Houseboating the Erie Canal – Day 3

On our third day houseboating the Erie Canal, we awoke to a bit of a commotion. (Really, probably the most activity we experienced on the canal all week!)  There is a lovely little gazebo along the canal in Holley, and when I looked out our canalboat’s window, I could see a bunch of people unloading a moving truck and taking boxes inside.  I got showered, and by the time I started making breakfast, I noticed that there was now also a steady stream of cyclists appearing and popping into the gazebo.

As it turns out, the week we were on the canal was also the week of the 20th Annual Cycle the Erie Canal Bike Tour, where cyclists spend the week riding from Buffalo to Albany along the Erie Canal (which also sounds like a super fun idea if you’re not into self-piloting a canalboat!)  Holley Park was one of the rest stops on the ride, and cyclists were stopping to grab some drinks and snacks before continuing on to their next stop.

Meanwhile, we got underway fairly early because today was going to be our longest day cruising the canal.  We were off to Lockport, NY, which is 18 miles from the western end of the Erie Canal and about 7-8 hours away from Holley.  Now, there is something about being on a boat that seems to make people want to wave at you. (Honestly, have you ever been on a boat and not had someone wave at you?) Well, we started cruising along and passed what seemed like HUNDREDS of cyclists who all wanted to wave at us!  Or stop and take pictures of us. I told Mike that I felt like the prettiest girl in the parade (though considering how little traffic is on the canal, it was more like we were the only girl in the parade but that is neither here nor there).  Eventually, though, the back of the pack of cyclists passed us, and we returned to our solitary cruise on the canal.  

This was the section of the trip where we learned just how important it is to know which lift bridges have roaming operators and to be sure to call the operator well ahead of time (Mid-Lakes Navigation sent us a book in advance that had details on the bridges with roaming operators, and that was a HUGE help on this trip.).  When we were about ten miles out of Holley, we approached the town of Albion and had to wait a half hour before we could get the bridge lifted for us.  The operator had been at his other bridge three miles away and was waiting for another boat to pass through on that end before coming over to help us through.  A bit later this day, we had similar delays with another operator who managed three bridges.  These delays definitely added a lot of extra time to what was already going to be a long day, but we continued onward!

Shortly before we reached the town of Medina, we slowed down at Culvert Road, which is the only section of the canal where cars actually pass under the canal.  We waited awhile for a car to pass, but no one did so we moved on.  It must be pretty cool, though, to look up at the canal from your car and see a boat passing above you!  (Apparently, the tunnel under the canal leaks quite a bit, though, so maybe you want to move quickly if you do ever drive under the canal!)

Culvert Road passing under the Erie Canal
Our view of Culvert Road where it passes under the Erie Canal, the only place on the entire canal where you can go underneath the canal!

We had planned to stop in the town of Middleport to take a break and stretch our legs, but since we had lost a lot of time with the bridges earlier in the day we decided to just press on (we were really tired when we arrived in Lockport, though, so I’d definitely recommend taking a break if you do the trip from Holley to Lockport like we did.)  Eventually, though, we made it to Lockport and were ready to pass through Locks 34 and 35, two “staircase” locks that you go through one right after the other to be lifted up 50’ in the canal to the Niagara Escarpment.  

At one time, Lockport had two sets of five locks known as the “Flight of Five”, and you can still see one set of the old locks in Lockport today, though they are no longer operational. The other set was removed and replaced with the two much larger locks that are in use today.  We were told that back in the 1800s, it used to take 2-3 days or sometimes up to a week for boats to pass through the locks, but nowadays, the two new locks can be passed through in about 20 minutes.

Flight of Five Locks in Lockport, NY
Looking up through the Flight of Five Locks in Lockport, NY near the Erie Canal Museum at Lock 34.

I have to say, the locks on the canal creeped me out a bit.  There’s something a little unsettling about “locking” yourself in a chamber while you wait for water to rush in, so if you’re claustrophobic, locking through might creep you out, too!  To make matters worse, these locks in Lockport are much taller and larger than the others we encountered, and the sound the doors made when they closed was similar to the sound that usually precedes doom in a scary movie. That said, when we were no longer locking through ourselves, it was a lot of fun to watch other boats from above, especially because in Lockport you can also see all the gears and machinery that open and close the doors (I shot the video below of one of the other Mid-Lakes Navigation canalboats passing through Locks 34 and 35 after we settled in at Lockport. This family kept a fairly similar schedule to us, and we saw them frequently throughout our trip. Play with the sound up to hear the doors close at the end and then imagine that sound with the echo that accompanies it when you’re inside the lock itself.  Eep!)  

Having successfully passed through both locks, the lockmaster invited us to tie up right beside the locks, above where the still present Flight of Five is located.  There is only space for about 2 boats here, and fortunately, the boat already docked there moved a bit forward for us because we would not have been able to dock there otherwise.  If the spaces here are both taken, I’m not really sure where else you would tie up in Lockport, so I would recommend that you investigate docking options in advance so you have a backup plan when you arrive.

Canalboat docked in Lockport, NY
Our boat, Canadice, tied up behind Lock 35 in Lockport, NY.

Finally settled in (after traveling nearly 40 miles and passing under 11 lift bridges and through 2 locks!), we set off in search of dinner and some (much-needed) refreshments.  In my prior research, I had found a place called Lock 34 Bar & Grill, and we decided to head there for happy hour drinks and appetizers, and then we both had one of their amazing ½ pound burgers (which are served on some fantastic rolls from a local bakery).  It shares an address with a catering hall, and its front door was within a courtyard rather than on the street, just in case you’re looking for it and having any trouble. After dinner, we wandered around town a bit and then went to the Lake Effect Ice Cream shop for what was the perfect end to a long day three!

The Locks of Lockport, NY
After dinner, we took a little stroll around town and captured this shot of the modern Locks 34 and 35 alongside the old “Flight of Five” Locks in Lockport, NY

In my next post, we’ll start our day off with the famous Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride before we start our journey back east and head to Medina (a.k.a. the town that’s closed on TuesdayTM).

For more in the Erie Canal Houseboating series:


Monday – Day 3

6:30 am Showers and Breakfast

7:30 am Head west to Lockport (7-8 hours)

  • Pass through/by
    • Holley – East Ave. Lift Bridge (mile 283.48) – same operator for this bridge and the Hulberton Road bridge
    • Hulberton Road Lift Bridge (mile 286.58) – free dock, park with picnic tables west of the bridge
    • Hindsburg (mile 288.65) – free dock, west of the bridge on the north wall
    • Albion – Ingersoll St Lift Bridge (mile 292.98) – same operator at this, the Albion Main St., and the Eagle Harbor bridges
    • Albion Canal Park (mile 293.06) – free dock, tie up east of the lift bridge on the south side for shore power, water, restrooms, showers, etc. The lift bridge operator has the code for the facilities
    • Albion – Main St. Lift Bridge (mile 293.15) 
    • Eagle Harbor Rd Lift Bridge (mile 296.41) – can tie up ½ mile ease of the lift bridge on either side or tie up west of the lift bridge on the north wall though there are no services and there may be a small fee for docking here.
    • Anchorage (mile 297.94) – can anchor in the basin on the south side of the canal, but watch your depth if you do
    • Knowlesville Rd Lift Bridge (mile 299.47) – free dock west of the bridge on either side. Same operator for this and Prospect Ave bridge in Medina.
    • Culvert Road (mile 301.07) – before you get to Medina, wait for a few minutes for a car to drive under the canal at Culvert Road, which is the only place on the canal where this happens.
    • Medina Guard Gate (mile 302.65) – free dock on the north side, west of the gate
    • Medina Terminal Wall and Park (mile 302.79) – free dock on the north wall, no services, no cleats
    • State Street Park (mile 303.47) – free dock west of Pleasant St. bridge on the north wall, no cleats, no services
    • Canal Port Medina (mile 303.65) – free dock east of the Eagle St. bridge on both sides.  South wall has water, power, restrooms, and showers (get the code from the lift bridge operator).  No services on the north wall, but there is a waterfall north of and below the north wall. There is also a railroad museum in town.
    • Medina – Prospect Ave Lift Bridge (mile 304.13)
    • Medina (mile 303.94) – free dock east of Prospect St. lift bridge on either side.  Picnic tables on the north side. No power, water, facilities, etc.
    • Middleport – Main St. Lift Bridge (mile 308.87) – same operator for this and the Gasport Lift Bridge

12:30 pm  Tie up in Middleport (mile 308.99) to stretch legs/get groceries if needed (We had been so delayed that we ended up not stopping here, though by the end of the day we really wished that we had taken a break!)

  • You can tie up west of the lift bridge on the south side of the canal. Shore power and fresh water are available. Restrooms and showers are also available at the DPW building next to the canal.  You can also tie up east of the lift bridge where shore power is available. There is no charge to dock here, but the village apparently asks for donations in a drop box near the DPW building. 
  • There is a small grocery store, Wilson Farms (79 Telegraph Rd.) within walking distance.  Mr. Bill’s convenience store also available.
  • Other snack/lunch options:

1:30 pm Head back out towards Lockport

  • Pass through/by:
    • Gasport Road Lift Bridge (mile 314.15)
    • Gasport Landing (mile 314.19) – free dock west of LB on the south wall with shore power
    • Adam Street Lift Bridge (mile 319.92) – should be in a permanently raised position
    • Exchange Street Lift Bridge (mile 320.12) – free dock east of LB on the south wall with no services
    • Lock 34 and Lock 35 (mile 320.65) – Erie Canal Museum is here

5:00 pm Tie up in Lockport (mile 320.72)

  • You can’t stop or dock between Locks 34 and 35 because you need to pass through one right after the other.
  • There are apparently a few different places that you can tie up in Lockport. Ask the Locktender to recommend the best place. 
  • There is space for two 40’ vessels west of Lock 35 behind the north lock wall, *which is where we stayed.  (It’s fairly tight and if there is another boat there that is not docked all the way forward, you may have a very difficult time tying up here.  There was already another boat docked here that we tried to maneuver around, but it just wasn’t happening.  Fortunately, the owners of the other boat were onboard and offered to pull up and make space for us.)

5:30 pm Dinner and wandering in Lockport

8:00 pm Dessert at *Lake Effect Ice Cream: Lots of specialty flavors, including Pup Cups for your dog!

Mileage – Holley 283.43 to Lockport 320.76 = 37.33 miles, 11 lift bridges, 2 locks

*Denotes places we actually went to ourselves.

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