Rochester, NY has a reputation as an industrial and enterprising city, but many don’t know that it’s also surrounded by clear, cool waters and outdoor playgrounds. In fact, its proximity to water is what made Rochester a boomtown – largely thanks to the mule-drawn canal boats that transported goods along the Erie Canal.
Bordering the northern edge of Monroe County is the Great Lake Ontario, running through its suburbs and villages is the Erie Canal, and downtown features the Genesee River and the urban waterfall, High Falls. Rochester is also the western gateway to the Finger Lakes Region, where eleven sparkling, glacier-cut lakes lie right in our backyard.
So next time you pack your bags and head to the area – be sure to grab your swim trucks! Check out our guide to getting on the water and the best ways to play in Rochester, NY.
The Genesee River spans from Potter County Pennsylvania all the way to Lake Ontario, running right through the center of downtown Rochester. It’s visible to those entering the city from the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge, a nod to two notable figures in the city’s history.
Swing by the Corn Hill Neighborhood to park and walk along the river’s edge. Dine in at Tony D’s for Italian on the water or grab Mac’s Philly Steaks to-go as you wander down the Genesee Riverway Trail. At the Genesee Waterways Center, sign up for rowing, kayaking or canoeing to get out on the water firsthand – whether a novice or an expert, GWC offers fun that the whole family can enjoy.
High & Lower Falls - The Genesee River is also home to two waterfalls – High and Lower Falls, Rochester’s own urban cascades. High Falls is the tallest of three waterfalls on the Genesee River, offering a 96-foot drop viewable from the Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge. It also sits next to the Genesee Brew House – a Rochester favorite and one of the oldest continually operating breweries in America. Lower Falls, on the other hand, offers an 85-foot drop viewable from Lower Falls Park – also a popular spot for fishing.
The Erie Canal runs through the center of Rochester, NY with several charming canal towns and villages bordering its waters. Visitors can kayak, canoe, paddle board, boat or take a specialty tour of the canal – some places even offer house boats for rental as part of your Erie Canal experience! Check out the options at these local businesses:
- Erie Canal Adventures – Canal hire boats, house boat rentals, kayak rentals, marina and marine services. Located in Macedon, NY.
- Erie Canal Boat Company – Adaptive paddling and cycling center, offering kayak, canoe, and bike rentals, adaptive trike and kayak rentals, and Paddle-Bike-Camp Weekends. Located in Fairport, NY.
- Lock 32 Paddling Center – Kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and canoe rentals, along with SUP and guided flatwater kayak tours. Also offers access to a whitewater park for experiences paddlers. Located in Pittsford, NY.
Add these towns to your list for the best Erie Canal experiences in the area:
Fairport – Board the Colonial Belle for a 3-hour lock tour and canal cruise. Once you land back in Fairport, browse the charming small-town shopping, walk the canal path, or dine at one of several waterside restaurants such as LULU Taqueria + Mezcal, Porterhouse Steak Scotch and Seafood and La Bella Mangia.
Pittsford – Similar to Fairport, the Sam Patch offers a tour of the canal departing from Pittsford, NY and traveling through a lock as part of the experience. Grab your tickets right next to its launch point, or simply take in the scenery from the craft brewery – named Lock 32 in honor of its canaltown roots. Pittsford is home to a beautiful walking path, which also passes by waterside restaurants including the Erie Grill, Aladdin’s Natural Eatery, and Label 7 Napa Eatery & Bar – to name a few.
Brighton – Offering a quieter interaction with the canal, head to Brighton’s Meridian Centre Park for a retreat into nature. There are several points within the park where visitors can access the canal, including small boat launches and a fishing dock, and a path that follows the water for easy viewing.
Bushnell’s Basin – In Bushnell’s Basin, food and drink put you right next to the canal enjoying and imbibing, waterside. Seven Story Brewing allows you to enjoy a craft brew while sitting in shaded lounge chairs or next to fire pits facing the water. Richardson’s Canal House offers dining on the banks or inside of its 1818 public house. Browse the town or meander along the canal path for a peaceful stroll after your meal.
Spencerport – Spencerport is home to canal heritage and history with its Spencerport Canal Days celebration every July and The Spencerport Depot & Canal Museum. The museum houses historical items that help tell the story of the canal’s impact in this area. Visit and then take in the town, including places like Clutch on the Canal and Grandpa Sam’s Kitchen.
Brockport – Brockport is well known as a college town, but the canal passes right by its village downtown as well. Grab a drink at Stoneyard Brewing Company for a waterside view, or hit up some of the small eateries with big names including Jimmy Z’s Plates and Shakes and Barber’s Grill and Tap Room.
As one of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario is the largest body of water that touches the Rochester area at the northernmost tip of the city. It’s a great place for swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing and Cycle Boat Tours – a pedal boat party style experience offered from the start of May through mid-October.
Plan a day and visit:
Ontario Beach Park – Visiting Ontario Beach Park is the easiest way to get on the water, offering a laid-back vacation day on one of the area’s best natural sand beaches. While there, pack a picnic, stroll along the pier, or ride the Dentzel Menagerie Carousel (dating back to 1905).
Port of Rochester – Within a short walking distance of the beach lies The Port of Rochester Marina, a new state-of-the-art marina that is equipped to handle boats of all shapes and sizes. The marina resides next to some great dining opportunities, including Jetty at the Port, California Rollin II Sushi, and Bill Gray’s Taproom, along with an event venue and a local favorite – Abbott’s Ice Cream.
The Finger Lakes
If you can’t enough of water, venture south or east to find some more! Rochester sits at the westernmost edge of the Finger Lakes Region, which itself is home to eleven lakes, as well as tributaries, rivers, and waterfalls. Learn more about the Finger Lakes Region at: fingerlakestravelny.com.
And for a full list of boating access and launch areas across the region, visit: dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7832.html.