Twelve miles west of Erie, near Lake City, lies Erie Bluffs State Park, home of the largest undeveloped stretch of Lake Erie shoreline remaining in Pennsylvania. Although the park is primitive, it holds a great deal of potential. Nevertheless, visitors to the park are often discouraged by the lack of restroom facilities and the absence of marked trails. For those who haven’t been turned off by the lack of amenities, Pennsylvania’s 2nd newest state park offers 587-acres of pristine wilderness to explore.
Like many before us, we were lured here to observe the park’s legendary 90-foot bluffs overlooking Lake Erie. After parking in the tiny lot, the path to the bluffs is undeniably ambiguous, yet it’s not every day one gets the opportunity to traipse amidst corn fields. Although there are multiple openings in the woods, the unmarked trails all connect, making it difficult to get lost.
The sound of the shore can be heard immediately upon entering the forest. Do not give in to temptation: one should not rush through this hike without pausing every now and then to appreciate the beauty of the mature hardwoods and hemlock ravines. In late spring, trillium occupy the forest floor. Wind your way through the maze of trees and numerous openings yield stunning views of Lake Erie, extending as far as the eye can see. The vivid blue water is a stunning contrast to the greenery that surrounds you. Hearing the sound of the waves pounding the shore is mesmerizing, regardless of whether you are perched atop the edge of a bluff or standing under a lush canopy of trees.
Formed by the crashing waves of Lake Erie, the bluffs are moving inland at a rate of one to seven feet per year. The mile of shoreline below the bluffs is flanked with a cobble and pebble beach. Although the beach is narrow, it is not difficult to access. A stroll on the beach offers a unique perspective of the lake-plain swamp forest among which the bluffs are perched.
As you loop back through the corn field, keep in mind that this area is undergoing an extensive restoration effort to reclaim the black oak savanna ecosystem. Black oak savannas are relict land forms formed thousands of years ago when the water levels of the Great Lakes were higher. Savannas share characteristics of both prairie and forest ecosystems, in which widely spaced trees are mixed among sand barrens with sparse vegetation. It is estimated that only two percent of the black oak savannas of Pennsylvania remain, leaving many rare, endangered and threatened plant species.
The only developed area of the park is Elk Creek, a shallow stream renowned as a world-class steelhead fishery. Future plans for the park include 10-miles of hiking trails. When complete, the park will be a destination, especially for those finding their way along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail!
Not ready to head home, we thought the nearby Erie Land Lighthouse was worth a gander. Also known as the Old Presque Isle Light, this structure has the distinction of being the first lighthouse built by the US government on the Great Lakes. Originally built in 1818, the tower was twice replaced. The current tower dates back to 1867. The lighthouse was restored in 2004.
Of course, no visit to Erie is complete without a stop at Presque Isle!
At Presque Isle’s Beach #10, we befriended a pair of local fisherman collecting minnows, the bait of choice for the infamous Lake Erie perch.