My parents are always going on nature adventures—walking through parks, hiking trails, and taking drives to see lakes, rivers, and waterfalls.  Last Sunday was a gorgeous day—sunny and warm for a Pittsburgh February, so I scrapped my chore list and tagged along with them for an impromptu day trip to Presque Isle State Park.

Presque Isle is a peninsula off the town of Erie, Pennsylvania.  To the east you can see Presque Isle Bay, and the west borders Lake Erie.  At Lake Erie’s thinnest point in Pennsylvania, it is a mere twenty-four miles to the Canadian border.

The park is filled with beaches, boat docks, a ferry, and a lighthouse.  In the summer it’s crawling with beach dwellers and revelers. 

But in the winter, it showcases a different kind of beauty.  Last Sunday the park was covered with snow, knee-deep in certain areas.  Presque Isle Bay was completely frozen over, and we walked out into the middle of the bay with many others.  We saw kids, dogs, families, and a bunch of dedicated ice fisherman.

It’s really something worth seeing.

The Lake Erie side wasn’t frozen over—though it sometimes does—but we walked on the snow-covered shoreline and found the famous ice dunes.  They’re common on the Great Lakes in the winter, huge piles of ice and snow along the shoreline.  They look like a wave frozen instantly in place.

They’re so tall you can’t see where the water meets the shoreline, unless you climb them, which I did.  I climbed up and down them, all over them, and had a blast.  It was a beautiful and exhilarating view of the lake.

View from the top

After a long day we were driving out of the park, and curious as to the formation of the ice dunes, I looked them up on Wikipedia.  They’re apparently formed by a combination of snow, ice washing ashore, and frozen wave spray that builds up over time.

Then I read the following passage:

“An example of a Great Lakes sandspit is Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Because of the way ice dunes form, they are inherently weak and filled with cracks and air pockets. People who venture out onto the dunes sometimes will fall through. If the dune extends out over the water, persons who do this can fall through the dune and into the freezing water underneath; if this happens, hypothermia and death by drowning are urgent, immediate dangers.


Trust me, I’m not making light of the situation.  The next day I discovered that on the Ohio border of the lake, eighteen people had to be rescued when an ice floe broke away from land and left them stranded in the lake.  Fortunately, no one was hurt, and these people weren’t doing what I was doing—in fact, my climbing was likely more dangerous.

I truly didn’t know how dangerous it was to be out there—the frozen over bay was one thing, and quite safe—but the ice dunes were another.

Yet, knowing that it all worked out okay, I’m glad I spent the day climbing and exploring, blissfully ignorant that I was one wrong step away from plunging into deadly cold waters.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.

Honestly, I’m glad I did it.

And I’ll never, ever do it again.