In this paper we present results of photoluminescence (PL), photoluminescence excitation (PLE), and time resolved PL spectroscopy of the 4I13/2 '†' 4I15/2 transition in Er optical centers in GaN epilayers grown by metal-organic chemical vapor deposition. Under resonance excitation via the higher-lying inner 4f shell transitions and band-to-band excitation of the semiconductor host, the PL and PLE spectra reveal an existence of two types of Er optical centers from isolated and the defect-related Er centers in GaN epilayers. These centers have different PL spectra, local defect environments, decay dynamics, and excitation cross-sections. The isolated Er optical center, which can be excited by either excitation mechanism, has the same decay dynamics, but possesses a much higher cross-section under band-to-band excitation. In contrast, the defect-related Er center can only be observed through band-to-band excitation but has the largest crosssection. Our results indicate pathways for efficient optical excitation of Er-doped GaN semiconductors.