In the northwestern corner of the state of Pennsylvania, sits a beautiful peninsula covered in marshes, ponds, woodlands, and beaches. The Presque Isle State Park beaches are certainly the main attraction, situated on Lake Erie. This peninsula juts into the lake, creating dramatic views.
The shores are picturesque with their white sands made up of tumbled rocks and crushed shells. Three separate beaches offer plenty of space for sunbathing, fishing, swimming, boating, biking, walking, and picnicking.
Each beach has its own individual character that is worth exploring. However, there are beaches that are better for some activities than others. This post will explore the best beaches on Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Presque Isle State Park Maps
This one isn’t overly difficult to navigate, and the road around the park travels in one giant loop. If you do miss a turn, though, you might want to turn around. The drive around the entire park loop is over 13 miles long.
The park map from the PA DCNR may be helpful for a general overview and orienting yourself when deciding where you want to go and what you want to see.
General Overview of Presque Isle State Park
This state park juts out into Lake Erie and includes nearly 3,200 acres of land. It is a peninsula with a very thin strip of land connecting it to the mainland. Access is only 4 miles from downtown Erie, PA.
Recreational activities here include hiking on the 11 miles of trails, biking the 13.5-mile multi-purpose recreation trail, kayaking in the lagoons, and fishing from the piers and waterworks.
At one end of the peninsula sits the Presque Isle Lighthouse, which was established in 1827. The lighthouse is open to visitors and offers tours that highlight its history. Climb to the top and take in the 360-degree views of the peninsula, Lake Erie, and back towards the city.
Presque Isle State Park Beaches
Going to the beach is a great way to enjoy a summer day. The sun, sand, and waves provide a perfect backdrop for relaxation. Whether you’re swimming, sunbathing, or strolling along the shore, there’s something for everyone at the beach.
Finally, here is the rundown! These are all the beaches at Presque Isle State Park and what activity is best done at each one. The beaches here are a huge draw for visitors, so do a little digging and find which of the 13 beaches will give you what you’re looking for during your visit.
Beach #1 is the first beach you’ll come across when entering the peninsula. It’s quite a long stretch, and though the sand is soft near the top of the beach, it can get a little rocky near the water. Water shoes may be helpful if you have sensitive feet!
There is a pavilion between the parking area and the beach with restroom facilities close by.
This beach is popular for events in the summer, and many races like 5ks begin here at the pavilion. Historically, there has also been a summer concert series on this beach where you bring your blankets or beach chairs, a snack, and enjoy local musical acts and the sunset over Lake Erie at the same time.
Beach #3 (Barracks Beach)
Next, you’ll find Beach #3, better known as Barracks Beach. The parking lot for this one is a little smaller, beside the Stull Interpretive Center. Turn at the center, and head to Old Road, where you’ll find most cars just park along the roadway to access the beach.
There are 3 pavilions across Old Road that can be used for family get-togethers and reunions, birthday or graduation parties, or just to enjoy the day. There are also restroom facilities near the pavilions.
Beach #3 is smoke-free.
Beach #6 (Lyons Beach)
Are you looking for more fun and excitement? This is the beach for you! You’ll typically find high school and college-age people here, especially on the weekends.
This is also the beach for athletes and those looking for a more active beach experience. Many beach volleyball leagues and tournaments are held here, as there are 6 courts adjacent to the parking area for Beach #6.
There is a large parking area and a beach house between the parking area and the beach itself. In addition to restrooms and changing rooms, there is a snack bar here too, in case you run out of snacks or drinks.
Beach #7 (Waterworks Beach)
Waterworks Beach, or Beach #7, is popular with families. There are lots of opportunities for kids to enjoy themselves here! A large playground sits near the shelters just behind the beach for them to enjoy.
There is also plenty of space for a picnic here, but it can get busy on summer weekends. Arrive early if you want to secure a specific picnic table or grill spot.
This beach has made significant upgrades for those with mobility issues and those who need to use a wheelchair. A ramp here leads to the water. There are also beach wheelchairs available for anyone to use, kept at the Public Safety Building across the peninsula from Beach #6. During busy times, there may also be a couple available at this and other accessible beaches.
Beach #8 (Pettinato Beach)
Presque Isle Beach #8 is the other specifically ADA-accessible beach on the peninsula, also with a ramp to be able to access the water. Many upgrades have been made to the beach house and parking area in recent years.
This is another spot where food and drink can be available for purchase in the summer. It’s more of a snack bar-type concession, but you may be able to find a few necessities if you forgot or run out of something like sunscreen.
This one is also popular with families because it is close to many facilities. Sometimes, people also end up here when earlier beaches become more crowded.
Mill Road Beaches (Stone Jetty, Short Jetty, Saw Mill, Ainsworth & Goddard)
We’re going to lump these 5 beaches together because they’re similar, people typically visit each for the same purpose, and the same rules apply at all 5 beaches.
There is no swimming at the Mill Road Beaches, so this spot tends to have a little more quiet space. You can find people reading a good book in the sunshine, walking the water’s edge, or enjoying a picnic at the tree line.
There are no concessions here, so plan to pack everything you’ll need for your picnic. There are some charcoal grills available to use near the treeline. A small restroom facility can be found near the middle, across from Saw Mill Beach. Please note that the Mill Road Beaches are also smoke-free.
Beach #9 (Pine Tree)
This is another beach with a smaller parking area. It’s still a beautiful beach, though! It also has really close access to the multipurpose trail and would be a great spot to take a break while on a bike ride around the peninsula.
Pine Tree Beach tends to get more use by those using some of the shaded picnic shelter areas nearby. There are charcoal grills available to use near the beach. This is another great spot for a family picnic but be prepared with all your necessities because there aren’t concessions here.
If you’re looking for a beautiful spot to relax and take in the natural beauty of Presque Isle State Park, Pine Tree Beach is a great option. It’s also right next to Sunset Point, so you might just want to stay until dusk!
Beach #10 (Budny Beach)
Another beach spot with restrooms, a snack bar, and changing rooms, you may think that this beach is just an afterthought towards the end of the peninsula. Far from it!
This is another spot where families like to come for picnics and play at the beach. If you don’t like to sit still and lay on the beach all day, this may be a great spot for you. The 1.5-mile Gull Point trial can be accessed from the east side of this beach, and it leads to a secluded observation deck. Just be sure to stay on the trail from April through November. It’s a very delicate habitat and a protected natural area.
You may be surprised to see that on a windy day, this area is popular with windsurfers and people who love to fly kites. In addition to kids flying a kite maybe for the first time, you may see some spectacular soaring creations.
Beach #11 (Kohler Beach)
Kohler Beach is the one furthest from the entrance to the park. This one is a little different from all the others in that it is more protected from Lake Erie by Gull Point, so the wave action is very minimal. These features make it a great location for those with small children who want to play in the water.
Kids will love the playground area, too, when they want to take a break from the beach. There is also a snack bar open during the summer months, housed in the same building as the restroom and changing facilities. Grab a quick snack for hungry kiddos (or you, yourself!) if you run out or forget something.
The parking area at this beach is huge, and the beach is pretty wide. This area can become a little crowded sometimes, but you should still be able to find a little area to relax.
Where to Watch Sunsets on Presque Isle State Park Beaches
Each of the 13 beaches on Presque Isle State Park offers a unique experience, and watching the sunset is no exception. There are some beaches that offer a better view than others, but all provide an absolutely beautiful backdrop to the end of the day.
The best place to watch the sunset is from the Stone Jetty or Short Jetty. These jetties extend out into Lake Erie, providing a perfect spot to take in the view. The sunsets behind the mainland, casting a beautiful orange glow across the water.
Beach #1 and Beach #3 (Barracks Beach) have gorgeous views that can be framed by the erosion barriers just out into the water, but they’re typically busier with other sunset seekers. They’re just the easiest to access, being close to the park’s entrance.
If you’re looking for a quieter spot to watch the sunset, try Ainsworth or Goddard Beach. These beaches are smaller and less crowded, potentially giving you a more private setting to enjoy the show.
Dogs on the Beaches at Presque Isle
Dogs are generally welcomed at the park. You’ll see plenty of pups and their humans walking the multi-purpose trail and exploring. There are a few exceptions to where they are permitted when it comes to swimming areas, though.
On the guarded beaches, inside designated swim zones, dogs must stay up by the tree line.
Once outside of the swimming areas, dogs can play on the beach and in the water. They should remain leashed, though, and people can only wade into the water up to their knees. Park staff do patrol the beaches on ATVs and 4-wheelers, and they will stop and warn you of any wrongdoings.
Be cautious and check any warnings regarding water contamination, not just for yourself but also for your pup. Periodic toxic algae blooms have become more of a problem over recent years and can cause significant harm and even death to dogs who ingest water during the blooms.
Presque Isle State Park Beaches in Winter
Presque Isle State Park is open year-round, and summer is not the only time when these beaches and lands can be enjoyed. Although guarded swimming typically ends after Labor Day, you can enjoy the beaches from the shore all year. In fact, winter is a particularly lovely time to visit Presque Isle.
You can also enjoy views of Lake Erie in one of its most dramatic states when it freezes over in the winter.
The beaches are typically frozen and other-worldly during the winter; however, it is still fun to find a new vantage point of all that you can enjoy at Presque Isle State Park throughout the year.
Where to Eat After a Day at the Beach
Looking for some delicious food after a day on the beach? We have a few great recommendations, but there are so many delicious restaurants around town that it’s hard to choose. This is absolutely not an all-inclusive list, but just a starting point!
The closest spot to Presque Isle is Sara’s. This retro eatery is only open during the warmer months, so don’t count on eating here in the winter. You won’t be able to enjoy the hot off-the-grill burgers and dogs then. Save some room for a sweet treat after your meal, too. You won’t want to miss the mouthwatering peanut butter milkshakes and orange-vanilla twist cones.
For a relaxed atmosphere, a casual menu, and plenty of new brews to sample, head west down Route 5 just 2.5 miles to Erie Brewing Company’s westside location, also home to Beachwood Inn’s Hardwood Grill providing food. They typically have a great selection of things to try!
If you have some time to clean yourself up and head back out to dinner, check out The Cork 1974, located in the West Erie Plaza just 5 minutes from Presque Isle’s beaches. The food is delicious and a little on the creative side and definitely a little more upscale, too.
Again, this is not an all-inclusive list. Erie is surprisingly full of absolutely fantastic restaurants! Don’t be afraid to explore.
Where to Stay for a Weekend Adventure
The closest spot to stay is at Sara’s Campground, basically the gateway to Presque Isle. You’ll find it right around Sara’s Eatery. There are spots on both sides of Peninsula Drive, with some full hookup sites and even some first-come, first-served beach tent camping spots.
This small cottage, Moon Dogs Getaway, is just a short distance from the entrance to the peninsula, has 2 bedrooms, and is pet-friendly! If you aren’t able to get a reservation at Sara’s Campground or prefer more privacy, check out this cottage.
If you’d rather have more of the creature comforts of a hotel, check out one of the great options located on Erie’s bayfront, directly across the bay from Presque Isle. The Hampton Inn is the newest construction, and although it sits back from the bay about 100 yards, it has a great view from the restaurant on the top floor in the summer. A lot has been happening recently to build this area up and make it much more of an exciting place to visit.
Other Outdoor Spots to Explore Around the Erie Area
For a much more undeveloped shoreline and cool wooded hiking trails, head west about 15 miles to Erie Bluffs State Park. There isn’t nearly as much beach area to explore here and what’s there requires much more effort to reach. The hiking trails make for a fun adventure, though, and dogs are welcome to explore the area, too.
Another great little spot to explore just over the state line into New York is Panama Rocks. This nature area has a trail winding through giant rock formations. There is an entrance fee to explore the trail, but the area is great for all ages. Just be sure to keep a close eye on smaller children near rock edges.
Western New York is full of beautiful outdoor areas and state parks. There are so many hiking trails to explore, and there are numerous stunning waterfalls to chase. Checking out some of the best western New York State Parks can require a few hours’ drive, but the time and effort are 100% worth it!
Presque Isle State Park is a popular destination for beachgoers and outdoor enthusiasts. We’ve highlighted all of the best beaches to explore and enjoy on Presque Isle, so you can find your perfect spot! Whether your style is fun and active or quiet and secluded, there is something for you out on the peninsula.
Which one do you think sounds like it fits your style the most?