Exploring New York’s Erie Canal
If you decide to spend a night in the city before launching onto the water, then the Woodcliff Hotel and Spa, a 20-minute drive east from downtown Rochester, is your best option as it is only a short drive to the town of Fairport, the put-in point for the kayaking part of your adventure. Fairport is also one of the most picturesque towns on the canal with its almost 100-year-old, fully operational lift-bridge and downtown dock.
Pick up a kayak at Fairport’s Erie Canal Boat Company. The shop offers daily and weekly rentals, as well as a boat livery service, meaning that staff will drive your car to any pull-out point along your paddling route. They can also help you identify campsites, hotels and bed and breakfasts along the route and work with you to determine the drop-off point for your kayak at the end of your trip. “The canal is prime for paddlers of every skill level,” said owner Peter Abele, since the water is always calm and motorized boats are prohibited from exceeding a five-mile-per-hour speed limit.
As you start your journey on the water, you will likely see walkers, hikers and cyclists taking advantage of the 365 mile-long recreational Canalway Trail, which parallels the waterway and plans to expand to be the longest multiple-use trail in the country at 524 miles. As you get attuned to the landscape, you will see green herons, great blue herons and kingfishers flying over the water or stalking prey; snapping turtles sunning on rocks; and muskrats, beavers and mink skittering to and from their dens. And you will likely be the only boater.
From Fairport, spend your first day paddling 12.4 miles east to Palmyra and overnight at the Liberty House Bed and Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian house with decent rates Before heading out for your second day of paddling, take a couple of hours to immerse yourself in this small town's history. The first copies of the Book of Mormon,twere printed here in 1830; Winston Churchill's great-grandparents are buried just west of the town; and Henry Wells of the bank Wells Fargo had his first business here in the late 1820s. Today you can visit five side-by-side museums, including a replica general store, print shop and history museum, to get a glimpse into the past.
It is another eight-and-a-half-mile paddle east to the town of Newark, where you can overnight at the Vintage Gardens Bed and Breakfast if you do not want to camp along the banks of the canal. The five-room inn has two rooms with claw-foot bathtubs (the Asian Lily suite's tub is extra large), perfect for soaking tired muscles.
Rise early the next morning and paddle 17 miles southeast to Waterloo village, located on a section of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal that links two of the state's Finger Lakes -- Cayuga and Seneca -- to the Erie Canal. You have just entered wine country, but before you head off to tipple, take some time to explore John and Paula Kenny's quirky Canal Side Experiences.
In addition to offering canal-side camping and houseboat rentals, John and Paula host pontoon excursions to the lakes, and have a wide range of activities on their property, including pottery, painting and radio-controlled car racing. They can also point you in the direction of the small but significant National Memorial Day Museum, which explains the importance of a holiday created to honour the sacrifices of soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
The next morning, tie your kayak onto the car and drive 12 miles east to the town of Seneca Falls. This is the site of the world's first women's rights convention, held in 1848, and today, the National Park Service manages an interesting museum and memorial that commemorates and interprets its significance.
Drive onward 28 miles to Camillus to meet the Beebes. As the caretakers of this area, they are happy to let people pitch their tent behind the Sims Museum, the general store replica and are great company, full of stories about the history of the canal and their own role in its continued evolution.