The Great Lakes are one of the best boating destinations in the U.S., and this freshwater inland region is full of unique towns, beautiful landscapes, abundant fish life, and spectacular vistas. Each lake comes with its own unique charm as well.
About Lake Erie
The Iroquois named these waters Erige, meaning cat, for the unpredictable and somewhat violent nature that the lake can sometimes have. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, the smallest by volume, and the second smallest by surface area. It is bordered by four states—Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as by the Canadian province of Ontario. It is a major source of electric power for the nation of Canada, with much of the power coming from the hydroelectric dam at Niagara Falls. Erie is also the lake that has the least amount of undeveloped coastline. It can be entered from the west through Lake St. Clair, which connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie. From the east, it connects to the Erie Canal through the Niagara Falls area, which skirts between the scenic Finger Lakes wine country to the south and Lake Ontario to the north.
Types of Boats on Lake Erie
As the shallowest and southernmost of the Great Lakes, Erie is also the warmest. You can enjoy almost all watersports here, from canoes, kayaks, or stand up paddleboarding (SUP) to sailboats, jetskis, fishing boats, and yachts. Large commercial vessels like fishing boats and freighters are also regularly seen on Lake Erie. The resort areas have a number of tourism boats, including glass bottomed tours, banana boats, and parasailing. This region of the country is also excellent for pontoon boats, which are slow but stable – perfect for on-board picnics and barbecues.
Boating on Lake Erie
With warmer water, a long naval history, ample fish supply and an enormous coastline, there’s no limit to the kinds of opportunities you can try here. Sailing and windsurfing are popular events, as the winds on Erie can be quite strong. Waterskiing, tubing and other high-speed tow behind sports are equally popular. Quieter activities are wonderful, like fishing and paddling. In the wintertime, you might see the occasional ice boat with sled runners and a sail. Yachting and multi-day cruising is also popular and easy to do with such expansive coastline. Finally, there is a small but ardent dive community that can point you to some amazing underwater wrecks that span centuries of history.
Fishing Lake Erie
If fishing is a passion of yours, Lake Erie is an ideal spot with both commercial and recreational fishing industries. Common fish species include bass, perch, alewife, walleye, carp (including naturalized goldfish!), and pike. Both day fishing and multiday trips are available options.. It’s also easy to combine a tour of the coastline with several days of fishing.
Boating the Michigan Coastline
Lake Erie connects to Lake Huron via the Detroit River. Grosse Ile, in the center of the river, marks the beginning of the lake along Michigan’s coastline. The coast here is calm and populated with a number of bays and channels that are excellent for canoeing and kayaking. From Brownstown, at the entrance to Erie, it is an easy paddle into the Pointe Mouille State Game Area.
As you head south into larger water, areas like Frenchtown in Brest Bay offer access to great watersports. Fast outboard and jet boats with tow-behind capabilities are perfect here for waterskiing, tubing or just going fast. Moving into Grand View and Monroe brings excellent fishing, and there are a number of fishing charters to discover here if you want to learn the sport before committing to buying a lot of gear. Finally, as you move south toward Ohio, the town of Erie offers quiet canals that are excellent for kayaks, canoes, and pontoon boats.
Boating the Ohio Coastline
Ohio represents the longest Erie coastline within the U.S. It is a combination of large cities, wildlife refuges, parks and residential areas along a white, sandy coastline. Ohio has over 100 public boat launches along the Erie coastline. Here are some highlights to watch for along the coast:
- Toledo toward Sandusky: Toledo is one of the two major Ohio cities along the lake. Sandusky is perhaps the largest tourist town in all of Ohio, as it is home of Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world. Toledo offers a combination of big water and sheltered bays. Sandusky has great marinas and a lot of watersports. Several parks in the area offer natural coastlines, including Maumee Bay State Park, Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge, and Metzger Marsh, which surround picturesque Reno Beach.
- Sandusky toward Cleveland: The greater Sandusky area offers a number of peninsulas and waterways that are excellent to explore by boat. Around Sandusky Bay, you will find port towns such as Port Clinton, Catawba Island, Lakeside Marblehead, Danbury, and Bayview. This area offers access to some of the islands to the north, like Put-in Bay and Kelleys Island, or great watersports inside the sheltered bay. To the east, Vermillion is a boater’s town with a number of neighborhoods with canals and backyard docking.
- Cleveland toward Pennsylvania: There is a vibrant community of paddlers in Cleveland, and the opportunities to kayak, canoe and use SUPs inside the city’s canals as well as on the lake are vast. Cleveland and its suburbs, from Rocky River to Timberlake, offer a great combination of small paddling vehicles, fishing boats and charters, and speedboats for cruising and watersports. To the east, fishing charters are widely available, particularly in Fairport Harbor, Grand Harbor, and Ashtabula.
Boating the Pennsylvania Coastline
Though the portion of Lake Erie that is in Pennsylvania is relatively small, the town of Erie in this state is an excellent boating location. It is surrounded by a long, sandy peninsula that serves as a barrier island around Erie, and is home to Presque Isle State Park. Several boat launches and a Coast Guard station can be found here, and this area is excellent for fishing. It’s a great place to explore by SUP, kayak, or canoe. The north end of Presque Isle is far enough into Lake Erie that it offers perfect sailing and windsurfing breezes.
Boasting the New York Coastline
The Erie coastline along the state of New York is fairly short, but the kind of activities you can do are almost endless. Go diving from Westfield. Try a fishing charter in Derby, Westfield or Dunkirk. Discover fly fishing in Irving. Rent kayaks and paddleboards in Evans. Learn to surf in Angola on the Lake. In Buffalo, the largest city on Lake Erie’s New York coastline, you can try all of the above and discover sailing too.
Boating the Ontario Coastline
The longest portion of the lake, by far, is on the Canadian side. Ontario’s portion of the water stretches from the Detroit River eastward to the Peace Bridge crossing into Buffalo.
- Amherstburg: This town sits at the mouth of Erie along Bois Blanc Island in the Detroit River. It is a residential area with quiet water, perfect for any kind of paddling.
- Port Burwell: This quiet town is a natural choice if you are looking for a good fishing port.
- Point Pelee National Park: This point reaches further down into Lake Erie than any other piece of land, making it a natural land point for migratory birds. Point Pelee is one of the best places in the world to see unusual species during migration season, or to see a large variety of birds on any day.
- Port Rowan: This port sits inside of a large, natural jetty called Long Point that offers quiet water, beautiful scenery and wildlife. Check out the Long Point Provincial Park and National Wildlife Areas.
- Turkey Point: The sand spits on this point feather out like the tail of a turkey, offering miles and miles of sandy beaches and quiet, warm water that is calm enough for even the youngest children to swim safely. This area has vacation cabins, a large provincial park, and a number of marinas with boat sales and rentals of all kinds.
- Port Dover: This Norfolk County Hamlet dates back to the 1700s and offers convenient moorage for cruisers and stand-up paddleboarding. It is a great, walkable, tourist-friendly town with access to waterfalls and good food if you are looking for a fun stop.
- Haldimand: This city is a ways up the Grand River, but has excellent access to Erie and quite a bit to offer in the river. Haldimand has picturesque islands, quiet water that is excellent for paddleboards, kayaks and canoes, and great fishing.
- Fort Erie: The Fort Erie region has some excellent bass fishing, and offers a number of charters and fishing boat rentals.
Whether you are looking for quiet, residential waters or opportunities to explore Lake Erie’s coastal wildlife, there are boating experiences for you. Across all the towns and sections of coast, there are different activities to explore and enjoy. Lake Erie is a convenient drive from many Midwestern and Northeastern towns, and makes for a relaxing summer vacation.