Granary Buffalo
These granaries along the Buffalo River are close to the western terminus of the old Erie Canal.

Looking for the 

Erie Canal:

The Journey 1

Childs Cobblestone School
A cobblestone school in Childs, north
of the canal village of Albion

Geography is NOT an indoor sport! Get out on the Canal!


Physical Geography

Human Geography

Regions of NYS

BONUS Sections!


North Tonawanda

Near where Tonawanda Creek meets the Niagara River is the official western terminus of today's Erie Canal. There are two canal parks in the twin cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda.

Old Locks
Water spills over the remains of the original five locks in Lockport. The modern canal uses two larger structures, just out of the photo on the left.


The proud village of Medina sits on the Erie Canal in Orleans County. The canal passes over Oak Orchard Creek on a 45 ft. tall culvert. Compare its downtown to other canal villages. Do you see any similarities?

Genesee Aqueduct

The Roman arches of the Genesee Aqueduct, now the Broad Street Bridge in Rochester. The  canal used the lower level. In the early 1900s it was a subway, but now it is empty.


The village of Fairport, a thriving canal community east of Rochester. Note the unique tilted lift bridge that must be raised to let larger craft pass through.

Aldrich Bridge

Just outside the village of Palmyra, is one of the nicest canal parks in the western part of the state. Pictured here is the Aldrich Bridge, which was used to transport mules from one side of the canal to the other.

Lock 27 Lyons
Near the center of the village of Lyons you will find impressive Lock 27, with a little canal park. Here the Canandaigua Outlet (from the Finger Lake of the same name) dumps its water into the Erie Canal.

The Western Canal

The canal's western terminus today is technically in Tonawanda, where it joins the Niagara River. The original canal continued parallel to the river down to Erie Harbor in Buffalo. You can still boat down to the "Queen City" on the Niagara River itself. You will pass through a federal lock at Black Rock, which lifts your craft the final few feet to Lake Erie's 571-foot level.

When in Western New York, you should take a short drive up to Niagara Falls. These mighty cataracts were a major barrier for travel to the interior of North America. This is why the champions of the canal (led by Gov. DeWitt Clinton himself) wanted the terminus to be at Buffalo. If you can navigate to Lake Erie, you have in effect by-passed Niagara.

You also need to go to Buffalo's Erie Basin. Today it is a marina for pleasure boats, but in the golden years of the canal it was a booming commercial port, where grains were transferred from Great Lakes steamboats to Erie canalboats. Many granaries can still be seen along the Buffalo River, and some are still in operation today (such as General Mills).

Tonawanda has a great canal park. It is a nice place to stroll around, talking to boaters from all over the country. Still, it's time to get this trip started. The canal here for about a dozen miles is Tonawanda Creek. Again, this is different from the Old Erie, which was always in a separate ditch. Then the canal leaves the creek bed and enters the Deep Cut, blasted out of dolostone, the very hard rock that caps Niagara Falls. When completed in 1825, it was considered one of the greatest triumphs of engineering anywhere in the world. Using human and animal power, augmented by DuPont's black powder, they created a channel level enough to avoid locks, but tilted just enough to keep water flowing in from Lake Erie.

Eventually, you enter the city of Lockport, the home to the most famous locks along the canal. Here, the canal needed to climb up (or step down) the Niagara Escarpment. Nathan Roberts, a self-trained engineer from Canastota, designed a flight of five consecutive double locks. When they were completed, they were almost as celebrated as Niagara Falls, just a few miles away to the west.

First, you should visit the Niagara County Historical Museum and the Erie Canal Visitor Center to learn about the canal here in Lockport. Then you want to explore the locks themselves, just a couple blocks away. Today boats make the passage over the escarpment in two steps, Locks 34 and 35. The spillwater tumbles over the remains of Nathan Roberts' original five locks. There is a plan in operation now to make these historic treasures open to small craft. For now you can walk along the towpath and see the canal from several different perspectives.

Of course, you must go through the modern locks yourself  either on your own boat, or on a tour with the Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruise line. You can't comprehend  how great the drop is until you actually sit at the bottom and look up. After the tour, take time to stroll through the city itself, which sprang up almost overnight during the construction of the canal in the 1820s.

As you follow NY Route 31 eastward, you basically parallel the Erie Canal. This is the Long Level, since there are no locks between Lockport and Rochester. But the landscape is not boring! You pass through the small towns of Gasport, Middleport, Medina, Albion, Holley, Brockport, and Spencerport. Take time to see the waterfronts of these villages, with their 19th century buildings. Particularly interesting is the Oak Orchard Aqueduct in Medina. The canal passes far above a waterfall from a concrete culvert. Brockport's waterfront is also special, with a sculpture sponsored by the Art Walks on the Water project.

Near the canal, especially to the north along US Route 104 are the unique cobblestone houses. These fascinating buildings were constructed of round stones of glacial origin. A good place to learn about cobblestones is in the hamlet of Childs, just a few miles north of Albion. The Cobblestone Society does tours of several structures in their community. There are several hundred of these structures within a short drive of the canal between Lockport and Syracuse. Some can even be seen from the canal itself.

In the suburban community of Greece, the modern canal swings south around Rochester. As stated previously, the Old Canal went through the city itself. Today it is paved over by Lyell Ave., Broad Street, and I-590. But you can still see relics of the past here in the Flower City.  The most impressive structure still remaining is the Genesee Aqueduct (the Broad Street Bridge). This water bridge made of stone arches carried the Erie Canal over the turbulent Genesee River. Just a short distance north of here are the three falls of the Genesee, where flour was milled in the 1800s. These mills made Rochester the first boom town in the nation, and the canal provided cheap transportation to to take the flour to New York Harbor.

There are two remaining locks from the Enlarged Erie locally. One is along I-490 east of downtown. The other one is found behind Wegmans Supermarket along Monroe Avenue (Rte. 31) near Pittsford. In the village itself, the modern canal and the older versions have rejoined. This is a spot that should be visited, since Pittsford is one of the most attractive of the canal towns. At Northfield Commons and Schoen Place, there are many shops and restaurants, and it is the home port of the Sam Patch, a tour boat run by Cornhill Navigation Co. It is one of a couple boats that you board to see the canal on the east side of Rochester. It takes you through modern Lock 32, and along the Great Embankment in Bushnell's Basin. Here the canal crosses the Irondequoit Valley, a major barrier. To accomplish this feat, a ridge 70 feet high needed to be built. Canal boats float by even today above the treetops of the valley below.

Another canal town worth visiting is Fairport, home to the strange tilted Lift Bridge. It is also the homeport of the Colonial Belle, another good tour boat company. Fairport is an ideal spot for biking and strolling, with nice parks and outdoor eateries. One geographic feature must be mentioned. The canal sits in the bottom of an east-west trending valley. This basin was formed by meltwaters at the end of the Ice Age, one of many examples of how the glaciers influenced the path of the Erie Canal.

The route continues eastward into Wayne County, featuring the canal villages of Macedon, Palmyra, Newark, Lyons, and Clyde. If you are driving, stay on NY Route 31. You can also boat, walk, and cycle along this scenic route. You are drumlin country, gentle oval-shaped hills deposited by glaciers over 10,000 years ago. There are thousands of them in Wayne County, and many tour above the canal itself. All these villages have embraced their canal past, and they are all interesting places to visit. In Macedon you should visit modern Lock 30. You can actually walk across the lockgate here. Just a short walk down the canal are the remains of Old Lock 60, built around 150 years ago. The lockgates are gone, but the masonry is still in good condition. Just before reaching Palmyra, you enter a Canal Park, which features two outstanding structures from the Enlarged Erie, the Aldrich Turning Bridge (for mules) and the Mud Creek Aqueduct. The modern canal is just a short stroll to the north, featuring Lock 29. The village itself has a unique distinction - it has a church on each of the four corners of its main intersection. Palmyra was also an important link of the Underground Railroad.

If you like seeing working locks, you will find them in Newark (Lock 28B), Lyons (Lock 28A and Lock 27), and Clyde (Lock 26). Located near most of these modern structures are the remains of locks from the Enlarged Erie, showing you that the routes nearly match in this part of the state. Lock 27 is particularly impressive, since Canadaigua Outlet tumbles into the canal at this point.

Beyond Clyde you enter the Montezuma Marshes, one of the problem areas that needed to be conquered by the engineers and laborers on Clinton's Ditch. Workers had to struggle against both malaria-carrying mosquitoes and the muck of this extensive wetland. This leads you into the central section of the canal, which not only includes the modern "Barge Canal", but also the Old Erie (on a very different route), the Oswego Canal, and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal.

Click on the arrow to continue the journey eastward into Central New York!

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Ellis Island
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