A small city located on Pennsylvania’s only coast with the Great Lakes, Erie has many great outdoor activities – both on the lake and in surrounding forests.
These, combined with excellent museums and world-class restaurants, make Erie a great tourist destination for visitors looking to escape the busier areas located elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.
Erie is also on a crossroads between Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Ontario, Canada. This makes it a fantastic base to take day trips from and explore these other parts of the region.
Here are the 15 best day trips you can take from Erie, PA within reasonable travel time.
Next to the Canadian border, Buffalo is the second largest city in New York State and has seen recent regeneration efforts over the past few years to make it a great destination in its own right.
Buffalo is packed with history and this is reflected in its museums, representing almost every single community in the United States. Buffalo has some great architecture which has been well-preserved, turning the city into an open-air museum of American architectural history.
It also has a unique food culture, showcasing a variety of different cuisines all fused together into one delicious melting pot.
2. Niagara Falls
The world-famous waterfalls are located only a short drive away from Erie, and both the American and Canadian sectors can easily be visited in a single day trip.
Many people agree that the best view of the falls is from the Canadian side, however, the American side is a lot less touristy and a much more pleasant experience if you are simply visiting to witness the natural beauty of the region.
You can take boat trips down the Niagara River from the American side and there are many gift shops on the Canadian side, ranging from quirky boutiques to tourist-oriented merchandise.
Though well-known by locals, Pittsburgh is still somewhat of a hidden gem amongst tourists to Pennsylvania and should not be overlooked. Despite once being an industrial hub, the city is surprisingly beautiful, with a range of hills creating unique terrain, and a large river running right through the city.
It is a major sports town, with baseball and American football both being extremely popular in Pittsburgh. Both food and alcohol can be cheap in the city and are found in abundance.
Most of the cuisine is American, but there are some great – if a little hidden – international restaurants located within Pittsburgh.
The largest city in Canada is just a little further afield than Niagara Falls and may take a few days to truly take in, but if you have a limited itinerary from Lake Erie, taking a day trip can still be a worthwhile experience.
The city is incredibly cosmopolitan, holding a large portion of Canada’s migrants, who have brought a distinct international flavor to the city.
The CN Tower is the most famous monument here, providing interesting views over the city. But perhaps the best view of Toronto is from the lake itself, where you can see the full skyline from one of the many ferries and boat tours that venture out into Lake Erie.
5. Panama Rocks Scenic Park
If you’re looking for an experience a little closer to nature, Panama Rocks Scenic Park is a great option showcasing the local flora and fauna.
Hikers will love this park for the many interesting and unique trails that run through the area, and photographers will also enjoy checking out the lush vegetation. If you are with kids, the park authorities offer a treasure hunt that can add a little bit of excitement to your trip.
For adults, there is the opportunity to try your hand at ax throwing under the guidance of trained professionals.
6. Lake Metroparks Farmpark
If you are traveling as a family, Lake Metroparks Farmpark is a great option for a day trip with the kids. The aim of the farm park is to teach adults and children all about agriculture in America, with great explanations of how food and clothing is made and how animals are farmed.
It is a very sensitive display of information given in a way kids can handle, but also upfront and honest about the reality of agriculture in the modern United States of America. There are also tonnes of fun outdoor activities, including archery, sailing, and golf – all of which are family friendly.
7. Cook Forest State Park
Cook Forest State Park is an excellent option for fans of the outdoors, particularly for those with a keen interest in forests. Some of the oldest woodlands in the country are in Cook Forest; trees tower over the region displaying their age.
The Clarion River also runs through the park. This not only provides great scenic value, but there are popular tubing, canoeing, and kayaking sites located along the river – and hire shops for those without their own equipment.
The park has plenty of tourist facilities, including picnic areas, modern toilets, and hiking trails.
The capital of Ohio, Columbus is an interesting mix of some of America’s most established cultures. It is only a short journey from Erie and most of the main sites can be visited in a day.
There are a number of museums located throughout the city detailing important moments in American history and key aspects of US subcultures. As a major college city, Columbus has a few youthful districts that feature trendy restaurants and unique bar concepts.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are also based here – a major team of athletic professionals who are core to Ohio culture and state pride.
9. Presque Isle State Park
Located in the lake just ahead of Erie itself, the Presque Isle State Park is the closest park to the town. It is a large, sand-covered peninsula that juts into the lake and forms the majority of Pennsylvania’s coastline.
There are plenty of recreational sports in the park, including sailing, biking, and even inline rollerblading. It is also a popular spot for birdwatching, with the island being particularly busy during the major migration seasons.
The gorgeous lakeside coastline of the island is also ideal for photographers, with beach-like areas and natural forests combining to create a dramatic image.
Located on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie, Toledo is a town that constantly faces transformation. This experience of constant regeneration means the town has very diverse architecture, displaying many of the major American styles from throughout its history.
It also has an emerging arts scene. There are plenty of independent art galleries scattered across the city, as well as the Toledo Museum of Art, with some of the most adventurous exhibits in the country.
Polish culture has left a massive mark on the city which attracted many migrants from Poland during the Second World War; this all culminates in the vibrant annual Polish Festival.
11. Allegheny National Forest
Another great option for nature lovers, Allegheny National Forest is only a short trip by road from Erie. Located within the foothills of the Appalachians, this forest is packed with natural beauty.
Hikers will enjoy the vast array of trails available throughout this national forest. In the winter, some of these trails are transformed into cross-country skiing routes, adding a unique twist to the trek. There are also small lakes and rivers which provide sailing and swimming opportunities – fishing rods can be hired on-site.
If you plan on spending the whole day there, you will find some great picnic spots and modern facilities to make your visit very comfortable and enriching.
Akron is an interesting – but at times overlooked – city in Northern Ohio. It steeped in American industrial history – from the decades-long boom to the modern decline.
There are plenty of museums and art exhibits that detail the impact industry has had on the region and on the inhabitants of the city. The Rubber Museum investigates the American rubber industry; it is a surprisingly interesting museum for such a specific topic.
The emerging cultural scene adds an exciting twist to any visit and we highly recommend you check out one of the theatre performances while you are in town.
Located on Ohio’s Erie coast, Cleveland is a culturally diverse and experience-rich day trip option that can easily be visited within a few hours from Erie.
The Rock ‘n Roll Museum is based in Cleveland, detailing the history of the music genre which emerged from the United States in the 1950’s.
There are plenty of other museums scattered throughout the town that are worth visiting, as well as some minor theme parks that are excellent if you are visiting with kids or teens. The region also has the most golf courses per capita in the United States – great for major golf fans.
14. Lake Erie Beach
Lake Erie Beach is a quaint town on the New York coast of Lake Erie that has some interesting coastal attractions. The crystal-clear blue waters are reminiscent of the Caribbean or South Pacific, while the cool, brisk breeze will bring you right back to the Northeastern US.
There are great views over the bluffs from the beach, and in the town itself, there are many buildings with a distinctive, worn-yet-chic feel. The restaurants and bars recreate the vibe of seaside towns. This is one of the best coastal experiences you will get while still technically inland.
15. Pymatuning State Park
Located nearby on the border between Pennsylvania and Ohio, Pymatuning is a state park that is packed with great options allowing you to get close to nature – especially if you are visiting with kids.
Pymatuning Deer Park is located within the area and has seen some major improvements over the last few years. Here, kids and adults alike can get up close and personal with native North American deer and learn more about their habitats and activities.
As it is one of the largest state parks in Pennsylvania, there are plenty of other outdoorsy activities such as tubing, kayaking, and fishing.