Exploring Pittsburgh's Rivers

I’ve lived in Shadyside, a small neighborhood 4(ish) miles from downtown Pittsburgh, for about 14 years. I’ve only paddled the 3 Rivers one time. Most of my paddling is done during 3-4 day kayak camping trips. Anyway…in 3 weeks I will be moving to a riverfront apartment a 20 minute paddle from The Point.

I am posting in hopes of getting suggestions on hidden paddling gems around the city. Also, just for fun, if anyone has experience with the locks, rather than portaging the dams.

Pittsburgh paddling
I’m in the Pittsburgh East End also (a little farther out, just past the Squirrel HIll tunnels). Which river are you going to be living along? If it’s the Mon, you will have one of the handiest of the big river paddles practically on your doorstep. One of my favorite midweek day trips is to put in at Riverfront Park on the South Side, paddle upstream to Duck Hollow just past the Homestead High Level Bridge, have lunch there and paddle back to the South Side. It is a leisurely 4 to 6 hour outing, depending on flow, wind and how ambitious you feel. Roughly 12 miles round trip, with plenty of interesting urban and wild scenery. Besides the looming ruins of the old steel mill barge docks, we always see wildlife, including bald eagles, egrets, herons, killdeer, hawks, fox, deer, large snakes and even a beaver. The great thing about paddling the Mon is that you don’t need to shuttle. The flow is moderate enough that paddling upstream is just as easy as downstream in most conditions, in fact since the wind usually comes from the West you get a bit of an assist from it in paddling upstream.

Every year on the Fourth of July I paddle with friends from Riverfront down to watch the fireworks from along the Point. The river is beautiful after dark.

Listed below are other nearby paddling sites (since you say you do overnight trips already, you may already know some of them) :

  • The Allegheny, launching from the ramp at Millvale and paddling upstream towards Highland Park.

  • Lake Arthur up at Moraine State Park. Best kayak access points are in the northwest corner off West Park Road or at the Waterfowl viewing area off route 528 near the Ranger’s office. The office is a handy place to renew your annual launch permits also.

  • The flatwater sections of the 46 mile Youghiogheny River Water Trail between Connellsville and the Mon are pleasant. If you don’t want to shuttle, Hazelbaker’s kayak rental service on the river at Layton will shuttle you and your boat upriver to Dawson from their location for a fee, along with their clients. That section from Dawson to Layton is a nice short summer float.

  • If you are OK with mild whitewater (nothing over easy class 1 and mild but open class 2), French Creek and Red Creek are nice day floats when the water is high enough. But many summers Red Creek is too low to paddle.

  • Yellow Creek Lake near Indiana, PA, is a pretty place for relaxed day trip flatwater. There is a campground and in the Spring, the trails have spectacular wildflowers, swarming with butterflies and the strangely wonderful hummingbird hawk moths.

    Since you like multi-day trips, if you have not yet done the West Branch of the Susquehanna, the Lumber Heritage organization publishes an excellent set of waterproof maps to the Water Trail. There is a lot of great paddling up there around Clearfield County and beyond, including Clearfield Creek and the Red Moshannon.


    I highly recommend buying a copy of the book “Paddling Pennsylvania”. It has valuable information on a variety of rivers and lakes in the state including directions to launch sites, descriptions of the conditions and any hazards plus the all-important optimal gauge levels for the rivers. I always add comments to my copy after each trip, noting the gauge that day and any high (or low) points to the outing for future reference.
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Thanks Willowleaf
I have Paddling Pennsylvania. It’s a great book and I’ve planned several multi day trips for this Spring from it, including the West Branch and Pine Creek through the PA Grand Canyon. I was just looking at some of the maps and was considering a close-to-home overnighter on the Allegheny wilderness island to do a test run of some camping equipment I just got.

We are moving to Carson Street Commons, a block from REI.

They Got Kayak Racks at that Apartment?
To store kayaks and canoes?

Rack at Riverfront
There is a large wooden boat rack near the kayak launch ramp at the far end of the parking lot at Riverfront Park, but I don’t know who maintains it and how one qualifies to use it. I don’t think I would want to leave one of my own boats in such an exposed location. I would hope your rental has a storage unit or garage with room for your boat.

The lock tenders very likely won’t let you in the locks. They are very turbulent when filling. Even larger powered boats can get beat up in locks.

Living in an apartment you might consider a folding canoe/kayak, in the long run they might be less expensive than paying storage costs for a rigid boat.

Bill H.

Kayakers can use the locks!

– Last Updated: Feb-11-16 10:32 PM EST –

The Water Trail council made a YouTube video with instructions on how to use the Pittsburgh area locks. The locks are a public resource, available for all boaters:


The Corps of Engineers also has a video on the protocols:


Late to the party here
but just want to say, there needs to be some sort of Pittsburgh River P.net meetup or something when the weather and water temps break.

I’m minutes to Moraine State Park and come down to Pittsburgh to ride the bike. I usually start on the bike in Milvale.

I’ve been wanting to get down there to paddle the rivers. I’ll definitely be down sometime this summer. I was hesitant to try because I was living up near Parker and Emlenton and tried to put in at Parker on the Allegheny. I made it 1 mile up river in 3 hours. The current is ridiculous here (6.6 mph, faster than my fastest recorded lake speed on my cycling app.)

Paddling down to the point for the 4th fireworks sounds like a fantastic time. I’d love to do that. It’s either that or come down on my bike which would equally be a fantastic time.

4th of July
If I’m in town that weekend and the weather is decent, I will probably organize a group paddle from Riverfront Park (by the Brady St. Bridge) to the Point for the 4th. Send me a private email through here and I’ll let you know the plans. The 4th is on Sunday this year so there will be plenty of time to get it organized. I may have extra kayaks and gear, depending on how many of my own friends I outfit for the trip.

I’m also semi-retired and frequently have weekdays off – often looking for paddling companions since most of my friends are still on the 9 to 5 hamster wheel.

The Harmarville pool is nice. A few public islands, including the State Park Island near lock 3. The back channel in Harmar is a no wake zone which imo is always a plus. There is a public launch in Verona as well as Harmar.