Splashdown: 13 hot spots where Pittsburgh kids can cool off for free

This story was first published on June 28, 2017, and has been updated.

Hot weather, cool water, and energetic kids add up to the perfect equation for summer fun.

Running through the backyard sprinkler is a blast. But why not explore the wild, wild wet found throughout the Pittsburgh area? Neighborhood spray parks, county parks, and architecturally designed fountains offer a different take on a most welcome spritz of refreshment.

Here is a baker’s dozen of our favorite spots:

cool off
There’s no reason to be afraid to run into the mist at Cloud Arbor. Photo courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

The Cloud Arbor

Kids love running through and around this small forest of upright steel poles. The 64 shining poles reach 32 feet in the air. It’s even more exciting when a mist begins to seep from the top of the poles.  The fine spray continues to form a cloud-like fog, which shifts and evolves as the breeze moves it. When the nozzles atop the poles stop sending out the mist, the cloud evaporates into the air. All that’s left are screaming, whooping kids, who run and skip awaiting the next cloud’s appearance.

The Cloud Arbor, located in front of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, was designed as an engaging public art sculpture by artist and MacArthur “genius” Ned Kahn. Its beauty can be enjoyed even in cooler weather, but we love it best in summer to the accompaniment of noisy kids.

Kids love the surprise feature of the fountain at PPG Plaza. Photo by Sally Quinn

PPG Place Plaza Water Feature

The 1-acre setting holds fairytale dimensions, surrounded by the walls of a shining mirrored glass castle. PPG Plaza is a gorgeous spot with a fountain that spurts water from ground level in an ever-changing pattern from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It’s a lovely piazza in the center of the city.

The real fun comes during the interactive hours between 6 and 10 p.m. weekdays and noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Kids dash through the vertically streaming water, which can go very high or very low, and sometimes stops altogether. The kids pause, awaiting the next onslaught, perhaps trying to anticipate the sequence with a foot over an opening. Then – surprise! – a splash and a squeal and they’re off and running again.

cool off
Deer Lakes Park’s newly renovated playground and spray park is now the largest playground in the Allegheny County Parks system. Photo courtesy of Allegheny County Parks

Allegheny County spray parks

Allegheny County Parks hosts two free spray parks – one in Deer Lakes Park and another in Round Hill Park. Both are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Labor Day.

At one-and-a-half acres, the renovated playground with spray park at Deer Lakes is the largest playground in the County Parks system. Kids love its terrific splash of cool after sweaty exercise. Park activities include a disc golf course and fishing on its three lakes, along with trails and sports fields for soccer, baseball, and softball.

At Round Hill Park, spend an afternoon with the animals at the Exhibition Farm, then cool off at the water park. Its design was influenced by a traditional red barn. The many picnic groves – with names like Alfalfa and Wagon Wheel – offer shady spots for a picnic lunch in between activities.

cool off
The stream cascading down the Water Steps attracts kids to its cooling pools. Photo by Sally Quinn

Water Steps

On the North Shore next to PNC Park, the Water Steps create a popular watering hole. Some kids make a splash before Pirates baseball games, others wander down along the river walk from a Carnegie Science Center visit.  And for some kids, it’s a destination all by itself.

The 500 blocks of Butler County sandstone are arranged to allow climbing and wading as the water cascades down like a mountain stream. The landscaping offers places for grownups to sit and supervise while kids splatter and play.

From the Water Steps, kids can watch river traffic, wave to boaters, and cool off in this beautiful urban setting. As the evening sun dips to a rosy hue, underwater illumination brightens the way.

cool off
Waltzing Waters at Station Square are choreographed to a musical theme that changes every 20 minutes. Photo courtesy of Station Square

Waltzing Waters

At Station Square, the Waltzing Waters provide a show every 20 minutes from 9 a.m. to midnight in Bessemer Court. This water feature includes a soundtrack along with the choreographed water dance and colored lights at night. Ten different shows range from Classic ‘80s Hair Bands and Christina Aguilera to Michael Jackson and Classic TV Theme Songs. Smaller kids will be more enticed by the Disney Magic Show. One of the newest is the Pittsburgh Sports Show with familiar announcers calling out big moments of the Penguins, Pirates, and Steelers.

With water shooting as high as 40 feet, kids can count on a saturating spray that will set their shrieking dance steps in and out of the line of water. Kids who don’t want to be completely drenched can ease back and enjoy the invigorating mist.

cool off
The spray park on Troy Hill is one of six scattered throughout Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of CITIPARKS

CITIPARKS spray parks

The CITIPARKS spray parks in Pittsburgh are scattered throughout eight neighborhoods: Vanucci Playground in Beechview, Burgwin Playground in Hazelwood, East Hills Park, Mellon Park in Shadyside, Cowley Playground in Troy Hill, Warrington in Betlzhoover, Arlington and the new Paulsen Spraypark. Find directions here.

These cooling playgrounds include movement sensors that – abracadabra! – magically turn on the water. You’ll find tunnels of misting jets, tall flower showers, and squirting tubes. The spray parks are designed for all ages, from the smallest toddlers to fun-loving teens. No swimming skills are required, just a love of liquid refreshment on a hot sunny day.

The spray parks are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with the exception of East Hills, which operates from noon to 6 p.m.

cool off
The spray blowing off the Point State Park fountain keeps kids dancing. Photo by Sally Quinn

Point State Park Fountain

Technically speaking, the magnificent fountain at Point State Park is not intended for wading – that activity is a no-no – or to be a spray park. But with handy seating around the 200-foot wide basin, just a wisp of a breeze will send a spray of cool water drizzling overhead. The fountain’s tallest blast of water hits 150 feet, with a splashdown that can drench nearby kids – if they are careful about moving into the soak zone and not out of it.

Science-minded kids will appreciate knowing there are 500,000 gallons of water in the system, pumped by six 150-horsepower motors. The replacement water is drawn from an aquifer through a 54-foot well. The fountain’s three peacock tail water features represent Pittsburgh’s three rivers – the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela.

The renovated Point Park is a great urban green space for families to bring lunch, soccer ball and Frisbee. Kids can learn lots more about the history of the place with a stop in Fort Pitt Museum and the historic Fort Pitt Block House. Best of all, this is probably the area’s only state park easily accessible by PAT transit.