Summer Fun: Just Add Water!
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With the promise of warm, sunny days ahead, getting out to enjoy the rivers and waterways around Pittsburgh is the perfect way to embrace summer. Whether your preference is a couple of hours of exercise kayaking through western Pennsylvania’s beautiful scenery or sipping a glass of wine as you cruise around the Allegheny River in a skippered yacht, Pittsburgh offers a variety of ways to get on the water.
Just Ducky Tours
If you’re new to the area, entertaining out-of-town guests or just want to see your city in a new light, Just Ducky Tours provides a novel and engaging perspective of the downtown area. Passengers board amphibious vehicles (bus/boat/WWII relics) at Station Square and settle in for an hour-long narrated tour of the city. The tour guides have impeccable comic timing, and the excitement of driving off the streets of downtown Pittsburgh and into the river is something everyone should experience at least once. Appropriate for all ages, this tour is a fun way to learn a little bit of history as you see the city from both land and water. Audience participation in the form of frequent quacking is encouraged, and tour guides sometimes invite interested guests to take a turn as captain. www.justduckytours.com
L.L. Bean Adventures
Although L.L. Bean is probably best known for its apparel and outdoor supplies, the company also offers discovery schools, clinics and guided group outdoor experiences. At North Park, L.L. Bean hosts kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), fly-casting and other activities. Advance registration is required. Many events are free, and participants bring their own gear. Instructional courses have a small fee (as low as $25), but all equipment is provided.
June offerings at North Park include a guided evening kayak tour, kayak discovery course, SUP discovery course, SUP yoga course and fly-casting course.
SUP with Your Pup (paddle-boarding with your dog) and Glow SUP tours are two new summer programs that Macy Bethge, who leads the local outdoor discovery schools, expects to be popular. She added that the Ross Park store will host a paddling weekend on June 10 and 11 with demonstrations, clinics and free giveaways. Registration and program details for all adventures are online at LLBean.com/Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Water Limo
Those interested in enjoying the amazing downtown views from the water in style can check out Pittsburgh Water Limo. The array of public cruise options ranges from the Steeler game day Sailgates to monthly wine and microbrew tasting cruises aboard the luxury yacht Fantasy.
Summer sunset cruises will commence several nights each week starting in June, and the June 10th Jazz Cruise promises to be a fun evening. Elizabeth Wiethorn, sales and marketing manager for Pittsburgh Water Limo, said the company plans to introduce a new Haunted Pittsburgh cruise in July, complete with spooky beverages and professional storyteller Alan Irvine to lend some fright to the night. Painting with a Twist cruises are another new option starting this summer.
The marina is located off 23rd Street in the Strip District and offers free parking. Ticket prices for public cruises are surprisingly reasonable. Check out cruise options at www.pittsburghwaterlimo.com.
RiverQuest, the floating environmental education and STEM program, was acquired by nonprofit Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation in 2016. Carly McCoy, director of sales and marketing for Rivers of Steel, said the merger has enabled RiverQuest to continue its important hands-on school programs. McCoy explained that a new public sightseeing river tour is currently in the works and may begin running on the Explorer vessel as early as this summer. Updated details are available at www.riverquest.org.
In the meantime, summer explorers can learn about Pittsburgh’s rivers and steel-town history through other Rivers of Steel tours. Guided tours of the Carrie Blast Furnaces on the Monongahela River are offered from May through October and Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA) hosts regular urban art exhibitions. The summer calendar features regular Iron Garden tours at the Carrie Furnaces where Dr. Anna Johnson, ecological researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, explains local plant communities and how human history shapes the urban environment. Find out more at www.riversofsteel.com and www.rosarts.org.
Saltsburg Kayak & Canoe Outfitters
Located in the historic Geo. Altman Mill in Saltsburg, PA, Saltsburg Kayak and Canoe Outfitters (SKCO) is just over an hour’s drive from the North Hills. The mill sits where the Loyalhanna Creek meets the Conemaugh to form the Kiskiminetas River. The area offers both historic charm and great natural amenities, according to manager Courtney Crowe.
SKCO’s feature trip starts at the Conemaugh Dam and winds 7-1/2 miles through scenic woods and under bridges to the mill. Boaters are likely to see geese, ducks, deer and even bald eagles on the journey. The trip is appropriate for boaters of all ages and skill levels. SKCO rents both single and tandem (two-person) kayaks as well as canoes that seat up to three adults. The season runs from Memorial Day through early fall.
More ambitious outdoor enthusiasts can tack on a hike or bike ride; SKCO rents bikes and is adjacent to the West Penn and Westmoreland Heritage Trails. SKCO also has a summer concert series planned, where boaters can end an afternoon of paddling with live music, craft brews and dinner from local vendors right in the mill’s yard. Details are available at www.saltsburgkayak.com.
With three locations now open, Venture Outdoors’s Kayak Pittsburgh project is making good on its mission to provide everyone a chance to experience the outdoors. Both the newest Aspinwall Riverfront Park and Northshore locations offer solo and tandem kayak rentals. In addition to kayaks, the North Park location also has canoes, row boats, SUPs and pedal boats.
Donna Bour, director of development and communications for Venture Outdoors, said two popular activities include paddling from the 6th Street Bridge to Herrs Island—also known as Washington’s Landing, and home to Redfin Blue’s waterfront restaurant—and Fireworks Paddles where boaters can view the Pirates’ game fireworks from the water. At the North Park location, weary paddlers can cap off a day on the water with a cold drink and burger at OTB Bicycle Café. Find out more at www.ventureoutdoors.org and www.otbbicyclecafe.com.