Enjoy Erie’s PresqueIsleState Park
PresqueIsleState Park in EriePennsylvania, less than a two hour drive from Buffalo, is a popular destination, especially during the summer. Over 4 million people visit the park each year to enjoy its many recreational and nature related activities.
Presque Isle –the name means almost an island– is a 7 mile long, 3,200 acre sandy peninsula on Lake Erie. The entrance to the park is located about 4 miles west of downtown Erie.
A couple of years ago, when my family was returning from a vacation in Ohio, we decided to stop a Presque Isle for a few hours to break up the drive home. That short visit did not do this place justice. One would need an entire day or more to fully appreciate the park. However, we did manage to see the park’s high points in our all too brief visit.
While PresqueIsleState Park is open year-round, the most popular time to visit is during the summer, since the park has over nine beaches, depending on how you count them! The beaches are generally open 10 am to 7 pm, Memorial Day to Labor Day. Some of the beaches are more natural, while others have all the amenities.
Beach 1 and BarracksBeach are near the park entrance. Beach 1 has a long stretch of sand, but no concessions, while BarracksBeach has modern restrooms. Beach Six has a lot to offer, including food concessions, restrooms, changing area, and even a sand volleyball court. WaterworksBeach has a ramp that provides access to people with disabilities, while just up the road PellinatoBeach has modern restrooms and concessions.
The Mill Road Beaches are five smaller, unspoiled quiet beaches, with no facilities, except restrooms for two of them. These beaches have a pounding surf; I wouldn’t recommend actually going in the water here. PineTreeBeach has picnic tables, as well as rest rooms, while a short distance away, Number 10 Beach has a concession stand. The most popular and family-friendly beach is Beach 11, which is the most sheltered beach, with hardly any rough waves. It features a large sandy beach with shallow water. Nearby are playgrounds and picnic areas.
Boating and Fishing
One of the best ways to see Presque Isle is by boat. The Lady Kate, a narrated 90 minute tour which follows the Presque Isle shoreline, offers views of three lighthouses, the Erie skyline, and the Gull Point Nature Preserve. The boat operates weekends until the end of September.
If you prefer to pilot your own vessel, rent a canoe, kayak, small motor boat or pontoon boat from the Presque Isle Canoe and Boat Livery (814-838-3938). There is also a 500 slip marina if you bring your own boat.
Presque Isle is also a popular place for fishing because of its many ponds, bays, and piers. You’ll find bass, walleye, northern pike, and crappie.
Hike and Bike
Presque Isle has 11 miles of hiking trails, as well as a 13.5 mile multipurpose trail for bicycling, in-line skating, hiking, and jogging. If we had more time during our visit, I would have loved to rent one of the quaint looking 4-wheeled yellow surreys to ride on the park’s bike trails that are available from Yellow Bike Rentals (814-835-8900). They also rent traditional bicycles, tricycles, roller blades, and even paddle boats.
Lighthouses and a monument
If you enjoy looking at lighthouses as much as I do, you’ll want to check out the two lighthouses within Presque Isle State Park, as well as a third lighthouse on shore near downtown Erie. The circa 1872 Presque Isle Lighthouse features a 57 foot tower that overlooks Lake Erie. While the interior is not open to the public, you can view this lighthouse from the beach.
On the ErieHarbor side of Presque Isle, the North Pier Light has been guiding ships into the Erie Harbor Channel since 1858. Visitors can walk along the pier out to the light. The Erie Land Lighthouse can be seen on the opposite side of the channel.
Another Presque Isle landmark is the PerryMonument, built in 1926 to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who fought in the battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. This battle was actually fought on the west end of Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio. However, Perry and his men returned to PresqueIsleBay to repair their ships and to get medical treatment.
A natural area that’s a birder’s paradise
Presque Isle is listed as Pennsylvania Important Bird Area #1 and it has been rated one of the best places to bird watch by Birders World Magazine. About 320 species of birds have been spotted in the park. In late summer, Purple Martins roost by the thousands near beach #11 and in the cattails near the water treatment plant. September is one of the peak months to see migrating shorebirds and warblers, while late November and December is when waterfowl migration takes place.
One of the main reasons to go to Presque Isle, especially in the off-season, is to discover the natural wonders of the park. It has been named a National Natural Landmark due to its numerous wildlife habitats. Some animal species found here are endangered, threatened, or rare. The most unique area of the park is the Gull Point Natural Area, which is closed to the public from April to November to preserve its fragile ecosystem. Rare and migrating shorebirds use this area to rest and many threatened and endangered plant species grow here.
Tom Ridge Environmental Center
Learn more about Presque Isle at the TomRidgeEnvironmentalCenter, which is located at the entrance to the park. My family visited this 65,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility, which has exhibits about the area history, ecosystems, wildlife, and bird migration. My kids especially liked climbing to the top of the 75 foot glass enclosed observation tower, which overlooks Lake Erie and PresqueIsleState Park.
After viewing the exhibits, we ate at the center’s Sunset Café, which has some of the best food, including wraps, paninis, salads, and homemade soup, that I’ve ever tasted at any museum. The center’s Nature Shop has a variety of nature-themed books, along with works by local artists.
Discover Presque IsleDays
This annual three day festival, a fundraiser for the Presque Isle Partnership, takes place July 29-31, 2011. It features one of the area’s largest arts and craft festivals, along with children’s craft activities, boat tours of the peninsula, live music, and nature-inspired activities.
If you go
Pennsylvania State Parks www.visitpaparks.com
Visit Erie (tourism information) www.visiterie.com
Presque Isle Boat Tours www.piboattours.com 800-988-5780, 814-836-0201
Presque Isle Partnership www.discoverpi.com
Tom Ridge Environmental Centerwww.trecpi.org
Take NY State Thruway to I-90W. Follow I-90 to PA I-79N to the 2nd W. 12th St.exit. Take the exit and follow 12th St. west to Hwy 832 (Peninsula Drive). Make a right and follow Peninsula Dr.into the park.