Presque Isle is a 3200-acre, apostrophe-shaped peninsula of glacial sand that juts 7 miles into Lake Erie from the city of Erie. A loop road popular with sightseers extends the length of the peninsula. The paved Karl Boyes Multi-Purpose Trail, a National Recreational Trail, goes 5.7 miles on a traffic-free trail to the Perry Monument and continues from there alongside the road to make a 13.3-mile circuit around the peninsula. Some trail sections are separated from the road; others are bike lanes along the park roads, which have 25-mph speed limits. The 5.7-mile traffic-free segment of the trail between the park entrance and Perry Monument is part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (page NE-15).
Presque Isle State Park Bikepath
Location Presque Isle State Park, Erie County
Trailheads Presque Isle, Ridge Center
Length, Surface 13.3 miles total (7.3 paved, 5.0 bike lane)
Character Busy, state park, mostly shady, flat
Usage restrictions No motorized vehicles, no horses
Amenities Rest rooms, water, bike rental, food, lodging
Driving time from Pittsburgh 2 hours north
The trail begins at the entrance to Presque Isle State Park, at the southern end of the Presque Isle peninsula. The first two miles share the narrow neck of the peninsula with the road and some parking lots. Here the trail is often directly on the shoreline of the bay, just inches above the water. As the peninsula widens, the trail moves away from the shore, shifting alternately away from the road, then back within sight of the road again. The trail surface is barely two lanes wide and sight lines are sometimes obstructed, so stay right and exercise caution. The trail can get crowded, especially near the park entrance.
Near the waterworks, at mile 2.3, the trail passes the ferry dock. A water taxi runs from here to the Erie Bayfront. In 2018 it operates May through the end of September. The water taxi accepts bicycles (porterie.org/watertaxi). A quarter-mile farther on the right is the side road to West Pier and the Marina.
At mile 3.9, the trail crosses to the north side of the main road and a connector spur joins from inland. The main trail goes right/northwest to continue along the road. The spur straight ahead connects to the other side of the loop. It could be used to shorten the ride around the peninsula or to return to this point after riding the outer part of the loop. From here the main trail is one-way, designated to be ridden counter clockwise, because the bike lane on part of the loop is only on one side of the road and the last mile of road is one-way. The trail remains on the inland side of the road for most of a mile, offering views of the ponds and marsh that form the interior of the peninsula. The trail crosses the road again at the intersection with the Long Pond hiking trail and continues about half a mile to Perry Monument, 5.7 miles from the park entrance. This is the designated starting point of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, which goes back to the entrance and joins bike lanes on the road.
At Perry Monument the trail becomes a designated bike lane 8-foot wide and follows the road around to the less wind protected north shore on the lake. Only the lake side of the road has a bike lane. Here woods alternate with sand dunes and beaches that offer the only surf swimming in Pennsylvania. The same winds that create the surf and dunes may also drift sand into the bike lane.
Near Ainsworth Beach (mile 9.3), the other end of the connector spur turns left/east on a side road, then heads off through the woods for 0.3 miles to the bay side where the outbound trail forked.
Continuing on the shore road (rather than the connector spur), the trail stays close to beach access and parking lots. Shortly after passing the Rotary Pavilion (mile 10.5), the trail swings away into the woods (mile 10.7). At the northeast end of Old Lake Rd (mile 11.4) the entire road is dedicated to the bike trail until it reaches the interpretive center (mile 12.4). At that point Old Lake Rd is shared between a one-way motor traffic lane and a bike lane until the southwest end of Old Lake Rd, where it becomes a narrow bike lane along the main park road back to the entrance (mile 13.3). This one mile section is why the trail is designated as one way.
Local history, attractions
Presque Isle is a geologically unique sand spit of glacial sand. It sits low on the water, with extensive wetlands laced with small ponds. The ponds support a variety of aquatic biological successions. Inland from the peninsula, the terrain gradually changes over a couple of miles, from sand beaches and wetlands to climax forest.
Presque Isle State Park is a Pennsylvania Important Bird Area. It is one of the most diverse, with about 325 recorded species. In the spring (late May) and fall, (late September) it is unparalleled in the state as a stopping point for migratory birds, and it also provides shelter for waterfowl during winter storms. A number of endangered and threatened species have nested here. Within the park, the Purple Martin roost, visible from the first parking area on the bay side of the park is the only known pre-migratory staging area for Purple Martins in Pennsylvania, hosting as many as 100,000 martins in late summer along with flocks of red-winged blackbirds, grackles, swallows, and starlings.
This was a strategic location in the War of 1812. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet was constructed here between February and June 1813. Because the harbor was protected by a sand bar British ships could not approach and attack the boats under construction. Once completed the empty boats were supported on secondary structure to pass over the sand bar. On September 10, 1813 the US fleet of nine boats engaged six British warships under Captain Robert Barclay in the Battle of Lake Erie. Flying his battle flag, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, Perry defeated Barclay and returned to Misery Bay, near the Perry Monument. At the end of the battle he sent his classic message of victory, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” The Flagship Niagara historic site is nearby in Erie.
Extensions of the ride
The northern end of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is at the Perry Monument.
The next segment to the south along the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is the Seaway Trail (page NE-27) 0.7 miles south on Peninsula Dr. The rather narrow Peninsula Dr bike lanes leads from the park entrance toward Erie on the shoulder of PA832 for about 0.7 miles with some hills. These lanes continue to 8th St, but the Erie to Pittsburgh route makes a left/east turn at 6th St headed for Pioneer Park. Following trails through this park connects up with the Bayfront Parkway (page NE-32) as it heads down the hill to Lake Erie and the Bayfront.
Within Presque Isle Park, two dead-end roads provide access to fishing piers. They meet the trail at West Fisher Dr (mile 2.5) and Coast Guard Rd (mile 5.9). Each is about a mile long and can be used to extend the ride. West Fisher Dr passes by a marina with lots of sailboats. Coast Guard Rd goes past Horseshoe Pond, which is dotted with small cottages on floats in the lake—giving real meaning to the term houseboats. It ends at the North Pier, which is the entrance into the Port of Erie and a favorite fishing spot for the locals.
From May through mid-October when the weather permits, a bicycle-accessible water taxi runs from the dock at the Waterworks to Dobbins Landing at the foot of State St in Erie, close to the maritime museum and Bayfront Bikeway. The water taxi also stops at Liberty Park. In 2018 the rate is $7 one-way, $10 round trip. There is no extra charge for bicycles.
There is no overnight parking in Presque Isle State Park. To arrange parking for a multiday trip on the Pittsburgh to Erie Trail, park on the Erie Bayfront. Check with Erie’s Port Security at 814-455-7557. Alert them that the car will be there, and they can suggest the most secure location. To start the trip at the Perry monument, take the water taxi, or bike to the monument and then retrace the route to here.
Vicinity: Follow I79 north to its end in Erie (Exit 183B), taking the long curving ramp to the right to join PA5 (12th St). Go west on PA5 for a mile to PA832, then right/north on PA832.
Tom Ridge Center at Presque Isle: From the intersection of PA5 and PA832 continue on PA832 north for 0.7 miles to the park headquarters at the Tom Ridge Center on the right. Park here and use the bike lanes for about half a mile to reach the trailhead.
Presque Isle trailheads: From the intersection of PA5 and PA832 continue on PA832 north for 1.2 miles to the park entrance. Park in lots near the park entrance or at any of a variety of other lots along the loop road. The bike path may be less busy near one of the parking areas farther into the park.
Rest rooms, water: Comfort stations are located at over a dozen places along or near the trail. Occasional water fountains are alongside the road and in the picnic areas.
Bike shop, rentals: Bike rentals are available along PA832 north of PA5, connected by bike lanes to the park. Inside the park, bike rentals are available across from the water taxi dock at the Waterworks.
Restaurant, groceries: Seasonal food and refreshment concessions are located along the trail at several of the beaches. The Tom Ridge Center has a cafe.
Camping, simple lodging: Motels and cottages on PA832 are near the park entrance. Other motels and camping in and near Erie.
Swimming, fishing: Swimming is only allowed at guarded beaches, which are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day unless posted otherwise. There is good fishing in Lake Erie with common catches of perch, coho, smelt, walleye, rainbow trout and bass. Fishing in Presque Isle Bay catches panfish, perch, bass, muskellunge, walleye, northern pike, crappies, smelt, and coho. Theer is boating of all kinds. Scuba diving, divers must be certified and register with park office. No snorkeling.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, ice boating. Cross country skis and snowshoe rental are available at Shelter #1 in the Waterworks Day area. (2017–2018).
Wheelchair access: Good, including boardwalk access to Waterworks #7 Beach.
DCNR—Presque Isle State Park
Maps, guides, other references
Presque Isle State Park map/brochure.
USGS Topographic Maps: Swanville, Erie North.
Text version of 06 Jul 2018 based on information from park service May 2011, personal observation while bicycling the dead-end roads and the main loop 10/2015, and cross country ski rental web checked 1/2018. Conditions may have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 10/2015.