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Roadtrip from NYC to Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Parks, Niagara Falls and 1000 Islands

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We have created another great tour originating from New York City leading through the entire state of New York, to Niagara Falls on the northeastern border with Canada and along the beautiful Finger Lakes to the 1000 Islands on the northeastern border. You can expect to see beautiful landscapes with many farms, rivers, and dreamlike nature.

After this tour, which incidentally follows the course of the Erie Canal, largely responsible for the rise of New York City, you can also proudly claim to have been to Lebanon, Athens, Rome, London, Amsterdam, Russia, and Hamburg, because they are all names of places located along this great road trip!

Amsterdam USA

You can do the whole route in one week, since we were traveling with kids we took more time for each destination. What you can do there and all details about my road trip can be found here!

The Road Trip from New York on the map

Roadtrips from New York Finger Lakes Watkins Glen Niagara Falls 1000 Islands

The route in detail

Day 1+2: Drive from New York City via Linden towards Niagara Falls

Distance: 120 miles; about a two-and-a-half-hour drive

First, we took an Uber from our hotel in New York City to Linden, New Jersey to pick up our camper from El Monte RV. After just under two hours, we were finally in our camper and ready to go!

Next stop? Walmart! It’s only a few minutes away from the pickup station and is perfect to get all of the essentials needed for a relaxing tour through the USA with the camper.

Note: there is no alcohol in the Walmart, but there is a liquor store only 0.4 miles away!

Our first campground was KOA Deerpark (address: 108 Guymard Turnpike, Godeffroy, NY 12729, website), which we reached after less than two hours. The campground is huge and is perfect for a two-day stop. We had overcast skies and rain most of the time, but we still jumped in the pool!

Day 3+4: Watkins Glen, Clute Park, Lake Seneca (part of the Finger Lakes)

Distance: 190 miles; about a three-hour drive

The drive to Watkins Glen was really fun; wonderful scenery, small towns, and many bridges over creeks and rivers were our constant companions. Our campground was only one bridge away from a Walmart, and we had super friendly neighbors with whom we tried a highlight snack of the American campfire: S’mores! That’s a marshmallow between two graham crackers and chocolate. I felt like I was in sugar shock, but it was really yummy!

The campground is more of an RV park, so not very beautiful, but it was the highest-rated campground in the area. Also, the location was excellent, as Lake Seneca was right across the road. 

Watkins Glen National Park

The visit of Watkins Glen National Park was an awesome experience! The 1.5-mile-long Gorge Trail leads along the Glen River, which has more than 19 waterfalls. You can even walk behind one and the water plunges down just a foot above and in front of you. If you’re a relaxed walker, the way up takes 45 minutes, but the way down is much faster (25 minutes). A map with all info about the Gorge Trail can be found here. And here is the official website of Watkins Glen National Park.

Next time we are here, we will take a boat tour with a two-master across Lake Seneca – we particularly liked how the Sail & Wine Tour sounded. We were there a few days before peak season, so the departure times didn’t quite suit us.

Day 5+6: Letchworth National Park

Distance: 100 miles; about a two-hour drive

Corning Museum of Glass

On our way to the next destination, we made a stop at the Glass Museum in Corning, where  you can see what can be done with glass. Fittingly, the facade of the building is made entirely of glass; it’s super-modern and includes a live session (showing how a glass jar is made) as well as lots of exciting objects. We were here (with two kids) for two hours and were more than fascinated. Really cool!

Campground at Letchworth National Park

There is a campground located at Letchworth National Park and it was a great stopover (Adventure Bound Camping Resort – Four Winds, address: 7350 Tenefly Rd, Portageville, NY 14536, website). Normally, there are up to 1,200 people a day visiting here during the summer, but when we arrived (this was two weeks before peak season) there were only about 20 people. The campground is huge, in the middle of the forest, and is family-run. It was super nice here and we got a golf cart as a gesture of goodwill due to a booking error (which was my fault!). The golf cart was very helpful in getting around, because as I said before, the campground is really huge! 

The highlights here were probably the large, heated pool with two huge inflatable slides (16 and 23 feet high), the well-kept spacious landscape, and the seclusion. We fell asleep each night to the sound of birds singing, frogs croaking, and crickets chirping.

Three waterfalls in Letchworth National Park

The next day, we headed to Letchworth National Park, which is just a few minutes away (admission is $10). What to expect? Three waterfalls! You can drive to each of the falls by car, and there are parking lots right in front of them.

The Upper Falls are shaped like a horseshoe (similar to how Niagara Falls looks when viewed from the Canadian side); here the Genesee River plunges 70 feet (25 meters). Just a 15-minute walk away are Middle Falls, which are 100 feet high and are similar to Niagara Falls on the American side. These falls are very impressive and a must-see; we had not expected this!

Roadtrip from NYC to Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Parks, Niagara Falls and 1000 Islands
From Inspiration Point, you can see two of the three falls at once!

A beautiful vantage point is Inspiration Point, from which you can see the Upper and Middle Falls at the same time. The Lower Falls are at the very north end of Letchworth National Park, but we didn’t walk there, opting instead to make the pool at the campground our next destination!

Day 6: Drive to KOA Niagara Falls

Distance: 90 miles; about a two-hour drive

We left our campground at Letchworth with a heavy heart. The weather was finally nice when we got up, which hadn’t been the case so far, and I was sitting in the sun with a cup of coffee and didn’t feel like leaving. So it became a total of four cups of coffee drank until we parted from the large pool, the quiet environment in the middle of the forest, and from our nice campsite neighbors.

Roadtrip to Canada

But since our first big destination of the trip – Niagara Falls – was on the agenda, we were off. The drive through the typical American landscape with many small idyllic places was great right from the start; for several miles it went straight ahead, always from hill to hill. To the left and to the right of us there was an unbelievable amount of open space; the vastness of the landscape had already fascinated us so much on our last tour, and continued to do so as we journeyed forward.

Nellie's Restaurant
Nellie’s Restaurant: A spot just like you would find 50 years ago!

We made a small stopover in the village of Arcade, at a restaurant that has not changed for 50 years: Nellie’s Restaurant. We had Nellie’s burgers (great!), chicken marinated in buttermilk with mashed potatoes and vegetables (was ok) and chicken fingers with fries (great). We definitely fell off the usual path taken by visitors here, because besides three police officers, there were only locals sitting here who have also been going to Nellie’s Restaurant for decades. A truly authentic spot!

The Niagara River separates the USA and Canada. We didn’t go straight to the Canadian border, though, because we had to catch up on something we very typically do while on road trips: finally drinking a Starbucks coffee (which we hadn’t done yet in at least 400 miles!!).

Surprisingly, there was not even one Starbucks along our route, not even if we took a 20-mile detour to find one. With our Starbucks coffee road trip revival feeling, we headed over the Buffalo & Fort Erie Bridge to the Canadian border, and 20 miles later we arrived at the Niagara Falls KOA Holiday (address: 8625 Lundy’s Ln, Niagara Falls, ON L2H 1H5, Canada, website).

The KOA was everything we expected it to be: large, friendly, great (heated!) pool, and equipped with all the amenities a KOA Holiday has to offer. In the evening, we made a campfire as usual, ate hotdogs and marshmallows, and got some really dry wood for the fire from our neighbor Steve (ours was too wet).

Day 7: Niagara Falls

Today we went to Niagara Falls and it couldn’t have been better! Bright sunshine, a rainbow over the falls, and then we discovered the Niagara Brewing Company with a view of the American Niagara Falls!

On foot this time, we walked from Clifton Hill road to Horseshoe Bend. Passing the new Zip-Line (you can glide from there to the bottom of the Falls) and the green park, our first stop was the view from the boardwalk towards the USA. As you can see from the pictures, the American part is already very impressive (but still not the highlight!), and you can look over the Niagara River to the other side and see the water falling down.

Continuing on, we relaxed until we reached the best part of Falls: the Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. At the Table Rock Welcome Center, you can get tickets for the tour that takes you behind the falls (called “Journey behind the Falls”). The water masses here are even more impressive and you’re just a few steps from the edge where the Niagara River plunges down! The water is crystal clear and you can see down to the bottom of the river there (it’s 3 to 6 feet deep at most).

My conclusion about Niagara Falls? You have to see them!

Day 8: Niagara Falls, Bird Kingdom, and Hard Rock Café

Niagara Falls were also on our schedule for the day, but only as a companion to visiting the Bird Kingdom. Across two floors you can observe many birds like macaws, parrots, and lorises, but also pheasants flying over and around you. The highlight is a large, light-filled hall full of plants and a waterfall. The roof is made of glass and the birds are free to roam, so you’ll feel like you’re exploring the jungle.

Bird Kingdom
Bird Kingdom

Just 0.2 miles away is a Hard Rock Café, where we had lunch. It is a tradition for us to go to a Hard Rock Café when we see one! Previously, we have been in their locations in New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

What did we do the rest of the day? Laid by the pool at our KOA Niagara Falls, ate hotdogs in the evening, and ended the day with a glass, er, bottle of wine from this region at the campfire!

Day 9: Canandaigua / Rochester KOA Holiday

Distance: 130 miles; about a three-hour drive

The KOA got its name from lake Canandaigua, which is one of the famous Finger Lakes of New York State (address: 5374 Canandaigua Farmington Town Line Rd, Farmington, NY 14548, United States, website). The region is beautiful, and we were already one lake further west from here on the first days of our trip (Lake Seneca, days 3 & 4).

Lake Ontario Scenic Parkway

For the drive from Niagara Falls, we chose the Lake Ontario Scenic Parkway, which leads you alongside the lake and past many small towns with scenic-sounding names like Somerset. 

What was also surprising to us? The region is known for wine and fruit growing, and if you want, you can stop in many places to take a taste-test of the wines of the region. You can find a lot of these wineries along the Lake Ontario Scenic Parkway. We spent our lunch break at Lakeside Beach State Park with homemade sandwiches and hotdogs and a view of Lake Ontario.

Day 10+11: 1000 Islands

Distance: 160 miles; about a three-hour drive

The 1000 Islands runs along the border between the USA and Canada, and you can visit and enjoy them from both sides of the border. We decided to go to the Canadian side because we liked the campground very much during our pre-trip research. The drive from Farmington to the border was really spectacular, and several times we got goosebumps from the views around us!

By our standards, this leg of our USA road trip started quite early; shortly after 10 a.m., we were already on the road. The first stop was Starbucks and then we were off. The drive is really relaxing through the typical landscape with wide fields, farms, and hilly roads; the first two hours flew by.

A short lunch stop at Five Guys in Watertown about 40 miles ahead of the border was our only break. Then, we headed to the border where we had to cross an amazing bridge. The 1000 Islands Bridge spans the Saint Lawrence River, and from there you can see why the region is named 1000 Islands! There are many small islands, and most of them are surprisingly inhabited (mostly just a house and boat dock).

1000 Islands Campground / Ivy Leo KOA

Only just six minutes of driving later and we were at our destination: the 1000 Islands / Ivy Leo KOA campground (address: 514 Thousand Islands Pkwy, Lansdowne, ON K0E 1L0, Canada, website). It is one of the best campgrounds in the 1000 Islands: three small pools, a super-nice staff, and beautifully situated in the green. As I was writing this part of the review, I was sitting in the sun and listening to the birds chirping. It doesn’t get more relaxing than this!

Boat tour through the 1000 Islands

We booked a 1000 Islands Cruise on the Saint Lawrence River and it was just as beautiful as we had hoped. There are two operators on the Canadian side and two on the American side.

Fun Fact: How many islands do the 1000 Islands actually have? 1,864!

We chose the 1-hour tour from Gananoque Cruises in Ivy Lea (there is also a 3-hour tour by paddle steamer). It went under the 1000 Island Bridge, which we had crossed yesterday, to the famous Boldt Castle.

Boldt Castle

Passing many great little islands, we saw that most of them only have one house built on them. I highly recommend this 1000 Island boat tour; there is hardly a better way to explore the island landscape. The water of the Saint Lawrence River is super-clear, like a lake in the mountains. You can partly see the bottom of the river, even though it is probably 25 feet deep!

Tickets for the tour to Boldt Castle can be found here.

Fun Fact: between two islands, there is the world’s shortest bridge connecting two countries. It is just nine feet long! Both islands belonged to one family and the story goes that when the owner quarrels with his wife, he leaves the country until things calm down. 🙂

I would have loved to take a helicopter ride over the 1000 Islands, but we couldn’t fit it into our schedule on this trip. Every 30 minutes, the helicopters take off, and you can do a 10-, 20- or 30-minute flight. Here you can find all the information.

The Ivy Lea Club

My tip: The Ivy Lea Club!

For lunch we went to the The Ivy Lea Club – a really great spot right on the water. You can see all the way to the 1000 Islands Tower, enjoy the view of the boats docked in the little marina, and with a cocktail in your hand, it doesn’t get much better! We had the lobster roll with a Caesar salad and the burger – both were awesome!

Address: 61 Shipman’s Point Ln, Lansdowne, ON K0E 1L0, Canada, website)

Day 12+13: Driving from Canada to New York

Distance: 130 miles; about a three-hour drive

The day started with a stroke of luck: as we were leaving the 1000 Island area heading towards the USA, we passed the 1000 Islands Tower with its skydeck at a height of more than 390 feet (address: 716 Highway 137 Hill Island, Lansdowne, ON K0E 1L0, Canada, website). It can be seen from far away (it looks like a corkscrew) and is located just ahead of the border on the Canadian side.

As we drove by slowly, we noticed the “Open” sign. We were there right at the opening of the season, and even though the weather was less than ideal, we happily climbed it (ok, ok, we took the elevator!!). The entrance fee is 12 Canadian dollars, and admission for children aged six or younger costs 7 dollars. The view from the top is amazing! You can see the border crossing, the 1000 Island Bridge, and the fantastic island landscape. It is just great – if you are here, you should definitely plan to see it!

Herkimer Diamond KOA Resort Campground

The rest of the drive took us south through the countryside to the Herkimer Diamond KOA Resort campground (address: 4626 NY-28 North, Herkimer, NY 13406, United States, website). It is located directly on a river and has everything a resort campground has to offer. Due to the fact that we had continuous rain at this time, we spent our time in the RV.

Finding “diamonds” in the mine?

By the way, the campground got its name from the crystals that are abundant in the rocks located here. You can also try your luck yourself and split the many stones with a hammer, searching for gemstones. The area, and also the restaurant (only 600 feet away), belongs to the owners of the campground.

Day 14-17: Drive to New York City North / Newburgh KOA Holiday and New York City

Distance: 240 miles; about a four-and-a-half-hour drive

This was our last campground, just 70 miles from New York City (address: 119 Freetown Hwy, Plattekill, NY 12589, United States, website). Along the route, you can expect to see the imposing foothills of the Catskill Mountains, a popular ski area just outside New York. You will pass places with names like Athens and Amsterdam and see funny names for creeks like Catskill Creek and Kaaterskill Creek. We chose this campground for our RV because it is close to Linden, New Jersey, as we have to return the camper by 11 a.m. We were a little unlucky with the weather, as it rained most of the time, so we could only visit the pools once.

Poughkeepsie

Instead we listened to live bluegrass music, spent a lot of relaxing time in the RV, and made a trip to Poughkeepsie. There we had a delicious meal at the restaurant Shadows on the Hudson (address: 176 Rinaldi Blvd, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601, United States, website), celebrated Father’s Day, and enjoyed views of the Hudson River.

Shadows on the Hudson

Albany

On the way back to Linden, we made a quick stop at the main New York State booth and walked around Albany for two hours. I can only recommend the restaurant Wellington’s (address: 144 State St, Albany, NY 12207, United States, website http://www.wellingtonsalbany.com/)!

What’s my conclusion?

What an amazing road trip from NYC

On this road trip from New York City, you will see impressive nature, beautiful landscapes, lakes like the Finger Lakes, creeks & rivers, and waterfalls from Watkins Glen to those from Letchworth National Park and the impressive Niagara Falls. The 1000 Islands area is also incredible to see, and was even more beautiful than we expected! 

Throughout our trip through this part of the northeastern USA, we met so many lovely people and we felt welcome everywhere we went. Large metropolitan areas, like those we experienced on our tour from the east coast to the west coast of the USA via Route 66 and Highway Number 1, do not exist here. Nevertheless, this tour is, for me, one of the most beautiful road trips from New York that you can take!


Helpful links

If you want to rent a car in New York, I recommend this site. And if you want to do this tour with an RV check out this link.


FAQ

Who is this tour suitable for?

The tour is perfect for everyone! You will see a lot of nature, small towns like those from many American movies, great roads and highways, and natural highlights such as the many different waterfalls and the 1000 Islands.

How much money for tolls do you have to plan for the trip?

On this tour we spent about 120 dollars on toll roads.

Which camper do you recommend?

There were four of us on the road trip and we opted for the large and very comfortable 28-foot camper!

Where do you rent a camper while in the USA?

Just like last year, we booked our camper here. The campers come fully equipped. On this tour we were even lucky enough to be the first-time renters of this particular camper!

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