Cruising New York’s canals

Packet boat on the Erie Canal; Rochester, New York
Packet boat on the Erie Canal; Rochester, New York

For a unique way to experience New York’s countryside, try a leisurely, self-captained cruise on a flat-bottomed narrowboat.

Colorful and cozy, narrowboats are descendants of the craft that plied the Erie Canal in the 1800s. Back then, power came from teams of mules pulling the barges. Nowadays, diesel engines do the work. But the pace is about the same. You’ll meander through some of the loveliest, least-developed areas of northern New York at about 7mph. You set your own itinerary, visiting towns and museums, biking to wineries, or just drifting along and savoring the scenery. Towns along the canal have public docks with a low tie-up fee, if any.

Narrowboats sleep up to 6 people and are self-contained with fully equipped kitchens, linens, and towels, and necessary fuel and nautical gear. If you really can’t stand being unplugged, some boats have Wi-Fi. Novice mariners get complete instructions on driving the boats, navigating the canals, and managing the locks. Lockmasters are used to helping newbies who quickly pick up the procedures. Kids love the whole adventure.


The New York State Canal System website has a lot of information and answers to FAQs. ( So do the four listed boat rental operators who specialize in narrowboats. Erie Canal Cruise Lines ( specializes in trips along the Erie Canal and the Finger Lakes.

Erie-Champlain Canal Boat Company ( offers routes along the Erie Canal or north to Lake Champlain. They also have day trips along the canal in Waterford, NY. Low Bridge Charters ( also focuses on the Erie Canal; their staff helps plan itineraries to insure those new to the experience don’t miss anything. Mid-Lakes Navigation ( has several sized boats for trips along the Erie and Cayuga-Seneca Canals. They are also have daytrips from downtown Syracuse.