Erie Canal & Great Lakes

Cruise the Erie Canal and Great Lakes

About The Erie Canal & Great Lakes

In 2000, the United States Congress designated the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor to recognize the national significance of the canal system as “the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America.”
Together, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario make up The Great Lakes, considered the largest body of fresh water on Earth, carved by retreating ice sheets and filled with the meltwater of ancient glaciers. First proposed in 1780s, the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, connecting the lakes to New York City and the Atlantic Ocean.
A remarkable act of imagination and innovation linking two of America’s most dynamic cities, the Erie Canal and Great Lakes are also a byway through the very heart and history of northern America. From the bustling streets of Chicago to historic islands that have banned motorized transportation, and the vast and fascinating displays of Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum to the awesome Niagara Falls, every port offers countless attractions and insights into American life along these historic waterways.
Three companies cruise the Great Lakes, from late May through September: Victory Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises, and Blount Small Ship Adventures. Itineraries range from four to 15 nights, for those with the energy to try and pack it all in. There are limited opportunities to cruise on the famous Erie Canal – but a River Cruise Artist here at River Cruise Your Way can find you a perfect Erie Canal and Great Lakes cruise itinerary.

Erie Canal & Great Lakes Stats

Length: 363 miles (Great Lakes 94,250 square miles)
Depth: Maximum 14 feet (Great Lakes up to 1,333 feet)
Source: Hudson River near Albany, New York, USA
Mouth: Niagara River near Buffalo, New York, USA
Locks: 36 on the Canal
Countries: United States of America | Canada

Learn More About the Erie Canal and Great Lakes

The Erie Canal and the Great Lakes have played a pivotal role in shaping the economic and cultural landscape of the United States. This remarkable system of waterways, often referred to as the “Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System,” connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, with the Erie Canal serving as a crucial link in this expansive network. Over the centuries, these waterways have facilitated trade, transportation, and development, leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s history.


Historical Context

The idea of creating a water route connecting the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and, by extension, the Atlantic Ocean, dates back to the early days of American history. Native American tribes, such as the Iroquois, used existing waterways for centuries for trade and transportation. European explorers, including Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier, recognized the potential of these water routes.  However, it was not until the early 19th century that the ambitious vision of the Erie Canal became a reality. Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York championed the canal’s construction, which was approved in 1817. Construction began in 1817 and was completed in 1825. The Erie Canal, often called the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” transformed transportation and trade in the United States.


Economic Impact

The economic impact of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes cannot be overstated. The canal provided a direct water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Midwest, slashing transportation costs and times. Goods that once took weeks or even months to travel from the Midwest to the East Coast could now be shipped in a matter of days. This reduction in transportation costs spurred economic growth and development throughout the region.  The Erie Canal also played a significant role in the rise of New York City as a commercial and financial powerhouse. The city’s strategic location at the terminus of the canal made it a hub for trade and finance, leading to its rapid growth and prominence.


Expansion and Modernization

The success of the Erie Canal prompted further investments in the region’s water infrastructure. The St. Lawrence Seaway, a joint project between the United States and Canada, was completed in 1959. This seaway allowed large ocean-going vessels to access the Great Lakes, opening up even greater opportunities for trade and commerce.  In addition to the Seaway, various canals, locks, and channels were constructed to improve navigation and manage water levels within the Great Lakes system. These modernization efforts continue to this day, ensuring the continued viability of the Great Lakes as a critical transportation corridor.


Environmental Concerns

While the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes have been instrumental in driving economic growth, they have also faced environmental challenges. Pollution, invasive species, and water quality issues have plagued the Great Lakes, leading to concerted conservation and restoration efforts. Organizations like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative work to protect and restore the ecological health of this vital ecosystem.


Cultural Significance

Beyond their economic importance, the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes have left an indelible mark on American culture. Folk songs like “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” celebrate the canal’s history, and its construction is seen as a symbol of American ingenuity and determination. Communities along the canal continue to celebrate their heritage with festivals, museums, and historic sites dedicated to its history.


The Erie Canal and the Great Lakes stand as a testament to the transformative power of infrastructure and innovation. They have played a central role in the economic development of the United States, connecting the heartland to the rest of the nation and the world. While they face ongoing challenges in terms of environmental sustainability, their historical and cultural significance endures, reminding us of their enduring legacy in the American story.

Your Erie Canal & Great Lakes Cruise Awaits!

Are you ready to start planning your Erie Canal & Great Lakes Cruise Vacation Your Way? A River Cruise Artist at River Cruise Your Way is ready to be your vacation concierge. Contact us today at 1-800-259-7612 or use the form below and let us know when it is most convenient to call you, we will confirm via e-mail, and then reach out at the agreed upon time and date.