Photo above by Sally Quinn.
Hot weather, cool water and energetic kids make the perfect equation for summertime fun. Running through the sprinkler in the backyard is a blast. But why not explore the wild, wild wet found throughout the Pittsburgh area? While many public pools operate only limited hours due to staffing issues, there are plenty of other options — including many of Pittsburgh’s spray parks.
Neighborhood spray parks, county parks and architecturally designed fountains offer a different take on a most welcome splash of refreshment. Here’s a roundup of our favorite places to beat the heat this summer:
The Cloud Arbor
Kids love running through and around this little forest of upright steel poles. The 64 glowing 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 mist that shifts and develops as the breeze moves it. When the jets on the poles stop emitting fog, the cloud in the air evaporates. All that’s left are screaming, jubilant children running and jumping as they wait for the next cloud to appear.
Located in front of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Cloud Arbor was designed by artist and MacArthur “genius” Ned Kahn as an engaging public art sculpture. Its beauty can also be enjoyed in cooler weather, but we love it best in the summertime in the company of noisy children.
PPG Place Plaza water feature
The 1-hectare PPG Place Plaza is of fairytale proportions, surrounded by the walls of a gleaming, mirrored glass castle. PPG Plaza is a beautiful space with a fountain that spurts water from the ground in an ever-changing pattern daily from 6am to 10pm. It’s a lovely piazza in the center of town and a great place to relax on a summer’s day.
The real fun comes during the interactive hours between 6pm and 10pm on weekdays and 12pm to 10pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Although children are asked not to run through the water splashes (and we’re told that security on the square often has to politely ask children to get out of the water), anyone standing at the edge and the dancing water probably will observed Enjoy a cooling mist when the breeze blows.
Spray parks in Allegheny County
Among the many spray parks in Pittsburgh are two operated by the Allegheny County Parks System – one in Deer Lakes Park and one in Round Hill Park. Both are free and open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. through Labor Day.
At 4 acres, the renovated Deer Lakes Playground and Spray Park is the largest playground in the County Parks system. Children love its great coolness after sweaty exercises. Park activities include disc golf and fishing at the three lakes, as well as hiking trails and playing fields for soccer, baseball, and softball.
Spend an afternoon with the animals at the Exhibition Farm in Round Hill Park, then cool off in the water park. Its design was influenced by a traditional red barn. The many picnic groves – with names like Alfalfa and Wagon Wheel – provide shady spots for a picnic between activities.
On the North Shore next to PNC Park, the Water Steps are a popular spot. Some kids splash out before Pirates baseball games, others stroll down the river path from a visit to the Carnegie Science Center. And for many families, the Water Steps are a destination in themselves.
These 500 Butler County sandstone blocks are arranged in a way that allows you to climb and wade as the water cascades down like a mountain stream. The landscaping provides space for adults to sit and supervise while children splash and play. From the Water Steps, kids can watch the river traffic, wave at boaters and cool off in this beautiful urban setting. As the evening sun bathes in a rosy hue, the underwater lights illuminate the path. There’s also often a cart selling cold treats during peak hours, so bring cash!
At Station Square, The Waltzing Waters at Bessemer Court have a show every 20 minutes from 9am to midnight. 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 children will be more attracted to the Disney magic show. One of the newest is the Pittsburgh Sports Show, with well-known announcers announcing big moments for the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers.
With water shooting up to 40 feet, kids can count on a satiating spray that will set their squeaky dance steps in and out of the waterline. Kids who don’t want to get completely soaked can sit back and enjoy the invigorating mist.
CITIPARKS Spray Parks (eight of them!)
Pittsburgh’s CITIPARKS Sprayparks are scattered across eight boroughs: 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.
These chilling playgrounds feature motion sensors that—abracadabra! – magically turn on the water. You will find tunnels with mist nozzles, high flower showers and spray pipes. The spray parks are designed for all ages, from the smallest toddlers to fun-loving teenagers. No swimming skills are required, just a love of liquid on a hot sunny day.
There are also 19 other CITIPARKS with smaller sprays, such as Marmaduke Park in Brighton Heights and Nelson Mandela Park in Garfield. The full list can be found here.
The spray parks are open daily from 10am to 8pm, with the exception of East Hills which is open from 12pm to 6pm. The Beechview and Burgwin spray parks are currently closed as they await parts for repairs. Check the website for updates.
Point State Park Fountain
Technically, the magnificent fountain at Point State Park isn’t meant for wading — that activity is a no-go. It’s not officially a spray park. But with convenient seating around the 200-foot-wide pool, even the slightest breeze sends a drizzle of cool water trickling over visitors. The fountain’s highest jet of water reaches 150 feet, with a splash that can drench nearby children if they happen to be in the soaking zone.
Science buff kids will appreciate that the system holds 500,000 gallons of water 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 – Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela.
Renovated Point Park is a great urban green space for families to bring lunch, soccer balls, and Frisbees. Kids can learn a lot more about the history of the site with stops at the Fort Pitt Museum and the historic Fort Pitt Block House. Best of all, this is probably the only state park in the area that is easily accessible via PAT transit.
Community Spray Parks
Several local communities have their own spray parks that are open to everyone for free. Leetsdale has a spray park on Ohio River Boulevard (fenced in, of course!), Moon Township boasts a new space-themed spray field and playground, and Pine Township. Pine Township currently requires reservations, which can be found here.