Houseboating the Erie Canal – Day 1

Our houseboating adventure on the Erie Canal started at Mid-Lakes Navigation’s marina (now Erie Canal Adventures) in Macedon, NY which is just a little east of Rochester, NY.  Since we live in NYC, which is 5+ hours from Rochester, we actually drove part of the way to Binghamton, NY the night before we got our boat.  We didn’t want to have to get up at the crack of dawn, and we wanted to feel more refreshed when starting our first day on the water!

Early Saturday, we headed to Macedon to buy some provisions and have a quick lunch before our orientation on the boat.  There is a Walmart and a Wegman’s nearby where you can buy cold food, ice and any fresh items you might want. We had brought a bunch of snacks, drinks, coffee, and some condiments with us, so we only needed to buy staples like bread, eggs, deli meat, cheese, butter, produce, and ice.

We arrived at the marina around 1:00 pm and started to load up our boat, Canadice.  The boats are absolutely adorable and incredibly clean!  They provide bed linens, bath linens, dishes, silverware, pots and pans, garbage bags, plenty of toilet paper and a giant roll of paper towels.  (They pretty much thought of everything supplies-wise, though I would recommend bringing some paper plates, plastic utensils, ziplock bags, and plastic storage containers. I brought these and they came in handy a few times!) T

here is also a remarkable amount of storage considering how small the boats are, though for New Yorkers living in studio apartments, the canalboats may seem downright spacious!  We joked that it felt like a tiny house, but I suspect it’s not all that different from RV-ing.

We finished unpacking and shortly before 2:00 pm, a young woman named Amelia joined us onboard to do our orientation.  The staff will walk you through how to use everything on the boat like the stove, oven, and water heater, and they show you how to power up, shift to forward and reverse, and use the bow thrusters.  

Since we are experienced boaters, we were able to get off the dock pretty quickly, but if you’re not experienced, they will also show you how to make your dock lines off to a cleat, tie some basic knots, and explain how docking and going through locks works.  They also show you how to use the radio so you can communicate your passage requests to the lock and bridge tenders along your route.

Your first test is navigating out of the teeny tiny space at their marina, and then you travel east about a mile to practice some doughnuts in the canal, do a docking, and then pass through your first lock, which is actually pretty easy!  You basically just get your boat up alongside the lock wall, grab one of the hanging lines with the gloves Mid-Lakes is so kind to provide, and hold on until the water enters or leaves the lock chamber. When the doors open, you let go of the lines and exit the lock.

We passed through Lock 30, drove in a circle, and then went right back through the lock, returned to the marina, practiced backing in to the dock, and then dropped Amelia off.  After that, we were free to get on our way on our own at just shortly before 4:00 pm!

Lock 30, Erie Canal
Starting our entry into Lock 30 on the Erie Canal.

For your trip, you can either go east or west or do a combination of both.  We decided to head out to the west for the entirety of our trip since there are a lot of small towns and plenty of places to dock.  The east has some towns near Macedon and the eastern part of the canal is more rugged and wild, but the distance between towns is a bit longer and there are a lot more locks, which take more time to travel through.

The locks and bridges to the east also close at 5:00 pm whereas to the west they remain open until 10:00 pm. We were concerned that heading to the east may limit how far we could travel and that if there was bad weather, we would have fewer options for where we could stop. (Although now that we’ve done the trip, we both agreed that we’d like to do it again in the future and try the route to the east next time!)

So, we headed to the west, and about an hour out, we had to make our first radio call to the lift bridge in Fairport, NY.  (The bridge doesn’t seem too low, but we were assured by Mid-Lakes that it IS indeed too low, that the theory had already been tested, and that we NEED to request that it be raised.) We radioed up to the bridge-tender and as we got closer, we saw the bridge begin to go up.

This bridge is pretty cool in that no two angles are the same, one side is higher than the other, and none of the corners are square! Supposedly it has been featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not due to its unusual construction.  Once the bridge was lifted, we were back on our way!

After cruising the canal for about 2.5 hours, seeing only a couple other boats, we arrived in Pittsford, NY, an adorable little town with a couple restaurants and a brewery overlooking the canal.  While approaching, we were looking for a spot to tie up, and as we came in to dock, three older gentlemen came over to catch our lines for us. We thought they worked for the town, but they were just the owners of the boats on either side of where we were tying up (who probably wanted to be sure the crazy renters didn’t hit their boats!) After docking, we got hooked up to the shore power to keep our batteries happy, and one of the men suggested a couple places for dinner.

Mid-Lakes Navigation canalboat Canadice docked in Pittsford, NY
Canadice, tied up for the evening in Pittsford, NY

We headed to one of the restaurants on the canal, Aladdin’s, which serves Mediterranean food.  There was a bit of a wait, but we had a couple beers outside until we were seated on the patio with a canal view.  The food was delicious, and we could see our boat the whole time we were there!

After, we went to check out the Pittsford Dairy, which we’re fairly certain is where the entire town was hanging out for the evening.  We had to wait in a huge line, but the ice cream was well worth the wait and the dairy should be a required stop if you houseboat the Erie Canal!  

Pittsford Farms Dairy
Pittsford Farms Dairy, Pittsford, NY

When we finished stuffing our faces, we turned in for the night in our very small and cozy bed.  All was well overnight except at one point the sprinklers turned on in the park outside, and, not knowing at first where the sound was coming from, I thought for a moment we had sprung a leak!  Mike got up to investigate, gave the all clear, and we closed the books on our first day on the canal!

For more details on our first day, check out our itinerary below.  I’ve included other possible docking locations in addition to our main stops for reference.

Up next, Day 2, where we learn the value of some of Mid-Lakes Navigation’s important training advice and journey west to the town of Holley!

For more in the Erie Canal Houseboating series:


Saturday – Day 1

7:00 am Wake up, shower, and have breakfast at hotel in Binghamton; top up gas

9:00 am Head to Macedon

11:30 am Go to Wegman’s or Walmart to get provisions and grab a quick lunch (there’s a Subway inside Walmart)

12:30 – 1:00 pm Arrive at the marina; get stuff on board, park the car, get unpacked

  • Dock and Marina Office, 1125 Marina Parkway, Macedon, NY 14502 (mile 240.13)

2:00 pm Orientation with Marina staff; on-boat instruction, driving practice, docking practice, locking-through practice, and return to the marina to practice docking again

4:00 pm Head west toward Pittsford (2.5 hours)

  • Pass by:
    • Fairport Main Street Lift Bridge E-128 (mile 246.67)
      • The bridge looks high enough to pass under, but it’s not – you need to radio the bridge operator to have it lifted!
    • Perinton Park (mile 247.65) – free dock on north wall at the park (5’ at wall)
    • Bushnell’s Basin (mile 250.66) – fee for docking, can tie up west of Marsh Road to floating dock. Power, water, and restrooms with showers are available.  Ice available at Hess Station (also where you pay to dock). Strip mall west of the bridge on south bank with a liquor store. Small strip mall east of the bridge on south bank with ice cream, drug store, etc.
    • Great Embankment Park (mile 251.81) – lots of wakes, the canal is 70’ higher than the north bank countryside (it’s not recommended that you stop here)

6:30 pm Arrive in Pittsford; free dock, tie up for the night on the north or south side of the canal (mile 253.47)

  • There is shore power and water available, but no shower/restroom facilities for boaters.  *We stayed on the south side of the canal since it was further away from the noise and crowds of the restaurants and brewery alongside the north side of the canal.

7:00 pm Dinner in Pittsford

  • *Aladdin’s:  Mediterranean food, including babaganouj, souvlaki, falafel, etc. – outdoor dining, right on the canal
  • Panther Pit:  Diner food with outdoor seating, nice looking ice cream sundaes/shakes! – open til 9pm
  • Hungry’s Grill:  Burgers, dogs, wraps, etc. – open late
  • Pittsford Pub: Beer and burgers and apps – lots of specialty salads and sandwiches – mixed reviews on Yelp about slow service, but the food looks good

8:30 pm Dessert

  • *Pittsford Dairy: Tons of flavors and specialty milkshakes – soooo good!

9:30 pm Brewery

  • Lock 32 Brewery: Right on the canal, no food but they have popcorn and delivery options, open til midnight. We hoped to make it here, but after eating all the ice cream we didn’t have any more room in our bellies!

Mileage – Macedon 240.13 to Pittsford 253.47 = 13.34 miles (plus an extra 2.22 miles for orientation), 1 lift bridge, 1 lock

*Denotes places we actually went to ourselves.

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