Embrace America's Rivers

Erie Canal...

The Erie Canal is an amazing and important waterway that was completed in 1825.  The canal is located in New York and is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System. It runs 363 miles from the Hudson River in Albany to Lake Erie near Buffalo. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. This bypassed the much longer and dangerous route through the St. Lawrence River.

Of all the canals built in the United States during the "canal period", the Erie Canal was and still is the most successful. It can still be explored today by boat or along it's trails. The canal is "boater friendly" in as much as there are plenty of welcoming towns, marinas, and navigation is easy with mild to no current and the navigation aids along the waterway.  

The canal is rich in history and much of that history can be seen at landmarks and museums

Map shows the path of the Erie Canal. From the east it begins near Albany, NY at the junction of the Hudson River and Champlain Canal, utilizing rivers and lakes along the way. A secondary canal leads to Lake Ontario at Oswego, NY. Several tributaries flow into the canal system providing water, including the Finger Lakes. The western end of the canal ends near Buffalo, NY where it flows into the Niagara River/Lake Erie.

The New York State Canal System’s exceptional scenery, history, culture, and natural resources earned the 524-mile waterway and the communities along its shores a Congressional designation as the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor in 2000. The entire waterway was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016. It has been in continuous operation since 1825, longer than any other constructed transportation system on the North American continent

This famous sign sits at the east end of the Waterford pier, marking the intersection of the Erie Canal, Champlain Canal, Hudson River and the Mohawk River.

In this writing we are following the Erie Canal from east to west.  Due to bridges the canal has a vertical clearance maximum of 21 feet between Waterford and Three Rivers (Oswego Canal junction), and 15.5 feet between the Tonawanda and the Niagara river. The largest vessels that can make the entire journey must be under 300 feet long, 43.5 feet wide, 9' draft, and a maximum 15' 6" height above the water. This means that most pleasure craft have no problem getting under low bridges, with the exception of sailboats.

There are 35 locks on the Erie Canal. There is normally a locking fee but tolls and fees for recreational vessels on the New York State Canal System have been waived through 2021.

Elevations change in the route of the canal, so some locks will lift the boat up and some will lower it. The vertical distance (lift) of locks range from 15 feet to 50 feet.There are more locks in the eastern portion of the canal system, due to more rapid elevation changes. 

Guard gates like this one will be seen on the Erie Canal. This type of gate helps to isolate sections of the canal in case of emergency, such as a break in the canal wall, accident, or extreme high water. They are also used when a section of the canal needs to be drained for maintenance or winter freeze protection.

The large steel wall is lowered, much like a lift bridge. When the section comes down it acts lake a dam to stop the flow of water. The canal is, of course, impassible in this section when this is used. 

Throughout the present Erie Canal there are interesting remnants of the original canal and other structures.

The one shown in the photo is the remains of the 1842 Rexford Aqueduct and is located right next to the fuel dock at the Schenectady Yacht Club.

Some of the old lock walls and other structures are still being used for harbors, boat lifts, and for boat mooring. 

For those without a boat, there are tour boat cruise operators that take passengers on excursions on the Erie Canal, but you can also explore it by renting a canal houseboat.

These boats (like the one in the photo) are well equipped and easy to operate. They can be booked for a few days or longer and most have bicycles for land transportation.

They are beautiful boats designed to be comfortable and have that old time canal boat look, but you don't have to use mules to pull them. 

The state of New York is to be congratulated for keeping the Erie Canal open and viable.

In this writer's opinion the real success of the Erie Canal System is the towns and villages along its bank. Villages like Newport, NY (photo) that keep a beautiful and active riverfront are a definite draw for visitors. 

Towns that embrace their canal heritage with historical landmarks and interpretive centers, along with convenient docking facilities for visiting boaters, do much to enhance a visitors experience. The sign shows the pride in their village 

The first photo is around 1880 where five locks were built to ascend or descend the 50 foot change in elevation at Lockport, NY.  The famous "Flight of Five" locks are perhaps one of the most iconic features and engineering feats of the entire Erie Canal. The two sets of five locks meant that vessels could be going up and down at the same time. The next photo shows the locks today. They have be rebuilt with fewer, but taller lock chambers (two locks). The old locks at the right are now used as a spillway for access water.  The white building in the middle is a canal museum.

Tonawanda, New York is the last port on the western end of the Erie Canal, where the canal meets the Niagara River and Lake Erie. The Harbormaster's Office is shown here. As seems to be the tradition of being "boater friendly" along the Erie Canal, This office includes showers, restrooms, ice machine and laundry for transient boaters.

A little advice for anyone going from here to Lake Erie. When reaching the Niagara River, be certain to turn left at the confluence. A right turn could lead one to a little obstacle called Niagara Falls. That could ruin your whole boating day.

Click the banner for free downloard of Erie Canal charts. NOAA has not published charts any farther east than Lyons, NY. This is a large

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