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By Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor

The mini-tribe and I were ready for an out of town excursion but only had 48 hours. To accomplish this, I decided to pack up and head due north to Erie, Pennsylvania. Home to the Great Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park, Erie is approximately 2 hours north of Pittsburgh.

As my children were born by the beach and we all are extremely fond of water, I figured this would be a great opportunity for them to see and learn about freshwater habitats and wildlife. Avid fishermen frequent Erie, Pennsylvania, as the streams in the Lake Erie Watershed are renowned for their steelhead fishing. We are not so much fishing aficionados and more fans of an indoor water park in the area, Splash Lagoon. This was our first stop.

Splash Lagoon, located in Erie, is a huge indoor complex housing nine water slides with varying levels of intensity, a lazy river, separate kid and adult hot tubs, a wave pool, a baby pool and a tree tops rope course. You can spend several hours in the facility and not be bored, which is a plus since the admission fees are hefty, but justified. I decided to go after 4pm for the discounted rate. This still gave us plenty of time to play, as they are open until 9pm on Saturdays.

Also on premises is an arcade, laser tag rooms, and several dining locations to choose from, as well as adult beverage options. With lodging attached to Splash Lagoon, many choose to stay on site. However, I chose to stay closer to Presque Isle.

After many hours of chlorine-filled fun and the exhaustion that followed, we headed to our home for the evening, the Riviera Motel. While there are many great options for accommodations, we were going for budget-friendly and good location. This motel came highly recommended from my aunt who frequents the place. The Riviera is very kind to your wallet, with several bars and restaurants either in walking distance or a very short drive, and is also minutes from Presque Isle. The rooms are extremely clean, although décor is quite outdated. The motel offered everything we needed for the 12 hour stint we’d be there-–comfy beds, a shower, a TV, a mini-fridge and a coffee maker.

The following day we found a great little spot to eat breakfast minutes from the motel: Avanti’s. With an Italian-inspired menu and décor, including 50s era murals on the wall and tons of family photos, and a kind and welcoming atmosphere, I knew the food would be delicious. A small place with a decent sized menu and great prices, Avanti’s offers breakfast and lunch starting at 5:30am-3pm.

We then headed towards Presque Isle to enjoy the sun and sand. Even though the fall temperatures were brisk, the kids didn’t mind, and I’m always up for being in nature so we didn’t blink an eye.

Presque Isle State is a 3,112-acre Pennsylvania state park on an arching, sandy peninsula that juts into Lake Erie. The peninsula has 13 miles of road, 21 miles of recreational trails, 13 beaches for swimming, and a marina. After driving several miles, in true kid fashion, someone needed to use the bathroom so we stopped at a building. It ended up being at a super cool beach that we decided to explore. After spending their first few years living a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, my kids are extremely fond of the water, sand, and waves, and this to them was the equivalent.

It was time to leave as their little feet had to be close to frozen after frolicking in the waves, so we drove back down the peninsula, stopping at the Perry Monument lighthouse. We watched a few families fishing in one of the many waterways, and then we moved on to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. I wanted my children to experience freshwater wildlife. They’ve seen plenty of aquariums with sharks, dolphins jumping waves, kelp that washed ashore, and such, but were less exposed to freshwater fish and plants, so this was the perfect place to explore next.

The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is an educational center dedicated to teaching visitors about Presque Isle and the many different forms of life that inhabit the peninsula.  It also serves as a center for research, contributing to conservation efforts, promoting environmental awareness, and helping preserve Presque Isle. The center is open year-round and offers free admission to interactive exhibits, glass-enclosed tower, and an orientation movie.

Although I’ve visited the area many times, it’s always exciting to return to places dear to our hearts, especially when they are so accessible and close to home. The kids had a ton of fun so we’ll definitely be returning post-winter, unless we feel the urge to try out ice fishing (highly doubtful).

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