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5 ways to enjoy autumn at Presque Isle State Park

Seagulls find the Channel Lighthouse pier at Presque Isle on Lake Erie to be a popular roosting spot. The Channel Lighthouse guards the inlet to Presque Isle Bay. | Photo by Brian Welker -

Even as summer’s sunshine and beach days wind down in September, Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania, doesn’t go into hibernation. In fact, many of the activities visitors enjoy during their summer vacations are still available as the days cool and the leaves transform into their colorful autumn hues. Check out some of the ways to celebrate autumn in the 3,200-acre peninsula.

1. Boating

With Erie's Bicentennial Tower in the distance, boaters fish in Presque Isle Bay. | Photo by Russell Kord/Alamy Stock Photo

Boaters can enjoy time out on the lake, either fishing or just cruising around in the crisp fall air. In the internal lagoons—the continuous body of water between Misery Bay and Marina Lake that includes Long and Big ponds—only non-motorized craft are permitted, but boats with internal-combustion engines can use the launches and the marina. Four launches can be found throughout the park. The Vista launch, near the park entrance, is recommended only for small boats and jet skis. The Niagara and Lagoon launches are suitable for small- to medium-size craft, and boats of all sizes can be launched from West Pier’s 4 lanes.

The marina, which remains open until October 31, has nearly 500 slips for boats up to 42 feet long. Visitors can purchase gas and diesel or dump their tanks here. The marina office or park office can provide information about renting a temporary or permanent slip, but keep in mind that a waiting list is likely for this popular destination.

2. Biking

Perry Monument

Bike to the Perry Monument at the end of Crystal Point. | Photo by Gregmrotek -

Take a spin around the peninsula on the 13.57-mile Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose National Recreation Trail. This paved loop offers prime views of the lake, the park’s wooded interior, and the lagoons. In addition to cyclists, the path also attracts walkers, joggers, and in-line skaters. The trail begins at the park entrance, though it can be accessed from several parking areas throughout the park for those seeking a shorter ride. Some of the recreational path is plowed during the winter for walkers; another section is left snow-covered for Nordic skiers.

Along the trail, visitors can learn about the history of this region and visit several sites important to the development of modern Erie. Built in 1926 on the park’s southeast side, Perry Monument commemorates Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s defeat of the British during the War of 1812. The Coast Guard still maintains the 57-foot Presque Isle Lighthouse on the park’s north side, which is open for tours.

Read more: 6 biking trails to explore in Western Pennsylvania

3. Hiking

The Sidewalk Trail

The Sidewalk Trail abuts the Ridge Pond and is also popular for cross-country skiing. | Photo by George Ostertag/Alamy Stock Photo

What better way to enjoy the changing foliage than to get out on one of Presque Isle’s many trails? With approximately 11 miles of paths that vary in difficulty and length, everyone is sure to find a favorite hike.

Loop around the marshes and red maple leaves surrounding Cranberry Pond by taking the Fox Trail, the Marsh Trail, and the Ridge Trail for a total of around a mile. For a longer excursion, try the Sidewalk Trail, a 1.25-mile walk from the lighthouse to the U.S. Lighthouse Service boathouse in Misery Bay. Once a wooden boardwalk, this trail was converted to a concrete path in 1925.

The 2-mile Dead Pond Trail leads through several ecological zones, including sand plains, former dunes, and stands of oak and maple trees. Near the end of the peninsula, walkers and bird-watchers alike can enjoy the Gull Point Trail, a 1.5-mile outing through the park’s most dynamic environment. This sandy area attracts migrating shorebirds, some of them rare species, from as far away as South America and the Arctic. Because of nesting birds, this part of the park is closed from April through November, except for the trail, which leads to an observation deck.

4. Bird-watching


Presque Isle State Park is a major destination for bird-watching. | Photo by Steven -

The Gull Point Trail isn’t the only place in the park to see birds. In fact, BirdWatching magazine rated Presque Isle one of the country’s top bird-watching destinations, with more than 339 species identified as at least part-time residents of the park. Stroll around any of the park’s ponds, through the woods, or along the shoreline to see wood ducks, spotted sandpipers, great blue herons, and more. The major fall and winter waterfowl migration occurs in late November and December, whereas shorebirds and warblers are on the move in September. Guided tours and other bird-related programming are available.

Read more: Outdoor adventure: 5 things to do in the Pennsylvania Wilds

5. Learn about the peninsula

Tom Ridge Environmental Center

At the park's entrance, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center provides an area overview. | Photo by Mira/Alamy Stock Photo

Sure, spending time in the park should be fun, but learning about the ever-changing ecosystem and its numerous animal inhabitants can make a visit to Presque Isle more meaningful. The Tom Ridge Environmental Center, located near the park entrance, is a 65,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art learning center. Various exhibits—many of them hands-on or multimedia—explain not only how the peninsula was formed but also the effects that time, wind, water, and humans have had on the environment here. An observation tower juts 75 feet into the air to allow for stunning views of Lake Erie. The center also houses a gift shop that features works created by local artists.

Pamela Hunt, a freelance writer in Burlington, Vermont, grew up in Erie and Elk counties and will always be a Western Pennsylvania girl at heart.

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