Does Pennsylvania Have An Atlantic Coast?

This might look like the Atlantic Coast, but it's the Lake Erie shoreline

Many people are uncertain if Pennsylvania has an Atlantic Coast. For example, the Port of Philadelphia imports and exports millions of tons of freight annually. The Atlantic, the second-largest ocean, covers an area of approximately 41 million square miles and connects and facilitates travel between nations globally. So does Pennsylvania have an Atlantic Coast?

Despite appearing to be right on the East Coast, Pennsylvania does not have an Atlantic Coast. The only shorelines Pennsylvania has are Lake Erie and the Delaware Estuary. So no part of the state directly touches the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s really close!

There’s still plenty to discover about Pennsylvania’s relationship to water (and plenty of reasons to live and visit there). Read on to learn why the state doesn’t need an Atlantic Coast to offer its residents plenty of scenic spots to enjoy the water.

Pennsylvania Doesn’t Quite Have an Atlantic Coast

Defining whether or not a state has an Atlantic Coast can be tough if you include close calls and lots of hyper fixation on precise geography. Take Pennsylvania, for example. Though the state looks like it should certainly have an Atlantic Coast due to its proximity to the water, it actually doesn’t because it never directly touches the Atlantic Ocean.

By definition, an Atlantic Coast is, well, any coast or shoreline that borders the Atlantic Ocean. Through this perspective, it becomes clear that a state either has an Atlantic Coast or doesn’t; there is no maybe. Pennsylvania gets close to meeting the mark but is impeded by two states that stand between it and the Atlantic Ocean: New York and New Jersey. Each of these states has land that wraps around Pennsylvania and blocks it from facing the Atlantic Ocean head-on, eliminating its chances of having an Atlantic Coast.

Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Pennsylvania is the only one of the original 13 U.S. colonies that doesn’t touch the Atlantic Ocean directly, but there is access through Delaware Bay.

Despite the fact that Pennsylvania doesn’t touch the Atlantic Ocean, it’s still extremely close. It isn’t easy to get a concrete answer on how far the state is from the Atlantic Ocean, but if you measure out from Philadelphia to the ocean, the distance between the two is only about 50 to 60 miles. So even if you’re driving, you could get to Atlantic City, New Jersey (a city right on the edge of the water) from Philadelphia fairly quickly.

Now that we’ve broken down Pennsylvania’s relationship to the Atlantic Ocean, let’s take a look at some of the important bodies of water that the state does actually border.

For one, the northwestern tip of Pennsylvania borders Lake Erie for approximately 77 miles of shoreline, connecting the state to Canada. Additionally, Pennsylvania borders the Delaware Estuary to the east, spanning around 112 miles of shoreline. This shoreline is crucial to Pennsylvania’s commerce as the Port of Philadelphia, one of the most important seaports in the country, is located on it.

Does Pennsylvania Have Access to the Atlantic Ocean?

Though the state may not border it directly, Pennsylvania does have access to the Atlantic Ocean due to its proximity to Lake Erie and the Delaware Estuary. Both of these bodies of water feed into the Atlantic Ocean, giving Pennsylvania access because it has shorelines along each of them.

Bulk cargo ship navigating the Delaware River

In fact, the Delaware Estuary plays a vital role in helping Pennsylvania’s economy function. Linking Pennsylvania to other major parts of the world through the Atlantic Ocean facilitates trade, producing jobs and granting state residents the ability to receive products.

Without the Delaware Estuary, Pennsylvania would be hard-pressed to send and receive goods around the world. The Port of Philadelphia lies right on the estuary and uses it for the entirety of its trade, leading to close ties between Philadelphia and Delaware being built over the years. This river is so crucial to Pennsylvania that a project began over thirty years ago to deepen it so that bigger ships could travel through and move their cargo.

Initially, the Delaware Estuary was 40 feet deep. This depth was enough for ships to carry up to 12,200 20-foot shipping containers (TEU), but Philadelphia officials desired an expanded capacity. That’s why the city began excavating the river to gain an additional five feet in depth, a project that was finally completed in 2020 after multiple decades. Now, boats traveling along the Delaware Estuary can hold up to 14,000 20-foot shipping containers.

This construction project has been controversial among many parties, particularly the state of Delaware. For Pennsylvania, however, the project’s new developments have had a substantial economic benefit.

Sun is setting as cargo ship are being unloaded at port

Prior to the 5-foot expansion, cargo ships would have to make an extra stop on the way to the Port of Philadelphia to release some of their load and reduce their weight to be under the 12,200 TEU limit. This restriction is no longer an issue, and the efficiency that Philadelphia’s port gained from the deepening project has positioned it at a better competitive level compared to other ports.

Is Pennsylvania Considered East Coast?

The East Coast, or the Eastern Seaboard, is the stretch of land occupying the United States’ eastern border and touching the Atlantic Ocean. All of the states formally considered part of the East Coast have an Atlantic Coast by definition. There are fourteen states that check this box:

  1. Florida
  2. Georgia
  3. South Carolina
  4. North Carolina
  5. Virginia
  6. Maryland
  7. Delaware
  8. New Jersey
  9. New York
  10. Connecticut
  11. Rhode Island
  12. Massachusetts
  13. New Hampshire
  14. Maine

You may have noticed that Pennsylvania was not on this list. As we’ve already established that Pennsylvania does not have an Atlantic Coast, the question of whether or not the state is a part of the East Coast has a murky answer. Although it should seem like an obvious no, there’s more to it than you might think.

By all technical accounts, Pennsylvania should not be called an “East Coast” state. However, it gets a special exception (along with Vermont and West Virginia) due to its particular location and its historical significance, and is typically included as an East Coast state.

Pennsylvania is in the Mid-Atlantic region, or the area in the U.S. where southeastern and northeastern states collide, making it close enough to the East Coast for officials to comfortably include it in the grouping. However, when you add in the historical importance of the land we now call Pennsylvania, one of the original U.S. colonies, it’s understandable why the state gets a pass.

Where are the Best Places to Enjoy the Water in Pennsylvania?

Your time in Pennsylvania may not necessarily include much venturing out to the Atlantic Ocean, but that doesn’t mean it has to be dry! There are plenty of exciting water-oriented locales for you to enjoy, with a variety of lakes and rivers all around. There are more than 2,500 lakes across Pennsylvania. Perfect for fishing, boating, swimming, or some simple shoreside relaxation.

White sailboat crossing Lake Erie

We’ll start with the obvious Lake Erie, which contains a tremendous amount of water and holds the title of one of the nation’s Great Lakes. Head up to one of Pennsylvania’s beaches bordering Lake Erie (or the magnificent Presque Isle State Park), and you’ll find a breathtaking spot great for swimming, fishing, and other kinds of fun.

Don’t want to travel all the way to the state’s northeastern tip for a lake day? You don’t have to! There are dozens of gorgeous Pennsylvania bodies of water to choose from for some time out in the water, with top spots including Allegheny Reservoir, Pymatuning Lake, Beltzville Lake, Raystown Lake, and Lake Nockamixon, to name just a few. Many people love to take their boat out on these lakes, and some lakes even have house boat rental options if that’s up your alley.

Of course, when talking about great Pennsylvanian destinations for water adventures, we can’t fail to mention the abundant rivers running through the state. For how much we’ve brought it up, it should come as no surprise that the Delaware River is a top choice for exploring the water, with whitewater rafting, canoeing, tubing, and many more options available.

Of course, one of Pennsylvania’s most famous rivers is the Susquehanna River, and Harrisburg offers a wonderful beach with open access to it. Another river more suited for hanging out in calm waters is the Lehigh River, but these options merely scratch the surface when it comes to finding relaxing rivers to visit in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Has no Atlantic Coast, but Plenty of Shoreline

Even though Pennsylvania doesn’t have an Atlantic Coast, its relationship to the sea is still vital to the state’s livelihood. Connections to bodies of water like Lake Erie and the establishment of port cities like Philadelphia are essential pieces of Pennsylvania’s commercial efforts and give residents lots of outdoor activities to do in their free time.

Though Pennsylvania’s lack of an Atlantic Coast may seem unfortunate at first, its various water sources and inclusion as part of the Eastern Seaboard more than make up for it.

Photo of author


I was born and raised in Pennsylvania; I love to travel, visit new destinations, explore unique locations, and meet great new people. However, sometimes, you don't need to travel far from home to find new adventures, so I decided now was the time to learn more about this great state I call home.