Hiking the Secluded Forests of Erie Bluffs State Park
lake erie bluffs trail mapMillions of people visit Erie’s Presque Isle State Park every year to enjoy a bit of relaxation along the shores of Lake Erie. However, few travel the short distance to the west to enjoy the largest piece of unspoiled lakefront remaining in Pennsylvania at Erie Bluffs State Park.
Erie Bluffs State Park is located 12 miles west of downtown Erie and was opened to the public in June 2004, making it one of Pennsylvania’s newest state parks. This 587-acre park features one mile of lakefront property with cliffs up to 90 feet high overlooking the lake. It is also home to a hardwood forest and a great steelhead fishing stream.
At one point, much of the Lake Erie shore looked as this one-mile stretch of land does today, but over time, development changed the landscape of the lake. This is why protecting this portion of land is so important.
Only a small part of Erie Bluffs State Park has been developed. The main development is along Elk Creek, where a parking lot and boat access area has been set up. Since this is a popular spot for steelhead fishing, it’s not uncommon to see people fishing here.
The area around Elk Creek is quite beautiful, but unless you are boating or fishing, there is little of interest in this corner of the park. However, a few minutes further up the road is another story.
Here, there is a small, gravel parking area, denoted by little more than a basic sign reading “Erie Bluffs State Park.” This is the parking area for those looking to hike in the park.
There is a small kiosk here, but other than imploring visitors to watch out for ticks, which it says are abundant, there was no signage to help with where to hike. However, despite this, there is a basic, though unmarked trail system that runs through this part of the park and makes for a nice hike with great views of Lake Erie.
The hiking trail in Erie Bluffs State Park starts by following the road beyond the gate. The land here used to be rented out to a farmer who planted corn, but I’ve been told that they are no longer renting the land out.
Just a hundred yards or so down the road, the trail takes a short detour into the forest where there is a fire pit where park rangers occasionally hold events. Whether you take this detour, or continue following the road, you’ll end up in the same spot. The walk continues down the road until it dead ends into the forest, about half a mile from the parking area.
While there are well-defined trails in the park, there are no markings or specific routes. Don’t expect to find a Lake Erie Bluffs trail map. This might seem daunting, but the forested area between the lake and the road is fairly narrow, so you are unlikely to get very lost. Sticking to the trails soon brought us to the end of the Erie Bluffs and Lake Erie many feet below.
Since Erie Bluffs State Park is mostly undeveloped, there are no specific overlooks at the lake. This fact, combined with the thick forest can mean that it’s hard to get a clear look at the lake. Nevertheless, even when the trees are full of leaves, it’s still possible to find a few good vantage points to look down on the lake and the narrow rocky beach below.
A few narrow, less worn trails head down the cliffs to the beach, though it’s so narrow that it probably isn’t advisable to leave the trails themselves.
Since there are many crisscrossing trails and no markers, it can be a bit challenging to retrace your steps back to the dirt road that leads back to the parking area. However, as I stated before, the area is so narrow that it really isn’t a major issue just following trails until you get back to the road and the path to your car.
Overall, a hike at Erie Bluffs State Park isn’t likely to take you long and is unlikely to be more than 1.5-2 miles in length. However, as one of the state parks near Erie, PA, this park does offer visitors the chance to explore a unique landscape and better understand what this region was like prior to the arrival of European settlers.
So, if you love nature and want to see Lake Erie and Erie County, Pennsylvania, at their best, take the time for a hike in Erie Bluffs State Park.