Several years ago, Mike had mentioned that he’d like to rent a houseboat or canalboat and cruise along the Erie Canal at some point. I agreed that this sounded like a fun idea, and then we promptly forgot about it. Over the winter we had been discussing summer vacation plans and were pretty set on either going to Iceland or road-tripping through Colorado…until we went to the boat show in January at the Javits Center. Some folks were exhibiting on behalf of the NY State Canal Corporation, and we saw a brochure from Mid-Lakes Navigation, who rents out canalboats. Suddenly, it became clear to us what we were going to do this summer for vacation. We were going to boat the Erie Canal!
And last week, my friends, we did. And it was absolutely fantastic!
Mike and I are experienced boaters, but you don’t need any prior boating experience in order to rent a boat! The staff will teach you everything you need to know to safely operate your boat, and since the boats max out at 6 mph, there is a fairly limited amount of damage you’ll be able to do. (Though you will still need to show proof of a million-dollar personal liability policy, just in case! We were able to add this to our renters’ insurance policy for a couple extra bucks a month, and we were told that many people already have sufficient liability policies included in their homeowner’s insurance if you’re not a renter like us.)
The canalboats come in a few different sizes and you can rent them for 3, 4, or 7 nights. We chose the week-long option, as it seemed like the shorter options wouldn’t allow us to see a whole lot, and we rented one of the 34-foot houseboats. This is the smallest option, and the size is perfect for a couple. The sitting area can be converted to double bunks, but doing so would limit your storage space, so if you plan to bring your kids or travel with another couple, I’d HIGHLY recommend one of the larger boats (reportedly, one of the boats can also accommodate your pup!).
Our little home for the week included a (slightly less than) full-size bed, a bathroom (complete with toilet, sink, and shower), and a kitchen with a refrigerator, sink, stove, and range. Mid-Lakes Navigation kits out the boats with bikes, a small propane grill, a large cooler, and all the kitchen equipment you need to prepare as many meals as you’d like onboard. We ate breakfast and lunch on the boat every day and had dinner at whichever town we were docked at for the night, but you could certainly prepare all your meals onboard if you want to keep your costs low.
They also provide all the necessary safety equipment, enough fuel for the week, and an orientation with their staff on how to use the boat. If you don’t have any boating experience, I’d highly encourage you to review the engine manual and other materials provided in advance so you can start to familiarize yourself with the boat’s equipment.
You won’t need to refuel or pump out your toilet tank, but you do need to take on fresh water several times during your trip so you can wash dishes, shower, and flush the toilet. You are also encouraged to connect to a power source on shore whenever possible to help keep the boat’s batteries charged and in optimal condition. (All the docks we stayed at had both shore power and fresh water available, and only a couple places actually charged a fee to dock overnight.) Folks along the canal are incredibly kind and helpful when you pull into town, but otherwise, you’ll barely encounter anyone while cruising the canal, other than the bridge and lock operators. (Some days we only saw maybe 3 or 4 other boats despite cruising for hours along the canal.)
Mid-Lakes Navigation will send you some resource materials in advance, including estimated travel times between towns, so you can plan your trip beforehand and maximize your time on the canal. Boat pickup and dropoff are at the same place at Mid-Lakes Marina in Macedon, NY so, unfortunately, you’ll have to do some back-tracking, but I planned a schedule that allowed us to visit completely different towns on our return trip to the marina.
Over the course of eight days, we cruised 169.48 miles, crossed under 16 lift bridges (twice), passed through 5 locks (twice, again!), and visited 9 towns on the western portion of the Erie Canal (coming within 18 miles of the end of the canal). The scenery is all a bit different along the canal–you pass through cities and towns, under major interstate highways, through cornfields, within two walls cut out of rock, and under train trestles, but it’s a beautiful and peaceful way to see a bit of upstate New York and travel along an important piece of U.S. history.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing our 8-day adventure on the Erie Canal, and I’ll post the full itinerary at the end of the series in case you want to add this unique and incredibly relaxing vacation idea to your to-do list. (And you really should!)
Want to learn more about the boats and see some pictures of the interior? Read more about our boat orientation and our first day on the canal! Or if you have specific questions, please reach out to let me know!
For more in the Erie Canal Houseboating series:
- A Week Houseboating the Erie Canal
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Day 4
- Day 5
- Day 6
- Day 7
- Day 8
- Top 10 Tips for Houseboating the Erie Canal
- Full 8-Day Itinerary for Houseboating the Erie Canal