Erie Canalway: Add This to Your Travel Bucket List

Dramatic summer sunset on the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers at Lock E2 in Waterford, New York

Add the Erie Canalway, 8th wonder of the world in the 19th century and navigable National Historic Landmark, to your bucket list.

The legendary waterway delights and enchants outdoor enthusiasts. Get on the water with boat, kayak, or canoe. Bike, hike, or run along the Canalway Trail, part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail.

The legendary canalway also delights and enchants those who travel via car through the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

Driving allows you to explore, experience, and be inspired by the arts, culture, and community in a leisurely, thoughtful, meaningful way.

Sure, the New York State Thruway can speed you across the state in an easy one-day drive.

But this journey isn’t about efficiency.

This journey is about discovery.

First, it’s about seeing:

  • A rare and remarkable resource found nowhere else.
  • An epic project of vision and passion that put the “empire” in Empire State.
  • Arts, culture, community and hospitality in canal villages, towns, and big cities alike.

Then, it’s about understanding:

  • Rich history.
  • Ongoing resilience through boom, bust and rebirth.
  • Modern-day relevance.

Erie Canalway: Perspective changes everything

At Spotlight Sojourns, we believe perspective changes everything. Because perspective is everything.

Erie Canal Lock E35 with boat locking in Lockport, New York, on the Erie Canalway

So here’s how a sudden change in perspective inspired our Erie Canal odyssey:

In August, we popped into Lockport, home to hot-spot Steamworks Coffee Roasters. We’d been there countless times since moving from our hometown, San Francisco.

Lockport is also home to Locks 34, 35, and the fabled Flight of Five Locks. This time, unlike previous times, we serendipitously saw a boat locking through.

Suddenly, seeing this centuries-old technology in action captivated us. Surprisingly, our perspective promptly changed from “Oh, okay” to “Oh wow!”

Soon, we set out to learn why and how the Erie Canal creates impact.

Erie Canalway: An Overview of Flow

The Erie Canal flows 363 miles long and countless smiles wide. This liquid path of blue forms a “Main Street” in renaissance today from the 19th-century heyday. It connects:

  • Cities, towns, and villages from Albany to Buffalo.
  • Past, present, and future.
  • Hues of blues and shades of seasons.

Our first itinerary took us west to east, like Governor DeWitt Clinton sailing aboard the Seneca Chief on Opening Day, October 26, 1825.

Go in any direction you choose. For as long or short a trip as you like.

Because there’s something special – and someone special – to discover everywhere along the Erie Canal.

Ready? Buckle up, and let’s go!

Western New York: Buffalo to Rochester

Early morning, with piping-hot coffee placed in cupholders, head out along the back roads of upstate New York.

Ice cream cone from Abbott’s Frozen Custard In Fairport since 1902.

From the Erie Canalway’s western terminus in Buffalo, now the revitalized Canalside waterfront, flow east through thriving locales like Lockport, Medina, and Brockport enroute to Rochester’s urban environs. 

Visit the Rochester Museum and Science Center where the hands-on canal exhibit playfully shows how the locks work. Don’t let the formal name fool you. Science is super fun here in the high-touch Adventure Zone!

In posh Pittsford, board the Sam Patch replica packet boat for a scenic 90-minute cruise through Lock 32. Keep your eyes peeled for blue herons and other wildlife.

Along with Pittsford, Bushnell’s Basin and Fairport form the Erie Canalway’s sweet spot. Literally. Abbott’s Frozen Custard dishes up sweet treats since 1902.

The modern Del Monte Lodge Renaissance Rochester Hotel and Spa in Pittsford is the premier choice for location and luxury.

Central New York: Rochester to Utica

The Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse is a must-visit. Housed in the 1850 Weighlock Building, the museum delivers excellent education with ample colour. Tour both floors. Walk through the full-size Frank Buchanan Thomson replica canal boat. Visit the Locktender’s Garden.

External view of the Stanley Theatre, a historic Baroque movie palace in Utica, NY, neon marquee lit up with stormy skies

Gateway to the Getaway Region, Utica revitalizes its present with public art projects, a dynamic culinary scene, and diverse community.

Landmarks like Union Station (housing the nicest Department of Motor Vehicles ever) and spectacular 1928 Stanley Theatre renew the Erie Canalway past for present times.

The gorgeous Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Utica elegantly expresses the city’s rebirth. Today, after decades of decay, this downtown gem gleams anew after a beautiful and thoughtful restoration.

Central New York: Utica to Amsterdam

The Fort Plain Museum and Historical Park preserves and protects the Mohawk Valley’s Native American and Revolutionary War legacy. Its bookstore offers 600+ titles, perhaps the largest literary resource on this topic anywhere.

View of Arkell Museum celebrating American arts and Mohawk Valley history with triking modern architecture at the original Beech-Nut factory site

The Arkell Museum and Canajoharie Library promote and celebrate American arts and Mohawk Valley history. Striking modern architecture at the original Beech-Nut factory site showcases world-class exhibits. For instance:

  • Founder Bartlett Arkell’s personal collection of major American works
  • Beech-Nut’s early 20th-century advertising materials
  • Extensive regional art

Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter is a treasure trove. Thrill your inner archaeologist with all three Erie Canalway eras and the Schoharie Aqueduct ruins. Additionally, the Visitors Center offers interactive displays and a super-cool scale model of the aqueduct.

The dramatic Amsterdam Castle, an 1895 armory transformed to a hotel and restaurant, presents European-inspired ambience for the evening’s respite.

Eastern New York: Amsterdam to Albany

Welcome to the Capital Region, the vibrant heart of New York State power, politics, civics, and culture for four centuries and counting.

Dramatic architectual photo of the steps leading to the New York State Museum in Albany, NY, on the Erie Canalway

To begin with, tour the mightily magnificent Capitol, completed in 1899, with its “million-dollar staircase” of Medina sandstone (no doubt brought from Western New York via Erie Canal barge).

Then, stroll to the Empire State Plaza, Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s modernist monument built 1965 to 1976.

Also, see a show at the phenomenal Palace Theatre. Albany’s 1931 Art Deco movie temple today is a premier performance venue.

When you head out from Albany, visit three special Erie Canalway communities: Cohoes, Troy, and Waterford.

Autumn leaves in the foreground with the Cohoes Water Falls and a cloudy sky in the backgroundCohoes holds charm galore. Its intimate 1874 Music Hall retains original ornate decor, cozy seating, and excellent acoustics. Once you’ve explored the historic downtown, head up through Harmony Mills Historic District to majestic Cohoes Falls.

Across the Hudson River, Troy features its own National Historic Landmark Music Hall. Chic boutiques and stylish eateries line the bustling downtown district.

Finally, Waterford marks the Erie Canalway’s eastern terminus. It connects the canal with the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers.

The Renaissance Albany Hotel makes a central base for exploring the Capital Region. Its setting, right at the foot of the State Capitol, is splendid. Its style, a blend of historic heritage and modern luxury, superb.

Erie Canalway: The Heart and the Hope

“And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal”
(“Low Bridge, Everybody Down” by Thomas S. Allen, 1905)

The Erie Canalway’s heart is people. Hospitable and proud ambassadors of the canal, canal culture, and canal community.

Meet new “neighbors and pals” like:

The Erie Canalway’s meaning is hope. Buoyant, audacious hope. Transformational hope.

It’s as if waves of hope are flowing through the canal, canal culture, and canal communities. From the biggest cities to the tiniest hamlets.

Add the Erie Canalway to your bucket list.

Explore its rich history, ongoing resilience, modern-day relevance.

Experience its heart and its hope.

Be inspired!


Get your exclusive curated guide to the best specialty coffee on the Erie Canal.

Yes, I want my coffee guide!

READ: 4 Luxury Hotels along the Erie Canalway

READ: 8 Great Specialty Coffee Shops on the Erie Canalway

READ: Route 66: Epic Road Trip Start to Finish

Timelapse photo of Locks 34 and 35 Flight Of Five in Lockport, New York, on the Erie Canalway