Grand Island, New York, Your Island Adventure Awaits!
Published: Monday, April 30, 2018
By: Benjamin Bidell, Vice President, Grand Island Chamber of Commerce
The native Senecas called it “Ga-we-not,” meaning the “Great Island.” The colonial French called it “La Grande Isle.” Grand Island — “the Heart of the Niagara” these days — is a 28-square-mile island in the middle of the Upper Niagara River, centrally located between Buffalo (the Queen City of the Great Lakes) and Niagara Falls (the Cataract City); a mere three-and-a-half miles upstream from the world-famous precipice! Grand Island is an outdoors destination like no other, with some of the most unique boating in the country.
Whether traveling by boat or trailering your vessel, getting to Grand Island is easy. For those visiting by automobile, Grand Island is conveniently located along the New York State Thruway with easy access from Interstate 90 in the U.S. and Queen Elizabeth Way in Canada. The region is popular with Canadian tourists due to its convenient border location.
For those traveling by boat from Lake Erie, make your way toward Buffalo and head north when you reach the city, but be sure to check your navigation charts. Staying in Canadian waters will help you avoid reefs along the Bird Island Pier. Where the lake narrows, the Mighty Niagara begins!
Tall ships should head into the Black Rock Canal on the inside of the Bird Island Pier to avoid low bridges downriver. The current picks up speed through this narrow section of the Niagara. Whether navigating the fast-moving river or travelling through the canal, both routes take you under the Peace Bridge, a 90-year-old span connecting the U.S. and Canada, lit up each night in a colorful light display. Boaters in the Black Rock Canal will pass the Ferry Street Lift Bridge (built in 1913) and the International Railway Bridge (with its circa 1873 turnstile) before passing through the Black Rock Lock (dating back to 1914). It’s on to Grand Island from there. You will first pass by Strawberry Island, home to a nesting pair of bald eagles and Pirates Island (historically known as Frog Island and, later, Motor Island), which has the only great blue heron rookery on the Niagara River, but beware the unnavigable shallows between these islands.
Getting there from Lake Ontario may take a little longer, but is well worth the trip. From southwestern Lake Ontario, boaters must traverse the eight locks of the Welland Canal as they head south across the Niagara Peninsula, sharing the waterway with Great Lakes freighters. The Welland Canal is a key section of the St. Lawrence Seaway connecting Lake Ontario to Lake Erie and the Great Lakes beyond. When you reach Lake Erie, head east around Point Abino toward Buffalo, then north down the Niagara River or into the Black Rock Canal.
Stay And Play
Boaters can find transient slips at Beaver Island State Park, a 952-acre park located on the southern tip of Grand Island. The marina offers water and electrical hookups as well as pump-out facilities. Ice is available for purchase. Slip rental is $10 for day use or $25 overnight. There is plenty to see and do at Beaver Island! This pet-friendly park features a swimming area with sandy beach and public showers, outdoor restaurant and bar, 18-hole golf course with pro shop, 18-hole disc golf course, basketball and volleyball courts, athletic fields, horseshoe pits, canoe and kayak launches, fishing access, picnic shelters, nature trails, and more.
Beaver Island State Park is also home to River Lea, a Victorian summer farmhouse now home to the Grand Island Historical Society. This historic home was built in 1873 by Lewis F. Allen, uncle to future U.S. President and Buffalo native Grover Cleveland who was a visitor to the family farm. The house is now operated as a museum, which is free and open to the public on select days. Visit http://bit.ly/2q6qbZY for more information.
You can rent kayaks at nearby Blue Water Marina or book one of their guided kayak ecotours! While there, wander around “Ferry Village,” a historic hamlet that used to be the landing site for ferries plying the Niagara River before the bridges were constructed. Stop for a bite to eat at The Village Inn, a quaint local spot.
An eight-mile paved waterfront trail will open later this year connecting Beaver Island State Park to Buckhorn Island State Park, an 895-acre wildlife preserve with excellent canoeing, kayaking, hiking, biking, fishing, and bird-watching opportunities. For more information, visit https://parks.ny.gov/parks/56.
Transient slips can also be found at River Oaks Marina, adjacent to the Radisson Hotel Niagara Falls-Grand Island. This six-story, 263-room waterfront hotel features resort-like amenities including indoor and outdoor pools and a restaurant overlooking the Niagara River. River Oaks Marina has electric and water hookups as well as bathroom and showers. For those seeking a little excitement, personal watercraft can be rented on site from Waikiki Watercraft. The marina is located across from River Oaks Golf Club. While the course is private, its restaurant, Elldens Grill, is open to the public year-round. A short walk from River Oaks Marina brings you to the Spicer Creek Wildlife Management Area, a 34-acre wildlife preserve that affords excellent hiking and birding opportunities.
Grand Island is home to several private boating clubs including the Buffalo Launch Club, the Niagara Sailing Club, and the Sandy Beach Yacht Club. History buffs will be impressed to learn the Buffalo Launch Club was the first power boat club in North America (possibly the world), established in 1903! This private club offers reciprocal privileges to members of nearly 150 boating clubs across the Great Lakes. The Buffalo Launch Club can accommodate transient vessels up to 70 feet in length with water, electrical, and cable TV hookups available. The club also features a restaurant and bar as well as showers and locker rooms. Other private clubs and marinas may have transient slips available. Best to call ahead first!
Appreciators of antique and classic boats will want to check out the 40th Annual Niagara Frontier Antique & Classic Boat Show, which will take place at the Buffalo Launch Club September 7-9, 2018. Over 100 antique and classic boats will be on display, including “fiberglassics” and go-fast boats, making this one of the largest such shows in the U.S. and Canada. The featured boatmaker this year is Dart, but a wide array of makes and models will be on display. The event is free and open to the public; parking for cars is $10. For more information, visit www.oldboatsbuffalo.org.
For those who like things a bit faster, the Niagara Frontier Boat Racing Association will host its annual Thunder on the Niagara boat races August 4-5, 2018 at Gratwick Waterfront Park. Hydroplanes and jersey skiffs will take to the water for a weekend full of racing, continuing a Niagara River tradition dating back to 1939. The event is free and open to the public, with a fee for parking. There is also the Ray Nuchereno Memorial Poker Run August 10-12, 2018 for those interested in high performance boating. The route takes participants around Grand Island with plenty of spots to catch the action.
If you’re looking for a more leisurely experience surrounded by nature, check out Paddles Up Niagara taking place July 28, 2018, at Beaver Island State Park. Hundreds of paddlers will gather in the park for a daylong series of events that include eco-tours, kayaking classes, family paddling events, demonstrations, exhibits, and more. This free event is sponsored by the Niagara River Greenway Commission. Registration required!
There are others places to stay, as well. A brand new Holiday Inn Express will open later this year on the north of Grand Island, near Buckhorn Island State Park and the bridge to Niagara Falls. There are also several motels and campgrounds on Grand Island including Branches of Niagara Campground & Resort and Niagara Falls / Grand Island KOA, which is located on Grand Island Boulevard between the Grand Island Fun Center and Fantasy Island theme park, providing lots of entertainment for the kids! Also, be sure to check out Kelly’s Country Store, a one-of-a-kind chocolate factory and gift shoppe located in a historic setting.
More Boating Fun
If you’re looking for someplace to go, take your boat downriver to watch the sunset over the mist of Niagara Falls, but, don’t worry, warning signs will keep you well away from any danger! Take a cruise around the entire island and catch up with some local boaters. Sail under the north and south Grand Island bridges to admire these feats of engineering. Tie up at Turner’s Port of Call for a cold beverage and some classic Buffalo wings or try their delicious steak sandwich.
If you need fuel, visit Anchor Marine or Blue Water Marine on Grand Island’s East River. They also offer parts and repair and may have slips available for transient boaters. If you’re looking for a spot to launch, you can find one at Blue Water Marina or Big Six Mile Creek Marina.
Head across the river to Gateway Harbor, “Gateway to the Erie Canal.” Take a leisurely cruise up the canal or stop at one of the waterfront restaurants along the canal or nearby Ellicott Creek. Visit www.tonawandasgatewayharbor.com for more information.
Head south to Buffalo via the scenic Black Rock Canal and then up the Buffalo River where you’ll find plenty to see and do at Canalside and Buffalo Riverworks, two increasingly popular waterfront destinations with lots of events and activities. Be sure to venture further upstream to see Buffalo’s historic grain silos towering over the Buffalo River. Visit www.canalsidebuffalo.com for a full list of attractions.
Whatever you do, don’t forget your fishing pole!!! The Upper Niagara River has some of the best bass and musky fishing in the country. Whether you’re drifting with a weight and leader, casting towards the shore, or fishing from a shore site, you’re bound to hook into something.
Find out more and plan your trip today at www.gichamber.org.