Pittsburgh might not leap to mind when you think of great kayak destinations, but did you know that National Geographic rated the city number three in their lineup of the six best cities for kayakers?
The city is located at the confluence of three major rivers, the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela. So whether you’re looking for a relaxed urban float, remote paddling on a pristine flat water lake, or some fast-moving whitewater, Pittsburgh is sure to please.
Besides being blessed with lots of wet playgrounds, the area is also home to several water trails that connect them. All around town, you will see distinctive paddle-shaped signs pointing towards put-ins, racks, and ramps–places you can quickly get your boat to the water with ease.
For more kayaking destinations nearby, check out our post on the best places to kayak in Pennsylvania here.
1. Three Rivers Water Trail, PA
If you aren’t looking for a long drive to the put-in, you will surely settle on Pittsburgh’s three most beautiful residents–the Allegheny, Youghiogheny, and Ohio Rivers. Of course, you aren’t the only one. These spots are popular paddling and boating destinations. There’s a lot to see and do, with everything from urban paddling right through downtown to quieter wilderness areas outside of town.
The Three Rivers Water Trail System links 90 or so communities in Allegheny County to the rivers. One of the absolute best things about the trail is that you can pick the type of destination you want for the day–natural, social, industrial areas, small towns or big cities, or wide-open stretches of water. Download the Friends of the Riverfront’s PDF map and guide for recommended routes and things to see.
Start by heading to Allegheny Landing, at 1 Federal Street in Pittsburgh. You’ll find the outfitter and rental shop here, along with a put-in at the base of the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
For more locations to launch from, check out the PDF map and guide from the Friends of the Riverfront.
2. Allegheny River, PA
The Allegheny runs 315 miles from Northern Pennsylvania and New York state until it joins the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh. It was the first river linked by the Three Rivers Water Trail.
Sections of the Allegheny are designated a National Wild and Scenic River. So if you’re looking to get out of town and see this part of the world as the first explorers did, this is where you should go. The nearest section is located 85 miles north of Pittsburgh, between the towns of Franklin and Emlenton. For more information on this area outside of town, check out spot number nine on the list below.
But if you looking to stay closer to the city, try some urban paddling on the Allegheny. Head to Millvale Riverfront Park and paddle along Herrs Island to downtown. You can do an easy out-and-back, or you can arrange for someone to pick you up downtown.
Put in at Millvale Riverfront Park along the North Shore Trail. It’s just northeast of town along Highway 28. This is a great place to start since it’s fun for short paddles or longer trips to downtown.
For kayak rentals give Venture Outdoors a visit.
3. The Youghiogheny River, PA
South of town, the Youghiogheny River joins the Monongahela. The Youghiogheny Water Trail is 46 miles long and runs from the town of Connellsville right up to the Mon River junction. Unlike the other quieter rivers in the area, there are a few roiling areas on the Youghiogheny that can have Class IV rapids. More on the rapids later, so for now, let’s look at the calmer areas near the city.
Closer to town, the Yough is much like the other local waters–flat and calm, with a little bit of current that’s just enough for a lazy float. If you get far enough out of the city, the Yough is winding and scenic–lined with trees and wildlife, but not many buildings and very little traffic.
There are a few places to get on the river, but one of the best is near the towns of Buena Vista at River Mile 63. Maps for the Yough River Trail can be found here. If you want to try your hand at some kayak camping, the River Trail also includes several sites with camping facilities as you make your way downriver.
Buena Vista is 40 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh on Greenock Buena Vista Road.
4. Dead Man’s Hollow Conservation Area, Youghiogheny River, PA
One of the prettier areas of the Youghiogheny that lies near town is the part that runs along the Dead Man’s Hollow Conservation Area. As you work your way downstream, you can stay close to shore and catch glimpses of wildlife in the wooded forest. Shoreside, the land is owned by the Allegheny Land Trust and includes hiking and hunting trails.
The best plan is to launch from the boat ramp at Boston Riverfront Park. You can then make the short trip to McKeesport and pass by the conservation area.
Boston Riverfront Park is located on the Youghiogheny River, immediately west of the Highway 48 bridge in Boston, PA.
5. Ohio River, PA
Another river linked by a water trail is the Ohio River. The Ohio River Water Trail runs from milepost zero in downtown Pittsburgh 69 miles to East Liverpool, Ohio. The entire route is broken into sections by locks and dams along the way.
Close to town, the best place to access the Ohio is from Walnut Street Launch at Riverfront Park, just after the Sewickley Bridge. From here, you can paddle your way 13 miles to the Dashields Lock and Dam. There are plenty of other put-ins and take-outs along the way, so you can make the trip as long or as short as you’d like.
The river out of Pittsburgh is a heavy commercial shipping lane, so expect to see lots of barge traffic. Remember to give barges space to maneuver and to stay out of their blind spots. There are also numerous dams and hazard areas on the river, which you will either need to plan to avoid altogether or navigate through. Locking through is only recommended for experienced paddlers. You can find trail maps and paddling guides on the Ohio River Water Trail website.
Launch sites line the length of the Ohio from Pittsburgh to the Ohio border–but you’ll want to plan your trip based on the type of experience you’d like. Download this PDF guide to find your put-in and plan your outing.
6. North Park, PA
North Park is a 3,000-acre reserve north of town that happens to be home to a gorgeous 65-acre lake. It’s an easy place to learn to paddle or to take kids–the water is calm and scenic, and there are no motor vessels on the lake.
In addition to paddling, the park has playgrounds, hiking, and a nature center.
The address for the outfitter is 10301 Pearce Mill Rd, Allison Park, PA 15101. Head north of town on Interstate I-279 and take US Highway 19/McKnight Road north. In McCandless, turn right on East Ingomar Road, then turn left on Pearce Mill Road. The park and lake will be on your left.
There’s also Venture Outdoors who we recommend for boat rentals.
7. Lake Arthur, Moraine State Park, PA
It’s a 40-minute drive out of town, but Lake Arthur is one of those places you won’t want to miss when paddling around Pittsburgh. This massive 3,200-acre lake is especially popular with kayak anglers looking for their next big catches.
The lake is popular with many watersports enthusiasts, so expect to share the lake with motors and sailboats.
Parking spots and picnic areas surround the lake, and the state park rents cabins if you want to make it an out-of-town adventure. The park has 1,750 square feet of beach and 42 miles of hiking trails, too.
Moraine State Park is located at 225 Pleasant Valley Road, Portersville, PA 16051. Take Interstate I-79 north out of Pittsburgh and then exit 70 to Portersville. Turn right on Portersville Road, then go for one mile and make a slight left on Pleasant Valley Road. This will take you into the park.
If you don’t own one, check out Cresent Bay Marina for kayak rentals.
8. The Loop, Lower Youghiogheny
The Loop is a mile-and-a-half section of the Lower Yough where you can put in and take out without needing transportation between the two points. The Loop is the first mile of the Lower Yough, just below Ohiopyle Falls. After that, it’s a five to ten-minute walk back to your car if you use the take-out just after Railroad Rapid.
There are various whitewater sections on the Lower Yough that range between Class III and Class IV rapids. It’s a fun spot for kayakers and rafters alike.
Above the Lower Yough is the Middle section, which is a little more mellow and family-friendly. Farther upstream, the Upper Yough is for adrenaline junkies and whitewater experts. Maps for the Yough River Trail can be found here.
Ohiopyle is about an hour and 20 minutes south of Pittsburgh on State Route 381. Start at the outfitters at 103 Garrett Street, Ohiopyle, PA 15470. You can also get kayaks from Wilderness Voyageurs.
9. Wild and Scenic Allegheny River, Oil City to Emlenton, PA
Once you get out of the city, the Allegheny opens up into a beautiful wilderness. It’s perfect for lazy day trips, floating down the river, and watching for wildlife. The 7.5-mile Oil City to Franklin section of the Allegheny is a great place to start. If you have your own boat, the outfitter in Franklin can provide transportation.
This part of the Allegheny River is about an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh. Emlenton is just off Interstate I-80, while Franklin and Oil City are off US Highway 62, about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh.
10. Beaver Creek, PA
If you’re up for a drive, head out to East Liverpool, Ohio. There you’ll find a rental company that gives guided tours on Beaver Creek. They’ll provide transportation services if you have your own boat, and they even rent fishing kayaks. They also provide guides and instructions on the creek’s mild Class I and Class II rapids.
This small creek flows south along the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line from Beaver Creek State Park. The park is a lovely side trip, with historic buildings and crystal-clear streams.
East Liverpool is about 50 minutes west of Pittsburgh on US Highway 30 and you can also hire kayaks from Beaver Creek Kayak Company in East Liverpool, OH
Summing Up Kayaking Near Pittsburg
Pittsburgh lives up to its reputation as a hot spot of paddling fun. Spring, summer, and fall can be filled with new paddling destinations worth visiting.
So, when you’re ready to get outside and explore the beauty of the area, Pittsburgh is an ideal destination for kayaking. Whether you want a calm paddle on one of the local lakes or rivers, or if you are looking for some more challenging whitewater rapids-Pittsburgh has something for every paddler.