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Murray asked

Travel the scenic route

We are four seniors travelling to Orlando Florida from Ottawa Ont late Sept 2021. Looking for a scenic relaxing drive avoiding heavy traffic hubs on an average budget

Ottawa (Ontario) Orlando (Florida)

1 Answer
answered by
Matt from Allentown, Pennsylvania
Hi Murray, and happy trails to you.
Just a fair warning… September is still peak hurricane season here in Florida. Even if you are spared any dangerous storms, September is still quite hot and humid. Summer here lasts well into October and daily strong thunderstorms are often the norm. Be sure to check weather forecasts before you head south and have a Plan B in place in case your travel is disrupted.
That said, here are a few of my suggestions for interest and scenery:
Head south from Ottawa to Wellesley Island, NY where you will pick up US Interstate 81. I haven't driven this section before but upstate New York is not known for heavy congestion, so you should be fine. You'll drive through the scenic Finger Lakes region around Syracuse (New York) – if you have time and want to take a little detour, there are many beautiful waterfalls in and around Ithaca, which itself is worth a visit. Ithaca is home to Cornell University and the Cornell Botanic Gardens. If you're a NASCAR fan, Watkins Glen has a speedway – not quite as impressive a Daytona or Charlotte, but fun if you enjoy road racing. There's also beautiful Watkins Glen State Park.
Southwest of Ithaca is Corning, home to the Corning Museum Of Glass Welcome Center (I'm an amateur glass artist so this would be a MUST stop for me!) Then cross the Pennsylvania state line and head to Pine Creek Gorge, a 47-mile gorge in the Tioga State Forest that is known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. From here you have several routes to choose from through the Allegheny mountains of central PA. Aim to rejoin I-81 anywhere from Harrisburg to Hagerstown, MD. You can detour to Gettysburg if American Civil War history interests you. As you cross over into West Virginia, you'll soon see exits for Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is worth a full day's visit, particularly if you are a Civil Rights or history buff.
Just past Winchester, Virginia you can get off the highway and take the scenic Shenandoah Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. There are several caves in this region including Skyline Caverns and Luray Caverns that are fun to tour.
South of I-64, Skyline Drive turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway - North Entrance. Be forewarned, these two combined scenic drives stretch from northern Virginia all the way to Great Smoky Mountain National Park in western North Carolina. They are meandering roads with top speeds limits of around 40 mph so you need to not be in a hurry to get anywhere. Traffic can be busier in the summer time, but it's never hectic. There are plenty of scenic overlooks and interesting places to stop along the way, but there are also long stretches of road with no services and there are no gas stations, you must exit the road to find those. But you don't need to drive the entire length if you don't want to, the route pretty much parallels I-81. If you need an overnight stop, consider Charlottesville, Lynchburg or Roanoke. For a special treat, book a room at Peaks of Otter Lodge, or at the very least, stop at the visitor center and stretch your legs on any of the short hiking trails. You can visit the nearby Peaks of Otter Winery and pick apples at Johnson's Orchard.
When you reach I-77 you have a choice of heading south to Charlotte, or following the Blueridge southwest towards Asheville. If you take the first option, you can stop in Mount Airy (Andy Griffith's hometown), Elkin (North Carolina) (home to Yadkin Valley Wine region with many wineries you can tour), or take a detour east to Winston Salem which features the beautifully preserved colonial-era Historic Town of SalemCharlotte is a dynamic, modern city and the Uptown area features several great museums, restaurants, nightlife and hotels. Have lunch at the U.S. National Whitewater Center on the Catawba River and watch (or paddle, if you dare) inflatable rafts navigate the man-made class 3 and 4 rapids. They also have rock walls, zip lines, hiking and mountain biking trails, and kayaking on the river.
The other route will take you through the mountain towns of Galax, VA, West Jefferson NC, Boone, Blowing Rock, Little Switzerland and past Mt Mitchell State Park the tallest peak east of the Mississippi in the lower 48. You can drive to the top and take a short hike to the peak for fabulous views (on a clear day, they don't call them "Smoky Mountains" for nothing!) For details of what to see and do along this route, see my answer and comments here. End in Asheville and book a room downtown or in Biltmore Village and plan a tour the next day at the Biltmore Estate. Or stay at Pisgah Inn on the Parkway. The views are phenomenal!
You can stop in Greenville (South Carolina) which has a delightful historic downtown with a small waterfall and walking trails. From there or from Charlotte, I recommend taking the interstates to Columbia. Once you leave the mountains and piedmont, the roads become less scenic in my opinion and you still have a lot of driving to do. Better to travel more quickly from this point on.
Historic downtown Charleston and Savannah are both fun to explore, but they are similar so if you choose one don't feel like you need to stop at the other (maybe save it for the drive back?) Be sure to sample some good low-country food when you're here, you won't be disappointed. The marshy islands along the coast here can be quite beautiful, but in September will still be very hot and humid.
South of Jacksonville, FL stop in St Augustine. It's the oldest city in the country and although it can be touristy (and also HOT), it's worth it.
I-95 / I-4 will be your quickest route to Orlando but if you want to take it slower, try US 17 through Palatka and the Ocala National Forest. Before you reach Orlando, stop in Mt Dora a charming lakeside town with quaint downtown arts and shopping district. As you head towards Orlando, Rock Springs Kelly Park and Wekiva Springs State Park offer nice oases of cool spring water and nature inside the urban jungle. Or you can explore these during your stay in Orlando.
For things to see and do while you're here apart from theme parks, message me and I'll be happy to give you some tips.

Comments (2)

a GREAT BIG THANK YOU !!!!!! This response is amazing!!! we will definetly review this with great anticipation. AS time gets closer I will contact you for more info if necessary.. I appreciate your time..Thanks again and have a happy day..Stay safe · (1 like)

My pleasure. Have a pleasant journey!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Finger Lakes (attraction)
  2. Syracuse (New York) (city)
  3. Ithaca (city)
  4. Cornell University (attraction)
  5. Cornell Botanic Gardens (park)
  6. Watkins Glen (city)
  7. Corning Museum Of Glass Welcome Center (attraction)
  8. Pine Creek Gorge (natural feature)
  9. Gettysburg (city)
  10. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (tourist attraction)
  11. Shenandoah Skyline Drive (attraction)
  12. Skyline Caverns (tourist attraction)
  13. Luray Caverns (attraction)
  14. Blue Ridge Parkway - North Entrance (attraction)
  15. Peaks of Otter Lodge (hotel)
  16. Peaks of Otter Winery (hotel)
  17. Johnson's Orchard (restaurant)
  18. Mount Airy (city)
  19. Elkin (North Carolina) (city)
  20. Winston Salem (city)
  21. Historic Town of Salem (museum)
  22. Charlotte (city)
  23. U.S. National Whitewater Center (attraction)
  24. Mt Mitchell State Park (attraction)
  25. Biltmore Estate (attraction)
  26. Pisgah Inn (hotel)
  27. Greenville (South Carolina) (city)
  28. Columbia (city)
  29. Charleston (city)
  30. Savannah (city)
  31. St Augustine (attraction)
  32. Mt Dora (attraction)
  33. Rock Springs Kelly Park (park)
  34. Wekiva Springs State Park (attraction)
comments (2)

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