Kayaking in Pennsylvania: Land of the Lagoons

Exploring the serene lagoons of Presque Isle State Park by kayak provides a privileged glimpse of the flora and fauna found at Erie’s treasured peninsula park – even if you’ve never paddled a stroke.

TESTING THE WATERS: Gennifer and her friends exploring Presque Isle's lagoons by kayak.

The tranquility envelops you as soon as the your kayak slides off the sandy launch area into lagoon waters warmer than a child’s bath. Sure, there is the clamor of tree frogs, the plop of a turtle sliding into the water, the occasional chattering call of a belted kingfisher – or one of the other 300-plus species of birds found on Presque Isle.

Joined by friends Carin and Mark Stuart, I explore the lagoons on a slightly chilly August morning. As we meander through the winding waterway, we draw the attention of a beaver enjoying a morning swim, and gasp at the awesome sight of an airborne and graceful but shockingly large Great Blue Heron (its wingspan is 6 to 7 feet) passing over our heads. We watch the sparkling raindrop effect caused by tiny silvery fish breaching the glassy lagoon surface in search of insects and scan the depths of the murky water for bigger fish hiding in the underwater foliage. We even watch the swooping antics of some of the 89 species of dragonflies and butterflies found on the peninsula.

We quietly paddle the lagoons for hours, and see only one other kayaker – no outboard motors allowed here. The waterway presents the perfect place for beginning kayakers. Shallow and calm, the lagoons are user-friendly, even if you’ve never dipped an oar in before. Scared of falling overboard? Have no fear: Between your life jacket and the narrow channel, you are never more than a short, easy swim to land. In fact, decades ago, the lagoons were but a series of shallow ponds only a few feet deep, and it was only with the help of a dredging boat that they become the quaint straits they are today, meandering through the heart of Presque Isle peninsula.

With kayak rentals available throughout the summer (call to check on availability and rental times) right on the lagoon shoreline ($15/hour), it is easy to grab a paddle and explore at your own pace. It’s a strange realization that downtown Erie is only 20 minutes away; set off from shore, and catch site of water lilies, baby turtles sunning themselves on partially submerged logs or small Green Herons stalking minnows among reeds that line the lagoons.

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