Beaches, Travel

Need a beach trip? Go for a swim at Presque Isle State Park in Erie

Just a short 2-hour drive north of Pittsburgh, Presque Isle State Park offers beaches and relaxation in an era of social-distancing.

There is one thing you should know about me: I’m a Pisces. This means that I wear my heart on my sleeve, am very empathetic and love to cry.

But it also means, as a fish-at-heart, I love swimming. As a youth, my summers were spent at the Millersville Lion’s Club pool, the pool at my aunt’s house, the pool at the campground where my neighbor worked while I babysat her granddaughter and the pool at said neighbor’s house. I was jealous of my friends who had a pool in their backyards, whether in-ground or above. At 24, I am still viciously envious of people who have a pool in their backyard. I. love. swimming.

When Allegheny County announced that pools were closed for the summer on May 15, I was distraught. See the below evidence of a text conversation between me and my friend Zack, who has a regular pool and a doggie pool and has not invited me to partake in either. I. love. swimming.

My personal dilemma is also exacerbated by the fact that going to the beach is not a good idea, for very good reasons. I. love. swimming.

So, when a pal in my quaran-hive invited me to the beach at Presque Isle — a state park near Erie that people just call a beach when it is in fact off of a lake and not an ocean — I said yes. Nearby, Erie’s coronavirus cases are relatively low, the area was among the first to move to yellow and we were going on a Sunday to avoid crowds and follow the CDC’s guidelines on beach-going. We went to Presque Isle over Labor Day weekend last year, so I curious what a day trip would entail.

For those like me who crave safety while floating in a body of water, Presque Isle State Park makes for a great day trip, or even a weekend getaway.

Presque Isle State Park

The drive to Presque Isle takes less than two hours, just up I-79. After hopping off the highway, you’re greeted by quaint houses and plenty of green before Presque Isle State Park, where we saw rollerbladers, people on bicycles and passersby taking a stroll.

Cyclists at Presque Isle. Photo: Amanda Reed

Although Presque Isle State Park has multiple beaches, make sure to check which ones are open — there are signs at the entrance of the park or call ahead.

We arrived at Beach 8, Pettinato Beach, around 1 p.m. Despite arriving one hour after the beach had opened, I was nervous pulling into the parking lot. There was an abundance of people not wearing masks (yikes) and lots of cars, which would translate to lots of people (yikes).

However, there was plenty of room on the beach to social distance, which people were thankfully doing. I felt much safer here than I did at Unnamed Popular Gas Station Slash Food Place, where a man stood practically right behind me and was not wearing a mask in the store.

After safely setting up on sand, peace, harmony and balance filled my sad, pale, withered body as soon as it hit the water. We swam, laughed, strolled the lake beach safely, shirt off but mask up. I took a nap in the sun. I drank a cold beverage while digging my toes into the warm sand. My serotonin levels skyrocketed as my cares momentarily melted away.

Peak happiness at Presque Isle. Photo: Amanda Reed

You may encounter a few sticks in the water and parts of the beach with large pebbles that hurt your feet, but both are not deal-breakers considering it’s a lake and stuff like that is expected. People joke about dead fish in Lake Erie, but that was never a problem in either time I’ve swam at one of Presque Isle’s beaches. Only one dead fish washed ashore this time — the first dead Erie fish I have encountered up-close — which a lifeguard quickly buried.

The lake-beachgoers began to dissipate around 4 p.m., and we left around 5 or 6. We tried stopping at Sara’s — a popular stop right outside of Presque Isle State Park — for dinner, but did not want to wait in the long drive-thru line and window ordering lines. Instead, we settled on Crazy Oven close by, which served cocktails in Solo cups. I passed on a drink but settled on lasagna, as my patron saint Garfield would want me to do.

We wanted to stop at The Snowman, a shaved ice stand-meets-roadside attraction in Portersville on our way back, but we were too tired from the long day to stop.

Looking to make an overnight trip?

If you’re hoping to make Presque Isle a weekend trip, Airbnbs in the area are rather cheap and also precious. We stayed in an adorable renovated 1950s fishing and hunting cabin in Edinboro during our Labor Day trip last year. Downtown Erie is also nearby. My choice eatery, Dave’s Diner, is unfortunately closed until further notice, but do try to support local businesses in the area by ordering takeout.

Looking for lodging? 

Check out some of our hotel picks on Tripadvisor.

There are not a ton of available rentals on Airbnb a few of these places caught our eye:

Everything is truly terrible since we are in a global pandemic, but for a few hours I got to experience just a bit of joy and literally drown out my sorrows. Being able to do so is a huge privilege, which I do not take for granted. In a time where no one is finding emails or anything well, we all deserve to have a moment of peace, whatever that looks like. For me, it’s being by a body of water, whether it’s sitting in a bathtub or stepping into a puddle.

With this said, if you can’t invite me to your pool this summer, at least invite me on a trip to Presque Isle’s beaches.

Approaching Pettinato Beach at Presque Isle. Photo: Amanda Reed

Need a set of wheels for the road trip?

Need a car to make the trip? Want to test drive a Tesla for the day or cruise up to Presque Isle in a convertible? Check out our guide to car-sharing apps available in Pittsburgh.