Lockport Flight of Five Canal Lock waterfalls
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Location / Directions / Maps

Location: City of Lockport; Niagara County; New York

Maps: Google MapTopographic; State Canal MapInteractive.

GPS: Erie Canal Discover Center (Parking): N 43.17098 / W 78.69458
Ramp down into the locks: N 43.17036 / W 78.69407
Parking near Locks Plaza: N 43.16892 / W 78.69493

Directions: Located Northeast of Buffalo. Use these Google Maps directions to get you to the Discovery Center where there is parking.

Parking: Parking is all over the place. First stop is the roadside parking along the Pine Street Bridge, which spans the canal. Try the Discovery Center off of Ontario Street next. During evenings and weekends, the lot that spans the canal to the west (referred to as “Canal Plaza”) may have free parking. The plaza has parking on either side near the intersection of Cottage and Main streets. If all else fails, try the lot at the corner of Niagara and Church.

YouTube video

Weather

LOCKPORT WEATHER

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Number of falls: 5 waterfalls.

Size/Types: Man-made waterfalls that drop down 5 steps between Locks 34 and 35.

Best time to visit: Spring through fall.

Flow: Moderate. The canal is usually drained in winter.

Waterway: The historic Erie Canal.

Time: At least an hour to walk the site and visit the Discovery Center.

Seasons/Hours: Open daylight hours. The Discovery Center is open May 1 – October 31: open 9:00am to 5:00pm daily;
November 1 – April 30:  10:00am to 3:00pm Fridays and Saturdays.

Admission: Free to walk around the locks. Admission to the Discovery Center is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors. Kids are free.

Handicap accessibility: The ramp down is paved. It’s steep. Once down, one platform is accessible.

Pets: Allowed on lock premises with a leash.

Accommodations: Multiuse trails (one of the largest networks in the state); museum; interpretive signs; demonstrations; nearby restaurants and shops; tours; boat rides (nearby business); cave tours.

Lockport Flight of Five, waterfalls made by the Erie Canal Locks
A closeup of a canal waterfall at Lockport, NY

Description

Some waterfall fans out there are purists. “Artificial waterfalls don’t count.” While I can understand where they are coming from, some waterfalls are simply as interesting and beautiful as the natural ones. Holley Falls, for example, is a gorgeous cascade born from canal overflow. While not as natural-looking, the Lockport Flight of Five makes up for it with rich American history and the small city atmosphere.

The series of 5 drops spans a stretch of the canal about 450 ft long and totaling almost 60 ft in height. Because of the distance between the falls and the many bridges spanning them, you can’t see or photograph them all from one viewpoint, but with the modern canal, museums, and engineering marvels all around it, this ends up being a very interesting visit.

The Flight of Five was originally constructed in 1825 as five canal locks meant to lift boats up the Niagara Escarpment. Parallel to these is the more modern iteration of the canal from 1918, which utilized just two steel locks (34 and 35). These expanded and consolidated locks took the place of a counterpart flight that facilitated two-way traffic in the early days of the canal. The old Flight that remains today represents a further expansion/upgrade of the original canal system (around 1860), wider and more structurally sound than the original. Still, compared with the currently used canal, more massive in scale and depth, it seems tiny in comparison.

The original wooden locks once used in the Flight of Five were removed during that last expansion, allowing the water to just tumble through. A restoration project began in 2018 to recondition the Flight and add new handcrafted wooden gates at locks 69 and 70. Lock 68 was restored in 2019.

While the gates are sometimes closed and a few of the locks filled for demonstrations, the falls still flow, so don’t let that stop you from visiting. Lockport, while small, is currently Upstate New York’s fastest-growing city. A number of artisan shops, including a fantastic ice cream parlor, have opened in the area. The Canalway Trail extends across the state from here, and the adventurous could walk east toward Gasport or west to Tonawanda and back in a full summer day.

I visited and photographed the Flight in 2013, well before the restoration. As of this writing in 2020 a total of 3 of the gates have been installed and additional restoration phases have been continuing. Restoration of the complete lock complex is still ongoing and expected to be complete in 2025. I will certainly return and update this page then.

Lockport canal locks
A boat passing through the canal locks at Lockport, NY
A boat passing through the canal locks at Lockport, NY

Hiking / Walking Trails

Difficulty: Easy

Markings: Places you can’t or shouldn’t go are roped off.

Distance: A thousand feet or less.

The difficult part is finding your way down into the locks. The entrance is a long paved ramp off of Canal Street, which is right near Steamworks Coffee and Lockport Community Market. Take this ramp all the way down to the larger platform that crosses the Flight of Five (it will be on your right). Across from the platform is the Canal Museum, a white building with a green copper roof. From there you can head up-canal. The Flight of Five will be on your right; the modern canal locks are on your left.

Map: Interactive.

A closeup of the Lockport Flight of Five waterfall

Lockport Flight of Five Interactive Map

History

Usually, I spend a lot of time researching the history behind waterfall sites, most of which don’t already have whole sites dedicated to them. For Lockport, there are plenty of existing pages and books that do it justice. I’m not going to waste my time or yours. Read up on it here or here. For a brief history of the whole canal system read this.

If you just want some old pictures I restored, here you go >

Historic image of the Flight of Five in Lockport New York, on the Erie canal
Lockport Flight of Five Canal Boat
Lockport Flight of Five - side of boat

Lockport Flight of Five Media

YouTube video


YouTube video

Interesting Stuff

Lockport Cave

Just northeast of the locks is the Lockport Cave, which was dug (and blasted) out from the limestone and dolomite bedrock between 1858 and 1900. The brainchild of Birdsill Holly, a mechanical engineer from Auburn, the cave served as a hydraulic tunnel for his factories above. The tour includes a 10-minute boat ride and features artifacts from the canal era and natural geologic formations. Haunted tours are offered in the fall season.

Lost Caves of Lockport

A natural cave system of several square miles has been documented to exist under the area to the east of the locks. In February of 1883 word spread that a large cave system was found. Although not yet thoroughly explored, the witness stated that “it separated into 3 branches.” From that buzz, The Lockport Cave Company was formed hastily with intent to raise money, explore the cave, and feature it as a tourist attraction. Within days, the company raised $100,000 and began exploring the cave, installing lights as they went. Although hopes were high, the grand “World Wonder” investors had hoped for was not discovered. Later that March, snowmelt and rain flooded the cave with water and silt, sealing the entrance. The company dissolved shortly after.

Rumors and myths about the cave have persisted since. An expedition to re-discover the cave system took place in the early 1970s. While the natural cave was not found, the Birdsill Holly hydraulic cave was found. The original entrance to the cave system is supposedly under a modern post office building on Walnut St, near Cave St.

Canal Cruises

2-hour boat tours are offered daily throughout the warm seasons, climbing 5 locks along the way. The Lockview IV is a 48 passenger motor vessel built to resemble the African Queen. The Lockview V is a 125 passenger double-deck motor vessel. The Lockview VI is a gorgeous double-deck Mississippi-style paddlewheel motor vessel capable of taking 150 passengers. It also has a full bar, so it’s the cruise you want to book.

Locktoberfest

Touted as “a celebration of our local heritage, our farms, food, crafts, and community all built on the shores of the Erie Canal”, this day-long festival is held in late September on the streets surrounding the canal. It features live musical performances, a farmers’ market, food and craft vendors, activities for kids, and plenty of canal demonstrations. Check here for the latest news.

Historic Palace Theater

Originally opened in July of 1925 it played movies for the citizens of Lockport through the sixties. Restorations began in 1973 and the theater re-opened the following year. It closed again in 1981, but was acquired by a non-profit and re-opened once again. Several modern features were installed, including a digital marquee and projector, but the classic look and feel are well preserved. Today it serves as a stage theater and performing arts school.

A view looking down the Flight of Five at the Lockport Canal Locks

Photography Tips

A Monopod Helps

  • The narrow paths and railing may not cater well to a large tripod. Either bring a compact one or break out the monopod.

Historic Lockport

  • With a rich industrial history, Lockport has several sites to visit and shoot. Check the Lockport Historical Society’s website for some places you can visit.

Silky Water Effect

  • To get that smooth cotton-candy look to the falls, you need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter on your lens. The ND filter will block some of the light from entering the lens without altering the color, and thus allow your shutter to stay open longer. This blurs the water and creates a soft white gloss to the foamy areas of the falls.  Check out the article for all of the details.

More tips

  • See the Articles for more photography tips.
A closeup of the Lockport Flight of Five waterfall
Lockport Flight of Five waterfall surrounded by stairs

Who to Contact

Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation
locksdistrict.com

NYS Canal Corporation
30 S. Pearl Street
Albany, New York 12207
(518) 449-6000
canals.ny.gov

A closeup of a waterfall at the Lockport Locks
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