Six Fun Things to Do at Presque Isle State Park

Perry Monument in Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park, located in Erie, PA, is a popular daytrip destination that offers a perfect blend of beautiful landscapes and recreational opportunities. The park encompasses a 3,112-acre sandy peninsula stretching into Lake Erie. Thus, the park features stunning sandy beaches, an extensive network of hiking and biking trails and picturesque views of the lake. With more than 13 miles of coastline, visitors can enjoy hiking, birding, swimming, kayaking and boating. Wildlife enthusiasts can explore the park’s diverse ecosystems, home to numerous bird species and other wildlife, as well as the park’s two lighthouses.

1. Go Hiking

Presque Isle State Park offers a variety of hiking options for nature enthusiasts.

We attempted to go on the Gull Point Hike, which winds itself through Gull Point natural area. However, because it was nesting season, we could only go on part of it. This was a challenging hike, not because of elevation, but because of walking on the sand. My calves hurt for days afterward! Still, it was really a pretty hike, with the lake on one side and the wetlands and bay on the other.

Due to fluctuating lake levels, portions of trails may be seasonally flooded and impassable without appropriate footwear. Before you head out on a hike, stop at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center to determine trail closures and conditions. You’ll also want to have a copy of the state park’s trail map.

2. Swim or Wade at the Beaches

Whether you’re seeking a lively atmosphere or a serene retreat in nature, Presque Isle State Park’s beaches offer something for everyone to enjoy. Presque Isle State Park features seven miles of sandy surf beaches, providing visitors with the only surf swimming within the Commonwealth of PA. Beaches at Presque Isle State Park are well-maintained and provide a variety of activities for beachgoers. There are 13 designated swimming beaches, each with its unique charm. Most offer nearby restrooms. Not all beaches have lifeguards, and swimming is prohibited at the unstaffed beaches.

It’s worth noting that the water temperature can vary throughout the summer, but in general, Lake Erie remains cool compared to other bodies of water. Beaches are open daily from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day, unless otherwise posted. The regular hours are noon  – 7:30 p.m. Check out the park’s website for specific details about the various beaches.

3. Go Birding

Presque Isle State Park is indeed a fantastic destination for birding enthusiasts. The park’s diverse habitats, including forests, marshes, and shoreline, provide a haven for a wide variety of bird species. More than 320 bird species have been recorded at Presque Isle, making it a prime location for birdwatching. The migrating waterfowl and shorebirds are particularly remarkable, with tens of thousands of birds passing through during their spring and fall migrations. Some notable species include warblers, herons, sandpipers, and gulls.

The best months for birding at Presque Isle State Park vary depending on the specific species you want to see. Spring and fall migrations, generally from April to early June and mid-August to November, respectively, are highly recommended for birdwatching. During these times, the park becomes a bustling spot as birds make their way along the Atlantic Flyway. However, bird activity can still be observed throughout the year, as Presque Isle is a reliable location for birding during every season.

4. Check out the Lighthouses

The US Lighthouse Service built the Presque Isle Lighthouse in July 1873. The lighthouse tower is attached to a four-bedroom lightkeeper cottage.  

The house museum has interesting displays in the main level and knowledgeable volunteers. Climbing to the top is timed, to prevent too many folks from going up at once.

Hours: Memorial Day – Labor Day, daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Website: Presque Isle Lighthouse

The North Pier Light, located at the far eastern end of Presque Isle State Park, helps ships and boats navigate their way into the narrow channel to Presque Isle Bay. This is a picturesque light (the light keeper’s cottage is long gone), best viewed, I think, from the approach from Lake Erie to the channel access to Presque Isle Bay, which runs along the pier.

This neat little light has undergone multiple moves and improvements. Originally an open tower with a enclosed light, the US Light Service modified the tower with each move further out into the lake. The unique square-pyramidal design of the lighthouse is the only surviving example of this type left in the United States. 

You can get to this light by heading to Beach 11 and then following the signs to the pier. The pier is quite busy with people fishing!

Getting there: Located on the North Pier adjacent to the Coast Guard Station, near beach 11.
Hours: grounds open only, during Presque Isle State Park operating hours
Website: North Pier Light

For more about Erie’s lighthouses, check out Three Historic Lighthouses.

5. Enjoy a Boat Ride

The Lady Kate, which leaves from Presque Isle State Park, offers a fully narrated cruise offering you scenic views of interesting locations, such as Misery Bay, Gull Point Nature Preserve, Presque Isle Bay, historic lighthouses, the Erie skyline and more!

During the 14-mile, 90-minute cruise, you learn interesting and sometimes disturbing facts, such as that Lake Erie owns a greater density of shipwrecks than virtually anywhere else in the world — even the Bermuda triangle. As you pull back in to the dock, the tour guide congratulates you on surviving. Folks who study and hunt for shipwrecks in Lake Erie estimate that up to 2000 ships came to a soggy and terrible end within its waters.

For more details about what to expect on the Lady Kate, check out this article about the Lady Kate Boat Tour.

Getting there: Presque Isle State Park near Perry Monument
Hours: Please check the website below for tour times.
Website: Presque Isle Boat Tours

6. Grab a Snack at Sara’s

Eat like a local at Sara’s. Local tradition is to stop at Sara’s and grab a hotdog or other tasty snacks and either eat it there or get it to go and picnic in the park. Sara’s offers a traditional American menu that includes homemade onion rings, homemade zucchini sticks, char-grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. Sara’s prides itself on authentic milk shakes, made with real fruit and not syrups.

Visitors and locals agree — whether you’re setting out for an afternoon of sun and sand or heading home after a day at the beach, you should stop at Sara’s.

Website: Sara’s

Know Before You Go

Presque Isle offers two-plug, electric-vehicle charging stations available for public use in the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, Beach 8 and Marina parking lots. ADA accessible restrooms, picnic tables, fishing areas, swimming areas, and parking spaces have been designated throughout the park. Public restrooms are available at Public Safety Building (Ranger Station), Rotary Pavilion, East Pier, West Pier, Perry Monument, and Presque Isle Lighthouse.

Getting there: 301 Peninsula Dr, Erie, PA
Hours: open daily, 5 a.m. to sunset; day use areas close at dusk.
Website: Presque Isle State Park

Looking for more to do and see in Erie PA? Check out Visit Erie, as well as the articles below:

The shore of Lake Erie