When Driving Across NY State, 86 is Better Than 90

The drive from Chicago to my parents’ place in upstate NY is boring. There’s nothing you can do about it – you’ve got to get through Indiana and Ohio. By the time you get to Erie, PA, you’ve been driving for hours. Do you continue on 90 into NY State for five more hours of mind numbing tollway driving, or do you try something different? My vote is something different. Try 86.

Sure, it’s going to add an hour onto your journey (not counting the many stops you’ll want to make). But it’s worth it. Here’s why:

  • It’s pretty. 90 somehow manages to be incredibly boring, unless you count Buffalo as a highlight. 86, on the other hand, winds through Allegany State Park, lots of smaller state parks and forests, and the Finger Lakes region. It’s hilly and rural and especially beautiful in the fall.
  • It’s free. On 90, you’ll pay $9.65 for the privilege of driving on the thruway from PA to Syracuse, NY. The 86 route is longer – 47 miles longer to be exact – but not $9.65 of gas longer (unless you’re driving a hummer, in which case this article doesn’t apply to you anyway).
  • It’s usually deserted. You’ll often be the only other car on the road for miles at a stretch.
  • It’s smooth. Must be the lack of semis, but the road is in great shape. Most of the time.
  • There are lots of diversions. Other than the forests and parks, it’s really easy to jump off the road and find something interesting. Tolls discourage you from exiting the highway – you just keep going until you’re out. I’d rather enjoy the journey. On 86, you can exit at Bath, NY, drive up a hill so steep you’re not completely sure you’ll make it, and 20 minutes later you’ll be high above Keuka Lake at Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, arguably the best winery in upstate NY. Or you can stop in Watkins Glen, NY, and take a unique climb through a gorge filled with waterfalls. Or you can stop at Collegetown Bagels in Ithaca, NY.  Or…