The Best Family-Friendly Activities in Erie, Pennsylvania

Splash Lagoon | Courtesy of Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park
Splash Lagoon | Courtesy of Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park
Photo of David Kindervater
26 February 2018

Tucked away in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, the city of Erie draws more than four million visitors annually to its many lakeside attractions. With a variety of outdoor activities from hiking, biking, boating, and fishing to museums, roller coasters, a zoo, arboretum, and much more, Erie is filled with fun and educational activities for the entire family.

Presque Isle State Park

This mega-popular, 3,200-acre Pennsylvania State Park is a must-visit location for any family, especially in the summertime. Presque Isle offers a wide variety of outdoor activities.

Presque Isle State Park | © Ken Winters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / WikiCommons

By land, there are 21 miles (34 kilometers) of recreational trails for walking, jogging, biking, hiking, and inline skating. This Natural National Landmark is one of the best spots in the entire U.S. for bird-watching—any time of year. Check out the Gull Point Natural Area. If it’s water you want, there are 13 beaches for sunning and swimming and a marina for boating in Lake Erie or Presque Isle Bay.

If you’re a first-time visitor, stop by the Tom Ridge Environmental Center for information about Presque Isle’s flora and fauna. If you don’t pack a picnic lunch, Sara’s Restaurant is a popular ’50s-style diner to enjoy American fare with lots of dessert options. Both sit near the entrance of the park.

Splash Lagoon

Splash Lagoon has become a favorite for families since it opened in 2003. This mammoth indoor water park has been consistently ranked as one of the best water parks in the U.S. For those who want to get wet, there are water slides, whirlpools, wave pools, and hot tubs. There’s also an interactive, five-story tree house, a three-story ropes course, a 6,000-square-foot arcade, plus laser tag, and more.

Splash Lagoon | Courtesy of Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park

There are several eateries serving favorites like pizza, burgers, chicken fingers, French fries, and more, plus a sports bar and grill with giant flat-screen TVs when you don’t want to miss the big game. For an overnight adventure, there are three luxury hotels conveniently located near the park.

Waldameer Park and Water World

Waldameer has been serving up family fun in Erie since 1896. That makes it one of the oldest amusement parks in the U.S. Located just outside the entrance to Presque Isle State Park, Waldameer offers summertime visitors 14 family rides and even more kiddie rides. There are also roller coasters and thrill rides, highlighted by the signature Ravine Flyer II—one of the top wooden coasters in the world—and the 140-foot (42.6-meter) XScream drop tower.

Ravine Flyer II | © Michael A. Orlando / WikiCommons

The water park is also one of the top-rated in the country, providing nearly 20 slides, plus a giant wave pool with 500,000 gallons of water.

After working up an appetite on the rides, the main concession center offers a range of eats and treats to satisfy any craving. Enjoy everything from burgers, fries, pizza, and subs to warm funnel cakes, French waffles, ice cream, cookies, and fudge—just to name a few of the many edible options.

Erie Maritime Museum

The Erie Maritime Museum educates visitors with exhibits and resources featuring the history of Lake Erie, from the War of 1812 to today. It’s also the home of the historic U.S. Brig Niagara, a ship commandeered by Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie.

Erie Maritime Museum | © Pnoble805 / WikiCommons

In addition to the museum’s amenities, there are a variety of free family activities throughout the year. A fall favorite is Ghosts Afloat, where the U.S. Brig Niagara is turned into a haunted ship with spooky characters from the Battle of Lake Erie.

Yahn Planetarium at Penn State Behrend

It was known as the Erie Planetarium for over 50 years, but now the Yahn Planetarium, located on the campus of Penn State Behrend, serves as a resource for the entire family. Learn about our solar system from the comfort of this beautiful theater setting. There are a few public show times each week, with topics like “Back to the Moon for Good,” “Bad Astronomy,” and “Cosmic Colors,” just to name a few. For locals, “Erie Legends” is a chilling, must-see showing.

Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park

Located just off the Bayfront Parkway on Erie’s West Side, Frontier Park is home to the fascinating Lake Erie Arboretum. Enjoy learning about the more than 1,000 trees planted here—from oak, beech, and elm to pine, crabapple, and more.

Frontier Park | Courtesy VisitErie

The addition of the Arboretum has turned this ordinary property into an extraordinary gathering place for fun community activities and field trips. There are gardening workshops in the education center, a “virtual tree” gazebo, labyrinth, art classes, movies, seasonal celebrations, and much more.

Erie Zoo

The Erie Zoo is an ideal location for the family to spend a few hours or an entire day. There are almost 400 animals and nearly a dozen gardens throughout the 15-acre property. Enjoy visiting with lions, tigers, and leopards—plus penguins, meerkats, monkeys, kangaroos, zebras, and much more.

Erie Zoo | © Alex Harden / Flickr

The gardens create an environment similar to the animals’ natural habitat. The popular spring gardens welcome a new season with tulips and flowering trees. The zoo closes for the winter months, but it reopens every March.

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