Exploring Presque Isle State Park in Erie

The best things to see and do at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Presque Isle State Park in Erie is Pennsylvania’s most-visited State Park, with over 4 million people a year venturing onto this sandy peninsula that arcs out into Lake Erie.

Presque Isle State Park is the most-visited state park in Pennsylvania.
Presque Isle State Park is the most-visited state park in Pennsylvania.

There are plenty of reasons why so many people have flocked to this 3,200-acre “PA seashore,” rich in both historical significance and recreational opportunities, for so many years.

A vintage postcard of Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
A vintage postcard of Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

And what I’d like to share with you here are 10 of the best things to see and do at Presque Isle State Park, to help kick-start your own exploration of this Natural National Landmark that has drawn people to the shores of Lake Erie long before Europeans ever stepped foot on the North American continent.

The Native American legend about the origin of Presque Isle.
The Native American legend about the origin of Presque Isle.

10 Best Things to Do at Presque Isle State Park

1. Visit the Tom Ridge Environmental Center

Part museum, part welcome center, and part gift shop (of course!), the Tom Ridge Environmental Center is an excellent place to begin your exploration of Presque Isle State Park.

Exterior of the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park.
Exterior of the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park.

This 65,000 square-foot facility introduces visitors to the unique history of Presque Isle, as well as educates them on the diverse ecosystems and wildlife they may encounter at Presque Isle State Park.

Inside the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park.
Inside the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park.

Aside from 2 floors of historical exhibits and educational displays, there is a 75-foot observation tower you can climb (or take an elevator to the top of) to get a nice panoramic view of Lake Erie and the surrounding countryside.

View of Lake Erie from the observation tower at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park.
View of Lake Erie from the observation tower at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park

2. Explore the Presque Isle Beaches

Presque Isle State Park is home to miles of sandy beaches along the shores of Lake Erie.

One of the natural beaches at Presque Isle State Park.
One of the natural beaches at Presque Isle State Park.

Some of the beaches are guarded and permit swimming, other are more natural (and less crowded) and permit only sunbathing and walking on the water’s edge.

Exploring the best beaches at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Exploring some of the best beaches at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.

3. Explore the Presque Isle Lighthouse

The Presque Isle Lighthouse is open for tours during the summer months 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Presque Isle Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
The Presque Isle Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

Getting to the top of this 57 foot-tall structure does involve climbing 78 steps along a circular staircase.

Spiral staircase inside the Presque Isle Lighthouse.
Spiral staircase inside the Presque Isle Lighthouse.

The reward, however, is a panoramic view of Lake Erie, as well as an up-close look at the modern LED light that replaced the original lamp and Fresnel Lens.

The view from the top of the Presque Isle Lighthouse in Erie Pennsylvania
The view from the top of the Presque Isle Lighthouse in Erie.

Another great vantage point is the beach area between the lighthouse and Lake Erie.

Sign pointing to the beach view of the Presque Isle Lighthouse.
Sign pointing to the beach view of the Presque Isle Lighthouse.

From the beach you’ll see the Presque Isle Lighthouse as mariners have been seeing it since 1873.

The beach view of the Presque Isle Lighthouse in Erie.
The beach view of the Presque Isle Lighthouse in Erie.

4. Visit the North Pier Lighthouse

While the interior of the North Pier Lighthouse is not open to visitors, you can still walk right up to this impressive and nautically-important structure that marks the entrance to Presque Isle Bay and the Erie Harbor.

The North Pier Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park.
The North Pier Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park.

Built in 1858, the squarish design of the North Pier Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park is unlike any surviving lighthouse in the United States.

History of the North Pier Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park.
History of the North Pier Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park.

Exploring Presque Isle State Park and Lake Erie by boat (more about that in a minute) gives you another chance at a unique view of the North Pier Lighthouse.

The North Pier Lighthouse as view from the Lady Kate tour boat at Presque Isle State Park.
The North Pier Lighthouse as view from the Lady Kate tour boat at Presque Isle State Park.

5. Visit the Perry Monument

The Perry Monument is located along Misery Bay at Presque Isle State Park.

The Perry Monument at Presque Isle State Park.
The Perry Monument at Presque Isle State Park.

This 80-foot limestone monument and surrounding interpretive displays commemorate Commodore Perry’s actions in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

A tribute to Commodore Perry ay Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
A tribute to Commodore Perry at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

6. Tour Presque Isle and Lake Erie by Boat

One of the more unique experiences you can have at Presque Isle State Park is touring the coastline of the park and exploring Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay by boat.

The Lady Kate tour boat at Presque Isle State Park.
The Lady Kate tour boat at Presque Isle State Park.

Departing from Misery Bay (right next to the Perry Monument), the Lady Kate is a 65-foot vessel that takes you on a 14 mile, 90 minute tour that ventures out onto the open waters of Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay. 

Exploring Presque Isle State Park and Lake Erie by boat onboard the Lady Kate.
Exploring Presque Isle State Park and Lake Erie by boat onboard the Lady Kate.

Seeing both the park and the Erie shoreline by boat gives you a unique perspective on the area.

The Erie waterfront and Bicentennial Tower as viewed from the Lady Kate tour boat at Presque Isle State Park.
The Erie waterfront and Bicentennial Tower as viewed from the Lady Kate tour boat at Presque Isle State Park.

For more information on booking a tour aboard the Lady Kate, visit the Presque Isle Boat Tours official website.

Exploring Presque Isle Bay aboard the Lady Kate tour boat.
Exploring Presque Isle Bay aboard the Lady Kate tour boat.

7. Bicycling at Presque Isle State Park

The Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose Trail and extension allows you to complete a 13.5 mile, basically flat loop excursion around Presque Isle State Park on this paved, ADA accessible trail.

Bicycling is a popular activity at Presque Isle State Park.
Bicycling is a popular activity at Presque Isle State Park.

8. Hiking at Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park is home to 11 miles of hiking trails (not including the Karl Boyes Trail mentioned above).

A map of the hiking trails at Presque Isle State Park in Erie PA
A map of the hiking trails at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

Like the Peninsula itself, the hiking trails are basically flat, and I’d strongly recommend you bring along insect repellent as well.

The Sidewalk Trail at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
The Sidewalk Trail at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

9. Fishing at Presque Isle State Park

Fishing is an extremely big draw to both Presque Isle State Park and the Erie area in general.

Fishing at sunset on Presque Isle Bay in Erie Pennsylvania.
Fishing at sunset on Presque Isle Bay in Erie.

In addition to using the many fishing piers both at Presque Isle State Park and the Erie waterfront, you can book passage one of the dozens of fishing charter boats docked in and around the Erie waterfront, if you’d like to test your luck on the deeper waters of Lake Erie itself.

A fishing charter boat in the port of Erie.
A fishing charter boat in the port of Erie.

10. Boat Watching at Presque Isle State Park

Of all the ways you can spend your time at Presque Isle State Park, perhaps none is more relaxing than simply sitting on the beach and watching the huge variety of boats that pass by on a daily basis.

Boats position themselves to view the sunset near Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
Boats position themselves to view the sunset near Presque Isle State Park in Erie.

Presque Isle Bay gets particularly active around sunset, when both private and charter boats position themselves to watch the sun slip below the Lake Erie horizon.

A sailboat at sunset on Presque Isle Bay in Erie PA
A sailboat at sunset on Presque Isle Bay in Erie.

A number of these charter boats offer sunset cruises as well, so not only can you watch other boats, but you can catch the sunsets Presque Isle State Park is famous for.

A paddleboat on Presque Isle Bay in Erie Pennsylvania.
A paddleboat on Presque Isle Bay.

The North Pier is another great place for boat watching, as it is essentially the mouth of Presque Isle Bay and the Port of Erie, where all the boat traffic in and out must pass by.

A large ship passing by the North Pier Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park in Erie PA.
A large ship passing by the North Pier Lighthouse at Presque Isle State Park in Erie PA.

Final Thoughts

From beautiful beaches…

Unguarded beachfront near the Presque Isle Lighthouse
Unguarded beachfront near the Presque Isle Lighthouse.

to historical monuments.

The Commodore Perry Monument as viewed from the Lady Kate boat tour at Presque Isle State Park.
The Commodore Perry Monument as viewed from the Lady Kate boat tour at Presque Isle State Park.

From boat rides…

A sailing ship on Presque Isle Bay passing the Lady Kate tour boat.
A sailing ship on Presque Isle Bay passing the Lady Kate tour boat.

to beachfront lighthouses.

The Presque Isle Lighthouse on a summer morning in Erie PA
The Presque Isle Lighthouse on a summer morning in Erie.

This sliver of land known today as Presque Isle State Park, jutting out into Lake Erie, is sure to become a favorite PA state park of yours, if it isn’t already!

History of Presque Isle and how it got its name.
History of Presque Isle and how it got its name.

Taking the Lady Kate Boat Tour at Presque Isle State Park provides you with an in-depth look at one of the best sightseeing tours in Erie.

Exploring Presque Isle State Park by boat on the Lady Kate.
The Lady Kate Boat Tour at Presque isle State Park.

Exploring the Historic Lighthouses of Erie, PA takes you on a detailed tour of all three nautical landmarks, with maps, photos, historical accounts, and driving directions.

The Erie Land Lighthouse sits in what is now a residential neighborhood on the banks of Presque Isle Bay in Erie.
The Erie Land Lighthouse sits in what is now a residential neighborhood on the banks of Presque Isle Bay in Erie.

The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse in Forest County serves no navigational purpose, but at 75 feet tall, it’s the tallest functional lighthouse in Pennsylvania!

Exploring the Tionesta Lighthouse in Forest County Pennsylvania.
The Sherman Memorial Lighthouse in Tionesta, Forest County.

Discover more of Pennsylvania’s best state parks, from all corners of the Keystone State, on the PA State Parks section of PABucketlist.com!

A guide to the best State Parks in Pennsylvania.
The PA Bucket List guide to the best State Parks in Pennsylvania.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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