Presque Isle Beach: Beaches of Erie, PA

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Growing up in Northeast Ohio, Lake Erie has always been part of my life — at Cedar Point, Put-in-Bay and when seeing family near Cleveland. So, when I got the chance to visit Erie, PA and Presque Isle beach recently, going back to Lake Erie was a lot like “going home.”

It felt nostalgic, comfortable, familiar.

I know I’m not alone in that.

Every year, more than 4 million people visit the Erie, PA beaches at Presque Isle State Park. Many of them make regular visits to this historic peninsula — camping at their favorite spot near the state park, grabbing a bite to eat at a favorite restaurant, and, of course, enjoying long, lazy days on the Presque Isle beach!

If you have never been to Presque Isle State Park in Erie, I hope this post makes you consider Erie, PA’s beaches for a vacation getaway. If you have been to Presque Isle before, maybe you’ll learn something new. OR — let me know in the comments below if there’s something more to add to this post!

Presque Isle State Park Travel Planner

Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie. Access to the Presque Isle beach is four miles west of downtown Erie. You’ll find the beaches on the north side of Presque Isle, stretching for seven miles along the shores of Lake Erie.

The southern side of Presque Isle State Park presents a rocky shoreline with boat launches into Presque Isle Bay — a protected waterway used by commercial shipping frighters, tour boats, private boats, wind surfers and kayakers.

Presque Isle State Park is a day-use park that provides visitors access to the Presque Isle beach coastline with many recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling, and in-line skating. The park is open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset.

Presque Isle beach in Erie, PA with a lifeguard stand in the distance.

While Presque Isle State Park is a day use park only — no overnight lodging — there are ample vacation accommodations nearby providing a variety of lodging options.

Presque Isle State Park is considered a National Natural Landmark, designated as such for its outstanding biological and geological resources. The Presque Isle beach, unique in Pennsylvania, is part of that. But, there are many unique habitats at Presque Isle State Park with more endangered, threatened, and rare species than any other area of comparable size in Pennsylvania.

In less scientific terms, it’s a beautifully diverse ecosystem that attracts surfers, swimmers, beach combers, bird watchers and nature lovers who appreciate all it has to offer.

Since Presque Isle State Park is open year round, it offers seasonal activities for all to enjoy. Yes, even in winter, there are things to do in Presque Isle! Of course, the most popular season is summer — so let’s start there!

Things to do in Summer at Presque Isle State Park

Swimming at the Presque Isle beach

The Presque Isle beach allows swimming from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Wide, sandy beaches — each with its own lifeguard station — attract visitors all season. First time visitors are often surprised to learn that Lake Erie has tides — just like the ocean — with waves and everything!

The beaches are numbered from 1-11, each with specific amenities. Swimming is only allowed at beaches with lifeguard stands. A favorite past-time for beach goers is looking for beach glass. It’s hard to find, but worth the hunt.

Lifeguard station at Presque Isle beach number 8.

Dog rules state that dogs must be on leash and only in the treeline on guarded beaches. Dogs may swim with supervision in areas outside of guarded beaches.

Our favorite Presque Isle Beaches:

  • ADA ACCESSIBLE BEACHES: Presque Isle Beach 7 (Waterworks Beach) and Presque Isle Beach 8 (Pettinato Beach) are ADA accessible, including accessible restrooms, changing areas and a beach ramp that provides ADA access to the water’s edge. Beach wheelchairs are available at the Public Safety Building.
  • ALL DAY BEACH: Beach 6 (Lyons Beach) is our favorite all-day beach for active families. It has sand volleyball courts, a beach house with changing areas, restrooms, food and beverage concessions.
  • BEST FOR HISTORY BUFFS: Presque Isle Beach 9 (Leslie Beach) is closest to the Presque Isle Lighthouse. Tour the lighthouse to take a break from sand and sun, and enjoy having this historic lighthouse at your back as you relax by the shore.
  • BEST FOR YOUNG KIDS: Beach 11 (Kohler Beach), a smoke free beach, is the most sheltered Presque Isle beach featuring shallow water, a large sandy beach, beach house with changing areas, restrooms, and food and beverage concessions. Kohler Beach is also adjacent to picnic areas, playground equipment, and a picnic pavilion making this a popular beach for families with young children.
  • NO SMOKING: Beach 3, the Millroad Beaches and Beach 11 are smoke free beaches, each with its own amenities.
ADA ramp at Presque Isle State Park beach.

If at all possible, stay for sunset. It’s simply glorious watching the sun drop away on the western horizon.

Sunset over Lake Erie at Presque Isle State Park in Pennsylvania.

Educational activites at Presque Isle State Park

While you might be drawn to the Presque Isle beach, there’s so much more to do at Presque Isle State Park!

This Erie PA state park offers a wide variety of environmental education programs for all ages. Through hands-on activities, guided walks, and evening programs, participants learn about the natural and cultural resources at the park. Year-round programs are offered to the public on history, art, wildlife, plants, and outdoor recreation.

Families who visit Presque Isle in summertime can participate in special educational programs offered this time of year. Children’s programs explore the outdoors through structured play, reinforced by stories, and crafts.

Boating at Presque Isle State Park

Both personal watercraft, commercial boats and boat tours are offered at Presque Isle State Park or in the harbor nearby.

Presque Isle Boat Tours offers a 14 mile, 90 minute, fully narrated tour on the open waters of Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay. The tour, offered spring through early fall, includes Erie’s historic lighthouses, Gull Point Nature Preserve, Presque Isle’s shores, Erie’s skyline, ships, beaches, wildlife and numerous other sights. Tickets can be purchased in advance online (recommended June-August) or at the Presque Isle State Park ticket booth near Perry Monument.

Tour boat at Presque Isle State Park waiting for passengers.

Presque Isle Marina, with 493 slips, is open May 1 through October 31 each year, and can accommodate boats up to 42 feet long. Park concessions offers gas and diesel, sewage pump out station, food and refreshments. Contact the park to reserve a boat slip.

Beaching of boats, water skiing, ice boating (ice levels are not monitored) and boat launches are available at this Erie PA state park. Check the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website for specific rules, including registration and boating safety.

Presque Isle Boat Rental near the Perry Monument provides pontoon and motor boat rentals, canoes, kayaks, row boats, paddleboards and equipment to day guests at the Erie, PA state park. They operate from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and weekends in October. This outfitter also offers a variety of guided tours.

Biking at Presque Isle State Park

Biking is a popular activity at this Erie, PA state park. The Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose National Recreation Trail, a 13.5 mile long, ADA accessible trail runs throughout Presque Isle State Park and is popular with bikers, joggers and in-line skaters.

The bike trail at Presque Isle is part of the Pennsylvania Seaway Trail, which follows the Lake Erie shoreline from Ohio to New York, passing through Erie, PA.

Bike rentals are offered near the Waterworks Pumphouse area on Presque Isle State Park from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Rental options include bikes, tricycles, surrey bikes and roller blades. Call Yellow Bike Rentals at 814-835-8900 to learn more.

Hiking at Presque Isle State Park

Hiking at Presque Isle State Park is geared more toward beginners than rugged hikers. The same trails used for biking allow “hiking” to explore nature up close. From short walks (about 2/10ths of a mile) to walking the complete 13 mile loop, there are lots of options. The trail is paved, ADA compliant and suitable for strollers as well.

It’s just one of the best parks in Pennsylvania for hiking! The state has soooo much to offer!

Things to do at Presque Isle State Park in Winter

 In winter, this Erie PA state park is still popular, especially with locals. Park rangers offer programming year round, and the schedule is available on their website.

Popular wintertime activities at Presque Isle include cross-country skiing, ice fishing and ice skating. Ice boating is another popular activity for the more adventurous. Park rangers do NOT monitor ice thickness on Lake Erie, so be sure to check for safety.

Ice boating at Presque Isle in Erie PA.
Photo courtesy VisitErie

Things to do year round at Presque Isle State Park

Visiting the Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park

Built in 1873, the Presque Isle Lighthouse is an active lighthouse, still used as an aid to ship navigation near Erie Pennsylvania.

It is open to visitors daily during the summer months. With 78 steps to the top, this is a relatively easy lighthouse climb. Tower climbs are offered every 20 minutes, with no reservation required. 2024 ticket prices are $8. Minimum height to climb is 44″.

A lighthouse tour and climb, which includes the house, the grounds and the history, is $15. Again, you must be 44″ tall to climb the tower. If you want to take the tour, the tower climb is optional.

In the fall and winter, the lighthouse is not open every day, but it’s makes a great photo op!

Photo of the Presque Isle lighthouse built in 1872.

Visiting Perry Monument at Presque Isle State Park

Perry Monument at Presque Isle sits at the halfway point on the drive through the park. A large parking lot, restrooms and picnic areas nearby make visiting easy.

On the walk from the parking lot to the Perry Monument, signs explain the significance of the area in the War of 1812 against the British, and also why Oliver Hazard Perry is honored.

When visiting Presque Isle State Park, stroll along the paved walkways under a canopy of trees to learn more about what Perry and his crew endured throughout the war and the long winters afterward. Find out what he meant when declaring, “Don’t give up the ship!” Take a break at the base of the monument to enjoy the view — and the amazing Lake Erie breezes.

If you want to learn even more about Oliver Hazard Perry and the War of 1812, take a road trip to Put-In-Bay, Ohio to see the War Museum and tower there. You can climb the tower for great views of Lake Erie.

Perry Monument at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Things to do near the Presque Isle beaches

Dining and shopping near the Erie, PA state park

Presque Isle State Park offers concessions in summer. Picnics are allowed, as is grilling at grilling stations located throughout the park. But, for restaurant dining, park goers must leave the Isle peninsula and head toward Erie. Some of the most popular restaurants are close by, including:

  • Bayfront Grille at the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel — yes, a hotel restaurant! This one happens to serve incredible, cooked to order breakfasts, served in the airy dining room with floor to ceiling windows that overlook Presque Isle Bay. This is a “come for the views and stay for the food” type of place, and a great spot to start your day.
  • Sara’s Restaurant — located just outside the park gates, Sara’s has been a favorite of state park goers for decades. This retro diner serves locally famous Smith’s hot dogs, burgers, fried perch sandwiches, chicken baskets and ice cream. The vanilla-orange swirl is a particular favorite. The restaurant is open seasonally, with outdoor dining and drive through options. I tried a Smith’s hot dog and onion rings, and that hot dog lived up to the hype.
  • For more ideas — read our guide to the best restaurants in Erie PA! It’s updated every time we visit!
Hot dog and onion rings from Sara's near Presque Isle State Park.

As for shopping, local shops are the way to go for souvenirs and gifts in Erie.

Two shops stand out:

  • Glass Growers Gallery — Open in Erie since 1974, Glass Growers Gallery is an art gallery and gift shop offering handcrafted pieces including jewelry, pottery, art, socks, and much more. Located downtown next to the art museum, it’s worth a visit to find the perfect gift or souvenir.
  • Relish — Owner, Jennifer Reed, grew up on the shore of Lake Erie, collecting beach glass. In time, she developed a passion to create jewelry, usually featuring found beach glass. She even got her college degree in jewelry design. Today, she owns Relish — which features her custom made jewelry pieces as well as art by local and regional artists. Every piece is a true one-of-a-kind. Relish is located near the state park at 3835 W. 12th Street in Erie, PA.
Beach glass jewelry handmade by designers at Relish in Erie, PA

Places to stay near Presque Isle State Park

There are many places to stay near Presque Isle State Park, including camping, hotels and vacation rental properties.

Those who prefer camping near Presque Isle State Park should make reservations early. Three places to consider are:

  • Sara’s Campground is the closest to the Presque Isle beach. Located just outside the park gates, Sara’s Campground accommodates both tent camping and RV camping. Beach tent camping is very popular, and space is offered on a first come/first served basis. Those wanting to reserve a spot should make requests early (fall of the year before is not too soon).
  • Lampe Campground and Marina is located across Presque Isle Bay from the Erie, PA state park. The campground has 42 waterfront camp sites, as well as a free boat launch and bike paths to the state park and Erie’s Bayfront District.
  • Erie KOA Holiday Campground is located about 20 minutes away from the state park. It’s included here because of the popularity of KOA campgrounds generally, and for the many amenities it has. This “kid friendly” campground offers fishing in a catch and release pond, heated pools, pedal carts and bikes for rent. Movies, ice cream socials, DJ dance parties on holidays add to the fun. On rainy days head to the recreation room for air hockey, pool, ping pong and arcade games.

There are many other campgrounds near Presque Isle State Park, so if these don’t work, keep looking! (Seasoned campers, share your favorite in the comments below, and I will add it to our list! Tell me why you like it.)

For people who prefer a less rustic vacation experience, there are many hotels in Erie, PA near the state park.

Some of the best hotels are convenient to the Erie, PA state park and Erie Bayfront entertainment area. Some of our favorites include:

  • Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel — Located on the waterfront between the marina and Presque Isle Bay, there are water views from both sides of the hotel. It’s steps away from Dobbins Landing and many attractions. The restaurant offers an incredible breakfast, too. I’ve stayed here once and eaten here many times! Always great!
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Erie Bayfront — This hotel is located near Dobbins Landing features LARGE rooms and suites with views of the marina or of the Erie Maritime Museum. Oliver’s Rooftop restaurant is a great place to catch dinner and a sunset, while Oliver’s Beer Garden, outside, offers casual fare and a fun atmosphere. I stayed here when traveling solo and loved relaxing at Oliver’s Beer Garden after a day of sight-seeing. Request a marina view room if possible.
  • Comfort Inn Erie — Located just a few blocks away from Presque Isle State Park, this hotel offers convenience on a budget. Free WiFi and breakfast are included, and there’s an outdoor pool. And, if you’re planning to go to Waldameer & Water World, it’s a short walk to the park!
Olivers Outdoors at Hampton Inn Erie Bayfront.
Hampton Inn Erie Bayfront

Attractions near Presque Isle State Park

While one day at Presque Isle State Park is good, to fully explore this Erie, PA gem, I recommend a three day visit. Allow one day for the beach, one to explore the trails on bike or on foot, and one for boating, fishing or tours.

Add on a few more days to explore other attractions near the Erie, PA state park!

TREC Tom Ridge Educational Center near the Erie, PA State Park
  • Tom Ridge Environmental Center — Called “TREC” by the locals, this educational center is dedicated to teaching visitors about the unique 3,200 acres of Presque Isle and the many different forms of life that inhabit the peninsula. Hands-on exhibits make it easy for kids to absorb the information. Expansive windows and a viewing tower let visitors soak in the natural beauty of the area.
  • Hagen History Center — Located near downtown Erie, this center recently acquired the actual San Francisco office of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is included on the “Great Wright Road Trip” highlighting the famed architect’s storied career. The Hagen History Center spans four buildings with a variety of exhibits including the children’s museum, Civil War exhibit, and several exhibits highlighting early Erie history.
  • Waldameer & Water World — Near the entrance to Presque Isle State Park, this throwback style amusement park is open seasonally. The park has more than 75 attractions including roller coasters, water slides, kiddie rides, a carousel and classic family rides. Admission to the park is free, and guests pay for rides as they go using tickets. I love a park where non-riders don’t have to pay to hold the bags!
  • The Schooner Lettie G. Howard — This historic schooner sails from Dobbins Landing (on the Erie side of the bay) offering a casual day sail around the Erie Bay Area sharing the fascinating history of the schooner, Presque Isle and Erie, PA. Only available in the warmer months, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience what life was like for sailors before engine powered boats.
Schooner Lettie G Howard in Presque Isle Bay.

I hope this post inspires you to explore the Presque Isle beach and historic Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s a vibrant little city that’s proud of its heritage and happy to share its beauty.