How Wide Is Lake Erie?

Written by Carrie Woodward
Updated: July 19, 2023
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About Lake Erie

The stunning and huge Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes. This places it on the list alongside Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Ontario. Erie is located in North America on the boundary of Canada and the United States. Within the U.S., Erie borders the states of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In Canada, it borders the province of Ontario. Lake Erie is the fourth-largest of the Great Lakes by surface area and is the smallest one by volume. It is also the shallowest of the five Great Lakes and one the most popular for having sandy beaches. 

Since Lake Erie is the most shallow Great Lake, it is also the warmest. There are many public parks surrounding its shores, and each year, thousands of visitors flock to these parks and their beaches in the summer to enjoy the lake. In fact, Lake Erie provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and relaxation. Since is lake has extensive beaches and tremendous biodiversity surrounding its waters, protecting this natural resource and important animal habitat is vital both for humans and its wildlife. Not convinced? Go visit! Seeing Lake Erie is truly incredible. Look for charming small towns, jaw-dropping state parks, and sweeping, sandy beaches.

This article will introduce you to the wonders of Lake Erie. We will start by discussing its width and depth, where it is located, how long it would take to swim across the entire lake, and places where you can visit the lake in every state it touches. Let’s go!

Lake Erie borders four U.S. States and Canada.

How Wide Is Lake Erie?

Lake Erie is about 241 miles across and 57 miles long. Its surface area is about 10,000 square miles (9,990 square miles). It has an average depth of 62 feet and a maximum depth of 210 feet. In total, it contains 116 cubic miles of water. Here are some distances between cities that are roughly comparable to the distance across Lake Erie. The full distance across the widest part of the lake is roughly comparable to:

  • The distance from New York City to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. (Alexandria or West McLean, Virginia)
  • The distance from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Laguna Beach, California
  • The distance from Atlanta, Georgia, to Panama City, Florida
  • The distance from Dallas, Texas, to Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • The distance from Chicago, Illinois, to Detroit, Michigan
"Lake Erie Fall Beauty" A shot looking out at Pointe Mouillee State Game area on a very warm fall day in 2011 on the far southern end of Wayne County in Michigan.

The combination of Lake Erie’s waters, the autumn tree colors, and the


sunset sky is stunning.

©Dave Manning/

Where is Lake Erie?

Lake Erie borders both the Ontario Peninsula in Canada and multiple U.S. states. In the U.S., it touches Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Over 300 miles of its shoreline is in Ohio. This is out of a total of 871 miles of shoreline. However, much of the lake’s shoreline is inaccessible to the public. This shore terrain varies immensely. Depending on which part of the lake you visit, you may find bluffs, wetlands, or sandy beaches. Some parts of Lake Erie’s shoreline have all three within a short stretch! The lake is fed primarily by the Detroit River from Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair. Most of the lake’s water exits through the Niagara River and Niagara Falls, which connect the lake to Lake Ontario.  

How Long it Takes to Swim Across Lake Erie

Though Lake Erie is 241 miles across, the lake’s most narrow stretch is much shorter. Swimmers have often made the journey across Lake Erie from Long Point, Ontario to Freeport Beach in North East, Pennsylvania. This swim is about 24 miles across. Others complete a shorter swim from Sturgeon Point, New York to Crystal Beach, Ontario. This swim is just under 12 miles.

Here are some of the records set by swimmers who have taken on this lake-swimming challenge.

Records for Lake Erie Swimmers

  • 28 people have successfully swum Lake Erie from Long Point to Freeport Beach.
  • 11 people have completed the swim from Sturgeon Point, New York to Crystal Beach, Ontario. 6 people have done the reverse route, from Crystal Beach to Sturgeon Point.
  • The first person to swim across the middle of the lake successfully was a man named Pat Budny. He completed his swim in 25 hours and 52 minutes in August 1975. Pat Budny had a beach named after him in Presque Isle State Park – the location is now called Budny Beach.
  • Halli Reid became the first woman to swim across Lake Erie in 1993 at the age of 24.
  • Tom and Greg Van Volkenberg swam this distance in a record-setting 11 hours and 15 minutes in July 2017. The two brothers completed this route again in 2019, setting a new record of 10 hours and 33 minutes.
  • One man, named Josh Heynes, has completed this route twice – in both 2006 and 2011. He was the first person to ever swim across Lake Erie twice.
  • Tom Minnock became the oldest person to swim this course in July 2018. At age 54, the Minnock completed the swim earlier in a calendar year than any of the previous 18 individuals who swam from Long Point, Ontario, to North East, Pennsylvania’s Freeport Beach.
  • n 2022, an ultramarathon swimmer named Abigail Fairman swam the same course, achieving an unofficial time of 15 hours, 27 minutes, and 30 seconds.
  • 14-year-old Annaleise Carr became the youngest person to swim Lake Erie. She started her swim from Niagara-on-the-Lake on August 18, 2012, reaching Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto after swimming for almost 27 hours on August 19, 2012.

Swimming the Widest Part of Lake Erie

At its widest, Lake Erie is 241 miles across. With that in mind, swimming across the entire distance is not possible or safe. Crossing even the smallest part of the lake is an incredible feat for a strong swimmer. If you attempted that 24-mile swim at the average speed of 2 miles per hour, it would take 12 hours to get across. However, swimmers of Lake Erie have to contend with a lot more than the placid waters of a lap pool or swimming hole. Crossing this lake or any other significant body of water should only be attempted by physically and mentally strong athletes experienced in marathon swimming. This kind of swim requires an absence of storms and calm waters.

How Erie Compares to Other Lakes

By surface area alone, Lake Erie is the fourth largest Great Lake and the 11th largest lake in the world. By volume, it is the fifth largest Great Lake and 19th largest lake in the world. Since Lake Erie’s shallower waters make it much warmer than any other Great Lake, it is also a top destination for swimming and lakeshore vacations. However, do not be deceived by the heroic swimmers recorded above! Lake Erie is still a large, powerful lake, and swimming in its waters can be very dangerous! Lake Erie is known to have strong currents exceeding 5 miles per hour. Any current flowing faster than 2 mph is considered dangerous. These strong currents can pull swimmers away from shore.

This lake got its name from the word “erielhonan.” This is an Iroquioian word meaning “long tail.” As you may imagine, this lake has a long and important legacy among the Native people who have lived in North America for hundreds and even thousands of years. It also took on significance during the European settling of the North American continent, when exploration and trade became important to the development of cities.

Lake Erie has sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and is a key site where migrating birds visit. It is also located the most south of any Great Lake.

Things to Do At the Lake

Lake Erie has miles of inviting shoreline you can enjoy. Visit its sandy beaches, enjoy swimming in its water, fish its wildlife, hike the surrounding nature trails, go out on a boat, or camp by the lake waters. Each year, thousands of visitors enjoy water sports like kayaking, boating, jet skiing, swimming, and more on Lake Erie. Public and private beaches allow visitors to spend hours picnicking, sunbathing, reading, and building sandcastles on Lake Erie’s shores. 

You may also enjoy visiting one of the many state parks bordering Lake Erie’s waters, where you can hike, camp, ride horses, look at the stores, or enjoy a relaxing stay at a nearby resort.  

This lake is also a prime area for fishing and attracts many anglers who participate in fishing on-shore or out on a boat. Lake Erie is home to many fish species, including both native and invasive fish. Some of the most common fish species found in Lake Erie are bluegill, smallmouth bass, steelhead, walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, brown trout, whitefish, round goby, and others. If you happen to go fishing here, you can also watch out for the legendary lake monster – a fish that sounds terrifying but is most likely a gigantic sturgeon

You may also discover the unique history of Lake Erie and its shore towns by visiting one of the many museums and attractions along its shores. There are many museums and historical societies that document the many important roles that the lake has played over the centuries of human society in the area.

Man h holding a freshwater drum

Lake Erie is a top destination for freshwater fishing in North America.

©Roxana Gonzalez/

How to Visit

Visit in Michigan

One of the best places to visit this lake while in Michigan is at William C. Sterling State Park. This is the only Michigan park you can visit to see Lake Erie, walk sandy beaches, explore unique lagoons, hike miles of nature trails, or camp by the lakeshore. Though many choose the bigger Lake Michigan as their lakeside vacation spot of choice, visitors to William C. Sterling State Park will find a quiet place for camping close to the lake, where fewer crowds interrupt peace in nature.

A Beautiful  and Colorful Sunset on the beaches of Erie Lake, Michigan, USA

A stunning view of the lake from the shore in Michigan.


Visit in New York

 A Blazing Sunset Over Lake Erie At The Mouth Of Crooked Creek, Dunkirk New York, USA

A blazing sunset over Lake Erie from the lakeshore in New York.

©Doug Lemke/

If you would like to visit Lake Erie in New York, you can choose from several public parks and beaches. This area includes the cities of Niagara Falls and Buffalo, which have many cultural attractions, architectural treasures, and delicious restaurants. Among the favorite beaches in New York to see Lake Erie are Bennett Beach in Erie County and Evangola State Park in Irving. 

Bennett Beach in Erie County takes visitors across a footbridge and through a forest to scramble past 40-foot-high sand dunes. If you do all of that, you will reach a spectacular beach that was once a private campground in the shadow of a creekside mansion. Now it offers dunes and wetland habitat that attracts birds and other mammals. Lounge on the beach, jump in the water, kayak, or simply sit to watch an incredible sunset over Lake Erie.

Evangola State Park in Irving is a different ambiance. Evangola sits under Angola cliffs and is known for having fantastic camping grounds, a wonderful nature center, and even the chance to stay in yurts complete with electricity – if you want to get close to nature without leaving civilization entirely behind. This state park also has tennis courts, basketball courts, and baseball fields, so whether you want to play sports or swim in Lake Erie, it is a great place to get active.

Visit in Ohio

Lighthouse at Mentor Headlands Beach State Park in Ohio with waves crashing on shore and dark clouds overhead.

Headlands Beach State Park and a view of Lake Erie from Ohio.

©Showcase Imaging/

Some of the top places to visit Lake Erie in Ohio are Headlands Beach State Park in Geneva, East Harbor State Park in Lakeside-Marblehead, and Kelleys Island State Park on Kelleys Island. 

Headlands Beach State Park in Geneva has the longest natural sand beach in Ohio. This 35-acre beach is a great place to watch the sunset, look for seaglass, picnic, swim, bike, or explore the dunes walking trails.

East Harbor State Park in Lakeside-Marblehead is on the East Harbor peninsula, in Ohio’s prairie marsh area. There, you may enjoy the long, sandy beach, the boat rentals at the marina, Ohio State Park campgrounds, and the native wildlife. In the prairie marsh zone, look out for reptiles like painted turtles, birds like the great blue heron, and numerous small mammals. 

Kelleys Island State Park on Kelleys Island is a 677-acre island just off of Ohio’s main coast. There, you can enjoy the nature preserves, forest, rocky shoreline, and unique wildlife. Kelleys Island State Park is a great place for swimming, hiking, and kayaking. 

Visit in Pennsylvania

Presque Isle State Park - Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Lake Erie, Presque Isle - Maine, Erie County - Pennsylvania

A pier jutting into Lake Erie from Presque Isle in Pennsylvania.


One of the favorite places to see Lake Erie in Pennsylvania is from Presque Isle. On a peninsula, Presque Isle offers 3,200 acres of sand across nine beaches, miles of hiking trails, birdwatching, and boating opportunities. This is the only shoreline in Pennsylvania and also seeks to educate visitors on the local environment at the nearby Tom Ridge Environmental Center.

Fun Facts About Lake Erie

  • The most populated city bordering Lake Erie is Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.
  • Lake Erie is the most biologically productive of the Great Lakes, as a result of its shallow basin and warmer water temperatures. The lake is teeming with wildlife both in its waters and on its shores!
  • 80% of Lake Erie’s water inflow comes from the Detroit River.
  • Lake Erie touches more states than any other Great Lake. 
  • Lake Erie is famous for having over 2,000 shipwrecks, only about 375 of which have been discovered. 
  • This Great Lake contains 31 small islands, including 13 in Canadian waters. The largest of these 31 islands is Pelee Island, on the Canadian side.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Showcase Imaging/

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About the Author

Carrie is a writer and fan of all types of plants and animals. Her apartment is home to more than dozen different houseplants and she aspires to adopt more in the near future. You can find Carrie taking long walks or reading a book under the trees in the park.

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