Erie Canal

The idea of paddling the Erie Canal from Tonawanda to Troy, has been rolling around inside my head for some time now.

Looks like there will be a lot of social interaction along the way, pretty much the opposite of what most of my paddling adventures consist of. But in a weird way I think that is what is drawing me to it, a completely different type of adventure for me.

So for those that have paddled the canal or parts there of, I have a few questions.

First the locks. I’m guessing I will lose quite a bit of time locking through, any ideas on how long it usually takes to get through a lock? 30 minutes, an hour? How turbulent is the water in the lock while it is filling or lowering? I’ve watched some videos and it’s pretty hard to tell.

What is the canal like between the towns? Would there be places to stealth camp? (Stealth Camp = I usually paddle till just before sunset, when most river traffic is gone, set up my tent, cook some dinner on my stove, organize stuff and hit the bag before dark. Up and gone early as the sun comes up. Leave no trace and be on my way) I’m sure I’ll make use of some of the waterfront lodging for some good cooking and a shower, but curious what the canal is like in between.

I’m guessing filtering and purifying drinking water from the canal wouldn’t be the best choice? And I guess there aren’t many feeder streams feeding the canal since it was mostly man made? So a plan to carry a day or two of water and resupply at towns would be better.

I have not purchased the canal guide yet, still in the preliminary yea or nay stages.

Thanks for any thoughts. Mike

Old thread
I have day paddled a couple of sections and gotten locked through

To me it was boring… but not everyone is alike

Guides and info
A local guy did this trip (in a kayak) from Buffalo to NYC several years ago and had probably the best site on this trip anyone has ever developed. Unfortunately he passed away and, from my check just now, his site has been scooped up by something not about his trip. Below are some online sites that I thought might be helpful.

As to your thoughts about this trip…

much of the lock runs along farmland or thru developed areas with seawalls. So there is plenty of social interaction when you pull up to eat somewhere in a village, might not be much on the water.

The locks take about 15-20 minutes to get thru from time in to time away, depending on the height of the drop. The five “big steps” in Waterford can take half a day for boats to get thru, the last (or 1st depending on direction) is the biggest drop in the system. On weekends when a lot of boats are migrating between summer to winter harbors, it would not be a bad idea to allocate a full day to getting yourself thru.

The water is not nearly as exciting as you probably expect it will be, and whatever turbulence there is will be isolated nearer the gate where the water is altering height. The rest is quite quiet. The depth of the locks increases from west to east.

I would say the larger question will be how they schedule you in if you arrive at the same time as several motor boats. If they put you in with any motor boats, say there are just one or two, you will have to stay in one spot along one of the ropes that run down to help control location. The only time you are likely to be allowed to play in any turbulence would be if there were only paddle boats in there.

There are camping spots along the canal which are listed in the guide. You’ll have limited need for stealth camping if you plan well. The problem is that access is mostly designed for motor boats, so paddle boat travelers are usually hauling their boats over and around on high docks and seawalls. Pack a set of wheels, after the first few stops your back will appreciate it.

The eastern portion of the canal from about Syracuse or maybe Rome ducks back into the Mohawk River - there is not actually a separate canal channel except for locking thru. Since the canal has Lake Erie at one end and the Mohawk River at the other, I don’t really see why a water filter wouldn’t work unless you think it would not work in those bodies of water. But there are towns along the way to stop and get food and bottled water.

Below are sites of people who have paddled the canal. Also a link to the NY state info on the canal systems…!OpenDocument

Canal camping
You can camp at the locks. Most have grassy areas where you can pitch a tent. You could likely obtain freshwater at many of the locks as well, or in villages along the way. As you head east and join the Mohawk River there are several islands that you could probably stealth camp on.

I have done parts
it’s mostly boring and hot when paddling. You are way down below the banks a lot of the time and see nothing and get no breeze. the locks are no sweat,but I carry around them,besides there is usually interesting stuff to see at the locks. The lockeepers are great and a good source of info. there is a lot of interesting,historical towns along the canal. Due to increased interest in the bike path along the canal,there are a lot of camping options. There is a website on the erie canalway trail that would give you a lot of info. I plan on biking it instead of paddling.


Thanks for the info
I may just do a two day trip first just to get a feel for it. I’d hate to be on the second day of a 300 mile paddle and be wishing I would have spent my time paddling somewhere else.

Winter is for dreaming and planning…

I paddled a portion of the Canal near Buffalo. I too found it to be boring. yes, you are down inside the canal and can see nothing but wayyyyy ahead in a very straight body of water. I wouldn’t do it again.

canal paddling

– Last Updated: Jan-22-14 12:45 PM EST –

If you are interested in paddling a canal, I would recommend the Rideau Canal in Ontario over the Erie (runs from Ottawa to the St. Lawrence River near Kingston). It is a World Heritage Site and is smaller and far more scenic and accomodating, especially for paddle craft. Most of the locks are very old and some are hand operated -- a guy comes out and cranks the gates and opens the sluices by hand. And they have restored some of the lockkeeper's houses as staffed museums with 19th century furnishings and costumed docents. The Cataraqui Canoe and Kayak Club based in Kingston paddles there often (I joined them for a day trip on it some years ago) and could probably give you some tips. The canal itself has a good website.

I had an invite a couple years ago to
do it in it’s entirety with a partner-friend…After a couple probing day trips, I declined to do it all(I prefer more textured, natural waters for the most part.) Some locks expedite things pronto, others are absolutely INTERMINABLE…Still, it can be fairly pleasant for a day trip/short overnights. Shoot me an email if you’re planning on paddling closer to Albany, I’d be willing to jump on if schedule permits(but wait till next spring/summer;-)

I grew up in Syracuse and lived in Albany for years.

As a result I did many Boy Scout forced marches or bike rides along the toe paths, and canoe trips on the canal, as well as various “Ride for some Cause” bike rides on the toe path.

Boring boring boring.

Farm fields, garbage dumps and roads and highways are what are adjacent to the canal, and you can’t even see them since you are 6 feet down in a ditch.

Rideau Canal
I will look into that, that looks more interesting with the lake travel, thanks.

Paddled the Rideau Canal
about 11 years ago from Big Rideau Lake to Ottawa–it was my first camping trip in a touring kayak(as opposed to a canoe) and really enjoyed it–the lock keepers were great–there is a fee but you can get a pass for the entire system for not very much.