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Exploring The Great Lakes Seaway Trail in Winter

Near the whirlpool, Niagara River

Near the whirlpool, Niagara River

Living so close to the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan to be exact), I often take them for granted. Then along comes something new that I hadn't heard of before. Case in point: The Great Lakes Seaway Trail.

"Great Lakes what?" Exactly. If you've never heard of it before, the Great Lakes Seaway Trail is a driving/boating byway that parallels the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes in New York and Pennsylvania. The trail is a  National Scenic Byway that includes includes Niagara Falls; 1000 Islands; 29 lighthouses; War of 1812 farm and nature sites; lots of harbors, world-class sportfishing, bridges and ferries to and from Canada, and the Seaway Trail Discovery Center.

So now that you know what it is, let's get started on what you can actually do along the Seaway Trail during the remaining winter months.

Photograph Spectacular Ice Dunes

Waves surging inland from Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River form spectacular ice dunes all along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail’s shoreline. Presque Isle State Park along Seaway Trail Pennsylvania in Erie is perfect for photographing the dunes and hearty souls ice boating on Presque Isle Bay, or rent cross-country skis or snowshoes to explore 11 miles of natural and groomed trails. The Bay also offers outdoor skating and fishing, but know how to check the ice thickness for safety before stepping out. Check the Winter Report at or call 814-833-7424.

Sleigh Riding and Hot Tubbing

“Lake Effect” snows create Great Lakes Seaway Trail winter playgrounds when cold winds cross the warm freshwaters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Horse-drawn sleigh (or wagon) rides through Chautauqua Institution’s Victorian-era National Historic Landmark landscape in Chautauqua, NY, start at 1 pm and run about every half-hour weekends through January to February 28. Purchase same-day tickets after 12 noon at the Institution bookstore.

Tails of the Tundra Siberian Husky dog sled demonstrations, sleigh rides, snowshoeing, winter camping and cooking will be outside at Jamestown’s Audubon Center’s Snowflake Festival on Saturday, February 6, 2010, with live bird, hand-quilting, Master Gardener demos and bluebird box building indoors. A $5 pre-event sale coupon book includes chances for a handmade Swedish afghan and one week of summer day camp for a child of your choice. For details: 716-569-2345 and

Where can you find 27 slopes and trails for crisp wintry downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing followed by a warm, relaxing dip in an outdoor hot tub? Peek’n Peak Resort & Spa, 1405 Old Road, Clymer, NY, 716-355-4141,

Send Your Kids to 18th Century Winter Camp

Need your kids to burn energy on their mid-winter break February 16-18? Send them to camp on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. Old Fort Niagara offers three day-long programs for kids to learn how to light a campfire with flint and steel, write with a quill pen, cook a colonial-style meal, snowshoe and race with fur traders. The 8:30am to 4:30pm program includes an 18th-century puppet show and building a model of the historic fort at the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario. Registration is $40 and limited to first 20 children/day. Call 716-745-7611 for details.

Hockey for Heroes in Buffalo

Travel the Great Lakes Seaway Trail to exciting Buffalo Sabres’ National Hockey League action! Military service members from Western NY can apply for “Tickets for Troops” to see a game courtesy of Sabres’ defensemen Chris Butler. Find application online at Not military, call 888-GO-SABRES for tickets.

Gateway to Snow-Cruising and Snow Strolling through Historic Landscapes

Snow-cruising aboard a snowmobile is a refreshing way to experience the byway’s beautiful wintry landscape and its historic architecture. For example, 8 miles west of Albion, NY, ride the only road that passes under the Erie Canal. Culvert Road is a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not highlight. Check out Trailwide snowmobiling and winter trail resources at (Note: As of this writing, the website seemed to be down. You could also try

Ancient glaciers helped create a 19th century dolostone wall and extinct waterfall at the Nature Center at Genesee Country Village. On Saturdays and Sundays, for $5-10 rent skis and snowshoes, some small enough for 3-year-olds, to explore 6 miles of trails through chickadee- and deer-filled meadows and woodlands. Enjoy self-guided “snow strolling” 12 noon-4pm past the 40-plus historic buildings representing American pioneer life from 1795 to 1920. Call ahead to 585-538-6822 x262 to confirm conditions are right. Find more details online at

Bavaria on the Byway

Check out Bavarian Ski Day on January 24, 2010 at Brantling Ski Slopes where now-retired Olympian downhiller Diane Roffe-Steinrotter once trained. The special event features music, traditional Bavarian food and drink: sausage, sauerkraut, German potatoes, German beer and wine.  Lift, lesson and rental package is available for $33-$46. You can also snowboard here, 4051 Fish Farm Road, Sodus, NY, 315-331-2365,

Outdoor Fun Galore

What’s your winter recreation pleasure? Fair Haven Beach State Park on Lake Ontario on Route 104A has it all - from cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and winter birdwatching opportunities along trails and 1500 feet of beach. This historic park dates to the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps built cabins and pavilions here. Call 315-947-5205 or check for details.

Ice Climbing at Salmon River Falls

Play It Again, Salmon; Mate, Spawn & Die; Shale We Climb - all names of ascents, some as high as 100 feet - for ice climbers at Salmon River Falls Natural Area in Altmar, NY. When crisp winter temperatures set, the frozen falls become a mecca for ice climbers. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation manages the area and requires that climbers observe strict safety precautions and register daily to climb. Call 315-298-7467 for ice conditions - generally best in February-March. Find more details and photos at

Are You Crazy? Polar Bear Dipping in the St. Lawrence River

Ready to jump into freezing water for a good cause? The 20th annual Friends of River Hospital Polar Bear Dip is February 27, 2010. Hearty, and harnessed, souls from all over the U.S. will plunge into the St. Lawrence River through a hole cut in the ice off the Rum Runner’s Dock at Bonnie Castle Resort at Alexandria Bay, NY. Minimum entry is $100; funds raised purchase equipment for the hospital. Prizes are awarded for Best Costume, Best Dipping Technique, and Most Money Raised. The Bay’s resort hotels offer preferred or reduced rates. The celebration includes a Feburary 21st Snolf (snow golf) Tournament, and has raised more than $50,000 in a single year. More info: 315-482-5421,

Re-enacting The War of 1812

On February 20-21, 2010, the British Crown forces will slip across the St. Lawrence River to attack the Americans at Ogdensburg in a recreated battle of the War of 1812. Reenactors bring to life Forsythe’s Rifles Regiment at the future site of the recreation of historic Fort de la Presentation. Watch for details as the event approaches.

Tunnel Your Way Under the Seaway

To reach Robert Moses State Park at Massena, NY, drive underneath the Eisenhower Lock that allows six-story-tall freighters to travel the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The Park’s Nature Center offers cross-country ski and snowshoe rental for exploring 25 km of tranquil trails along the St. Lawrence River. Park entry is free. Call 315-764-5630 or check for dates for moonlight skiing, family snowshoe hikes, and indoor “snowy meadow” painting and carving classes.

Learn more about traveling the Great Lakes Seaway Trail in your time, at your pace, in your style at or call 1-800-SEAWAY-T. (Note: As of this writing, the website seemed to be down. You could also try

Photo by Ken Lund

Related posts:

  1. New Itineraries For Great Lakes Seaway Trail
  2. Tall Ships Challenge Coming to the Great Lakes in 2010
  3. Youth Group Winter Getaways at YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch
  4. Escape to Minnesota’s Northwoods and experience a majestic winter wonderland at The Historic Grand View Lodge
  5. Great Family Island Vacation Getaways on the Great Lakes

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