Life » Culture

3 scenic Erie Canal cruises to enjoy this summer

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If the long daylight hours and warm weather of summer beckon you to the waterways around Rochester, there are loads of places to rent a boat, canoe, or kayak, if you don’t already have one.

But another option is to let someone else take the wheel for a few hours while you take in the sights along two of Rochester’s historic and enduringly special waterways.

Consider these cruise services that operate seasonally on the Genesee River and the Erie Canal. They each strike that rare “affordable luxury” mark, and make for a unique gift-in-a-pinch or spur-of-the-moment treat for yourself.

Sam Patch Erie Canal Tours

Named for the nation’s first and ultimately doomed daredevil — who died in the Genesee River after his second barrel jump over High Falls — the Sam Patch has been a fixture on the Erie Canal for more than three decades.
The Sam Patch is a replica of an 1800s packet boat that would have carried mail, local freight, and passengers in its day. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • The Sam Patch is a replica of an 1800s packet boat that would have carried mail, local freight, and passengers in its day.
The vessel is a replica of an 1800s packet boat that would have carried mail, local freight, and passengers in its day. It runs 90-minute jaunts from Pittsford Village through the century-old Lock 32 at Clover Street, and back again. The boat’s windowed shelter makes the trip comfortable no matter the weather. The experience includes stories — as told by a deckhand — about the historic, scientific, cultural, and environmental importance of the canal.

The Sam Patch holds 49 people and can be booked for special events. The service also offered periodic themed cruises, including one focused on birding presented in partnership with Montezuma Audubon Center.



The Sam Patch departs from 12 Schoen Place in Pittsford, and operates through October 31 on Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Tickets are $14-$22, free for kids under age 2. sampatch.org.

The Colonial Belle

Based in Fairport, The Colonial Belle has been offering tours of the Erie Canal since 1989, and has both an enclosed cabin with windows and open-air seating on the upper deck. Fair warning: if you sit up top, you will hear the call, “Low bridge, everybody down!” and are advised to comply when the boat passes under a bridge.
On board there’s a full-service bar and two restrooms, and the vessel can hold 149 people. Themed cruises include Sunset Lock Tours with live music, Murder Mystery dinner tours, pirate-themed family cruises, and a Fall Foliage tour to downtown Rochester.

The Colonial Belle, out of Fairport, has been offering tours of the Erie Canal since 1989. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • The Colonial Belle, out of Fairport, has been offering tours of the Erie Canal since 1989.
The Colonial Belle operates through the end of October, with afternoon and evening cruises scheduled Tuesday through Sunday. The Belle departs from 400 Packet’s Landing and travels 14 to 16 miles; some tour variations leave from different locations. There are a lot of options to choose from (time of day, two-or-three hour cruise length, lock passage or not, and special events). Basic tickets for cruises only are $13-$28, free to kids 3 and younger. Dinner packages are $60+ and range depending on the event. colonialbelle.com.

The Harbor Town Belle

The Mississippi-style riverboat is not operating this season, according to a recorded message that greets callers to the service. The message notes, however, that the crew looks forward to getting back on the water in the future. The owners were not immediately available for comment. The vessel is an 80-foot paddle boat that normally offers cruises on the Genesee River and Lake Ontario. It was built in 1998 by WWII veteran Alfred Gilbert and his wife Joyce Gilbert, and is now owned and operated by their daughter and grandchildren.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's life editor. She can be reached at becca@rochester-citynews.com.

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