Kayaking the Erie Canal –As the western gate of lock 33 opened, the 17 kayaks that were waiting slowly moved into the lock. We positioned ourselves along the sides of the lock, grabbed hold of ropes hanging there, and waited. Once we were all situated in position, the gate operator closed the gate. Slowly, water was released, and the water level decreased, taking us with it. We were lowered 24 feet until the water in the lock was level with the water at the east end of the lock. The eastern gate opened, and we continued our journey along the Erie Canal. This is kayaking the Erie Canal. If you are not familiar with the Erie Canal, take a look at the article I did a few years ago.
Kayaking the Erie Canal
This was the adventure I had been waiting for all summer. Genesee Waterways, Genesee RiverWatch, and the City of Rochester’s Recreation Department host a few group paddles each year. I had done one with them in the past and fully enjoyed it. That trip was on the Genesee River from the Lower Falls to near Lake Ontario. This trip was from the Genesee Waterways location on the Genesee River to their location in Pittsford at lock 32. The route was a short paddle along the Genesee River to the crossing of the Erie Canal, turning to the east on the Canal and heading about 5 miles to Lock 32. That means passing through Lock 33.
While I have done some paddles in the Erie Canal, this would be the first time I have traveled through a lock on a kayak. I have been through lock 33 before, however, that was on the San Patch Tour Boat. Being in a small 11- or 12-foot kayak seems more intimidating.
For this group event, I decided to rent a kayak instead of using my inflatable Sea Eagle. I still love my Sea Eagle; however, it is slower to paddle and does take a little more effort. The cost of the group paddle with a single kayak rental was just $30, using my own the fee would have been $5. City Residences got a 50% discount on the rental rate.
I arrived at Genesee Park about 20 minutes before the start time, signed in, and waited for everyone else to show up. We had three guides, one from each of the sponsors. Interesting, I remember all three of them from my previous group outing. Around 10 AM, people started getting into their kayaks. Most of the paddlers rented the kayak, but still a few brought their own. There were mostly single kayaks, still a few were in tandem setups.
At 10:20, we headed south (upstream) on the Genesee River until we reached the Erie Canal. Turning east, we entered the canal. We were still fairly grouped together, and one of the guides was pointing out some of the things we passed, such as Red Creek. Red Creek starts somewhere in Henrietta and ends at the Erie Canal in Genesee Valley Park.
It was only a few minutes before we were paddling through the guard gate. The guard gate is designed to prevent flooding of the canal if the river floods. It is also closed in the late fall to allow the canal to be drained for the winter. Except for a small stretch near the park where the canal is running alongside the interstate, both sides of the canal are natural. A multi-use trail runs along the side of the canal on the north side, and the south side is often wooded. You will see a few privately owned small docks and a few kayak launch points, still, it is mostly nature that you see. We had one boat pass us, but other than that the water was flat other than our own wakes.
On The Water
We paddled maybe a couple of hundred yards from the Genesee Waterways dock to reach the Erie Canal and then 4 miles (straight line, I must have weaved some, because my GPS said it was farther) to Lock 33. We regrouped near the lock as we waited for the boat that passed us to travel through the lock.
When it was our turn, we entered the lock. As I mentioned, this was my first time using a lock in a kayak. While the state charges for commercial and recreational boating, kayaks and canoes are allowed to transit without a fee. Sorry SUP users, you have to portage around the lock.
I felt very little movement as we were lowered in the lock, holding on to the ropes kept us from drifting. It was just by looking at the kayaks on the other side that you could see the progress.
When the water level was down to the east side level, the gate opened, and we paddled out. It was another mile and a quarter until we reached Lock 32. Arriving at Lock 32, we unloaded at the Lock 32 Whitewater Park Dock ( a Genesee Waterway Facility at E mile255.29) and vans ferried us back to our starting point. I started my Fitbit when I entered the Kayak and stopped it when I got out. In total, including the time in the lock and waiting for everyone to get started, my Fitbit said we traveled 5.8 miles in 2 hours and 50 minutes.
While on the topic of distances on the canal, I would like to suggest getting the guidebook. You can download the book by sections or order the book and map section for just a $20 shipping charge. I have done both, I like browsing the hard copy guidebook and the maps are very informative. It gives distances between each bridge, locks and landing points. The “E Mile” notations above are from my copy of the guidebook.
The Experience Kayaking the Erie Canal
I often walk along the Canal Trail from Genesee Valley Park to Meridian Centre Park round trip and between lock 32 and lock 33 round trip. This was the first time I paddled this entire section. It is a different perception.
Kayaking the Erie Canal and entering the lock was great. The next group paddle they have scheduled is going to Corn Hill on the Genesee River, I hope to try that one as well.