Summer road trips conjure up a feeling of freedom for many. But strictly driving busy interstates to get from a to b as fast as possible can leave travelers missing out on some wonderful destinations. We’ve driven from Washington, DC to Niagara Falls many times, and have enjoyed charming destinations along the journey. We love to find the alternative route and meander the back roads discovering mouth watering eats and beautiful scenery while jamming along to some tunes (though sometimes the debate on music gets heated). Here are our recommendations for fantastic stops during a road trip from Washington, DC to Niagara Falls.
From Washington, DC you can start your trip by taking the I-270 route or the I-95 route. They are different trips and we recommend picking one route going and the other returning home! The trip taken straight according to Google is around 7 hours. Time permitting, break up the trip and stay a night mid-way so you can take your time to enjoy rural Pennsylvania and New York. If you need great tips on DC, read our article on 25 Washington, DC Travel Tips to Avoid Missing Out.
As we find ways to travel again without a coronavirus vaccine available, many of us will consider road trips over flying. We ask that if you are taking a road trip that you keep up social distancing practices so as to limit the spread of COVID-19. Finally, most of the businesses we recommend are independently owned local businesses. Please think about supporting small businesses during these difficult times.
I-270 Route out of Washington, DC to Niagara Falls
Frederick, Maryland dates to 1745 and has a charming historic center. We’ve stopped on our way home to Washington, DC here twice for dinner. This is a good plan for avoiding rush hour traffic on the return. It’s also worth pulling over to grab a coffee.
Frederick’s historic downtown has some great spots. Black Hog BBQ has the best collard greens we’ve ever eaten and their pulled pork is delicious. The service is great and fast, which is perfect on a road trip. The historic center of Frederick is just off I-270.
Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania
Raystown Lake has 12 public access areas across 29,000 acres of land. In summer, it’s a great place to picnic, go boating or fishing. Visitors can also hit the trails for a hike or go hunting. The Swigart Museum is the oldest automobile museum in the United States. While you’re in town, pop into Standing Stone Coffee; they serve premium coffee, along with sandwiches, soups and salads, in an inviting cafe, adorned with beautiful modern art.
The Edgewater Inn and Grill makes for a relaxing countryside getaway, as it hosts many weddings. The Alexandria, PA property is set along the Juanita River, 14 miles outside Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. The original farmhouse dates to 1762 and belonged to John Penn, grandson of William Penn – who was instrumental in creating the English colony of Pennsylvania. Read about all the things to do in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania in our recent article.
Altoona & Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania
These two adjacent towns are a good mid-way stop between Washington, DC and Niagara Falls. They have some great restaurants and cafes and offer good hotel value for those that do not want to drive straight. We enjoyed breakfast in Hollidaysburg at Allegheny Creperie after a night at Wye Motor Lodge. If you enjoy finding quirky roadside attractions, Castle Halloween Museum fits the bill. It’s home to a unique collection of artifacts related to Halloween!
If you venture off US-219 and take one of the small alternative routes, you will find yourself driving through the beautiful Allegheny National Forest. The drive through the forest is gorgeous and a nice break from interstate highway driving. There are also a number of trails that you can hike and spots along the picturesque Allegheny River.
Kinzua Bridge State Park is a great place to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Inside the visitors center there is an interesting museum explaining the history of the bridge. When it was constructed in 1882 it was the world’s longest, and highest railroad bridge. In 2003, the bridge partially collapsed as a result of a strong tornado. Today there is a lovely skywalk on the remaining section, with a wonderful scenic overlook. The visitor center and bridge is accessible for all. If you are looking for a more vigorous leg stretch there are a number of hiking trails you can take.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort
If you have more time, you can veer off onto Interstate 70 and visit Seven Springs Mountain Resort. While you might be familiar with this ski lodge, they also have wonderful activities year-round, and a beautiful golf course, spa or hiking depending on what you enjoy! Read on our recent Review of Seven Springs Mountain Resort to learn why this makes for a relaxing getaway destination in itself.
If you’re more comfortable on the bigger highways you can travel via Pittsburgh heading west on I-70, then north on 79. Then take I-90 past Erie. Just know there are tolls on I-70 and I-90. Taking this route, you could swing into the charming small town of Greensburg. We recommend Sunset Cafe. for delicious Italian American dining in a charming and historic venue. Their “pizza burger” sounded gimmicky but it was extremely delicious! There is also a lovely berry farm and winery called Sand Hill Berries. They do great wine tasting. But it is very family friendly with delicious food and desserts. Their strawberry shortcake is very worthwhile to sugar up for some more driving. Often there is live music and the venue caters many weddings!
I-95 Route out of Washington, DC to Niagara Falls
Baltimore was founded in 1729 and is packed with areas of historical interest and delicious food. Phenomenal crab cakes are just one of highlights. Highlights of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor include several historic ships, including the USS Constellation.
Baltimore’s massive National Aquarium is one of the best in the world. You’ll find 20,000 animal residents and rehabilitation patients there.
Fell’s Point dates to 1726 and pays tribute to Baltimore’s British nautical history. Many of the buildings in this neighborhood date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The Wharf Rat is a fantastic English American pub where you can enjoy a great selection of British cask ales or local microbrews.
Read more on what there is to do in Baltimore in our previous article.
Gettysburg is most famous for the epic US Civil War battle that sparked the Union’s victory over the Confederacy in 1863. This history is well documented in the small Pennsylvania town that attracts around 4 million visitors a year. Today Gettysburg is also receiving acclaim for its food and drink scene. Adams County is the nation’s fourth largest producer of apples, making varieties of cider a specialty. The Gettysburg area is packed with good breweries, wineries and distilleries along its Pour Tour, adding fun to the history.
Reid’s Orchard Winery is a great stop for both wine and cider tastings, ranging from dry to sweet. In business since 1975, Adam’s County Winery is one of Pennsylvania’s oldest wineries. It’s a wonderful place to kick back on the weekend on a beautiful property and listen to live music on their patio.
7,000 people died during the 3 day Battle of Gettysburg during the US Civil War. It was Confederate General Robert E Lee’s second attempt to push further into northern states, and the strategy backfired. You can tour the battlefield a variety of ways, including by horse and carriage with Victorian Carriage Company. It’s a throwback experience with a licensed guide who provides lots of interesting facts about the battle between the Union and the Confederates, many of the characters involved and the monuments.
We’ve previously stayed at the Wyndham Gettysburg, about 3 miles outside the historic center. Rooms are comfortable, spacious and warmly decorated. The hotel was built in 2006 in federalist style architecture. An antique canon in the lobby along with paintings depicting the 1800’s makes it a fitting stay in Gettysburg. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool for year round swimming.
Read all about the many things to do in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in our previous article.
Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania. One of the highlights is a tour of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building. It is free! An The National Civil War Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, is the largest museum in the world fully dedicated to the American Civil War.
Hershey is home to Hershey’s Chocolate World. Chocolate World is packed with delicious activities ranging from chocolate tastings, candy bar making to a free ride! There is also an amusement park and museum. If you are looking for a fun afternoon with the kids you can stop in for sugar-filled fun, which includes the option to build your very own Hershey chocolate bar! If time is tight, you can pull in and purchase delicious milkshakes and cupcakes that are well worth the stop. Read about all the great things to do in our Hershey and Harrisburg: 2 Day Itinerary article.
Williamsport is home to baseball’s Little League. Each year in the summer it plays host to the Little League World Series. There is also a fun and interactive Little League Baseball Museum that is worth visiting if you are a baseball fan.
We have loved staying at the Genetti Hotel and Suites due to the historic venue and wonderful staff. The location can’t be beaten as it’s right in the heart of Williamsport. It recently became part of Best Western so you can accumulate hotel points from a stay. Genetti Hotel offers great bang for the buck and that’s why we’ve stayed there on three separate trips.
Our favorite bed and breakfast that we’ve visited along this route is in Towanda, the Victorian Charm Inn. There you will be greeted by either Jack or Mindy and their friendly dog who just wants a belly rub! Each room is uniquely decorated and feels cozy. Included is a delicious breakfast, we enjoyed ours with Jack and another guest and had a wonderful Sunday morning conversation over breakfast.
Sayre is another good mid-way stop between Washington, DC and Niagara Falls. Especially if you plan on visiting the Finger Lakes, in particular Seneca Lake. We highly recommend dinner and drinks at Bluestone Brewery in Sayre. Along with excellent craft beers, their kitchen is fantastic.
Montour Falls, New York
Montour Falls has a charming main street that ends with the stunning Shequaga waterfalls. The main street has a couple of coffee places to stop in for before taking a short stroll down to the waterfall.
Finger Lakes – Seneca Lake Wineries
The Finger Lakes are a group of 11 narrow and long lakes. Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco are the lakes from west to east. Personally, we especially love Seneca Lake because it is dotted with a whopping 35 wineries!
We highly recommend stopping at Wagner Vineyards, family owned since 1979. It has beautiful views overlooking Lake Seneca. The climate is similar to the wine region of Germany so rieslings are a specialty. This is also a great stop for beer lovers as they have a delicious craft brewery, Wagner Brewing, on the property. Have lunch at their on site restaurant, Ginny Lee Cafe. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, Wagner makes delicious grape juice too.
Mark Twain’s Grave in Elmira, New York
History and literary buffs may want to take a short detour to the town of Elmira, New York. This is home to Woodlawn Cemetery, the burial place of famed American writer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Just enter Woodlawn Cemetery into google maps. When you arrive follow the signs leading you to Mark Twain’s grave. Buried next to him are his wife Olivia Langdon, who was originally from Elmira, along with their children.
Growing up along the Mississippi River, Clemens used his experiences to write his two most famous books, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In addition to being an author, Twain was a journalist, miner, riverboat pilot and abolitionist.
There were flowers left at Twain’s grave when we visited, but another popular item people leave at the gravesite are pens. So consider bringing him a gift too!
Corning, New York
A highlight of visiting Corning, New York is the beautiful Corning Museum of Glass. The Corning Museum of Glass is a not for profit educational institution that houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of glass. It is also home to one of the world’s top glassmaking schools in the world. The gallery has an impressive collection of glass. And their gift shop is a great place to pick up unique glass blown gifts. There are also wonderful glass blowing demonstrations.
Read our article on tips for visiting Niagara Falls for more on the best things to do in the area! The Canadian side offers the better panoramic view of the falls. But you can take a misty boat tour to see the falls up close from both the American and Canadian sides.
Don’t miss out on Niagara on the Lake, because it is a wonderful place to visit for dining, shopping, wineries and a lovely view of Lake Ontario. Go up to the top of Skylon Tower for the incredible view of Niagara Falls and Toronto across Lake Ontario. However, pass on dining atop Skylon Tower!
Where to Stay in Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls offers a lot of accommodation options from luxury to budget. Many of the luxury options have views overlooking the falls. Here are a few great choices on both the American and Canadian sides. To cross the border between the United States and Canada you need a passport or an enhanced photo ID.
Niagara Falls, Canada
Several hotels in Niagara Falls, Canada, offer rooms with great views overlooking the falls. The Niagara Falls Marriott is one of them, with the conveniences that come with staying at a Marriott. The hotel is also very close to the Falls lookouts and attractions.
Kings Inn Near the Falls is a great budget choice to stay in Niagara Falls, Canada. We do not recommend for a Honeymoon in Niagara Falls! Accommodation is pretty basic, but the rooms are clean and include mini-fridges and air conditioning and heating units you can control in your room. Parking is free and Niagara Falls is only around a 15-minute walk from the hotel. Kings Inn is the closest you can stay to Niagara Falls without paying for parking.
Washington, DC to Niagara Falls Recap
There are lots of fun stops from Washington, DC to Niagara Falls. We have several road trip guides, including an I-95 road trip guide. If you have questions on planning a trip, leave a comment below or email me at [email protected]
You can also avail of our travel hacking tips that can save you huge money on your travels. We save thousands each year on travel thanks to credit card sign up bonuses. Contact us to learn more about great deals currently available!
Disclosure: This article contains some affiliate links. We earn a small commission from bookings when you book through them. Thanks in advance for supporting the free content you read! We hope you enjoyed it.