On two-thirds of the days during the summer, Lake Erie is very calm, warm, and clear. Dunkirk is a warm water port due to hot water discharge from the NRG steam-generating electric plant. Although not necessarily environmentally friendly, the warm water creates a great fishery for bass, walleye, and perch.
Dunkirk also boasts three beaches -- Point Gratiot, Wright Park, and Cedar Beach. The first two are staffed with lifeguards during the summer. You can put in at any of the three.
A good day trip is to put in at Wright Park and head west. The Army Corps of Engineers built a system of breakwalls to shelter the harbor. Paddle through the harbor to check out the sailboats, then head out to the outer breakwall. The outer breakwall is loaded with gulls and shorebirds. A great blue heron lives out here, and it is not unusual to see an unusual migratory bird who has stopped to sample the baitfish.
Continue heading west (into the breeze and the slight current) and cross the channel near the coal plant. Staying along the shore, you will enter the cove for Cedar Beach. Cedar Beach is a good place to pull up on the sand for a drink or to take a walk around Point Gratiot park or the historic lighthouse. This area saw naval action during the War of 1812.
Continue padding west around the point for great views of the lighthouse and the slate cliffs. There are a few isolated pockets of beach, great for a swim or a nap. Continue paddling west to reach the beach at Point Gratiot Park. (If you paddle another mile or so, you can enter Canada Way Creek -- used to shuttle fugitive slaves to Canada.) As you return, you will have an easy paddle with the wind and current at your back.
At Wright Park, there is a snack bar with restrooms.
At Point Gratiot, there are restrooms and picnic facilities.
No fees or permits.
From the NYS Thruway, take the Dunkirk/Fredonia exit. Turn right on Route 60. Cross Route 5 and take Lakefront Blvd to the right to access the beach at Wright Park.
On occasion, one or both beaches will be closed following a storm due to bacteria from stormwater runoff. It is not safe to swim on these occasions, but boats still go out. You might wish to call the Dunkirk Department of Parks and Recreation to check if you are planning to swim. 716-366-9885