface and on the shore. This rock is some of the oldest in North America with the same composition as the Adirondacks. A landmark of international fame rests between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie on the Seaway Trail. Every year, visitors come from miles around to witness the power and splendor that belong to Niagara Falls. Water plunges from the upper Niagara River to the channel below to create an effect that has mesmerized humanity for centuries.


With state parks and bustling cities all along the route, the Seaway Trail is not lacking in the selection of activities it offers visitors. Throughout the year, visitors to the byway enjoy shorelines and waterways with plenty of access. In the winter, when water sports might be less appealing, there is always the draw of both downhill and cross-country skiing. There are more than 30 state parks just along the byway. Detour off the road a bit and you'll find a few more. Little villages and points of interest lure visitors all along the trail. The natural beauty of the Finger Lakes is almost as enticing as the legend behind them. Lighthouse enthusiasts will want to tour all 28 of the historic lighthouses from Lake Erie to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Exciting adventures await among the Thousand Islands Area. A flavor for life by the sea is what visitors will acquire after spending time on this byway.

Get to know the Seaway Trail before you go and learn the locations of its many eye-opening treasures, hopping cities, quaint villages, laid back fishing ports, exciting family attractions, and more in the next section.

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Highlights of Seaway Trail Niagra Falls is one of the awe-inspiring sights on Seaway Trail.
byways.orgNiagra Falls is one of the awe-inspiring sights on Seaway Trail.

The Seaway Trail is a roadway covered in country charm with a twist of the city. Around every corner, visitors are sure to find museums, historic sites, parks, and cemeteries. Among cities, apple orchards, wildflowers, and shoreline are all part of the view. There are so many things to see along this byway that a well-planned itinerary is a must for travelers to see everything that suits their fancy. The Seaway Trail is the perfect way to see the best of New York.

As the trail travels the northern edge of New York, drivers and passengers alike will enjoy a view that reveals the waters of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. State parks, often with campgrounds, dot the shores of these lakes and rivers, providing scenery and relaxation for visitors. There is nothing quite like a gentle breeze from the lake. And the sight of Niagara Falls may be one of the high points of the drive. The falls lie on the channel between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and they are a scenic wonder unto themselves. All along the St. Lawrence River, visitors will have the opportunity to experience nature at a closer distance.


Take the time to stop at a few historic homes and cities to walk along harbors or through gardens. This area was the beginning of prosperity for the nation from the earliest times. Between the larger cities such as Buffalo and Rochester, travelers will also find villages of a slower pace. Full of personality, these places will point visitors in the direction of the most unique points of interest. Visitors will also find 28 lighthouses along the way. Be sure to bring a camera for that perfect moment when the setting sun hits a historic lighthouse at just the right angle. Enjoy the scenery of the Seaway Trail and take the time to tour the scenes that intrigue you on this National Scenic Byway.

Covering both urban and rural, inland and waterfront areas, the Seaway Trail has a plethora of pleasurable places awaiting travelers. This listing of highlights captures just a bit of the flavor of this unique byway.

Frederic Remington Art Museum: On the northeast end of the byway in the town of Ogdensburg is the Frederic Remington Art Museum, commemorating the life and work of the famed bronze sculptor and painter of western art. A majority of the museum's vast holdings came as a bequest from Remington's widow upon her death in 1918, and includes not only paintings and bronzes but also sketchbooks, notes, photos, and even the cigars that were in his pocket before he died, giving a personal as well as professional view of the great artist.

Heart Island and Boldt Castle: Just off Alexandria Bay, Heart Island and Boldt Castle is an intriguing monument to love, loss, and luxury. Built in the early 1900s as a symbol of love for his wife by the proprietor of New York City's famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, George Boldt never returned to the island or the extravagant Rhineland-style castle after his wife died suddenly in 1904. Acquired and rehabilitated by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, the island and its various buildings are now open to the public.

Seaway Trail Discovery Center: For an overview of the Seaway Trail and complete information to take with you along your journey, a stop at the Seaway Trail Discovery Center in Sackets Harbor is a great idea. Located in the old Union Hotel in historic downtown along the waterfront, the Discovery Center has nine exhibit rooms featuring a lighthouse video display, animatronic and interactive exhibits, and abundant information about the history of the Seaway Trail.

Fort Ontario: On Fourth Street in Oswego is the star-shaped Fort Ontario, restored to its mid-1800s appearance. An orientation exhibit tells the history of the fort from its beginnings in 1755, including its use as an emergency refugee center for victims of the World War II Holocaust. Costumed historians re-create the lives of military men, their families, and civilians from the mid-1800s.

Thirtymile Point, Selkirk, and Tibbetts Point Lighthouses: Following along the waters of the Great Lakes, the Seaway Trail has several historic lighthouses, some of which are open to the pubic. And although lighthouses rarely offer overnight accommodations, the Seaway Trail is fortunate to have three lighthouses available for overnight stays: Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse at Golden Hill State Park; Selkirk Lighthouse at the mouth of the Salmon River on Lake Ontario, Port Ontario; and Tibbetts Point Lighthouse Hostel at the mouth of the confluence of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, Cape Vincent.

Sodus Bay Lighthouse and Museum: Those lighthouses that do not provide overnight accommodations but do have tours provide wonderful experiences for visitors. One is Sodus Bay Lighthouse and Museum. Multimedia exhibits present the early history of the area, early railroading history at Sodus Point, and fishing here. And of course, a major attraction is the climb to the top of the lighthouse tower, 70 feet above the waters of the lake for a spectacular view.

Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse and Museum: In Rochester is the Charlotte–Genesee Lighthouse and Museum. The keeper's house has exhibits about lighthouse lore, local history, and navigation, while the adjacent building has exhibits focused on the early history of the site. And visitors are welcome to climb the tower.

Old Fort Niagara: Old Fort Niagara is a National Historic Landmark belonging to the United States now, but it wasn't always so. With history reaching back into the 1700s, the fort has been in the hands of both the French and the British as well eventually the Americans. Visitors can explore 16 points of interest on the self-guided tour, including several buildings, monuments, earthen fortifications, and the lighthouse. Living historians as well as multimedia displays tell the exciting history of the fort and the people who occupied it.

Niagara Falls: The finale to this itinerary is the sublime Niagara Falls, accessible in Niagara Falls State Park. Though the falls straddle the border of America and Canada, the American side has retained much of its natural environment while still having plenty for visitors to do. You'll want to begin your journey at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, showcasing the natural history of Niagara Falls and the Gorge with interactive displays and a 180-degree multi-screen theater presentation. The geology of the Niagara Gorge is detailed, including information about the ancient rock layers, minerals, fossils, and more.

Observation Tower: Also at the Niagara Falls State Park, the Observation Tower at Prospect Point gives a commanding view of the American Falls and the churning waters in the gorge below. An elevator ride to the bottom of the Observation Tower takes you to the dock where you can board the Maid of the Mist for a boat ride to the swirling basin of the Horseshoe Falls. The Cave of the Winds trek takes you down 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge and within 20 feet of Bridal Veil Falls.

The Seaway Trail is a well-marked, scenic alternative to interstate highways and toll roads that offers a celebration of historic and recreational exploration for all.

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