Erie Canal Heritage Trail is currently a 270 mile long recreational trail in upstate New York, spanning many counties and through many cities.
This trail is diverse with not only its beautiful natural scenery, but there are multiple cultural and historical sites along the way. Its bike and dog friendly, and it’s sure to please all types of trail fanatics.
Erie Canal Trail at this present time is just over 270 miles long, stretching roughly from Buffalo, NY to Albany, NY, passing through many other places, including Rochester, Utica, Syracuse, and Schenectady. The trail is still in progress, and the finalized trail will extend for 365 miles! As its name states, this trail runs along the Erie Canal.
The trail in the west begins in Buffalo, NY. Here you can follow along the Niagara River. There are many activities and recreational spots along the beginning of the trail. Once you hit Tonawanda you will then travel another 100 miles through Rochester, Newark, and Lyons. Lockport is a stop along this section that we’ll touch on later, but it’s definitely worth the stop. Once the trail approaches Syracuse, there are many parks and National historical sites to visit. Traveling on to Schenectady you will be taken back in time with some more fantastic historical stops, then coming to an end in Albany.
The area is rich with beautiful waterlines, colorful trees (especially when the leaves turn in the fall season), unique bridges, and informative railway stops and sites along the way. The trail itself is mostly composed of chunks of limestone and is not smooth riding; however there are a couple of sections that are smoothly paved. Equestrians are allowed, but only at the Old Erie Canal State Park between Syracuse and Rome. Horseback riding is not permitted anywhere else on the trail.
This trail is actually part of 1600 different rail-trails that has been transformed from an unused rail line into a unique dog friendly path. More than 100 miles of the trail is built on these former railways. The Rails-to-Trails program is a Non Profit Organization that is progressing on this nationwide project to adapt previous rail lines into interactive, fun trails.
Trail and Canal History
The Erie Canal started around 1812 and was opened in 1825. It was built to connect water from Lake Erie to the Hudson River. There were many who doubted the necessity and expense of the Erie Canal but one of the most well known endorser was DeWitt Clinton. He was pivotal in spearheading its start and pushing to get it completed. Not only did the canal play a role in transporting food and material, but it also strengthened economic and social ties between the northeastern seaboard and the Midwest.
It took over seven years to build! At the time that it opened, it was considered an engineering sensation and was often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” There are four waterways; the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca.
During this time railroads were just coming around. Eventually the railroads caught up with and surpassed canals as a viable way of transportation. Along this trail you will be able to experience and see parts of the canal AND the railroads that follow it.
Things to DoCurrently the 270 completed miles of this trail provide a truly unique experience. The trail itself is asphalt, concrete, and stone paved. It is accessible and encouraged for bike riding and dog friendly. It’s rated at a 1 percent grade, so it’s easy and comfortable for even the most beginner of trail explorers. Note: there are a couple of areas that have on road gaps, but as long as you follow the signs and road mapping you will stay on track!
The attractions along this trail are endless! For just passing scenery there are a number of beautiful bridges, with long, diverse history. Since this trail follows closely along the Erie Canal, you will see many boats cruising the water.
Genesee Valley Park is a major attraction, found on the south side of Rochester part of this trail. Here you can kayak, canoe, go fishing, and there are sport areas for soccer, golf, and softball. The landscape is also breathtaking.
As you approach Syracuse, you will reach the Camillus Erie Canal Park. One of the favorite attractions in this area, there are museums, a gift shop, and rich cultural history.
Sections of the Trail and Their Attractions
Starting in the west, the trail will begin in Buffalo, NY. This area includes the longest section of the canal still following its original path. In this area of the trail, you will find the Riverwalk along the Niagara River.
There are a few interesting sites in Buffalo that are a must see. Albright-Knox Art Gallery displays works by some of the most well known artists in time, but also has some unique abstract and industrial type pieces. Admission is reasonably priced and they have public tours all the time.
If you feel like stopping for a little popcorn and a film the Amherst Theatre is a great choice. Built in 1942, it’s decorated in an Art Deco style. It’s sure to take you back in time.
Canalside is a must see in this area as well. This is a historic terminus for the Erie Canal. A few things to note: Buffalo used to be a hub for grain production. The grain elevators right off the canal are now presented in a nightly light show. It’s a great nightly activity for the whole family. More activities include ice skating, curling, horse & carriage rides, and you can even get a family caricature portrait done! It’s a great place for the entire family, including the dog!LaSalle and Riverside Parks are an awesome point to stop during the day for a little break. They have places to just rest in the grass and have a picnic, play a little Frisbee with the dog, and also included waterfront views of the Erie Canal.
Lockport, Rochester, and Newark
The next 100 miles of trail follow through these towns. Lockport is a definite stopping point. This is where the canal includes the most locks. What is a lock you may ask? Locks are a series of gates that open and close and methodically raise and lower water levels in each section for transport of boats. This series of locks was created to accommodate the water level difference in The Erie Canal as it connects with the Hudson and Niagara Rivers. These locks are an engineering masterpiece and are a lot of fun to experience while on a boat.
“Flight of Five” is a current project, where they are working towards restoring locks 67-71 to their original 1842 condition. So far, two have successfully been restored and are fully operational. They show daily interactive tours on this process.
Lift bridges are also numerous in this area. Most of these are located near the Rochester area. Fun fact: a popular folk song called, “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” that was written in 1905 is based off of the bridges in this area. They are so low to the water that passengers of the boats have to duck to pass below the bridge, even once lifted.
The south side of Rochester has a lovely stop called Genesee Valley Park. The same architect that created New York’s Central Park was responsible for Genesee. The park is over 800 acres, with numerous activities including kayaking on the canal, skiing in the winter, fishing, and sports. Check out Geneseewaterways.org for more information on times and pricing of activities.
Note: At this point there’s a 30-mile gap in the trail from Lyons to Port Byron, where the trail picks up again. This 36-mile section of the Erie Canalway Trail heads east from Port Byron to Utica. Note that there are two large gaps in this section of the trail; the first stretches 12 miles across Syracuse and the second is a 6-mile gap in Rome.
Central Erie Canalway Trail
This area of the trail is lush with some of the most interesting and historical sites you will see.
Beaver Lake Nature Center is a beautiful cluster of trails that spreads through rich habitats. There is a 200 acre glacial lake that is a hotspot for migratory geese from Canada. However, as our websites states, we focus on areas that are dog friendly and unfortunately this area does not allow dogs or bikes. If you need a break from your pup, this would be a nice stop. So we’ll move on!
Another beautiful historical site in this portion of the trail is Camillus Erie Canal Park.The Park was established in 1972 and offers many unique and historical sights and sounds. First stop, the Sims Store Museum is chock full of maps, exhibits, and many old photos of the Canal’s history. If you want to educate yourself on this unique US milestone, this is the museum for you.
Another fun exhibit is the Camillus Steam Engine Exhibit. Steam powered plants and industry was becoming very prominent during the industrial revolution and this exhibit is fully restored! What a fun sight to see. Others ideas for fun in this section of the Canal Trail are boat rides on the Canal itself and over 10 miles of scenic wooded paths, which of course your pooch can accompany you on!
If you are more into the nature side of things, east of Syracuse there is the Green Lakes State Park. With over 2,000 acres, this park is centered on two alluring lakes with a distinct blue-green coloring. Here you can find camping, hiking, and picnicking opportunities.
Albany to Rome
This is where the trail ends my friend. At one point, this is where the trail began, but as years have passed the trail has been significantly expanded.
A few notable sites include Fall Views Park in Cohoes, Lock 15 State Canal Park in Fort Plain, Canal Place in Little Falls, and the Fort Stanwix National Historical Park in Rome.Fall Views Park offers a breathtaking view of the 75 foot Cohoes Falls. There are multiple levels to these Falls and they offer tours, and easily accessible pathways to explore the entire area. Visit friendsofcohoesfalls.org for more information on park times and need to know information.
Lock 15 State Canal Park in Fort Plain is located toward the western end of over 40 miles of continuous trail in the scenic Mohawk Valley; the Lock 15 site is close to restaurants, shops and other businesses in Fort Plain. The site features potable water, toilets and picnic facilities. It makes for a nice, peaceful stop to rest with your dog.
Little Falls, New York is a quaint little town with so much to offer. This is an Erie Canal Heritage award winning site! Little Falls was formed as a town originally in 1811. It’s diverse and lengthy history is present in its quaint downtown district, which is full of restaurants, boutiques, and architecture. Canal Park, which its name implies, is located right on the shore of the Canal and offers many excursions and notable landmarks.
Rome is one of the last stops on this expansive and diverse, dog-friendly trail. Fort Stanwix is a national monument worth stopping for. Fort Stanwix passes through Oneida Indian territory.There was a battle between the French and Indian groups and Fort Stanwix played a vital role in this struggle. Col. Peter Gansevoort, who was in charge of Fort Stanwix at the time, successfully held off the German, American Indian, and British forces during August of 1777. The monument has 3 trails that encircle the fort. On 2 of these trails, the events that occurred on the siege of 1777 are re-enacted. There are multiple tours that run all hours of the day and the architecture is accurate of the period and fascinating to see in person.
This trail has many stops along the way, and let’s not forget, the rail way history stops all throughout the trail. They are amazing in their own right. Don’t forget, the majority of this trail is dog friendly, with many parks and fun activities for you to enjoy with your pup. I have only touched on a handful of worthwhile stops on this trail, but if you choose to give this trail a go, I guarantee you and your dog will have the best time.