“God never made an ugly landscape. All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” –John Muir
Niagara Falls, Burlington, VT and New England
In October 2015 I was needed in Nashua, NH for work (the awesome perks of being an author’s assistant!) and I knew from the get-go that I was going to plan a big trip around it. I had been to Vermont in 2014 and fell absolutely head-over-heels in LOVE with it. Like—emoji with hearts in eyes in love. So it wasn’t even a question… I was definitely taking the opportunity to return! I knew I’d be driving because shipping 40 boxes would have cost a small fortune and the boss lady was planning a trip of her own with her husband to Nova Scotia so with that in mind I decided that instead of taking the most direct route (east out of Kentucky though WV, Virginia, Maryland, PA, then up I95- can you say “the stuff nightmares are made of”- through Jersey and NYC, etc) I opted to plan a road trip that would head north out of Kentucky and through Upstate New York to see the fall foliage.
And yes—I did this trip BY MYSELF (and I’m female) and I highly recommend it!
The trip was going to be mid to late October so I knew the scenery would be beautiful- and I was right! This trip knocked three items off of my bucket list at one time—seeing fall foliage in New England, just BEING in New England in general, and going to Salem, MA during Haunted Happenings. Below is a day-to-day account of my road trip, where I stayed, the restaurants I ate at, the sights I saw, pictures I took, and everything else I want to share!
First—lets talk about budget!
I set my trip budget at $2,000 total—lodging, meals, the whole shebang. I saved a lot of money (several hundred) because my boss paid for the rental car AND GAS for my entire trip– part because I was hauling boxes for the conference in the car, part because we needed a car to get around once we got to Nashua, and part as part of my bonus. I spend about half of that on lodging (minus from the conference on, she paid for that—it’s better explained in the day-by-day!) that includes one night in Willoughby, OH on the road, one night in Niagara Falls (Ontario side), a weekend in Burlington, VT, and a week in a rental cabin in Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire. The remaining $1,000 was for meals, souvenirs, attractions, etc.
Day 1: October 14, 2015- Central Kentucky to Willoughby, Ohio
Drive Time: Google Maps says 5 hours, 18 minutes but I got stuck in rush hour traffic in Columbus and it delayed me about 1½ hours.
The first day of my trip was just a travel day. I could have driven the entire way to Niagara Falls in one day BUT I wanted to make a pit stop in Lily Dale, NY. So in order to have time to explore I left a day early.
Lodging: Red Roof Inn Cleveland East in Willoughby, OH
Total Price: $73.63 (AAA rate) + tip I left cleaning service
Thoughts: I upgraded to the superior room because WHY NOT when it’s only $10 more and a lot nicer. I had stayed in an updated Red Roof Inn in Seattle in 2014 and the pictures on the site looked great—and it was! The room was very clean, bed super comfortable (I slept great, which is sometimes hard for me when I’m in a new location and traveling by myself), upgraded and modern (see pics below), the attendant at the front desk was so nice and helpful (if only I could remember her name!). She gave me the room right next to the front office. I ordered “room service” that night instead of going out- their version of room service is that they don’t have a kitchen on-site, they use a system (and the name escapes me now) where you call into a nation-wide delivery service and they call a local restaurant to fulfill your order. Which now that I’m typing it out seems silly…. why didn’t I just order from Domino’s and cut out the middle-man? Anyways- they have a minimum delivery amount so I had to order too much food (and couldn’t save it since I was traveling without a cooler) and I spent about $30 total with delivery fees and tip.
Day 2: Willoughby, OH to Niagara Falls, Ontario
Drive Time: 3 hours, 29 mins when you factor in my pit stop in Lily Dale, NY
On my way out of Willoughby I stopped at McDonalds for breakfast (ugh, I know…. but I got an Egg White Delight in an attempt to make it better)- food choices were pretty limited and while I could have just got on the road and stopped later… I was starving.
If you’re going to be traveling on I90 in New York BRING CASHHHHH. Tolls. Just….. tolls. I didn’t bring any cash with me when I left home- I put it all in my bank account just because I didn’t want to be traveling alone with cash. In the past when dealing with tolls I’ve always been able to pay with a card so while I knew I’d be hitting tolls up there… I thought I was okay with not having cash. Yeah, not so much. So, every time I had to stop at one I went through the same deal…… “I don’t have cash, will you take a card?” “I’m sorry mam we don’t take those, if I can see your drivers license I’ll write you a ticket and you can pay it online later.” By the fourth time I just handed my license over and said “Just write the ticket.” To make matters worse I use Chase Bank and they’re not that popular in NY state, or anywhere in New England. I managed to find one off I90 in Oneida, NY on Day 3—of course I had to pay a damn toll to get off the interstate to get there. From now on I’ll take at least $50 in small bills for this very reason—or, you know, do some more research beforehand.
Anyways! Back to the drive—when I left the interstate and got onto the New York backroads I was just in awe of the foliage. I had been seeing it along the interstate (and it had become increasingly more gorgeous the farther north I went) but nothing prepared me for those winding New York backroads. I stopped a couple of times just to admire the pure beauty of the moment. Of course my phone did not do it justice and since I was alone it was about near impossible for me to snap pictures while driving (not to mention probably illegal….) but I managed this one.
Lily Dale was a bit disappointing for me—I’m sure during its in-season it’s great but I was about 2 weeks too late and so everything was closed up! It was so deserted I didn’t even feel comfortable getting out of my car and walking around…. so I just did a quick drive-through and got back on the road to Niagara. On my way back to the interstate I drove through Cassadaga, which was beautiful! I’m not an author (just work for one!) but I definitely left inspired on those New York backroads. I could absolutely picture locations for books there.
I took the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, NY across the border to Canada—and the guy at the border crossing gave me a REALLY hard time about all of the crap I had in the back seat of my car. I seriously wasn’t thinking about it when I booked the hotel on the Canadian side. He wanted to know what I was doing crossing the border into Canada with a back seat full book boxes, US military decorations, and an abnormally large amount of Fererro Rocher and yet I told him I was on my way to New Hampshire. Okay, I can see his concerns in hindsight. But all I wanted was to spend a night in Niagara with a view! No view on the American side….. no view at all. Luckily he let me through, but I have to say… it was not a very Canadian welcome, lol.
Lodging: The Oakes Hotel Overlooking the Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario (Canada)
Total Price: $133.53 USD and I received $50 in gift cards at check-in (explained in more detail below)
Thoughts: The hotel was okay. It has recently gone through a renovation and apparently it had needed it according to the reviews I read beforehand. Everything was pretty basic and the decorative touches were lacking but it was comfortable and the view was great.
Ultimately the reason I chose this hotel was because of the gift card offer—for every night you stayed you received a $20 Applebees gift card (there’s one attached to the hotel) and a $30 gift card to Remingtons of Niagara. What I didn’t discover until check-in is that it’s not really a gift card, physically (there’s always a catch). They were gift certificates ONLY good during your stay. I had planned to eat at Remingtons (since it’s a local place) and then save the Applebees card to use later butttttttt since the certificates were only good for two days I decided to stay close and just eat at Applebees that night for dinner. As soon as I got into my room (I was able to check-in about an hour early because they had a room available) I changed into something more presentable (let’s face it—I was in yoga pants because driving two days in jeans is just cruel and unusual punishment) and took a walk down Fallsview Boulevard to Murray Street, which I took down to the falls.
Parking can be pretty expensive down by the falls (I think I paid $15 CAD when I was up there in May 2015) but since my hotel was so close, walking made perfect sense. Plus, I needed to get out and stretch those legs after being in a car for two days.
Walking down on Niagara Parkway is always an adventure! Be prepared for lots of spray from the falls, obviously the closer you get the worse it is, but also if the wind is blowing a certain direction it can leave you pretty soaked very quickly—this happened to me, lol. The first time I was in Niagara it was a beautiful, gorgeous, sunny day. This time….. not so much. It was chilly, overcast, and was threatening rain from the time I left the hotel. I didn’t have an umbrella with me (since I wasn’t carrying a big bag it just meant something else to hold on to) so by the time I got down to the falls and visitor’s center I was desperately trying to just keep my camera dry under my sweater. The visitor’s center has been recently built (though I don’t have a clue when) and it’s really big and nice on the inside. They have a place to buy some photography, a couple of gift shops, a Tim Horton’s (really….. like you’d expect anything else!), and the kiosk to purchase tickets to the Journey Behind the Falls is there as well. Having already been to Niagara I didn’t have a lot of souvenirs to purchase but I picked up a couple of small things and headed back for my hotel because I had been watching my weather app and knew a line of storms/rain were heading toward the area.
Side note—for this trip I opted NOT to sign myself up for International Calling/Data nor did I get any Canadian cash from an ATM. $30 is the cheapest plan AT&T has and I was only going to be on the Canadian side for less than 24 hours. I had about $5 CAD in coins from my May trip so I took that for vending machines and the hotel I stayed at did have complementary wifi. When I was down on the boardwalk I had an AT&T signal (since NY is right across the river) and even in my room I usually got 1-2 bars if I stood by the window.
Back to the good stuff! Here’s a photo from when the storms blew in:
I did take my umbrella with me to Applebee’s because I needed my laptop. I’m certainly not one to be comfortable eating by myself—and this is the thing I struggle with the most when I travel solo.
My server must have known I was American from a mile away because when it came time to pay my bill ($36.78 CAD but I ended up only paying $16.87 CAD with the $20 certificate—that equals $13.47 USD) he swiped my debit card for me. Canadians swipe their own cards in a system that I DO NOT understand though I suspect is really probably about the same as when we swipe out own cards at the grocery store—it’s just weird doing it at a restaurant. He swiped and walked me through the process and I left him a big tip as a thank you! I walked back to the hotel in the still-pouring rain and got a good night’s sleep.
Day 3: Niagara Falls, ON to Burlington, VT
Drive Time: 7 hours, 3 mins
I left Niagara early the next morning without eating breakfast (no continental at the hotel and I just wanted to get back to the US side of things so I didn’t have to pay any more foreign exchange fees) and headed east on I90 through Syracuse and stopping in Oneida for cash. I knew my GPS was going to take me the back way into Vermont since it was the fastest route but I had no idea it was going to take me through the Adirondack Park and some of the most stunningly gorgeous fall foliage I would see on my entire trip—to say I hit peak would be an understatement. Photos never do it justice- especially my crappy iPhone- but here’s what I managed to capture.
I didn’t have a phone signal for most of the day so since I was out of contact with the rest of the world I decided to just enjoy it and live in the moment. I didn’t stop for many photos—my memory isn’t very good but I do remember that feeling of just pure blissful joy that day. It was warm, the sun was shining, and I had the windows down…. And I just focused on the drive and myself. It was wonderful—and an introverts dream!
When I crossed the Lake Champlain Bridge and hit the Vermont state line I literally squealed out loud and yelled, “I’m home!” I LOVERMONT. That’s not a typo! It feels like a second home to me.
It’s true—it has felt like home-away-from-home since the first time I visited and I had been DYING to go back (and I’m already itching to go again). I booked a room north of Burlington in Colchester, VT because it was cheaper. Vermont in the fall is outrageous, as you would expect. Nightly rates for hotels downtown were upwards of $300 and it just wasn’t in my budget no matter how much I wanted to just wake up and walk outside to explore. The first time I was in Vermont I only spent a few hours in Burlington but I knew I wanted to go back some day to get a real feel for the city. On Friday night when I arrived I checked into my hotel but it was getting dark and spitting rain/snow so I ordered from a Juniors Italian across the street, brought it back to my hotel room to eat, watched Big Blue Madness streamed online (Go Big Blue!), and called it a night.
Lodging: Quality Inn Colchester in Colchester, VT
Total Price: $275.88 (two nights, AAA rate)
Thoughts: It was basic and what you’d expect from a Quality Inn. Clean, I booked a room with just one double bed. I had trouble with the key card working and to have it reset several times—also I had double booked myself in two rooms somehow and had a bit of trouble getting that second room canceled but in the end the manager of the hotel let me know they had taken care of it (thank goodness, didn’t want to get double charged). It was such a run-of-the-mill hotel room that I didn’t bother taking a photo.