On the water / Boating in Erie and Niagara Counties
A resource list
Photos by Stephen Gabris
We’ve gathered as much information as we could find about boating opportunities in Erie and Niagara Counties, including kayaks, paddle boats, paddle boards (or stand up boards/SUPs, as they’re called), water bikes, canoes, motor boats, paddle-wheel boats, and sailboats. There’s even an electric pontoon boat.
These are all rentals and charters, for those who don’t own their own watercraft.
Buffalo Harbor and environs
Buffalo Harbor Cruises/Miss Buffalo has been providing sightseeing, private, and party cruises for more than forty years, including the first tours of the Buffalo River and grain elevators. These cruises actually cover four bodies of water—Lake Erie, Niagara River, Buffalo River, and Black Rock Canal—through various offerings. The primary vessel is Miss Buffalo II, which has a 185-person capacity and offers full bar and dining options.
79 Marine Drive; 856-6696 or buffaloharborcruises.com
Grand Lady Cruises features lunch, dinner, afternoon, and customized group cruises of the Buffalo River and harbor. The boat can comfortably hold 100 for a nonmeal cruise and eighty-eight for a trip that includes lunch or dinner. It sails from Buffalo RiverWorks.
359 Ganson Street; 873-4630 or grandlady.com
Buffalo Harbor Kayak offers individual rentals of kayaks, tandem kayaks, and paddleboards, as well as group tours. The rates are reasonable and the river, which has been significantly remediated, offers a beautiful ride punctuated by looming grain elevators and lush green banks.
From William Altreuter: Just down river from Silo City and Elevator Alley, the experience here can be quite different. For starters, Lake Erie is right there, as is the Naval Park. It is exciting to be able to paddle up and touch the Little Rock, and the sense of scale you get from the waterline of the ship is entirely different from the way it feels from shore. There are power boats on the water, which is cool if you enjoy riding the wake. The view of the city is terrific. Recommended for puttering around, particularly if there’s music at Canalside.
Canalside, 1 Naval Park Cove, Buffalo; 288-5309 or bfloharborkayak.com
Buffalo Cycleboats’ slogan says it all: “Buffalo’s Ultimate Party Boat!” Individuals or groups can book rides on the fifteen-passenger vessels that are set up so that passengers propel them by pedaling from their bar stools. There’s also a motor and a US Coast Guard-certified captain. This is perfect for group outings. Passengers can bring their own beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) and food, but are asked to consume no more than three drinks per person. That rule and the presence of the captain help ensure that things don’t get too rowdy for safety.
301 Ohio Street; 392-1753 or buffalocycleboats.com
Buffalo River Canoe and Kayak Outfitters offers hourly, daily, or weekly canoe and kayak rentals that are DIY operations. Paddlers depart from the operation’s West Seneca access point and paddle west along the river, ending up at 430 Ohio Street. Or, paddlers can simply rent the watercraft of their choice and drop it back off when they are done. If they choose the Ohio Street destination, they will enjoy views of Kaisertown, South Buffalo, and Old First Ward neighborhoods; the Tifft Nature preserve; and, of course, the grain elevators. Otherwise, this is a simple way to just get yourself a kayak or canoe for the day, to use as you wish.
900 Harlem Road, West Seneca; 771-2995 or alli-50.wixsite.com/buffaloriver
Buffalo River Tours allow people who just want to look and learn the opportunity to leave the driving to others. They take place on the forty-nine-seat River Queen, a canopied, one-hulled vessel built specifically for these tours or the Harbor Queen, which is multihulled and can hold 145. There are sunset cruises, narrated cruises, chartered cruises, and other options available.
Central Wharf@Canalside, 44 Prime Street; 796-4556 or buffaloriverhistorytours.com
Elevator Alley Kayak rents kayaks by the day and offers guided history tours in partnership with Explore Buffalo. All renters receive a brief lesson on kayaking with more advanced instruction available. There’s also a retail store for those who are hooked on the sport.
From William Altreuter: Your paddle will be placid, and you will see Buffalo’s history as a port city in a way that really can’t be duplicated. Get up close to the silos and grain elevators, and continue up river to Solar City for a glimpse into Elon Musk’s vision of the twenty-first century. This route is the urban wild—resilient species have moved back to the shores of the river that supposedly gave the city its name. Depending on the time of day, you may spot a fox; you will certainly see a loon or two. Blue and green heron are common. The green heron is small, and may flit ahead of you from tree to tree along the banks. The blue heron will probably be stilting along the shore, looking for minnows and frogs.
65 Vandalia Street (launches are from Mutual Riverfront Park); 997-7925 or elevatoralleykayak.com
Silo City Paddling Company offers tours as well as rentals of kayaks and paddle boards. The company actually operates out of a grain elevator, Marine A (1925), and was invited to set up shop by Silo City proprietor Rick Smith.
105 Silo City Row; 997-2884 or silocitypaddling.com
Water Bikes of Buffalo now offers stand-up pedal boards as well as water bikes (single/tandem) and pedal boats for adults and children. The pedal boats are intended for use in the shallow canals of The Water@Canalside; the bikes and boards can be used to explore the river and harbor.
Canalside; 681-4643 or waterbikesofbuffalo.com
Longboards Paddle Company has multiple locations on the lake where they offer water bikes, paddle boards, and kayaks for rental as well as tours, and activities—including paddle board yoga classes. The locations include Woodlawn Beach, Hamburg Town Beach, Buffalo Harbor State Park, and Wilkeson Point.
From William Altreuter: Longboards has several locations, but we like the Woodlawn Beach venue best: a good mix of wild shoreline and beach culture is a winning combination, and, although there is a fair amount of powerboat traffic, it isn’t obnoxious.
998-0949 or longboardsbeach.com
Make Sail Time
Reserve private sails for up to two or three hours with this company, which promises to customize the sailing experience aboard Chronos, a Beneteau Oceanis 38 yacht.
284 Fuhrmann Boulevard; 866-1964 or makesailtime.com
Moondance Cat has been offering cruises on the lake since 1981, and can accommodate seventy-five passengers on its current vessel, which includes outdoor lounging and indoor seating/dining areas. Both individual sails and group charters are available, both with full bar and catering options.
329 Erie Street; 845-7245 or moondancecat.com
Sail Buffalo Sailing School Accredited sailing certification (ASA) offers a wide range of classes, junior sailing camp, as well as boat shares and access to boats for members of the Sail Buffalo community.
2 Fuhrmann Boulevard; 432-6589 or sail-buffalo.com
Seven Seas Sailing School offers full seasons of classes for all ages; after completion, graduates can rent sailboats from the school.
284 Fuhrman Boulevard; 880-5154 or sevenseassailing.com
Spirit of Buffalo is the only square-rigged, topsail schooner sailing out of the Buffalo harbor. The vessel can carry forty-two passengers, who can take advantage of day sails, evening/sunset sails, wine-tasting cruises, and other offerings. There is a full menu on the boat’s website.
44 Prime Street; 796-7210 or spiritofbuffalo.com
Rowboat rentals here are run by volunteers, who usually set up shop near the Marcy Casino, which now houses The Terrace restaurant.
Paths Peaks & Paddles
From William Atreuter: You’ll have to schlep your kayak across Ellicott Creek Road, and the put-in is somewhat steep, but Ellicott Creek is worth it. Pay attention to what the weather has been like—if there’s been a lot of rain, this water can run a little fast. Part of the treat with this choice is being able to glide past the water-facing sides of the houses along the shore. Another happy aspect is that the route is mostly shaded, so you can stay out of the summer sun and get the full benefit of the cooling breezes. UB’s North Campus never looked better than it does from the creek. Bonus: unlike most kayak excursions, this can be done as a loop rather than out and back, or point to point.
1000 Ellicott Creek Road #1, Tonawanda; 213-0350 or pathspeakspaddles.com
Waterbike and Boat Adventures is located in Tonawanda at Gateway Harbor, where Ellicott and Tonawanda Creeks meet the Niagara River. It’s possible to rent kayaks, waterbikes, paddle board, and electric boats (great for larger groups).
11 Young Street, Tonawanda; 316-3905 or waterbikeadventures.com
Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises has been offering tours of the Erie Canal since 1987, when the company had two pontoon boats. Now, there is a large canalside banquet facility, the Lockview IV, a forty-eight-passenger vessel built to resemble the African Queen; the Lockview V, a 125-passenger double-decker vessel; and the Lockview VI, a 150-passenger Mississippi-style paddle-wheel motor vessel. Public and specialty cruises are regularly offered.
210 Market Street, Lockport; 433-6155 or lockportlocks.com
Liberty Excursions offers would-be sailors (six at a time) the chance to board a vintage 1936 gaff-rigged wooden schooner, the Liberty. Passengers can help crew the vessel or sit back and relax during excursions that include the lower Niagara River and lake Ontario.
East Main Street, Olcott; 433-0410 or libertyexcursions.com
Blue Water Marina is primarily a full-service marina, offering slips, storage, repairs, and much more, but the facility also rents individual or tandem sit-in or sit-on kayaks and stand up paddle boards. It also offers guided tours of the Upper Niagara River’s marshes and islands. Stops include Strawberry Island.
From William Altreuter: There’s a lot of Grand Island that most people never see, and this is an excellent way to explore it. Including coves, marshes, and great bird watching. There is a heron and egret rookery on Motor Island, and, if you are lucky, you may spot a bald eagle. Be aware that on open water the wind can be a factor, as can the other boat traffic. We recommend staying close to shore. Pro tip: avoid tandem kayaks, known in the trade as “divorce dinghies.”
340 East River Road, Grand Island; 773-7884 or bluewatermarinagi.com
Classic Cruises allows passengers to design their own cruises on a 1956 wooden Chris Craft vessel. Up to six people can cruise around Grand Island, Beaver Island, the Black Rock harbor and lock, or other destinations. View birds, foliage, sailboat races, and sunsets—it’s up to you. Just call Captain Rich.
Rich Marine, 5 Austin Street, Buffalo (off the 190); 946-7246 or wnyclassiccruises.com
Maid of the Mist is the one boat trip that never disappoints. The first Maid of the Mist steamboat was meant to traverse the Niagara River below the Falls, but the advent of bridges changed its mission to sightseeing. To this day, it offers a view of the Falls that can’t be surpassed. Celebrity sightings on the Maid have included Marilyn Monroe, Brad Pitt, Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, and many others. Boats depart every fifteen minutes for this twenty-minute-long trip.
Niagara Reservation State Park at Prospect Point, Niagara Falls; 284-8897 or maidofthemist.com
Niagara Jet Adventures
Boats like this offer the only safe way to navigate the Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole rapids of the Niagara Gorge. There are both “wet” and “dry” decks for the thrill-filled forty-five-to-sixty-minute rides.
555 Water Street, Youngstown; 745-7121 or niagarajet.com
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour guarantees that its passengers will get wet on this Niagara Gorge adventure, which, thanks to a diesel-powered engine, can safely navigate the ferocious Devil’s Hole rapids. The company also operates Niagara Sunset Cruises, a stately paddle-wheel ride that offer meals and beautiful views. Jet Boats now take off from Lewiston, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls, Ontario.
905-468-4800 or whirlpooljet.com