1. Start your journey in Niagara Falls State Park*. Orient yourself at the panoramic Prospect Point, where you can view each of the three falls that together create Niagara Falls: American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls. Then, cross over the pedestrian bridge to Goat Island, Three Sisters Island and Luna Island, being sure to snap a photo at the monument to Nikola Tesla. Before leaving, spend a few minutes soaking up the view at Terrapin Point — it’s the closest you can get to the majestic Horseshoe Falls.
2. For a true taste of the Niagara Falls region, head to nearby Third Street Retreat to grab the area’s legendary beef-on-weck sandwiches and other to-go picnic provisions. If you’d rather snag a couple of New York-style pastramis, try Power City Eatery; for pizza, look to Mario’s Pizza or Donatello’s. And if you need to caffeinate before setting out, grab an iced latte at Mackinali’s Café & Bake Shop.
3. Hit the road and head north to Whirlpool State Park, which overlooks the roaring Niagara Whirlpool and its Class V whitewater. Grab a picnic table or spread a blanket and dine al fresco while enjoying the views of the whirling aquamarine river below.
4. Next, it’s time to stretch your legs and get a little closer — 300 feet down into the Niagara Gorge closer — to the Niagara River at Devil’s Hole State Park. Follow the stone staircase to the base of the gorge, being sure to look up and admire the towering rock layers that surround you. Once back at the top, take in the view of the Robert Moses Power Plant, a Niagara Power Project facility. (Fun fact: The Niagara Power Project is New York State’s largest energy provider.)
5. A five-minute drive away, charming Lewiston beckons. First up: an ice cream break — or, rather, a Hibbard’s Original Frozen Custard break. Family owned and operated since 1939, this landmark offers rotating creative custard flavors — caramel pretzel, blueberry cheesecake, watermelon — as well as sundaes, milkshakes and floats. Stroll around the scenic downtown, making sure to spot the Freedom Crossing Monument on the bank of the river, commemorating the treacherous crossing fugitive slaves made across to Canada.
6. Continue north along the Niagara Scenic Parkway to Fort Niagara State Park, where the mighty Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario. You’ll find plenty to do at this 504-acre state park, from catching a glimpse of the Old Fort Niagara to trying to peep the Toronto skyline across the lake.
7. If you’re up for more nature-ing, take 18F east along the lakeshore to Wilson Tuscarora State Park. Here, you’ll find beaches to wander and trails to hike, as well as a BYO disc golf course and a place to launch your kayak, boat or other lake-going vessel.
8. Continue driving along the lakeshore to Olcott, where you can make a stop at scenic Krull Park before commemorating your journey with a selfie at the charming Olcott Lighthouse. Hungry again? A stop at Bye’s Popcorn, which has been serving delicious buttered popcorn and caramel corn for almost a century, is a local must-do on your way back to the Falls, or back home.
*Know before you go: Most New York State parks charge a vehicle use fee of $6 - $10 dollars for day use.