New York Erie Canal – Historic Towpath Bicycle Touring

New York Erie Canal – Historic Towpath Bicycle Touring


To most cyclists, this word means trouble. Flat TIRES are an inconvenience at best. But flat Roads and Trails are to many, the sign of a really great ride. Toss in a few miles of nearly deserted country roads and add 100 miles of car-free cycling on smooth trails and you have the makings of a fabulous vacation!

Welcome to New York’s historic Erie Canal!

Departing Fort Niagara, we get things rolling with a short warm-up ride along the orchard lined shores of Lake Ontario, our new adventure on the Erie Canal really kicks off the trail riding at Lockport, New York. This is where you can see some of the history and dramatic developments of the canal infrastructure that opened America’s western frontiers to commerce with the east. Some time spent in Lockport learning about “Clinton’s Ditch” ( that would be the Governor of New York) reveals much about the innovation and grit of America’s settlers.

Leaving Lockport, it’s smooth sailing all the way to Newark New York! The Erie Canal spawned a multitude of canal towns or “ports” along it’s length. Lockport, Gasport, Middleport, Spencerport, Fairport … the list goes on. Most of them were stopovers for the bargemen and their horses of the early days. Horses? Yes, the barges moved along the canal getting towed by horses walking the trail alongside … hence the term “towpath”.

Erie Canal Packet boat card

A 1907 postcard of a Packet Boat on the Erie Canal

The towns along the canal blossomed and now represent the majority of upstate New York’s population … New York’s “Main Street”. Old towns that they are, the architecture and culture of the towns is not to be missed. And there are plenty of them so you’re never far from a shady rest stop, a snack or a cold drink!

Albion New York Main Street

Albion, New York Main Street meets the Erie Canal

So, what’s it like riding the Erie Canalway Trail? The first thing you’ll notice is the quiet! No cars. No trucks. No motorcycles. No ATV’s. Just bicyclists and hikers. You’ll see kayaks and canoes, and sailboats under power, and occasionally a tug and barge on the water, but just as often a few geese and herons in the water or even sharing the trail with you. If you’re timing is right, you might get to see boats passing through the locks in Lockport, Pittsford or Macedon.

Boats in Lock Erie Canal

The trail itself changes character in places. The vast majority of the trail is a hard-packed “stone dust” that’s often as smooth, or better, than the asphalt roads we drive on. No potholes! Amazing!! A few places might get a little soft after a rain, but it drains and dries quickly and leaves little trace of ruts or tracks. Some sections have been recently resurfaced and are nearly as smooth as brand new pavement. In some of the towns, and across nearly the entire length of the Rochester metro area, the trail is typically paved. In only a few places, narrower dirt trails are the norm, but again, they are hard packed due to the frequent use of the trail, so nearly any width tire would be fine. Knobbies not required! And where the trails are narrow and dirt, you can almost always count on riding through of a tunnel of shady green woods. Beautiful!

Erie Canal tow path

And yes, the trail is FLAT! It stays close to the canal and you can’t even detect a current between the locks, so you know you’ve got a peaceful easy ride … for 100 miles!

Check it out for yourself on a 4 day Erie Canal Bike Tour.

Wilderness Voyageurs, is a bike touring company based in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania 800-272-4141

Wilderness Voyageurs runs bike tours throughout the US, and in addition to offering road and mountain bike tours, they specialize in unique rail-trail and canal towpath bicycle tours.