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9 ways for kids to make a splash on Pittsburgh waterways

Sally Quinn
August30/ 2017

There’s such a wealth of nature-inspired action on Pittsburgh’s three rivers and beyond. Choose your family’s level of excitement and set out for a wild and wet weekend. Or choose a more relaxing activity to get the most from the area’s waterways while staying dry.

Here are nine ways to make a splash, literally and figuratively:

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TriAnglers and Venture Outdoors offer free fishing for kids every Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Venture Outdoors

1. Free fishing

From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays through the end of September, kids can try their hand at fishing with free sessions with the TriAnglers lunchtime group. Venture Outdoors provides the gear and bait, along with trip leaders who will help newbies with their equipment. The sessions are free, but a Pennsylvania Fishing License is a must for those 16 or older. Lines are cast at Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Registration is helpful, but not required.

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Tubing on the Clarion River is a cool way to enjoy a hot summer afternoon. Photo courtesy of Pale Whale Canoe Fleet

2. Tubing

There’s nothing quite as relaxing on a hot summer day than plopping into an inner tube and floating lazily down a river. Outfitters on the Clarion River, such as the Pale Whale Canoe Fleet, offer options of tubes, kayaks or canoes. They transfer you and your choice of vessel upriver, then point you downstream for an easy one-way float or paddle.

It’s a blast when you go with a family group and link your tubes together. You can rent a floating cooler for juice boxes and snacks, then stop on the shore halfway down for a mini picnic under the towering trees of Cook Forest lining the river.

Kids as young as 2 can join in the family fun that’s rated E for Everyone. Even your well-behaved dog can come along. Call ahead to check on river levels, which could affect your trip. Cheap sunglasses (why worry?) and water shoes will make your float more enjoyable.

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One of the many wonders found in Ohiopyle State Park is the natural water slide at Meadow Run. Photo by Nicole Kruse

3. Natural water slide

The natural water slide at Meadow Run in Ohiopyle State Park is a favorite stop for frequent visitors. The price is right – free – and the wheee! factor is high. You want to be cautious, of course, and check with the local experts about water depth and speed, which can vary following heavy rains. It would be best if smaller children slide through the chute within the arms of Mom or Dad.

The 300-million-year-old Homewood Sandstone creek bed has been smoothed down over centuries to provide a geology lesson for kids along with the two waterslides. While you’re in the area, hike the 3-mile Meadow Run Trail, then cool off again in the river slide. The nearby Cucumber Falls is another natural beauty worth a stop to fully appreciate the natural beauty of Pennsylvania.

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Kids as young a 3 can enjoy a river adventure through Kayak Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Venture Outdoors

4. Kayak Pittsburgh

We love watching those bright yellow kayaks bobbing in the Allegheny River. Kids as young as 3 can paddle in a tandem boat rental at Kayak Pittsburgh. Once kids reach 13, they can navigate a solo kayak. Find them below the Roberto Clemente Bridge on the North Shore, at Aspinwall Riverfront Park, and at North Park Lake. A 15-minute lesson is all you need to get started on the water.

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is offered at North Park for ages 16 and older. It’s a whole other experience to stand tall and glide across the water.

Watch the calendar for special river tours and classes.

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Laurel HighlandsRivers Tour is one of the outfitters offering family white-water tours in Ohiopyle.

5. White water rafting

OK, it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. Outfitters such as Laurel Highlands River Tours in Ohiopyle organize family-friendly white-water tours on the Middle Youghiogheny River with kids as young as 4 years. They regularly host Scout and school groups, too. Those who feel a little wary can opt for having a guide in their raft to ease anxiety. And there are enough bumpy patches to keep the excitement level up. All family tours include a guide escort, plus a riverside deli-style lunch.

Lunch is also part of the experience through White Water Adventure’s family trips on the Middle Yough. Thrill seekers, beginning at age 5, will be exhilarated by the 10 teasing rapids along the 11 miles of mostly lazy river.

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Steel City Rowing Club Juniors practice in a double scull.

6. Steel City Rowing Club

Kids from age 12 to 18 can participate in Steel City Rowing Club’s year-round programs. Beyond learning teamwork and discipline, Steel City provides training that can lead to college scholarships. In just the past few years, more than 40 kids won scholarships to top universities. The Steel City Juniors Team has traveled around the world to represent the USA in countries like Germany, Spain, and China.

Free intro-to-rowing sessions are held every few months, with the next scheduled for 11 a.m. Aug. 26. It’s a chance to take a tour of the Verona facility, try out the equipment and get a taste of this energy, low-impact sport.

For kids ages 8 to 11, Steel City Rowing offers summer camps that explore the wildlife along the Allegheny River between the Highland Park and Turnpike bridges. Campers kayak and canoe to Sycamore Island, looking for crayfish and mussels for signs of a healthy ecosystem. There’s also time set aside for swimming.  The next camp takes place Aug. 7 to 11.

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Argh! Kid-focused specialty cruises on the Gateway Clipper Fleet include a Caribbean adventure.

7. Gateway Clipper Fleet                                                       

In addition to the sightseeing cruises aboard the Gateway Clipper Fleet, the river cruise line offers loads of kids-centered voyages with some of their favorite characters.

Join pirate Captain Jack and his motley crew on a Caribbean jaunt. Harry Potter fans can revel in the Enchanted Rivers School of Wizardry Cruise. Kids who can’t get enough of Spiderman, the Hulk or Superman will have a blast on the SuperheroCruise. Bring a light saber for the Intergalactic Battle Cruise. Fairytale princesses have their time on the river, as does the oh-so appropriate Under the Sea Cruise.

The kid cruises include interactive play, face painting, DJ dance party, games, and balloons. Schedules vary, but the kid cruises are generally set for Saturdays and Sundays. Check the calendar here.

8. Tres Rios Sports

Experience one of the coolest river activities at Tres Rios Sports at Millvale Riverfront Park. First to the area – and probably the only in the region – their Stand Up Pedalboards combine a paddleboard with a handle and pumping leg action. Instead of using a paddle, pedaling propels the board through the water. It’s a great workout for coordinated kids starting at about age 12.

Tres Rios Sports offers traditional tandem kayaks for younger kids to co-pilot with Mom or Dad, too.

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Over the past 20 years, the Just Ducky Tours fleet has grown from one to seven vehicles.

9. Just Ducky Tours

By land or by sea, Just Ducky Tours delivers the goods on both with a fleet of World War II amphibious boats that tour through Downtown Pittsburgh before dipping into the river for a float. Once in the water, kids get a chance to drive the Ducky themselves.

Half the fun is the group hollering “Quack! Quack! Quack!” when the vessels stop at traffic lights. The other half is learning entertaining tidbits of Pittsburgh history and fun facts along the way. Now in its 20th year, Just Ducky started out with just one boat. Today, the popularity of the tours for locals and visitors has grown the fleet to seven vehicles. That’s something to quack about.

Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn is an award-winning writer and editor who has been covering her favorite city for more than 20 years. She welcomes comments and story ideas for Kidsburgh.