Canal Boating: A Unique Way To Cruise Social Distance Style

A trip on a historic waterway with the Erie Canal Adventure Team.

November 5, 2020

Wait, hold on a second … is that is a houseboat you’re seeing on Boating’s website? No you’re not hallucinating. Don’t judge the houseboat thing just yet. In this time of a global epidemic and mandatory social distancing, traveling the Erie Canal in a canal boat, is the perfect way to go. Give this two-ton vessel a try (we did twice) because the payoff is a soothing getaway complete with picturesque scenery, charming towns, photo-worthy nature, quirky adventures and more.

Here’s what it looks like to travel this way:

Houseboat on the Erie Canal
This is our boat. Kind of a throwback right? Also, as I said, it’s a heavy metal vessel. Meaning if a steering rookie like me dinged another boat (or in my case, a landing), the boat will be just fine. Jason Beaton
Going through the locks on the Canal
It’s a no-brainer to steer, but it’s still a two-person job. You need an additional hand to man the locks while the other is at the helm. It’s doesn’t require much strength or athletic prowess beyond that. A 90-year-old couple who joined us at orientation, taking their 15th trip, have managed the locks repeatedly. Jason Beaton
Sailboat navigating the Erie Canal
Really, don’t sweat the locks. The canal boat company gives you a solid training that includes going through a lock. The only boat we witnessed ever having an issue navigating through a lock was a sailboat. Enough said. Jason Beaton
The helm on a houseboat
Back to the controls. Point the tiller left or right and use the bow thruster. Simple. Since this can be a family friendly vacation if you choose, your kids could even steer under a watchful eye, especially since you’re ONLY moving at 6 miles an hour. Jason Beaton
Interior on a houseboat
Boat interiors vary – our boat had a bedroom, two heads, a galley and endless nooks and crannies for storage, enough for even over-packers like us. Everything is super sanitized – and in lieu of COVID, the company provides towels and you provide the bedding. Jason Beaton
Outdoor dining along the Canal
The towns, like the boat company, adapted for COVID. The towns are not super populated anyway, but there’s plenty of outdoor dining even with some shutdowns. We even had Uber Eats deliver us a meal so we could chow down outside while listening to live music across the Canal at a bar. Jason Beaton
Dairy farm along the way
Speaking of dining, we ate really mouthwatering BBQ one night, then another, and oh, and another. Be prepared: As it turns out, there’s a lot of BBQ, bar food and other unhealthy goodness along the Erie Canal. My food fave? The homemade ice cream from Pittsford Farms Bakery and Dairy. Jason Beaton
High Falls Waterfalls and Genesee River Gorge look beautiful
If BBQ leaves you parched, there’s plenty of microbreweries and wineries along the Canal, not to mention Rochester’s Genesee Brew House. It’s part of the original 1878 brewery. Get a beer (guess which brand?) – then go check out the stunning High Falls Waterfalls and Genesee River Gorge views right outside. Jason Beaton
Picturesque small town along the Canal
Beyond the BBQ buffets, the towns are really quaint with a Norman Rockwell painting vibe to them. They’re filled with smaller shops offering unusual goods – a way to also support the small, struggling businesses at this time. Jason Beaton
Retro video game museum
There’s bigger touristy stops too, like Rochester’s Strong Museum (open now) which is all about the history of play and features a pinball room and an 80s retro video arcade. My high score may still be on the Centipede machine. Jason Beaton
Camera museum near the Erie Canal
Another major tourist locale is the George Eastman’s Museum (open now), plus his impressive mansion and gardens. Eastman was the founder of the Kodak camera so expect to see lots of cool photography stuff. Jason Beaton
Boaters helping other boaters
Back to talking boat life – the Canal community is way past welcoming and supportive. Just one example: A Mississippi couple who’d been houseboating full-time for decades helped us tie up in a not so legit landing spot and it was a life saver. Jason Beaton
Dredge boat on the Erie Canal
Canal boat living in general is quirky with a flare for the unexpected. Some of our highlights: Petting a fellow boater’s mini pig, the houseboat next store featuring a 60’s lit up, black velvet Beatles poster, a family celebrating Mexican Independence day coming onboard for a photo shoot, being lapped by a college crew team repeatedly, getting woken up by a dredge boat at 7 am, and the best? The local cops asking us to help them search for a bridge jumper. Luckily, no one jumped there. (I wish I had photos of all of these events but you’ll have to settle for this dredge boat shot.) Jason Beaton
Beautiful sunset on the Canal
While the people are great, the nature is better. Sunrises, sunsets and greenery. It’s hard to take a bad photo. Here is my top picture. Jason Beaton
Nightfall along the Erie Canal
Followed by this nighttime shot. Jason Beaton
Waterfall that hikers visit
You can immerse yourself into nature off the boat too – kayaking, biking (the boats came with two bicycles) and walking. We hiked to a must-see waterfall on the Holley Canal Falls Trail that’s a spillway from the Canal. Jason Beaton
Cool artwork under a bridge
If you’re more into concrete than nature, there’s some funky artistic murals and graffiti under the Canal bridges as you go. Jason Beaton
A lock opening for the boats
Then of course, the pièce de résistance … the locks! Pull up, request permission to pass from the lock master, grab a rope/cable on the sides for anchoring and then watch the water fill up or down followed by the locks opening or closing. It’s like going on an amazing water elevator ride. Here’s a lock close up. Plus check out the slow-motion view of going through a lock. Jason Beaton
The Lockport Locks are a historical event
For history, engineering, or architecture buffs – visit the Lockport Locks. There you’ll find a modern set of locks adjacent to a restored set of five others; the later has some of the original Canal architecture. You won’t be able to stop staring at this mechanisms of this structure. This snapshot from above doesn’t do it justice. Jason Beaton
Lift bridge along the Canal
I loved the locks but I had the same appreciation for the lift bridges, especially the power of getting to stop traffic for our boat to pass through! Lift bridges are like drawbridges that go straight up. The Fairport Lift Bridge’s turn of the century architecture is a must see if you can. It’s a 139-foot bridge with a decagonal structure where no two angles are the same. Plus, there’s no square corners on the bridge floor. Again, go see it for yourself as this photo isn’t enough. Jason Beaton
Houseboat at the docks
The Erie Canal is a 363-mile waterway, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. Meaning? Make sure you get guidance with planning as different directions offer different experiences. Jason Beaton

The Erie Canal Adventure team was incredibly accommodating and helpful, not to mention great rates!


Phone: (315) 986-3011

Email: [email protected]






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