The Erie Canalway Trail is approximately 365 miles of paved road, paved trail, and crushed gravel trail. This trail does include on-road sections and is best for those comfortable with road riding. The on-road sections are not demanding and mostly offer plenty of shoulder or are located on secondary and residential roads.
The Erie Canal Trail can be roughly divided into three sections to set your expectations of the trip:
1. The western end from Buffalo to Palmyra is primarily a flat, crushed gravel trail with recent clear cutting of shade trees. Water is let into the canal parallel to the bike route for much of the riding season, so expect sun with little shade for this portion. There are frequent small port towns and trail services along this stretch.
2. The central portion, roughly from Palmyra to Utica, is a mix of trail and road riding. There are less frequent towns and services along this section.
3. The eastern end from Utica to Albany is primarily paved bike trail with more shade and elevation changes.
The Erie Canalway Trail is an easy to moderate ride with some rolling elevation in the eastern portion of the route. Riders should be comfortable biking on road with traffic. Services, food/drink, and lodging are frequent along the entire trail.
Cell coverage is good along the entire trail. Wifi can be inconsistent in the central portion of the route.
The main riding season for the Erie Canalway is May-September, with mid to late September being the peak. Many trail resources close after Oct 1 and do not reopen until after May 1. That said, the trail can be ridden in the shoulder season (April/October) if riders are prepared for some of the campsites, bathrooms, and other trail resources to be closed.
Outside of these months the trail can be ridden but be prepared for cold weather, precipitation, and trail resources (including some food and lodging) to be closed.
Central New York weather is relatively moderate in terms of temperature and precipitation through the summer and early fall. June/July/August tend to be the warmest and driest months, while May and September can be more moderate but with more chance of rain. Humidity tends to be high in summer, so riders unused to humid conditions can find the weather to be taxing if not prepared for it. We always recommend planning conservatively for daily mileage in order to deal with unexpected hazards, such as weather.
Some portions of the trail run parallel to standing water and through wooded areas. These conditions are favorable in summer for insects like black flies, and riders should be prepared with insect repellent, if appropriate. Riders planning to camp in these sections should particularly be prepared for small insects like flies and mosquitos.
The prevailing wind is generally west to east, and is most noticeable between Buffalo and Syracuse. Past the lakes, wind direction is typically not a factor.
Summers are not particularly hot along the Erie Canal Trail but the western end of the trail from Buffalo to Palmyra has large areas clear cut of trees allowing for direct sun most of the day. Hats and sunscreen are strongly advised.
The humidity of central New York in summer can also come as a surprise to riders from outside the Northeast. Be prepared for humid conditions and plan to ride conservatively if taking your trip in summer.
Free water is infrequent past Fairport, but available for purchase at convenience stores, etc along the entire trail at local towns.
The New York State Thruway (I-90) roughly parallels the canal through the entire route.
The Erie Canal Trail is easy to access with many trailheads along the route. Most are identified on the PTNY interactive map. Many of the locks and lift bridges operated by the New York State Canal Corporation also have parking areas. Cities and villages usually offer designated parking areas. However, these areas are frequently limited to short-term parking.
Below are some suggestions for multiday parking. All parking is at your own risk.
BUFFALO – Pay parking can be found at The Turner Ramp parking garage, 1 Perkins Dr. for $9/day. 716-849-5812
LOCKPORT – Parking can also be found at the Lockport Discovery Center , 24 Church Street, Lockport, NY 14094. You should call in advance and check in if leaving your vehicle for multiple days. Call 716-439-0431
ALBANY – Parking can be found at the Albany-Rensselear Trail Station, 525 East St, Rensselear, NY 12144 for $30-$35/day.
Four international airports serve the corridor – Buffalo Niagara International, Niagara Falls International, Greater Rochester International, and Albany International.
In addition, private airfields and small public airports are located along the corridor within a modest bicycle ride of the Erie Canalway Trail.
In total nine Amtrak stations provide rail service along a route that generally parallels that of the canal and offers links to New York City, Toronto, Montreal, Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston. Two of these lines allow roll-on bicycles, while other trains allow a boxed bike. although not all stations have baggage facilities. There usually is an additional fee for a boxed bike based on weight.
You need to reserve space for a roll-on bike in advance.
If you plan to take the train with your bike we recommend reviewing this article on the Canalway Trail Times blog.
EMPIRE SERVICE – runs daily between NYC and Niagara Falls. It includes stops at Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo.
MAPLE LEAF – runs daily between NYC and Toronto. It includes stops at Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo.
LAKESHORE LIMITED – runs daily between Chicago and New York City. It includes stops at Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo.
Carry-on bike service is allowed on certain departures for these lines. Read Amtrak’scarry-on bicycle services page carefully. Bike space must be reserved in advance and applies only to standard bike frames.
The following are our recommendations for the trails based on our experience. However, each rider knows their own preferences and abilities best.
The Erie Canal Trail is a mix of pavement and well-packed, crushed limestone that is appropriate for most bikes. Touring/hybrid bikes are most appropriate for the trail. Road bikes are allowable, but riders will likely wish for tires of greater than 30mm width. Tire widths in the 30-47mm range are ideal.
Recumbents, trikes, and bikes with trailers will find a wide, clear trail throughout the route.
We encourage riders to choose itineraries that will allow them to comfortably ride the entire route and enjoy their time, without feeling rushed or run-down. Always ride within your limits for your best trip experience.
For some ideas about preparing for your trip, here is a great resource to help you train.
If you are bringing your own bike, we recommend that you have it tuned several weeks in advance of your trip, and that you give it a few “shake down” runs to work out any fit or mechanical issues.
Be on alert for surface and light changes, particularly around corners and at the bottom of hills. Potholes and breaking bumps can collect at the start/end of hills on gravel roads.
Be aware of other road users including walkers and runners, as well as motor vehicles on the road sections.
The Erie Canalway Trail is part of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor which was established in 2000. The Erie Canalway consists of both public and private lands which are managed by a number of distinct entities. Biking is just one way to experience the many resources along the larger heritage corridor.
The Erie Canalway Trail as a biking destination is promoted by Parks &Trail New York, which publishes a guidebook and online mapping of the route. Each July they run a fully supported bike tour of the trail.
The Erie Canalway Trail is also part of the larger Empire State Trail system. The route of the historic Erie Canalway Trail and Empire State Trail diverges in a few locations. The Empire State Trail also runs north-south across the state from the Canadian border to NYC.
Other relevant trail groups include:
Erie Canal Discovery Center
24 Church Street, Lockport, NY 14094. 716-439-0431.
May 1 – October 31: open 9:00am to 5:00pm daily
November 1 – April 30: open 10:00am to 3:00pm Fridays and Saturdays.
The NYS Canal Corporation site includes valuable information about camping at the canal locks during your trip.
The route between Schenectady and Albany counties runs on the paved Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail.