Is Presque Isle State Park Worth Visiting?

Calm water and sandy lakeshore at Presque Isle State Park

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park is one of 121 beautiful state parks in the Keystone State. But is Presque Isle State Park worth visiting?

Presque Isle State Park is definitely worth visiting. The park is excellent for boating, paddling, surfing, swimming, or even hiking. There’s also a visitor center, bike rentals, and watercraft rentals. While exploring the park, you’ll enjoy seeing wildlife and beautiful views of Lake Erie.

So can you drive around Presque Isle State Park? Is it a good place to watch the sunset? Can you swim at Presque Isle State Park? Continue reading to learn the answers to these questions and a whole lot more about Presque Isle.

All About Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre waterfront park located adjacent to the city of Erie, Pennsylvania. The park is close to I-90, I-79, Route 20, and PA-832, making it relatively easy to access by car.

The park also features a marina and is within biking distance of Erie International Airport if you prefer to boat or fly in. The convenience of the park and its plethora of activities make it very popular: about 4.2 million visitors come to the park every year.

Black and white lighthouse at end of jetty, flock of seagulls flying around

While there are many things to do at Presque Isle State Park, the most popular activities include driving the loop road, swimming at the beach, fishing, boating, and hiking. People also come to ride their bicycles, and in the winter months, many Pennsylvanians enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating at the park.

There are tons of other great activities at the park. Hiking is a popular activity at Presque Isle State Park, and the park’s 11 miles of trails are accessible and easy to hike. The most challenging trail is the Gull Point Trail, which winds through a nature area on the eastern tip of the park. From April 1 to November 30, guests are asked to remain on the trail as there are nesting areas for birds just off the path.

Fishing is another highly popular activity. Anglers have been known to catch popular fish like Bass, Walleye, Trout, and Steelhead in Lake Erie. If you choose to cast your line into Presque Isle Bay, you’ll find those fish plus species like Crappies, Smelt, Panfish, and Northern Pike. During the winter months, you can even test your skill at ice fishing.

White sailboat on Lake Erie

Boaters will also find a lot to love at Presque Isle State Park. The park has a marina and four boat launches, so it’s easy to put in here and go for a lovely cruise. The marina sells gasoline and diesel and has a sewage pump station for those of you with more sophisticated watercraft.

If you have a canoe, kayak, or another non-powered vessel, you can explore the lagoons that comprise the inner section of the park and paddle in peace. If you decide to explore Lake Erie, keep your eyes open for Bessie, the legendary sea monster of Lake Erie!

Presque Isle State Park is free to enter, and you’re not required to make reservations. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recommends that you make reservations for picnic pavilions if you plan to have a park gathering.

Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Lake Erie has the most shipwrecks of the Great Lakes. While more than 2,000 vessels have disappeared into Lake Erie, only about 375 have ever been located.

Not Allowed at Presque Isle State Park

Unfortunately, camping and droning are both prohibited at Presque Isle State Park. Presque Isle State Park is a day-use park, meaning that there are no overnight facilities or accommodations in the park: camping is not allowed here. If you want to stay overnight, you should get a hotel in Erie or look for a campsite nearby.

The operation of unmanned aerial systems of any kind is prohibited within the park. This prohibition applies whether you’re flying a miniature photo ship or a more sophisticated drone. You can only fly in the park if you’re flying a kite.

That said, there are so many other things to do here that we think you’ll still find visiting Presque Isle State Park well worth your time.

Can You Drive Around Presque Isle State Park?

Presque Isle State Park is a great place to go for a leisurely, scenic drive. The roads in the park form a scenic loop that runs for about 13 miles. You can access the loop road from the park entrance of PA-832. You’ll start on Peninsula Drive, which turns into Fisher Drive, then Thompson Drive before it reconnects to the northern part of the loop as Peninsula Drive.

Car on highway along side lake

If the directions sound complicated, don’t worry. Only a few smaller roads shoot off the main road, and all of them end up connecting back to the main park loop. Driving the loop without stopping will take 30-45 minutes, but you’ll want to stop and enjoy the scenic beaches and the lighthouses.

Not only will you enjoy the scenery, but you’ll also get to see wildlife. Over 339 bird species have been spotted at the park, plus you can see beautiful wildflowers, butterflies, and possibly even deer. We recommend making your drive extra leisurely and building in time to stop for nature walks, vistas, and beachcombing.

Which Beach is the Best for Swimming at Presque Isle?

Presque Isle State Park has 13 beautiful, sandy beaches where visitors can stretch out on the sand or splash in the waves. While all of the beaches are great, the best beach to swim at is probably Lyons Beach, also known as Beach #6. This expansive beach has courts for sand volleyball, changing areas, bathrooms, and a concession stand where you can get snacks or drinks.

Beach #10 and Beach #11, known as Budny Beach and Kohler Beach, respectively, have similar amenities. Budny Beach is a great spot to fly a kite or go windsurfing!

Lake Erie's fairly calm waves

Beach #8, also called Pettinato Beach, suffers from erosion problems. While the State of Pennsylvania is working hard to take precautionary measures and restore the beach, you may wish to avoid Beach #8 in favor of another spot.

Can You Drive on the Beach at Presque Isle?

Pennsylvania State Law prohibits the off-road operation of motor vehicles in State Parks unless an area is specifically posted. In other words, you may not drive your vehicle onto the beach at Presque Isle State Park or any other Pennsylvania State Park.

That being said, there are plenty of parking places that are convenient to the beach at Presque Isle State Park. If you need to park close because someone in your party has a wheelchair, Beach #7 and Beach #8 offer ADA ramps and beach wheelchairs. Everybody can enjoy the water at Presque Isle State Park.

Square lighthouse and lightkeepers house among trees

Best Beach at Presque Isle to Watch Sunset 

Watching the sun set over Lake Erie is a fantastic experience. The most popular spots to watch the sunset are at Beach #1 and Beach #3, which have beautiful views of the lake plus are convenient to the park’s entrance.

If you’re willing to venture a little further into the park, try Ainsworth Beach or Goddard Beach. Swimming is prohibited on these beaches, which keeps the crowds down and the environment a little more relaxed. Sitting in the sand and watching the sun disappear behind the lake from these tranquil beaches is well worth doing!

Does Presque Isle Have Waves?

Presque Isle State Park does have waves on the western and northern beaches, but not on the bay-side beaches. Presque Isle State Park sticks out into Lake Erie like a big apostrophe on top of the city of Erie. The side of the park which faces out into the open water of Lake Erie does get waves, usually in the 1-3 foot range but occasionally up to 3-5 feet.

In fact, the waves coming in off Lake Erie are often large enough for people to surf on. Of course, it’s not going to be the same as surfing in, say, Hawaii, but surfers from all across Pennsylvania and the Midwest come to Lake Erie to ride the waves.

If waves are not your thing, Kohler Beach (Beach #11) is located on Thompson Bay, on the far eastern side of the park. This beach is sheltered from the open water and is less likely to have large waves than the other swimming beaches at the park.

Presque Isle State Park: A Great Place to Visit

Presque Isle State Park is one of Pennsylvania’s most popular destinations. With easy access to Lake Erie, beautiful vistas, sandy beaches, and plenty of nature, there’s something for everyone at Presque Isle State Park. So whether you’re planning a beach trip with the kids, looking to land some Bass, or plotting your next nature walk, you’ll find Presque Isle State Park to be well worth a visit!

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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.