Houseboating the Erie Canal – Day 4

After our epic day houseboating the Erie Canal from Holley to Lockport, we were looking forward to a much more relaxed Day 4!  We were able to sleep in a bit, and then we walked up the hill to street level to visit the Lockport Cave.  We bought our tickets online the evening before, though you can certainly walk in and purchase tickets from the office directly (they also offer zip lining over the canal if you’re in Lockport Wednesday-Sunday).  There was a surprising number of people buying tickets for a Tuesday morning, though, so an advance purchase may be advisable if you are trying to keep to a schedule or plan to visit on a weekend.

We gathered with our tour guide outside the office and started walking back down the hill to the locks.  (I hadn’t applied any sunscreen since I was expecting to be…in a cave, but we spent about 15 or so minutes standing in the sun, so if you burn easily, sunscreen up!) Our guide provided fairly limited details about the locks and Lockport itself, and we continued to walk downhill toward the lower section of the canal and the cave entrance, passing the remains of old mills that once lined the hillside.   

The “cave” itself is actually an old tunnel, which was built in the mid-1800s to divert excess water from the canal to supply water and power for the aforementioned old mills.  The entrance to the tunnel/cave reminded me a bit of something you would expect to see in Lost or a sci-fi movie of some sort.  (It also wasn’t lost on any of us that we were exploring a tunnel once used to carry water the same week that Thai soccer team was trapped in a cave that unexpectedly filled with water.)  Once inside, the cave was surprisingly large!  There is a very dark path with water along the left side (and more water dripping from up above).  

Entrance tunnel of the Lockport Cave in Lockport, NY
This is what the initial part of the Lockport Cave entrance looks like. Creepy!

After walking deeper into the cave and stopping in a couple places for some more historical tidbits, like how during the construction of the tunnel they used orphans to plant the dynamite because they could more easily scamper away (and had no parents to miss them if their scamper turned out to be more of a stroll), we then boarded a little wooden boat and traveled a (very) short way inside the cave and then turned right back around before the tour concluded. (Fun fact: The boat was actually built inside the cave itself as it would have been too large to fit through the cave’s opening!  Another fun fact: Apparently a scene from the movie Sharknado was filmed here…)  

The boat ride wasn’t terribly exciting and our guide could have used a bit more background to better answer guests’ questions, but overall, we still had fun and kids would enjoy it for sure (though it is really dark so maybe make sure your kid isn’t afraid of the dark or it could be fairly unpleasant). The entire tour, including the bit that took place outside, was only about 70-75 minutes, and it was a fine start to what we hoped would be a more relaxing day than the last.  

After the tour, we headed back to the boat and let the lockmaster know we were planning to get underway shortly.  He mentioned that a tour boat was heading in our direction and that if we moved quickly we could lock through together with them.  Said tour boat was in fact NOT heading our way just yet and we ended up waiting inside Lock 35 for about 20 minutes before they arrived. Once we were through the locks and heading back to the east, though, we were on our way to the town of Medina!

The trip from Lockport to Medina is only a few hours, so this felt like nothing after our 8-hour slog the day before.  We still had some lift bridges to navigate, but we passed through without any significant delays and soon enough we made it to Medina (where I did my first docking!)  We got settled in, and the bridgetender came by to welcome us to town and give us the codes to the restrooms and showers near the dock (which we didn’t use because they really weren’t super clean).

Then, we set out to find the Medina Falls, which are east of the town dock on the north side of the canal.  There is actually a creek, called Oak Orchard Creek, which now flows beneath the Erie Canal. When the canal was built, an aqueduct had to be created over the creek to allow the canal to pass above.  The falls here were much bigger and prettier than the falls in Holley, and we stayed awhile and enjoyed watching some fishermen in a boat at the base of the falls. (Another fun fact: We saw A LOT of people fishing in the Erie Canal, but we didn’t see a single fish actually get pulled out of the water.  We saw exactly two fish on our trip, and they were both, sadly, floating by belly up.  One was scooped up by a bird who promptly dropped it back in the water.   Maybe don’t plan to do any fishing on the canal?)

The Medina Falls, where Oak Orchard Creek passes underneath the Erie Canal in Medina, NY
The Medina Falls, where Oak Orchard Creek passes underneath the Erie Canal in Medina, NY

After checking out the falls, we decided to wander around Main St. and scope out some of the spots I had found in my pre-trip planning, only to discover…that nearly every place on my list was closed on Tuesdays!  So, if you’re planning to make a stop in Medina while boating the Erie Canal, I would highly recommend not coming on a Tuesday or checking in advance what the hours are for the places you might be interested in visiting. 

We wandered a bit more, but the town was pretty sleepy and quiet (aside from the music that was being piped, inexplicably, through a speaker system all along Main Street). Eventually, we settled on a pizza place I had found in my research (which was also recommended to us by the bartender back in Lockport and WAS open on Tuesdays), and we had some “comically large” slices of pizza, as my husband referred to them. We would have happily sidled up to a bar somewhere after dinner, but not finding anything obvious in the vicinity of the boat, we opted to head back and have cocktails onboard. 

At one point, one of the other boaters docked in Medina came by to talk with us for a while.  He was a very nice, retired naval officer, and he and his wife basically just spend all their time boating.  They spend the summer on the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal and then work their way south on the intracoastal waterway to Florida for winter.  Most of the boaters we encountered during our trip do the same kind of trip and almost all of them are retired and living on their boats.  Which again, I suppose, is not all that different from RVing.  I’m sure Mike and I will end up living on a boat with all our cats at some point, too!

Main Street, Medina NY
Main Street, Medina NY

So, Medina, the town that’s closed on TuesdayTM, was a little bit of a bust, but we still had a relaxing and enjoyable evening.  If you do stop here on a Tuesday, it might be a good night to consider cooking on board, playing some cards, or having a Scrabble challenge like we did.  Or, if you have the energy, you could take a ride along on the canal with the bikes provided by Mid-Lakes Navigation (which we never used on the trip, though thought to do so at least a couple times).  

We personally didn’t mind having an early night because we knew tomorrow we were heading off to the town of Brockport for Day 5 and that there would be plenty of options for entertainment there!  

For more in the Erie Canal Houseboating series:


Tuesday – Day 4

8:00 am Showers and Breakfast 

9:30 am Explore Lockport (or sleep in and skip this step like we did)

11:00 am Visit the *Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride

12:30 pm Have lunch on the boat

1:00 pm Head east to Medina (3-4 hours)

  • Lock 34 and Lock 35 (mile 320.65) 
  • Exchange Street Lift Bridge (mile 320.12) – free dock east of LB on the south wall with no services
  • Adam Street Lift Bridge (mile 319.92) – should be in a permanently raised position
  • Gasport Landing (mile 314.19) – free dock west of LB on the south wall with shore power
  • Gasport Road Lift Bridge (mile 314.15) – same operator for this and the Middleport Lift Bridge
  • Middleport – Main St. Lift Bridge (mile 308.87) – 
  • 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.

4:30 pm Tie up in Medina at Medina Canal Port (mile 303.65) on the south side of the canal; free dock east of the Eagle St. fixed bridge on both sides.  South wall has water, power, restrooms, and showers (get the code from the lift bridge operator).  There is also a railroad museum in town.

5:00 pm  Visit *Medina Falls and explore the town

  • Walk along the towpath on the north side of the canal to see the falls.
  • The Railroad Museum is a 100-year-old freight terminal with railroad memorabilia and model trains. The museum is about a half-mile from the canal. (It closes at 5 pm, though, so we did not make it in time to check it out.)

6:30 pm Dinner in town

  • *Avanti Pizza: Pizza and subs (the slices were enormous!)
  • Rudy’s Diner: Diner/comfort food
  • FitzgibbonsIrish pub (closed on Tuesdays but it looked really nice and we’re sad we missed it)
  • Meggie Moo’s: Ice cream and soda fountain type food with a pool table in back (also closed on Tuesdays, which was a bummer because we had hoped to head here for dessert and to play pool)

Mileage – Lockport 320.76 to Medina 303.65 = 17.11 miles, 5 lift bridges, 2 locks

*Denotes places we actually went to ourselves.

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