Let’s just be straight – we love Presque Isle. What’s not to love?
Part of loving the park is realizing it is big and has so many things to do, that visitors often forget about some of the gems that exist and often go overlooked. To help solve this problem, we created our Bucket List of things you should do at some point on Presque Isle.
It really all starts with the beaches at Presque Isle. The 11 miles of beaches is what makes Presque Isle the magnet for locals and tourists from all over the region. Different beaches have different amenities, but they all have one thing in common: Great sand and awesome water. Be sure to spend some time just hanging out on one of the beaches on Presque Isle. Click here to see a complete list of beaches and amenities.
If you are hungry on the way to the park or ready for some grub after – Sara’s is waiting for you. Almost sitting right at the park’s entrance, locals see the opening of Sara’s as the unofficial start of summer. What should you get at Sara’s? That’s easy. Erie’s favorite: A Smith’s hot dog. It doesn’t matter if you get a regular or a foot-long, make at least one trip to this local institution. And if hot dogs are not your favorite, get them to make you one of their awesome milk shakes or twist cones. Whether you stop on a hot summer day or a cool evening, you will not be disappointed. (Alright, so we understand that Sara’s is not technically part of the park – but if you have stopped, you will agree that it might as well be.)
On the western end of the park you will find Sunset Point situated between Beaches 9 and 10. Affectionately referred to as “Kite Beach” this is where you will find people from all over the region flying a variety of kites. The beach is also unique in that it is the only one in the park where you can practically drive right up to the sand. Be sure to stop and watch the creative kite flying and be – as kite flyers like to say – a “lookieloo.” Make time during Discover Presque Isle to stop by as the beach is filled with kiters, kite arches, bubbles and even more kites. At night, go by for the beach illumination when the whole area is lit up with neon and candles.
Presque Isle is the place to be in the summer, but it is also a very popular place during the winter as well. When the temperatures drop, trails are home to cross county skiiers and snow shoers while the freezing waves create incredible ice dunes which protect the beaches from erosion. If you head to the bay on the south side of the park or one of the ponds, you will see communities of huts filled with ice fishers. The temperatures might be low, but the park is still alive during the winter. And some say that when the lake freezes, the sunrises and sunsets become even more spectacular.
Presque Isle is loaded with trails and places to explore. But a very unique feature of the park is the Multi-purpose Trail – officially known as the Karl Boyes Multi-purpose National Recreation Trail. The paved trail starts right when you enter the park and continues around the entire perimeter of the park, ending just about where you started, 13.5 miles later. On a bike, the entire circuit can be done at a leisurely pace, taking around 90 minutes to complete. If you don’t have a bike, there are several places to rent them – including near Beach 7. If bicycling isn’t your preference, grab a pair of inline skates and tackle the course or put on a good pair of shoes and spend a few hours walking or running around the park. During good weather, the trail can get congested at times, so be sure to keep an eye out for walkers, riders, and especially families with strollers and animals on leashes. But regardless of how you plan to travel, take time to enjoy this unique park feature.
For six weeks in June and July, Beach 1 is transformed every Wednesday night into a free, open-air concert venue. The Sunset Concert Series brings in acts from around the region to Presque Isle to play a free show for anyone who wants to come. Be sure to bring a blanket or chair because you will want to be comfortable for the show.
Just about everyone has been by the lighthouse on Presque Isle. But no where near as many people have been to the lighthouse on the North Pier. Getting there can be tricky if you don’t know where you are going, but it offers a look at parts of the park not on the main road. To get there, take the main road to the easternmost point and turn right toward Beach 11 – but don’t stop at the beach, keep driving until the road ends – at the North Pier. One of the cool things you will see on your way to the pier is Horseshoe Pond, home to numerous house boats. Once you pass that you will see the U.S. Coast Guard Station on your right and the pier on the left. Hang out at the pier to watch the boats as they enter and exit the bay – and if you are lucky, you might see a large freighter or even better, the Flagship Niagara passing through. It might take a little while to get there, but you will be rewarded with a great place to enjoy Presque Isle.
While most of the park can be accessed by car, bike or foot, this is one part that will force you to get off land and into the water. Bring your canoe, kayak or other boat down and explore the many lagoons of Presque Isle. Don’t have one? There is a place to rent your vessel just over the bridge from Perry Monument. Take time to relax as you paddle through these isolated waterways. You will see wildlife hidden from population and you will experience a new part of what makes Presque Isle unique. Just be careful not to drift off too much and run into an angler.
Looking for beach glass is a lot like golf: you will either enjoy it and do it all the time or think it’s boring and never understand how people spend hours doing it. Beach glass is formed from bottles or other glass that was dumped into the lake. Over the years, these fragments were tumbled and shifted around the lake before washing up on shore as frosted nuggets of awesomeness. If you enjoy looking for the needle in a haystack, you will likely enjoy the hunt for beach glass. Start a collection and see if you can find some red, blue or even purple pieces; the brighter the color, the more rare the glass. Several stores around Erie transform beach glass into wearable jewelry or other souvenirs. So if you don’t want to find it yourself, you can always buy some on your way out of town.
Located across from Waldameer Park, it is the first piece of Presque Isle State Park you will see before heading down the hill. Although not physically attached to the park, it is the home base for park operations and a must-see for anyone visiting the park. But don’t just plan to pop in and get right out. Take the time to walk through the exhibits and learn about the history of the park. Be sure to climb (or take the elevator) to the top of the tower for a great view of Presque Isle and Waldameer Park next door — and don’t forget your camera as the view is incredible. Inside the center, get a ticket to the Big Green Screen and stop by the gift shop for your Presque Isle souvenir. The Tom Ridge Environment Center at Presque Isle is not just the official start of the park, it is a must-see for anyone who has ever taken advantage of the peninsula.
This is one of our favorite things that happens each year at the park. Discover Presque Isle is the annual park celebration that happens for three days each July. The beaches come alive with everything from sand sculptures on Beach 8, to kites galore at Sunset Point, to a vendor alley at Waterworks (and so much more). If there is one weekend you should make time to visit the park – it is for Discover Presque Isle. For runners and bikers, the weekend also features the annual duathlon, where you can tackle the run-bike-run course yourself or with a partner. Discover Presque Isle showcases everything great about the peninsula and should not be missed. If you ask us, the coolest part of the coolest event might just be the beach illumination at Sunset Point. Home to the kites, Sunset Point is brought to life by neon glow sticks, candles and even laser lights. So if you were planning to head home when the sun sets, swing over by Sunset Point on your way. You won’t regret it. View a list of events at Presque Isle State Park.
Like we said at the beginning, it begins and ends with the beaches. We would put a Lake Erie sunrise or sunset up against any in the tropics and feel like we had a good chance of winning. Take an early-morning trip out to the park during the summer for a spectacular sunrise, or join the people who gather each night to see the sun set behind the western part of the lake. Whichever you prefer – morning or night – you are in for a great start or end to any day.
Located near Beach 8, the Presque Isle Lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse on Lake Erie’s shore. For 141 years it has been used as a residence, most recently for state park staff. Beginning in May of 2015, the Presque Isle Lighthouse is open for public tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day. Climbling the 78 stairs gives you quite a view of Lake Erie!