Navigating through Time: a Journey along Old Erie Canal State Historic Park

The Erie Canal towpath runs alongside the water-filled canal in the fall. The vivid blue sky is reflected in the water.

From history buffs to families, the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park offers a unique blend of education, heritage and scenic beauty. It’s not just a walk in the park—it’s a voyage through history, a tribute to innovation, and an unforgettable New York adventure.

The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, was a feat of engineering that connected the Hudson River to Lake Erie, effectively opening up trade routes and making New York a powerful commercial hub. The Old Erie Canal State Park preserves a portion of this monumental canal, allowing visitors to glimpse what life was like during this transformative era in American history.

Embark on a captivating adventure that spans 36 miles, from DeWitt’s Butternut Creek to Rome’s outskirts in New York. The Old Erie Canal State Historic Park lets you walk on the restored towpath and waterway segments of the original Erie Canal’s Long Level section—open for business from 1825 to 1917.

A Unique Historical Site

We explored two brief sections, picking a fine fall day to walk along the towpath near Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum and Poolsbrook Picnic Area, where, of course, we picnicked!

Don’t miss Chittenango Landing, the lone survivor among 30 drydocks that once supported the canal boats. Here, you can witness the engineering marvels and craftsmanship that built the Erie Canal and transformed 19th-century America. It’s not just a visit—it’s a full-fledged experience with its Enlarged Erie Canal, towpath, and boat building and repair facilities.

To get to the towpath from the parking area, you’ll cross a footbridge over the canal. This serene park offers a tranquil escape.

Old Erie Canal State Park is a living museum that beautifully encapsulates the rich history, natural beauty, and modern recreational opportunities available in upstate New York. Whether you’re an avid historian, an outdoor adventurer, or someone who just wants to take a leisurely stroll along a scenic route, this park has something to offer.

The Old Erie Canal State Park is not just a playground for outdoor enthusiasts; it’s also an educational hub. The park offers interpretive signs along the towpath and waterway that explain the historical significance of the canal and the machinery that operated within it. Occasionally, the park organizes guided tours and events to further engage visitors in the historical and ecological aspects of the area.

America’s First Superhighway

Stretching 524 miles today, the Erie Canal was a groundbreaking piece of civil engineering that originally spanned 363 miles. It served as a critical trade route, connecting the Atlantic to the Great Lakes and played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. Its construction unlocked the western U.S., making New York a cornerstone of American expansion.

While commercial use has waned, recreational boating keeps the Erie Canal alive. It’s also part of a more extensive New York State Canal System, consisting of the Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals. Visitors and locals alike can benefit from its multi-purpose usage, from hydroelectricity and irrigation to tourism and leisure.

Know Before You Go

Adjacent to or within a short driving distance from the Old Erie Canal State Park are several attractions that can make your visit even more rewarding, such as those below:

  1. Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum – Located in Chittenango, this museum offers a deep dive into the history of the Erie Canal, canal boats, and the life of canal workers.
  2. Camillus Erie Canal Park – Though not directly part of the Old Erie Canal State Park, this park in Camillus features a restored section of the Erie Canal and offers boat rides.
  3. Erie Canal Museum – Located in Syracuse, this museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the Erie Canal. It’s not in the state park, but it’s relevant for those interested in the history of the canal.
  4. Canastota Canal Town Museum – This museum offers a look into the impact of the Erie Canal on small towns and communities.
  5. Sam Patch Erie Canal Boat Tours -The Sam Patch, a replica canal packet boat, offers 90-minute cruises through canal Lock E32.

You could easily spend an entire day—or weekend—exploring not only the park but also its surrounding attractions.

Getting There: Please check out the park’s trail map for parking locations
Hours: daylight
Website: Old Erie Canal State Historic Site

There’s so much to see and do in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York! For more great daytrip destinations, check out the articles below: