Biking the Erie Canal – Buffalo to Rome, NY

July 18, 2021

Introduction

In July 2019 my husband and I decided to do an Erie Canal Bike Trail vacation combining two loves of mine — biking and photography.   I knew the photographs were not going to be awe striking photos since I am shooting in broad daylight for a lot of the trip, but it was documentary photography and something I have wanted to try.    We have been wanting to do it for some time and felt it was a good time to go.

Planning

Planning consisted of checking out parts of the trail that were on roads to see how many hills there were.  Also mapping out the trip to see how far to go each day and where to stay.  While I like the outdoors, camping was out of the question.  We were going to carry all of our things with us.  We researched hotels on where to stay closest to the trail.  We also needed to coordinate transportation since we planned to ride from Buffalo to Rome.   We purchased panniers for each of us, a trunk bag and I have a front handlebar bag.  Since I could not find a camera bag for the bike that worked for me, my trunk bag was made into a  camera case with one of my backpacks padded dividers. This worked perfectly.   

Planning the trip was actually fun.  We researched and reviewed maps and compared them to where we could get hotels.  A valuable resource was the Parks & Trails New York Cycling the Erie Canal. Book.    You can purchase the book here.    It proved to be a value resource.  There is also a GPS app that you can use but we were afraid of limited availability so decided to go with print.  I have heard others say they used the app successfully so you can pick what works for you.  

Day 1 Buffalo to Lockport 

On the hottest day of the year with temperatures in the mid 90’s and high humidity, we started at Canalside in Buffalo.  Canalside is the waterfront revitalization in Buffalo.  It was pleasant but we did have some difficulty finding the start of the trail.  Luckily our book came in handy right at the start and we were on our way.  Our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren saw us off.  

Unfortunately, while I’m sure there is great effort on the part of Buffalo Canalway Trail, we were lost only a few minutes into our trip.   There were some random trail closings with no detour signs and no direction on where to go.  We ended up on streets in Buffalo having no idea where we were.  We tried a couple of times only to meet with trail closure signs.  Then we totally lost the trail.   Luckily we saw a bike rider, and thought maybe he would know.  It was easy to see we were trying to find the trail with our bikes loaded down as much as they were.   This gentleman was a lifesaver.   He knew the area and trail system very well.  We had to ride about another 3 miles to get back on the trail.  He even gave us another option if that part of the trail was not back open, although he thought it was.  Under over passes and over overpasses we ended up back on the trail.  A little stressful to say the least, but we made it.  

To the man who gave us directions, I wish I had gotten your name to properly thank you.  

The trail leaving Buffalo goes under the Peace Bridge that leads to Canada. 

You begin to bike along the Niagara River.  This is a beautiful area and I never knew there were so many houses right on the river.  Lined with flowers the trail is very pretty.  A lot of water sports taking place on the river as well.   It is very scenic and pleasant.  

Next came the Tonawanda areas.  This is a beautiful ride along the Niagara River with plenty of sights to see and terrific trails.   All of our problems getting through Buffalo were long forgotten at this point and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery through this part of the Canal Trail. 

Our first stay for the night was at Lockport Inn and Suites.  We were inside checking in when a huge thunderstorm set in.   We had deliberately made our first day a shorter trip for two reasons:  1). We weren’t sure how early we could get dropped off and 2) my husband’s sister and her husband live in Lockport so we planned dinner out with them.   We have stayed at Lockport Inn and Suites several times when out visiting my sister-in-law.  It is a family run hotel, always clean, and we have always had a pleasant stay.  They were very accommodating with our bikes allowing us to bring them into the room.  They also offered a locked place to keep them, but it was easier to bring them in the room since everything was attached to the bikes.  And they still use keys!  If you are ever in the Lockport area I highly recommend them.  They are also close to the trail!    

Day 1: 33 miles down.   

Day 2 – Lockport to Brockport

As soon as you get back on the trail in Lockport, you will go by the Flight of Five.   These are locks 67-71.  They are a staircase set of locks built to bring a canal boat over the Niagara Escarpment in five stages.   This was built originally in the 1840s!   Pretty ingenious idea.   A new lock replacing the flight of five sits besides them.  And while the original flight of five is no longer being used, the city of Lockport is undergoing a massive restoration project of the locks.   

In the above two pictures you can see three of the flight of five locks.  The best viewpoint to get a picture of all 5 locks was from the middle of the canal.  Since that wasn’t going to happen, this is the best I could do.  

Above is my bike at the flight of five.  Yes, that’s the sunrise.  It’s going to be another mid 90’s day with high humidity so we started early.   

Leaving Lockport you start to run into beautiful farm country.  And did I mention the Niagara region is also wine country?   You will pass fields of grape vines and of course apples!

There are still several homes along the canal trail when first leaving Lockport.   The canal is calm and pretty here.   

The trail so far is flat and easy riding.   Around towns and locks the trail becomes paved.   Otherwise it is like below _ very fine crushed stone.  The trails have been impeccable so far and I can’t stress enough how easy they are to ride on.   

Remember that storm that we just missed yesterday?   Here is some damage from it.  But we got around it by walking the bikes through that little opening 

More farmlands, pleasant communities and peaceful riding along the canal trail for a lot of the day today.   

Medina Culvert

The Medina Culvert is the only road in New York State to go under the Erie Canal.   The tunnel was built in 1823 as a cheaper solution than building a bridge across the canal.   

In the above picture, the Erie Canal and bike trail is on top of this road.  If you look in the picture below, you can see the road extending out from under the canal.  

Past the culvert is more farm country and beautiful scenery.   

Arriving in Brockport we made our way to Dollinger’s Inn and Suites – about a mile and a half away.   They were another hotel very accommodating in providing a first floor and allowing us to bring our bikes into the hotel room.   

Day 2: 44.5 miles

Day 3 Brockport to Fairport

Today is another shorter ride.  Our daughter lives in Webster with her husband and 2 children.  This helps tremendously since we will be able to wash our clothes.  And of course having a short riding day so we can play with the Grandkids is always a plus.     

The trail leaving Brockport is again beautiful.  Yet another 95+ degree day and high humidity so we start early again.   

We ran into more murals.   In an effort to preserve history, many canal communities have painted on buildings.  This one is right on the bike trail painted on an overpass.  It was difficult to take a picture of it since you can’t back up too far without going in the canal!

Going through the city of Rochester is a huge change from the scenic countryside.  But trails were well marked and it was easy traveling.   

In Genesee Valley Park, the Erie Canalway Trails meets up with two other trails:  the Genesee Riverway Trail and the Genesee Valley Greenway.   This is a huge beautiful park.  There were a lot of bikers there.   

Riding into Fairport:

Day 3: 36 miles

Day 4 Fairport to Weedsport

Day 4 Fairport to Weedsport

This is our longest biking day.   And there are some roads to ride on with today’s trip.   But first coming into Newark we are greeted with some beautiful murals.  

Newark is really pleasant.  It was a great place to stop and take a break.   

At the end of this park under the bridge is a series of incredible murals.  It is very hard to take pictures of them unless you are in the water.   

 

Mural in Lyons:

Probably one of my favorite farm scenes was on the road after leaving Clyde.   It was about as picturesque as you can get.    

Day 4: 54 miles

Day 5: Weedsport to Camillus

This is another intentionally short day. We are stopping at Camillus to see our son and daughter-in-law who live I Syracuse and will stay overnight with them. We also wanted to ride from Syracuse back to Rome in one day.

Leaving Weedsport, you are at the halfway point on the Erie Canal – not the bike trail — the actual Erie Canal Trail.  

Here you are riding along the Old Erie Canal.  The bike trail is narrower and the canal is stagnant water.   But as you ride along, you come to a beautiful memorial right on the trail.  Someone has put a lot of work and time into this.  It is beautiful.  It is so large my pictures do not do it justice.   Again, I can only backup so far.   

I did a little research.  Bryan McNeill Place appeared to be an exceptional individual who, along with a lot of other interests loved long distance running.   He died at 39 and left a loving family.  Rest in peace Bryan.  While I never knew you, I can see you are remembered in this incredible memorial.   

Camillus Erie Canal Park includes the seven mile stretch of the Erie Canal known as Camillus Landing.   This part of the Canal crosses Nine Mile Creek over a 144 foot long aqueduct.   It is a pretty area and there were a lot of people taking advantage of this area walking, biking, and running.   

It was nice to have a short day with the mid 90’s weather and the longer bike ride yesterday.  

Day 5:  16 miles

Day 6:  Back to Rome

Leaving DeWitt there is another really scenic aqueduct complete with another farm scene.    Living in upstate New York, I do have a passion for red barns.   

The trail got a little narrow here.    

Day 6:   44 miles

So if you have read all the way through this, here is something very important.  When you are on the road portions, look for these signs painted on the road.  

They saved us more than once because they will point which direction to take.   

We have taken the trail as far as Utica.   I’m sure we will ride all the way to Albany at some point.  It is just logistics figuring out transportation.   The ride was incredible and my husband still calls it one of our best vacations.   Just so you know, we have travelled extensively.    I particularly liked the trail from Tonawanda to Newark.  The trail is nice, very kept up, really clean so thank you to all that carry in and carry out like we do.   The trail is predominately flat and easy riding.   I will definitely do it again.   By the way, we are in our early 60’s.  If we can do this, many of you can too!!  I hope you get to enjoy it as it is a really beautiful ride.    


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Lovely photos! We rode parts of the canal (between Buffalo and Weedsport) in May. Drove from the Chicago area, and met up with friends who are from Virginia. We met such nice people, had great meals, and even found some good brew pubs! We are also in our 60’s, and plan our vacations around bike trails.

You rode the most scenic parts of the trail. I loved the western part of the state.

Ver y nice photos and descriptions of the trip – you will love Canajohari e to Amsterdam!

Thank you for sharing your photos and journey notes. Also in my 60s, a native of Niagara County now living in Capital Region I’m new to cycling and your post is motivating me to give this a try.

I hope you try it. It was really a great vacation. I’m looking forward to doing Rome to Albany later this week.

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