It’s easy to see why Presque Isle reigns as the most visited state park in Pennsylvania! Over 4 million visitors flock to the park each year to frolic in the waters of Pennsylvania’s only seashore.
Unfortunately, most people fail to realize the historical significance of the park. Presque Isle has a history rich in turmoil and strife over control of its land.
The Erielhonan Indians were the first known settlers of the land in 1400. They emerged victorious in battle over the Seneca in 1653. After the Iroqouis destroyed their largest village Rique, in 1654, the Iroquois and Seneca Confederations absorbed the Erielhonans.
The French began to settle the land and built Fort Presque Isle in 1753. The French named the fort after the French word “presqu’ ille”, which means “almost an island” or “peninsula”. In truth, Presque Isle is a recurving sand spit.
The British tried to prevent the French and Native Americans from trading with each other, giving cause to the French and Indian War, which occurred from 1754 to 1763.
Following the British victory at the Battle of Fort Niagara in 1759, the French burnt and abandoned Fort Presque Isle. The British rebuilt the fort. The Native Americans became increasingly dissatisfied with British control, and claimed the fort during Pontiac’s Rebellion of 1763.
Americans retook Fort Presque Isle in 1775. After the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix was signed one year later. As a result of the treaty, the Iroquois sold their rights to the land to the US government. These rights were later sold to Pennsylvania in 1792. In 1795, Fort Presque Isle was renamed Erie.
Today, Presque Isle is a National Natural Landmark and State Park Natural Area. Presque Isle has seven miles of beaches. 13 beaches permit swimming.
Presque Isle has been an actual island at least four times since 1819. Storm waves have broken through the neck of the peninsula to isolate the main section of the recurving sand spit, causing this stretch to be completely cutoff from the mainland. From 1832 to 1864, the gap remained open for 32 years!
Scientists estimate the peninsula has grown and migrated eastward half a mile per century since the isle was formed 11,000 years ago.
Over 50 breakwaters were built from 1989 to 1992 to help control erosion.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center, established in 2006, serves as the gateway to Presque Isle.
The center is bursting with free interactive exhibits and environmental interpretations. Additional attractions include a big screen theater, cafe, and gift shop.
The 75-ft observation tower offers stunning views of the peninsula.
Lake Erie is 57 miles wide and 241 miles long. Its average depth is 62 feet and its deepest point is 210 feet.
Despite its status as the most visited Pennsylvania state park, Presque Isle never manages to seem overly crowded. There are many quiet nooks to find solitude and take in the beauty of the area.
Of course, most visitors prefer to take in the beach!
The area between Sunset Point and Budny Beach is affectionately known as “Kite Beach”. The best wind on the peninsula blows here, making this the perfect spot for flying kites and blowing bubbles!
The Lady Kate offers sightseeing tours of Lake Erie.
Of course, you are welcome to take your own boat.
Stand up paddling, kayaking, and jet skiing are also popular activities at this park.
Due to its location along the Atlantic Flyway, Presque Isle is a haven for migrating birds.
Over 320 species of birds have been spotted. 39 species are of special concern.
It’s common to come across sand sculptures on the beach.
The Presque Isle Lighthouse has been in operation since 1873. It is the 2nd oldest lighthouse on Lake Erie.
The lighthouse is maintained by the United States Coast Guard and used as a park residence.
The tower is 57 feet high.
Sunset Beach is a favorite spot for nature photographers hoping to capture mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets.
Should the beach lose its appeal, the park also offers 11 miles of dedicated hiking trails.
The 13.5 mile Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose National Recreation Trail, named after the late State Representative, makes a scenic loop around the park. This trail gives visitors the opportunity to view the seven ecological zones of the park, each with its own plants and animals. The zones are: Lake Erie, the bay and shoreline, sandy plain and new ponds, sandy dunes and ridges, marshes and old ponds, thicket and sub-climax forest and climax forest.
Presque Isle played a key role in the Battle of Lake Erie, one of the biggest naval battles in the War of 1812. Commander of American forces, Oliver Hazard Perry prevailed, causing the British to relinquish control.
The Perry Monument at Crystal Point was built in 1926 to commemorate Commander Perry’s victory.
Misery Bay received its name from the hardships that the men endured in battle from 1812 to 1814. Smallpox ran rampant and the epidemic caused the men to be quarantined in part of the bay. The infected bodies were dumped in an area known as Graveyard Pond.
The U.S.S. Brig Niagara was damaged and intentionally sunk for preservation purposes by the US Navy in Misery Bay. The Flagship Niagara was raised in time for the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1913. It is one of the last remaining ships from the War of 1812.
Presque Isle Bay serves as a harbor for Lake Erie, and is home to both pleasure boats and worldwide freighters.
The presence of the US Coast Guard signifies the importance of Erie’s shipping industry. In addition to its status as an important Great Lakes shipping port, Erie has been an international port since 1959.
Waterworks Park Pumphouse, Circa 1917
Marshes and old ponds along the trail
Houseboats on Horseshoe Pond
The North Pier serves as the entrance to the Port of Erie.
Erie Harbor North Pier Light, also known as the Presque Isle North Pierhead Lighthouse, Circa 1858
Presque Isle State Park was chosen by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and its Bureau of Parks as one of “Twenty Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks”.
Without a doubt, Presque Isle is one of the best parks we have visited! There is so much to see that we had to spend several weekends taking it all in! We hope to return in the winter to see the ice dunes that form on Lake Erie.
Adjacent to Presque Isle is Waldameer Park. It is the 10th oldest amusement park in the United States!