The Best Lake Erie Beaches for Sunbathing, Swimming, and Lakefront Camping

These Lake Erie beaches have sun, sand, and warm, clear water.

The shore of the beautiful Lake Erie in Erie Pennsylvania

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Great lakes yield the greatest beaches.

The Canadian–American region of the great lakes is the largest freshwater system in the world. They were created by large ice sheets which carved out the area's bedrock during a glacial period. When the glaciers retreated, meltwater collected in the deep depressions.

Of the five great lakes, Lake Erie has a beach for everyone. Touching the Canadian province of Ontario in the north and the U.S. states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York in the west, south, and east, Lake Erie is the shallowest, and warmest — and so most swimmable — of the lakes.

The cities of Buffalo, New York; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, all enjoy lakeside proximity to Erie. (Detroit, Michigan, is not much farther away.) With a shoreline of over 2,700 miles, and dozens of public parks around the perimeter, it’s an easy and fun way to catch some quality beach time — even if there are no palm trees.

Here are some of the best Lake Erie beaches for your next shoreside getaway.  

Bennett Beach, Erie County, New York

Follow the small footbridge over a creek, through a wooded area that grows from the sand, past 40-foot sand dunes (some 4,000 years old — the last along this coast), and you’ll emerge onto one of the best beaches in the county. Originally a private campground — you can still see the foundation of the owner’s mansion near the creek — Bennett Beach is now a family-friendly spot on the clear, blue waters of Lake Erie. The grassy dunes and wetlands attract several types of birds you can observe, or you can try your hand at catching a trout or two. Enjoy the water either from within the waves with the other swimmers or from your own kayak. End your beach day with a gorgeous Lake Erie sunset — just be sure to bring along a camera to take the view with you.  

Evangola State Park, Irving, New York

Perched under rocky shale Angola cliffs, this strip of natural sand is fed by the cold, gentle waves of Lake Erie. Evangola is perfect for swimming and sunbathing, or beachgoers can spend the day on the tennis courts, baseball diamond, or basketball facilities. The park is known for its 80 campsites and nature center, and is dotted with six domed yurts that are fitted with wood floors, cots, and refrigerators to accommodate campers.    

Landmark Beach on the Lake Erie Shore, East Harbor State Park, Marblehead, Ohio, USA
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East Harbor State Park, Lakeside-Marblehead, Ohio

The East Harbor peninsula cuts into Lake Erie amid Ohio’s prairie marsh zone, where you’ll find painted turtles, red foxes, and great blue herons. The scenic wetlands are the remains of the Great Black Swamp and, since the swamp was drained, only 10 percent of Ohio’s original wetlands remain. Its long sprawl of sand is perfect for baking in the sun before cooling off in designated swimming areas. Board a boat from one of the rental docks in the marina and spend the day on the water. This is the largest campsite in the Ohio State Park system — both a yurt and two cabins are available if you forgot your tent — and you’ll find plenty of volleyball, basketball, horseshoe pits, and playground equipment to keep you entertained.      

Crystal Beach, Fort Erie, Ontario

Right across the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York, Crystal Beach (also known as Bay Beach) was named for its glassy, clear waters. Up until 1989, the beach drew visitors to its amusement park, now the site of the Crystal Beach Tennis & Yacht Club. You might not be able to ride a roller coaster here any longer, but you can spend the day on its sandy shore, swimming in the titular crystalline water, or picnicking at its large pavilion. Take in the view from the deck built out over the beach, and never worry about accessibility because of the beach mats that extend to the shoreline. When all the sun and sand make you hungry, head to South Coast Cookhouse for crab cakes, potato skins, and fries.  

Headland Beach State Park

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Headlands Beach State Park, Geneva, Ohio

Color abounds at Ohio’s Headlands Beach State Park, from beach glass glittering in the sand to watercolor sunsets to the monarch butterflies that cover the trees in late summer. The sand from Lake Erie fortifies the lakeshore sand dune habitat, home to red fox, shorebirds, and white-tailed deer, as well as unique flora like purple sand grass and beach pea. But, all you need to know is that the 35-acre beach has a wide, white shore you’ll want to stretch out on all day. There are refreshing concessions in the summer for when the gentle lake surf isn’t enough to cool you down.    

Glacial Grooves State Park, Kelleys Island, Ohio

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Kelleys Island State Park, Kelleys Island, Ohio

The giant grooves in Kelleys Island’s limestone bedrock are a peek into the area’s natural history, back when large Canadian ice sheets advanced into Ohio. Beyond the impressive glacial striations, the 677 acres of rocky, wooded island off the coast of Ohio are resplendent in swimming, sunbathing, and fishing opportunities. Camp out along the shoreline in your own tent or a rented cabin or yurt. Kayak and boat launches put you right out onto Lake Erie for sightseeing on the water. The island is checkered by nature preserves which shelter migrating songbirds, painted turtles, and northern bog violets under abundant red cedar trees.   

Long Point, Port Rowan, Ontario

Founded in 1921, Long Point is Ontario’s fourth oldest provincial park, with a nearly 25-mile-long spit of sand and woodland that cuts into Lake Erie. The sandy beach shelves into waters that feel like sinking into a warm bath. Join the boats bobbing in the blue water and cast a line in one of the finest bass fisheries in Ontario. Rest on the soft shore as you watch the area's more than 300 migratory and over 80 nesting birds pass by.   

Beach at Sand Hill Park near Port Burwell, Ontario

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Port Burwell, Ontario

On the northern shore of Lake Erie lies Port Burwell, a perfect perch for birdwatching, sunbathing, and camping. This is known as a birder’s boon — more than 85 species of migratory birds are known to come through. Eagles, Monarch butterflies, blue jays, and dragonflies also migrate along the shoreline in the spring and fall. You’ll want to head straight to the shoreline where 1.5 miles of sandy shore is fringed with warm, shallow water. Swim the lake, nap in the shade of a striped umbrella, and grab poutine and a rum-raisin cone from Simply Scoops when you feel a little peckish.  

William C. Sterling State Park, Monroe, Michigan

Lake Michigan is synonymous with summer in the Great Lakes State, but Michiganders looking to switch it up can head to another shore at the less-obvious William C. Sterling State Park. The only Michigan park on Lake Erie, this one-mile spit of white sand is hugged by three spectacular lagoons. Fish the walleye-rich waters, explore the area on seven miles of hiking trails, or just camp the lakefront for a classic summer night outdoors. Then, take a trip over to Public House for french onion grilled cheeses, pan-seared wild pacific salmon, and house-fried chips.   

Wide sandy beach and bright blue Lake Erie
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Presque Isle, Erie, Pennsylvania

This peninsula stretches into sparkling, blue-green water bobbing with boats, fishermen, and swimmers. Under the water, scuba divers take advantage of Pennsylvania’s only shoreline. A 3,200-acre bend of golden sand, Presque Isle State Park attracts beachgoers in need of a “seaside” day in the sun to its nine beautiful beaches. Stretch your legs on a hike around 11 miles of trails, snap pictures of the migrating and nesting birds at Gull Point, or surf the breaks at Beach One, Beach 10, and around North Pier.   

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