Presque Isle: A Hidden Paradise in Northwestern Pennsylvania

I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the confinement, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things I miss from home. With the current lockdown measures and the weather really warming up, I’m beginning to feel a bit antsy to get out of my tiny apartment and to some more open and calm spaces.

Being in Madrid during this time is hard. It’s a populated city with so much to do, but as of now, we are limited to only going one kilometer from where we live. I’m grateful for the ability to finally walk around outside, but the same streets are all beginning to blur together and I’m fantasizing about going to some of my favorite places back in the United States.

One place from home where I spent many hours is Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. We lived in Erie for over 2 years before we moved to Madrid. Although I didn’t anticipate missing Erie besides some friends, I have been thinking about it a lot lately. It has clearly made more of a lasting impact on me that I realized.

Presque Isle is a peninsula that stretches about five miles from the city out into Lake Erie. Along the peninsula are 13 miles of roads, 21 miles of recreational trails, and 13 different beaches. It was my absolute favorite place to go in Erie. Once the weather reached even a somewhat comfortable temperature, I would head to Presque Isle at least once a week.


Some of my favorite times in Erie were spent catching some rays while sitting on the beach with my friends, reading a good book or listening to a podcast with the faint sound of the waves crashing in the background. Now, I know what you might be thinking, often times beaches on lakes aren’t anything to compare to a coastal beach in Florida for example. I won’t say that Presque Isle looks like Florida, but the beaches there are by far the best lake beaches I’ve ever been to.

Jacob and my nephew, Nolan, enjoying a fall afternoon playing in the sand.

The sand is fine and soft and most of the beaches are fairly large with plenty of room for whatever activities you like. Also, Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, meaning the water is usually quite warm and comfortable to swim in. I have recently been informed that swimming is not permitted at this time due to coronavirus prevention measures. Stay up to date on this here. There are beaches along every side of the peninsula and I swear that when you’re on the far side looking out onto the lake, all you can see is water and it feels like you’re looking at the ocean.

During my first summer in Erie, my friend Abby came from Buffalo to visit me and of course, I had to take her to Presque Isle. She told me after we arrived that she anticipated some tiny little “beach” with really rocky sand and not much to offer, but she was completely surprised at how beautiful it was.

Other Activities

Aside from the wonderful beaches, Presque Isle has so much more to offer. There are paved trails that run along the shore and into a shaded forrest area, perfect for running on a hot day or just taking a stroll. I would frequently come here to exercise or watch the sunset from one of the beaches.

The best beach to watch the day fade into night is between Beaches 9 and 10, on what is called Sunset Point. This location is also referred to by locals as the “Kite Beach” because on any given day, you will find people from all over the area flying a variety of kites here. It is a beautiful place to watch this as it is the only beach that you can drive your car right up to the edge.

The Sunset at the entrance to one of the beaches.

Also available at Presque Isle is a little shop called The Yellow Bike Rental Company where you can rent anything from bicycles to kayaks by the hour. Jacob and I rented roller blades once and spent the day shredding up the trails. Another way to describe it could be flailing our arms while trying desperately not to fall for two hours straight. A good time nonetheless.

Another fun activity at Presque Isle is taking advantage of the hiking trails at the end of the peninsula. This is especially fun because even if you’re just trying to get some exercise, the views of the water and the city across the bay are amazing and very relaxing.

I felt so lucky to live in a city that had such a wonderful place to escape. I’m from a very small town originally and grew up valuing nature and the outdoors, so if I’m going to live in a city, I feel so much more at peace when I have an open green space nearby. Although I tried not to do this too often, I would even find it calming to just drive through the peninsula with the windows down and enjoy the views.

I do not have a personal affinity for birdwatching, but if that is something you’re into, Presque Isle was actually named one of the best places in the United States for it, especially at the Gull Point area, near the hiking trails. If you still want more information on what you can do at Presque Isle, head over to their official website here.

It can be said that Erie, like most cities, has some room for improvement. There are several initiatives happening now to revitalize the downtown area and make Erie a better place to live. Regardless of the city’s inevitable flaws, Presque Isle will always be a hidden gem that makes the lives of the residents better. At least it did for this former resident.

Each summer at the end of July, the Presque Isle Partnership puts on a three day celebration called Discover Presque Isle. The festivities consist of dozens of events including a craft show with several local food and beverage vendors, live music concerts on the beach and my personal favorite, a sand castle sculpture contest. More than 100,000 people attend the even each year. The purpose is to bring awareness to the importance of preserving the peninsula’s natural ecosystems.

Also, due to coronavirus, Discover Presque Isle has been canceled for 2020. Presque Isle Partnership is accepting donations to help with their conservation efforts and the loss of fundraising from these events. Click here for info about donating and be sure to keep Discover Presque Isle on your 2021 calendars!

Sand sculpture at the beach during Discover Presque Isle in 2019.

Story Time

For you history buffs, Presque Isle played an important role in the War of 1812. During the Battle of Lake Erie, American Commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, used the peninsula as a strategic barrier for invading British attackers as well as a place to construct most of the ships in his fleet. The location forced the British to detour around the peninsula, eventually helping to lead the Americans to victory in the battle.

Perry is known in Erie for the flag he flew on his vessel reading “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP.” That saying is famous in Erie now and it can be seen in murals on buildings and bumper stickers around town.

If you live within a few hours of Erie, PA, I highly recommend taking a day trip to Presque Isle with your family or friends this summer. It is a perfect, free venture that everyone can enjoy.

Most of the beaches have public restrooms at the main entrance and some even have changing areas as well as concessions with food and drinks making for a comfortable and carefree time. If you’re looking to stay active, Beach 6 has some sand volleyball courts that anyone can play on. Bring a bunch of your buddies and have a volleyball tournament!

No matter what you’re looking for in the perfect summer day, Presque Isle has something to offer. It is a beautiful playground tucked away and ready to be explored. At the end of the day, you can stop at Sara’s Restaurant that sits just at the entrance of the park. Get more info on their Facebook page here. Try an Erie favorite Smith’s hot dog or one of their mouthwatering milkshakes. Sara’s is a summertime staple for the locals and the best way to end a fun day at the beach.

Does your family have any summer traditions? Have you ever heard of Presque Isle State Park? Which of these fun activities do you want to try? Tell me below in the comments!

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I am a 25 year old American girl trying to see the entire world with my travel partner/boyfriend, Jacob. We find beauty in the biggest and smallest places and the journey it takes to get there.

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