Is Erie, Pennsylvania Worth Visiting?

Pleasure boats docked at harbor, Erie Pennsylvania in background

If you are planning a trip to, or through, Pennsylvania, there are many activities to choose from—visiting Independence Hall, visiting the chocolate capital of the US, or eating a famous cheesesteak sandwich. The fifth largest city in Pennsylvania, Erie, is located at the top northwest corner of the state, far away from many of the big cities. So, is it worth it to visit Erie, PA?

Erie, Pennsylvania, is definitely worth visiting. It has sandy beaches, multiple waterparks, museums, shopping, historical sites, and plenty of outdoor activities. All these things make Erie the perfect destination or stop on a trip.

With so many activities available, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin. Below, interested visitors can find out how to make a visit to Erie well worth the trip.

A Worthwhile Visit to Erie

Erie sits in the northwest portion of Pennsylvania, where the edge of the state meets the shore of Lake Erie. Native Americans inhabited the area in and around Erie for thousands of years. They survived on the abundant resources that exist along the shoreline.

Today Erie is home to just over 100,000 people. Erie’s diverse economy includes cookware, plastic, and steel manufacturing. Other companies in the area deal in healthcare, biofuels, and tourism. The combination of location, climate, employment, and recreational activities make Erie a thriving city that welcomes visitors from around the country.

Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park is the top attraction in Erie. Thousands of people come to Erie each summer to enjoy recreational activities at the park. The park is a peninsula on the coast of the city where the waters of Lake Erie lap sandy beaches.

Aerial view of sunbathers on sandy Presque Isle lake shore

The park’s history reaches back to the Native Americans, early European settlers, and the War of 1812. In addition to learning about the park’s history, visitors can enjoy plenty of outdoor activities.

Swimming at Presque Isle State Park Beaches

Another enjoyable activity in the summer is swimming in Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes. The beaches are open daily from 12:00 P.M. to 7:30 P.M. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. These aren’t the typical beaches you would find around a lake—they are closer to large beaches you’d find by the ocean. On a warm summer day, the clear water is inviting and refreshing.

To keep visitors safe, Presque Isle State Park has rules for swimming. Swimming is only permitted in designated swimming zones, which are located around the peninsula. Outside of the swimming zones, visitors can still enter the water, but only up to their knees and no more than 10 feet from shore. There are lifeguards on duty at the beaches since the waves are bigger than typical lake waves.

There are many beaches to enjoy throughout the park, and here are a few examples to help narrow your choices.

  • Beach #1 – close to the park’s entrance with restrooms and a pavilion for reservation.
  • Barracks Beach – also known as Beach #3 – has three picnic pavilions claimed by first-come, first-served.
  • Lyons Beach – Beach #6, complete with sand volleyball, restrooms, food and beverages for purchase, and changing areas.
  • Waterworks Beach – Beach #7 is a handicap-friendly beach. There is a ramp that goes to the water’s edge. Picnic pavilions are available for reservation and public playground equipment.
  • Mill Road Beaches – The five beaches located along this road are quieter and more secluded while still allowing visitors to swim.
  • Kohler Beach – Beach #11 is the most protected beach on the island. There are changing areas, concessions, restrooms, and playground equipment available. The large sandy beach, shallow water, and amenities make this beach perfect for families.

Freshwater Surfing on Lake Erie

Freshwater surfing is one of the most unique surfing experiences available at Presque Isle State Park. The sheer size of Lake Erie causes it to act in some ways like an ocean, complete with swells that bring ridable waves.

Lake Erie's fairly calm waves

Though visitors may see various waves along the island, surfing is only permitted in the following three locations:

  • Beach 1 – The surfing area is 100 feet west of the edge of the swimming area.
  • Beach 10 – this surf area begins 100 feet east of the swimming area.
  • North Pierhead Light – Surfing begins 100 feet north of the pier.

Since landlocked surfing is so rare, many people don’t have boards to ride; however, The Isle Surf & Skate shop has all visitors need to have a fun surf. For the affordable price of $25 for a half day or $45 for a full day, tourists can rent a great beginner surfboard to try to catch some of Lake Erie’s waves. They also have wetsuits for rent if visitors are brave enough to get in the water in the fall or early spring.

Since waves change day to day, try stopping by the surf shop, which is located right before entering the park, to ask about the day’s conditions.

Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The remains of the Niagara were raised from the depths of Misery Bay to be reconstructed in the early 1900s. It took rebuilding the ship four times to get to the current sea-worthy vessel that is afloat at the Maritime Museum.

Hiking in Erie 

Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Erie. Presque Isle has 11 miles of trails ranging from beginner to expert. The trail types also vary between loop, out-and-back, connector, and point-to-point. So no matter what kind of trail visitors are looking for, they can find something that will suit their exact needs, from .25 mile to 10+ mile hikes.

Check a detailed trail map to find just the right one for you. Below are just a few of the available trails.

  • A-Trail – an easy out-and-back trail with picnic tables at the trailhead. The area passes through some lowlands, so be prepared for water on the trail.
  • Canoe Portage Trail – another easy/beginner route that connects Pettinato, also known as Beach B, to Marina Lake.
  • Sidewalk Trail – This is a historic trail connecting the Presque Isle Lighthouse to the Misery Bay Lighthouse service boathouse. This short 1.25 mile hike leads to the boathouse, originally built in 1925.
  • Gull Point Trail – an advanced out-and-back 1.5 mile trail. This winding trail takes hikers through an ever-changing landscape. Prior to departing, hikers should check the trail conditions at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. From April 1st to November 30th, this trail requires a permit to protect the native bird nesting areas from too much foot traffic.
  • North Pier Trail – This trail is just under a mile of easy hiking. This hike gives beautiful views and a piece of history as it passes by an old firing range used for World War II training. Additionally, the trailhead has restrooms and potable water.

Hunting and Fishing around Erie, PA

Hunting and fishing are activities that bring many visitors to Erie. The lake has an array of fish, including perch, trout, steelhead, smelt, and bass. Some of the common areas for fishing are Waterworks, the Ferry Dock, East and West Piers, North Pier, and Perry Monument. It is easy to fish in these areas right from the shore/pier.

Man fishing through hole in ice on frozen lake

In the winter, the Presque Isle State Park allows ice fishing on the lake. The three main ice fishing locations are:

  1. Presque Isle Bay
  2. Presque Isle Marina
  3. Misery Bay

When ice fishing, it’s essential to take the proper precautions to ensure an enjoyable and safe time.

Hunting on Presque Isle is less accessible when compared to fishing. Hunting is restricted to controlled duck, goose, and deer hunting in their respective seasons. There are authorized waterfowl blinds, which are the only places to hunt waterfowl. 

Additionally, deer hunting is only authorized with bow and arrow or flintlock muzzleloader seasons.

Erie Maritime Museum

Located on the waterfront of downtown Erie, Erie Maritime Museum seeks to preserve the rich marine history of the greater Erie region. Exhibits range from describing military service to explaining Pennsylvania’s role in The Great Lakes maritime industry.

The wooden hulled US Brig Niagara at dock

The museum explains the importance of maintaining Lake Erie and the surrounding area. The climax of a visit to the Maritime Museum is witnessing a piece of living history, the US Brig Niagara, the ship that was key to defeating the British in the battle of Lake Erie in 1813.

Waldameer Water World

Waldameer Water World park has attractions like a wave pool, heated relaxing pool, kid zone, and 31 water slides. One attraction even re-enacts the battle of Lake Erie. Waldameer also offers free parking and free admission into the amusement park connected to the water park. Depending on the weather, Waldameer Water World is open until the fall of each year.

Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park Resort

No matter what season it is, Splash Lagoon is a comfortable 84 degrees Fahrenheit, warm enough to enjoy the many pools and attractions they have there. There are seven water slides, the biggest indoor wave pool in the eastern United States, a kid play zone, an arcade, and more.

Splash Lagoon offers guests day and overnight options for booking, making this location the perfect place for a day trip or multi-night getaway.

Erie Boat Tours

Boat tours are a fun option for those looking for a unique view of Erie and the surrounding waters. Some of the boat tours include a sightseeing cruise that takes passengers along the shoreline to see things like lighthouses and waterfowl. Another option is to take the sunset cruise and witness a famous Lake Erie Sunset right from the water.

Is Erie, PA a Safe Place to Visit?

Like the majority of big cities in the United States, Erie has its share of crime. However, the average tourist will not have trouble with crime, violet or otherwise, if they stick to the safe places in the city. In general, visitors should avoid the city’s east side, where most of the crime occurs.

Erie – A Place Worth the Visit

Erie has something for almost everyone. Visitors to Erie can enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Erie and take in the manmade fun around the city, like waterparks. In addition, a trip to or around Lake Erie should include some time in Erie, where visitors create lasting memories with those they travel with and meet.

Photo of author


Pennsylvania is my home state; I reside on the original homestead settled by my forefathers in the early 1800s. Surrounded by thousands of acres of state land, I enjoy the serenity and quiet of rural Pennsylvania. I like ATVing, observing wildlife, sitting around the campfire, photography, and hiking.