Can You Drive All the Way Around Lake Erie? +Best Route

Green Lake Erie map with towns that surround the lake

Lake Erie is one of the five Great Lakes located in North America, and because it takes up a large area and is bordered by many states, it makes for a great road trip. The trip will certainly take anyone who decides to travel along the lake on an unforgettable journey, but can you drive all the way around Lake Erie?

You can drive all the way around Lake Erie. The main route in the United States for travelers is I-90. In Canada, King’s Highway 3 runs the length of the lake. The total length is about 614 miles, and the trip in total will take about ten hours and fifteen minutes without stops.

As you continue, you will learn which route to take, things to see along the trip, as well as some of the activities available. The possibilities are seemingly endless with so many states surrounding Lake Erie, making for a perfect weekend road trip or a week-long excursion.

Driving Around Lake Erie – What You Need to Know

There are lots of options available when planning a trip around Lake Erie. The main route in the United States for travelers to take is along I-90, which runs from New York to Michigan, cutting through the other two states that border the lake.

In Canada, King’s Highway 3 runs the length of the lake before getting to the country’s border. The trip in total will take about ten hours and fifteen minutes before calculating the time for stops at gas stations and the border checkpoints. The total length in terms of miles will be around 614 miles on the main route.

For residents of the United States, route I-90 is the most direct route to hit all of the states as it runs parallel to the lake in all of its bordering states.

There are, of course, detours that can be taken to provide perhaps a more scenic route or lead to hidden little towns that provide travelers with unique experiences as they travel along the lake. I-90 runs from New York to Michigan, cutting through the other states on the trip, Pennsylvania and Ohio, offering some larger stops on the way, such as Cleveland should travelers want to see a bigger city.

Maid of the Mist boat taking tourist on a wet and wild ride under waterfall

For people who choose to travel via I-90, there are numerous pull-offs and rest areas to hop out of the car and give the legs a stretch.

For anyone coming from or entering Canada, King’s Highway 3 travels along the lake throughout the Canadian province of Ontario.

The Canadian side of the drive will include tolls, as King’s Highway 3 is a toll road. However, the U.S side of the trip will not feature toll roads that travelers need to be prepared for.

A trip around Lake Erie can be a fun idea for anyone looking for a short road trip or for those who want to make it last a bit longer. With Lake Erie being large enough to be bordered by four states and one Canadian province, there won’t be a shortage of things to see and to do along the way.

What States Border Lake Erie?

Lake Erie is bordered by four U.S states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. With all of those states being northern states that experience a significant shift in weather as the seasons change, the trip can both feel and look much different depending on when someone decides to drive around the lake.

The spring and summer will provide beautiful views with flowers and trees blooming, while the fall offers a breathtaking array of red and orange everywhere. For people who live in or near bordering states, making the trip a few separate times is well worth the time to experience something so different from the previous experience.

The Canadian province of Ontario also borders the lake.

Road Trip Answers Fun Fact: Of all the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie’s water temperature is the warmest in the summer and the coldest in the winter due to it being the shallowest lake.

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Can You See Lake Erie All the Way Around?

There will be spots where the lake is no longer visible for travelers who want to take the most time-efficient route and stay on I-90. However, I-90 runs close to the lake, so it does provide views of the lake for an impressive amount of time.

Anyone who wants to keep the lake in their windows at all times can choose to sacrifice a little time by taking some different roads that travel along the lake. These routes allow you to cut through some of the smaller towns.

Rocky tree covered cliffs line the shore of large lake

Do You Need a Reservation or Permit?

To drive around Lake Erie and stop off at one of the beaches or just to make the loop will not require a permit or reservation. However, some tour services are available at stops along the way that may need reservations to be made ahead to secure your spot on that tour.

One of the greatest features of this trip is that there is something that fills any traveler’s desire. For travelers who only want to enjoy the sights of nature, there is no fee whatsoever, and if you’re going to take a tour or stop by one of the attractions along the way, that option is also available.

Is the Drive Around Lake Erie Open Year-round?

The lake offers different experiences and opportunities to people throughout the year. Many attractions, such as Niagara Falls, stay open year-round to provide people the chance to take in the views regardless of the season.

Though it is the southernmost lake of the five Great Lakes, the winter weather still affects the region and will occasionally cause the lake to freeze over. As a result, travelers may not be able to wakeboard in January, but Lake Erie does offer some of the best ice-fishing in the country for those who have an urge to be on the water regardless of if it’s liquid or solid.

Do You Need a 4×4 in the Winter to Drive Around Lake Erie?

While four-wheel drive offers some distinct advantages in certain situations in the winter months, it isn’t necessary to have a 4×4. The only instances where a four-wheel-drive vehicle would be necessary is in the event where a winter storm is predicted to hit during your trip.

Scenarios like that can often be avoided with careful planning before the trip for travelers who do not have a 4×4 they can use. If you plan to rent a car on a winter trip, renting a 4×4 just to err on the side of caution may be best.

Lighthouse sign in front of white lighthouse near the seashore

Are There any Vehicle Restrictions?

Though a trip like this probably wouldn’t be the most comfortable in something like a box truck, if you are traveling along the lake, there aren’t any vehicle restrictions you have to abide by to drive along the lake.

The only restrictions to potentially be worried about are parking restrictions for any of the attractions along the way.

Driving the main highway will take away any need to worry about weight limitations for vehicles as well.

Do You Need a Passport to Drive Around Lake Erie?

While residents of the United States won’t need a passport if they intend to stay on this side of the lake, one will be necessary to access the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Anyone who wants to make one big circular trip around Lake Erie and see the entire lake, not just Niagara Falls from both sides, will need a passport.

A passport will allow Canadian travelers coming into the United States and vice versa, the opportunity to see Lake Erie from a new perspective. Should you just want to see one area or one specific place on the opposite side of where you’re coming from, a passport may be well worth the investment.

How Long Does it Take to Drive Around Lake Erie?

The total time to make a complete circle around the lake would take about ten hours and fifteen minutes without accounting for traffic or stops for gas, rest, or anything else that may cause a delay.

The trip can take substantially longer when factoring in food stops and other tourist activities.

For the travelers who want to take the scenic route, keeping the lake where they can see it out the window will make the trip much longer as well.

The trip will take longer during the winter for travelers who would like to go during the winter months. The drive will take longer because Lake Erie can produce lake effect snow if it isn’t frozen over.

Lake effect snow is a serious concern for many drivers who live around Lake Erie as they experience worsened road conditions and, occasionally, winter storms or blizzards that make driving much more difficult.

Tourists on observation deck viewing massive waterfall

Points of Interest Along the Way

As I mentioned before, at the top of this post, Lake Erie covers a large area. With as much space as it takes up, there is a seemingly endless number of things to see on your trip around the lake.

Niagara Falls is probably the most instantly recognizable attraction around Lake Erie. With so many things to offer, from museums and tours to shopping centers and casinos, there is something that everyone can find of interest at Niagara Falls.

Cleveland and Detroit are the two biggest U.S cities on this journey that both offer plenty to do around the lake. In Cleveland, Ohio, the famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is right on Lake Erie and provides a unique experience for people who need a break from driving during the trip.

Throughout the various locations travelers will pass through, they can do a variety of things like lighthouse tours that will take tourists to different lighthouses on the lake. It is worth noting that reservations will need to be made for lighthouse tours.

Around We Go

Lake Erie is a beautiful lake, one of the prettiest lakes on the planet, and the land surrounding it can be equally breathtaking.

Planning a trip around the lake will only be difficult because of the number of options available to anyone who wants to go. No matter the season of the year you plan to travel, Lake Erie will provide breathtaking views and unforgettable memories.

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There are numerous natural and man-made wonders I'm ready to find and explore, from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.