Editor’s Note: A Google alert led me to this unique “tour” around Lake Ontario. It first appeared in the Toronto Sun newspaper on August 17 and 23, 2010 and led me to the author, George Bailey. We consider this piece to be a good reference for next summer.
Day 1: Niagara
I don't like the busy highways in the Toronto area.
Therefore, I left my home at six on a Sunday morning to try and "beat" the traffic. It worked. The drive to Kingston along the QEW, Highway 427 to Highway 401 East turned out to be a breeze. Timing is everything.
I was on my first leg of an 1,150 kilometre trip around Lake Ontario.
The Big Apple
After driving 300 kilometres, my first stop to stretch my legs was The Big Apple Restaurant at Colborne. If you like a good cup of coffee and fresh apple anything, you've arrived. They even have a small animal farm to keep the kids happy.
When I resumed my trip I decided to turn off at Exit 522 at Trenton and travel scenic Highway 33 S through Prince Edward County to Gananoque.
Along the way be sure to brake at the historic rural community of Bloomfield (www.pecchamber.com or 1-800-640-4717). It retains its rural roots, but it's also become a centre for arts, antiques and crafts. It's where more than 70 artists display their talents in century-old buildings. If you like quirky stuff, check out Diva Adornments on Main St.
Fourteen kilometres east of Bloomfield I took the free, government-operated Glenora Ferry across the Adolphus Reach Channel and continued along the parkway that hugs the St. Lawrence River. The ferries run daily on the hour and half-hour from 6 a.m. until 1:15 a.m. from Glenora.
The Glen House
I had reservations for the first two nights of my trip at the Glen House Resort (www.smugglersglen.com or 1-800-268-4536) in Gananoque, 30 minutes east of Kingston. Accommodations run from $80 and up. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the outdoor pool (there's also an indoor pool) and reading as I overlooked the St. Lawrence River from my patio.
Day Two: Kingston
(www.cityofkingston.ca or 1-888-855-4555)
After a good night's sleep, I headed back to Ontario's oldest city, Kingston, to explore.
My first stop was at the historic City Hall (circa 1840s) located opposite the lovely harbour in downtown Kingston. It's where I picked up a one-hour, $10 Trolley Tour that highlighted the sites of the city. I learned the city is the major location for commerce, education, health services and penitentiaries in southeastern Ontario. Nine different penitentiaries are found here. Perhaps the most forlorn is Kingston Penitentiary that houses some of Canada's most notorious criminals.
Canada's Penitentiary Museum (www.PenitentiaryMuseum.ca)
This museum is the former 1870s residence of the warden of Kingston Penitentiary, located across the road. I was captivated (get it?). Parking is free and admission by donation.
Fort Henry (www.forthenry.com or 1-800-437-2233#6)
Kingston's premier attraction, Fort Henry sitting on the highest point of land in the city overlooking the harbour, is a spectacular historic site. The fort is open until Oct. 31. Self-guided tours from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. are $5.
1,000 Island Cruise (www.rockportcruises.com or 1-800-563-8687)
No trip to this area would be complete without a cruise of the 1,000 Islands. My narrated two-hour cruise aboard the Sea Prince 11 was the best. The weather was absolutely perfect. The sky was filled with clouds that looked as if they had been washed in bleach and hung out to dry. I had a glorious time photographing millionaires' homes found on a scattering of small islands. Expect to pay around $25 for a two-hour cruise.
After the cruise I drove nearby rural roads and discovered quaint villages like Lansdowne and Mallorytown before heading to my next overnight location.
In the late afternoon I travelled over the Ivy Lea Bridge to Hill Island where I would spend my last night in Canada at Hill Island Lodge (www.hillislandlodge.com or 1-866-659-4459).
I'd stayed here before and knew there is no restaurant on the island, so I had picked up a "picnic basket" to hold me over. It's a walking place. Don't be surprised to see wild turkeys, deer and foxes when you stroll. Room rates are about $80, which includes breakfast. It's clean and the staff is attentive.
The next morning, I would cross into the United States to continue my trip around Lake Ontario.
Day Four: South side of Lake Ontario
Hill Island, Ont. - After a good night's sleep, I arose early, had a filling breakfast (included in the price of my room) and then hit the road. Within 10 minutes, I had cleared customs and crossed into the United States.
On this portion of my trip I again, where possible, hugged the shoreline of Lake Ontario utilizing the scenic Great Lakes Seaway Trail (www.seawaytrail.com or 315-646-1000). I headed towards Highway 180 South to 12 South (Clayton) back to 180 South to 3 West with Sackets Harbor as my first destination (this is a bit tricky so if you have GPS set it to 310 W. Main Street, Sackets Harbor). The hour-and-a-half drive is magical during the fall. Trees are wearing their autumn best splashed with flaming browns, scarlet reds and bright yellows. The reflection of foliage as you travel beside Lake Ontario is marvelous.
This is a quaint community with a unique and important history. It's a must see for those who love history and a delightful place to while away a few hours. During the War of 1812 it was the United States' most important shipbuilding centre and the headquarters for the U.S. Navy on the Great Lakes.
Be sure to make time to visit the Seaway Trail Discovery Center. This fascinating centre was at one time the Union Hotel originally built in 1817. It's filled with numerous interactive exhibits covering a variety of topics including military, maritime and natural history. Check out the animated life-size figure of former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant who meets you at the front desk. Really creepy! The animated cows are also wild. Admission is below $4.
Small shops line up on Main St. and the old buildings still charm. A favourite watering hole is the covered outdoor patio of Tin Pan Galley Restaurant on Main St. Before you leave Sackets Harbor, take a few photos of the harbour, which is the focal point of the village.
Oswego (www.oswegony.org or 315-343-7681)
I continued my lazy drive along Highway 3 West then Highway 104 West to Oswego (population 21,000), the largest U.S. port on Lake Ontario. Here I spent the night at All Seasons Inn (www.AllSeasonsInnCNY.com or 315-342-9771) on the outskirts of town. The young couple who manage the place, Michael and Anita Shiel, kept it as clean as a whistle and it was reasonably priced at $70.
Highlights for my visit included visiting Safe Haven Museum at Fort Ontario. This museum explains the history of the 982 refugees who were sheltered here while fleeing war-torn Europe and the Holocaust. It pays tribute to these refugees and the people of the town who welcomed them. A fascinating story.
This city boasts lovely majestic buildings in the downtown, one of which is the historic mid-1940s restored Oswego Theatre where they've managed to squeeze in seven different screens. I took in a movie that night. As strange as it might seem, check out the washrooms. Very different.
Charlotte, N.Y. (www.visitrochester.com or 800-677-3079)
Continuing along 104 west my next stop was at the small village of Charlotte, west of downtown Rochester. I headed for the Port Terminal Building (1000 North River St.). This pretty village has one of Lake Ontario's best beaches at any time of the year. Ontario Beach Park, established in 1884, is a beach walker's delight. After my walk along the beach and the beautiful pier (It's like the pier at Port Dalhousie), I grabbed a coffee and a sandwich at Pier 45 Café, then sat on one of the pier benches and people watched for a while.
By mid afternoon I was refreshed and ready to make the final leg on my trip around Lake Ontario and travel back to Niagara. Now pay attention, this is important. If you want one of the best stress-free rides in your life, connect to the Lake Ontario State Parkway as you leave Charlotte on Lake St.
This parkway continues to Lockport and it's like you own the road. No commercial traffic is allowed and, bar none, it's one of my favorite scenic drives. It's part of the Seaway Trail. You'll pass through several small hamlets that sit right on the edge of Lake Ontario. At Lockport, take Highway 18 west to the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge to pass into Canada.
When I crossed the bridge, my odometer read 1,155 kilometres. I could have whittled off 400 or so kilometres if I'd travelled from point A to B, but over the many years that I've been travelling I've learned to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. It was an exhilarating trip.
By George Bailey, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photojournalist George Bailey is from Niagara Falls, Canada. For the past 13 years he's been writing a regular travel column for QMI Agency. This is a network of 41 daily newspapers found across Ontario, including the Toronto Sun. In addition to this, his stories appear in several on-line travel sites. George was the marketing manager for The Niagara Parks Commission for 25 years. He has published four guide books on Niagara Falls and is one of the 400 or so writers that have written a book on Marilyn Monroe. He also writes a weekly blog for the Niagara Falls Tourist Association on Niagara Falls.