Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, might not be the first place that comes to mind for kayaking in the United States. But ask a Pittsburgh native, “Can you kayak in Pittsburgh?” and you’ll likely hear a resounding, “Yes, you can!” followed by a history lesson on the three rivers that run through the city. Pittsburgh is home to three river systems: the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. The Monongahela River is pronounced “mə-NONG-gə-HEE-lə,” but don’t worry—this tongue twister of a river is referred to locally as “The Mon.”

Kayaking in Pittsburgh is a unique experience. Urban kayaking has a different vibe than a remote wilderness adventure, but it offers paddlers an array of options for a day on the river. In Pittsburgh, you’ll find that the city is set up to welcome river traffic with waterfront restaurants, brew pubs, parks and plenty of activities to keep your day interesting. If urban kayaking isn’t your thing, check out some of the beautiful nearby state parks for a more traditional kayaking adventure.

Shot of river running through downtown Pittsburgh
Launch your kayak right in downtown Pittsburgh and get paddling.

Best kayaking in Pittsburgh

Kayaking is a popular activity in Pittsburgh in the spring, summer and fall seasons. The city boasts a number of great places to launch from, and there are rental and tour companies that are convenient whether you’re looking for a day in the city, or to get out of town. The Pittsburgh area isn’t where you’ll find roaring whitewater, but you will find very unique urban experiences, and easy access to calm lakes that set this spot apart.

Pittsburgh’s three rivers converge in the centre of the city at Point State Park. You’ll find the Ohio River to the west, Allegheny to the east, and the Mon to the south. There are official and unofficial boat launches on all three rivers, and you can easily paddle parts of all three in a day.

Launching at the North Shore gives paddlers access to all of Pittsburgh’s waterfront activities. This is definitely a more urban landscape, so expect to see lots of bustling city scenes including glassy skyscrapers, city parks, PNC Park (home to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team) and waterfront restaurants with easy river access. Pop into local hotspots like The Foundry for local eats and craft beer, or Burgatory for a classic American hamburgers and milkshakes menu with a polished feel.

South Shore Riverfront Park is another beautiful option to kayak out from on the Mon. Kayak through the south section of the city for views of Mount Washington and the Pittsburgh cityscape.

North Park gets you away from the urban landscape and into a more serene, pastoral setting with plenty of history and nature to see as you kayak the North Park Lake.


 

Where can I launch my kayak in Pittsburgh?

The rivers of Pittsburgh provide paddlers with many options for places to launch a kayak from. There are dedicated boat launches—popular ones are located in North Shore, North Park, Aspinwall and South Shore Riverfront Park. There are more access points, some boat launches, and others unofficial spots that make good put-in locations. Keystone Edge is a blog written by a Pittsburgh local, and provides some good tips on launches that are a bit off the beaten path.

Keep in mind that if you’re not an experienced kayaker, it’s best to stay safe and stick to the established boat launches. Local spots are often hidden gems that enhance a paddling experience, but directions aren’t necessarily clear and safety hazards may not be taken into account.

 


 

Kayak rentals in Pittsburgh

Kayak Pittsburgh – North Shore

Weekdays

    • Single kayaks: $16 per day
    • Tandem kayaks: $23.50 per day

Weekends and holidays

    • Single kayaks: $19 per day
    • Tandem kayaks: $26.50 per day

Kayak Pittsburgh – North Park

Weekdays

    • Single kayaks: $16 per day
    • Tandem kayaks: $23.50 per day

Weekends and holidays

    • Single kayaks: $19 per day
    • Tandem kayaks: $26.50 per day

Kayak Pittsburgh – Aspinwall Riverfront Park

Weekends and holidays only

    • Single kayaks: $19 per day
    • Tandem kayaks: $26.50 per day

Crescent Bay Marina – Moraine State Park

    • Single kayaks: $15 for one hour, $13 for second hour, $12 for third hour, $52 total for four hours, $12 for every additional hour
    • Tandem kayaks: $20 for one hour, $18 for second hour, $16 for third hour, $70 total for four hours, $16 for every additional hour

 


 

Pittsburgh kayaking rules

Kayaking the state parks in the Pittsburgh area is pretty straightforward—you need to wear a PFD and have a vessel license sticker on your boat. If you’re renting, this is something rental companies will have covered for you already. All boats must have bow and stern lights if you’re out in the evening.

In the city, be aware of motorized boat traffic and paddle closer to the banks wherever you can so you’re not in the navigational channel for larger vessels. If you’re on the Allegheny River between Pittsburgh and neighbouring Highland Park you’ll find the Allegheny Lock and Dam No. 2. Locking through has a specific protocol and should only be done by experienced kayakers. Rivers of Steel has a step guide for this process that explains the procedure for navigating the lock. Similarly, on the Ohio River is the Dashields Lock and Dam. All areas with these features require prior knowledge and experience to navigate. They are not always easy to see, so be sure you know the river hazards before setting out.

Safety

River safety is always critical, even on slower-moving rivers like the Ohio, Mon and Allegheny in Pittsburgh. There have been tragic accidents on the rivers here, and although not common, incidents generally involve the dams in the area and paddlers who are not wearing PFDs. Have respect for the river and practice good river safety, and you’ll have a one-of-a-kind adventure kayaking in Pittsburgh!

 

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