Lake Erie is Ontario’s southernmost waterway and is the fourth largest
Great Lake with a length of 387 kilometres and width of 91 kilometers. It covers an area of more than 7,934 square kilometers and is fed by Lake St. Clair via the Detroit River and drains to the east into the Niagara River. Lake Erie is also the shallowest of the Great Lakes at 62 feet, making it the only major body of water in Ontario to have a bottom completely above sea level.
A large portion of Erie is located on the 42nd parallel, approximately the same latitude as northern California. This mixture of warm climate and fertile shores blend together to provide a wide variety of plants and natural habitat of wildlife, including many species found nowhere else in Canada. In the spring and fall, hundreds of species of birds and butterflies migrate across Lake Erie on their annual migrations. The best place to see this is at Point Pelee National Park, situated approximately 48 kilometers southeast of Windsor.
Point Pelee is located at the southernmost tip of land on mainland Canada and is home to more than 70 species of trees. It’s the only area in the country that has more variety of reptiles (27), amphibians (20) plus spiders and insects (50). But there’s more to this area than its natural wildlife. In the summer, Point Pelee is an active community offering a unique and exciting experience. Extensive sandy beaches line its east shoreline, providing excellent swimming and a place to enjoy time with the family. Along with its several amenities and scenic anchorages, this is a summer paradise that’s worth exploring many times.
The community of Leamington is situated just west of Long Point and named the Tomato Capital of Canada. Standing true to its name, Leamington has a huge tomato as its official town information booth. Boaters can easily access its busy town site from its municipal marina, which offers a length capacity of 120 feet plus overnight dockage, pump out facilities, a launch ramp, fuel and shore power. Simply moor there for the night to enjoy great shopping and dining or check out the Leamington Arts Centre in the old Post Office/Customs building.
Off the tip of the point is Pelee Island, which is famous for its award-winning and world-class wineries. It’s actually located on the same latitude as the prestigious wine regions of the world, including Napa Valley, California, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany and France. The island has an area of about 11,000 acres, much of it devoted to grape production for excellent Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings. Around the perimeter of the island is a main road offering excellent bicycle/walking trails, plus views of the lake and vineyards.
To the east of Pelee is Rondeau Provincial Park boasting the globe’s most fascinating sand spits. Centuries of wave action shaped unique sand ridges and sloughs. These sand dunes continue underwater, providing homes for an array of fish. You can wet a line here to catch trophy-size bass, walleye and rainbow trout. Nearby is the town of Erieau, where you can take advantage of the full-service marina offering fuel, transient docking, a restaurant and a launch ramp. The town site is a short distance away and has a wide variety of convenient services.
Head a little further east to historic Port Stanley, which features more transient docks and a restaurant. Railroad buffs will be happy to learn the Port Stanley Terminal Rail operates over a scenic, seven-mile portion of the former London and Port Stanley Railway line, between Port Stanley and St. Thomas, Ontario. This historic section of line was built in the mid-1800s and is fully restored with two historic stations.
A great family destination on Lake Erie’s north shore is Long Point, a natural marvel with its enormous sand spit that juts more than 32 kilometers into the lake. In fact, it was designated as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve and is known for its lush Carolinian vegetation and shoreline marshes. Long Point Provincial Park protects much of this natural area from development, preserving it for everyone’s enjoyment. The fun continues at adjacent Turkey Point with its superb beaches and another large provincial park of the same name. It’s the only provincial park in Ontario with a golf course and is a naturalist’s paradise with a diverse ecosystem that includes marshes, bluffs and oak savanna. Hiking trails lead to a fish hatchery and magnificent, panoramic views of Lake Erie – so be sure to bring your camera.
Near the east end of Erie, at the southern terminus of the Welland Canal, is Port Colborne, a community full of excitement with well-groomed golf courses, dining, shopping, and miles of sandy beaches, including nearby Sherkston Shores, with more than one mile of white, sandy beachfront. Several events are held each summer including Canal Days, the Showboat Theatre and the popular Canal Fest - Antique Car & Craft Show.
Close to the entrance of the Welland Canal is Lock Eight, one of the longest locks worldwide. The annual Canal Days Festival is a community-wide celebration of Port Colborne’s marine heritage and each year, hundreds of people attend this waterfront family festival for its tall ship cruises, fireworks, multicultural food, kids’ zone and heritage displays.
Between Port Colborne and the eastern tip of the lake is Fort Erie. Rich in heritage and tradition, Fort Erie blends history with modern city services and is home to two marinas and miles of sandy, white beaches.
With so much to see and do, it’s easy to see why so many people describe Lake Erie as the greatest of the Great Lakes.