6 Best Places to Kayak in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is one of the top three cities to Kayak, according to National Geographic. This city is defined by its three rivers – the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela – popular commercial and recreational spots. Besides these rivers, the city also houses several lakes, and water parks, giving enthusiasts a range of options to go kayaking in Pittsburgh. 

There’s more. Find out below!

Top Kayaking Destinations in Pittsburgh

Are you headed to Pittsburgh for a vacation, passing through on a road trip, or trying to relocate? 

Here are the best kayaking locations for beginners or experts and a guide on how to get the best of these locations:

  1. Three Rivers Water Trail
  2. North Park
  3. Lake Arthur, Moraine State Park
  4. Youghiogheny River, PA
  5. Slippery Rock Creek Gorge
  6. Keystone State Park

1. Three Rivers Water Trail

Right in the heart of the town, you find the three famous rivers-Allegheny to the east, Monongahela to the south, and Ohio river to the west, with the Allegheny being the most popular of the bunch. 

You can choose to paddle any of these rivers, as each offers something different. Their water trail system is one of the best things about Pittsburgh. It connects about 90 communities around the town and allows kayakers access various destinations.

You can kayak through the small towns, the open water, industrial areas, natural sites, or the big cities. 

Find out more about these rivers below.

A. Allegheny River

The Allegheny River is the most popular in Pittsburgh for several reasons. Apart from being the first river linked to the three water trails, it is also part of Pennsylvania’s Wild and Scenic Rivers System. 

This is one of the most beautiful rivers in Pittsburgh and is home to various campsites, historical trails, and wildlife. A perfect site for a family getaway kayaking trip.

B. The Monongahela River

The Monongahela river, also called ‘The Mon,’ is fast becoming a dream for kayakers. 

It is located in the northern part of the water trails, flows through a stunning valley, and gives paddlers an incredible view of Pittsburgh’s heritage and beauty. As a result, the Mon has become a place for paddlers to hone flatwater kayaking while enjoying the view. 

The river is controlled by locks and dams, making it into a series of pools of different forms and sizes. It has about 14 access points and several boat ramps, so you don’t need to worry about launching your kayak.

C. Ohio River

The third link to the water trail is the Ohio river. It runs about 69 miles from downtown Pittsburgh to Liverpool, Ohio. 

Like the Monongahela river, its route is divided by locks and dams. The Walnut Street Launch at Riverfront Park is the best way to launch your kayak.

If you experience barge traffic, try to stay out of their blind spots while maintaining enough distance for an evasive maneuver. The Ohio river offers guests a variety of wildlife, from birds to various fish and mammal species. 

The water trail houses over 200 bird species, including the bald Eagle and osprey. It also features fish like the sauger, channel, and flathead fish, making it the perfect pot for kayak fishing.

2. North Park

Located in the north of Pittsburgh, North park is a 3,000-acre reserve with a 65-acre lake. 

This park does not allow motorized vessels, making a calm and scenic lake perfect for flatwater kayaking for beginners and children. 

While kayaking is a favorite pastime on this spot, you can also enjoy other activities at the park. This includes hiking trails, visiting historic buildings and nature centers, or having a fun day on the playgrounds. 

For the best experience, avoid weekend kayaking trips, as it tends to be crowded. 

3. Lake Arthur, Moraine State Park

As part of Moraine State Park, visiting the famous Lake Arthur should be top of your list of things to do in Pittsburgh. 

It is located about 40 minutes from Pittsburgh. Lake Arthur is a 3,200-acre lake popular among kayak anglers. 

The lake offers a vast range of viewing sights and beautiful wildlife, with the bald Eagle being popular among tourists. 

4. Youghiogheny River

The Youghiogheny River runs from the Monongahela river and is located south of Pittsburgh. Unlike the others, the Youghiogheny river has some rolling area which gives it class IV rapids, ample for perfecting whitewater kayaking.

The intensity of these rapids depends on the location you choose to kayak. Areas closer to town are calmer with little scattered rapids, perfect for flatwater kayaking.

You find the loop as you move farther away from the city. It includes a section of the lower Yough, middle, and upper sections. The Lower Yough is notably riskier to kayak because its whitewater sections range between Class III and Class IV rapids. 

5. Slippery Rock Creek Gorge

The Slippery Rock Creek Gorge is a natural landmark in Pittsburgh, popular for its breathtaking nature. 

The ‘Gorge’ houses the Slippery Rock Creek and other streams that cascade on its side and are lined by lush-looking trees.

This is a favorite location among rafters and whitewater enthusiasts. Are you looking for more dangerous waters with challenging whitewater rapids? Slippery rock has it all. 

The river is bordered by steep and towering cliffs and features rapids ranging from Class II to IV, depending on the time of the year and water levels. 

Before attempting to tackle this river, It is essential to be sure of your skill as it can be too much to handle for beginners. 

6. Keystone State Park

The 1,200-acre park is a great spot for family vacations or day trips with friends. Keystone park is a short drive from the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. 

It houses a 78-acre lake open to visitors to explore; you can meander around the lake on a kayak or canoe while taking in the views. An additional perk is the sand beach and concession stand near the lake.

After a day out kayaking or fishing the lake, you can choose to explore the beach, go hiking, camping, or biking in the Park. 

You do not need to go far to launch your boat. The state park offers a public boat launch and a mooring area for paddlers. 

Tips For Kayaking in Pittsburgh

Kayaking in Pittsburgh is a one-of-a-kind experience. One significant benefit of kayaking in Pittsburgh is that you get to kayak through its beautiful cities and enjoy the excellent views. 

While kayaking in Pittsburgh is pretty straightforward, there are important safety tips to take note of to make the most of your trip. These include:

  • Always wear your PFD
  • All boats must have the bow and stern lights when out in the evening.
  • No drugs/alcohol
  • Stay away from bridges, garbage, and stationary objects.
  • Do not attempt to navigate the locks and dams if you are not experienced
  • When paddling the city, be aware of motorized boat traffic and paddle closer to the banks.
  • Always stay seated in your boat
  • Stay clear of people fishing

Maintain these river safety rules, and kayaking in Pittsburgh will be an unforgettable experience!


There are plenty of excellent kayaking spots in Pittsburgh. The city is undoubtedly the hotspot for kayaking, as people have come to know. 

So if you’re planning your next vacation or just looking for a day trip destination, check out these locations. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a permit for kayaking in Pittsburgh?

Yes, you need a permit. Before launching any kayak or canoe in Pittsburgh, you must show that you have your boat registration and a Launching permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Can you drink beer when kayaking in Pittsburgh?

No, you cannot. Pennsylvania prohibits consuming alcohol while paddling a kayak or a boat. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission explicitly states that operating any watercraft on their waters is illegal while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.

Can I kayak at night in Pittsburgh?

Kayakers are allowed to paddle their kayaks at night. However, they must follow the rules if they are kayaking open waters. You are required to have lights on at night but not mandatory if you are on state waters. 

Do you need a life vest to kayak in PA?

Any paddler under 12 years is required to wear a Coast guard approved life jacket when riding or operating kayaks and canoes

Always check the tag on the jacket to know if your flotation device is approved. Also, one tip to remember when purchasing your jacket is that the lower the number, the better the life jacket.