Everyone swims at their own risk. Open water swimming is dangerous. This site is for experienced open water swimmers looking for information about swimming in Pittsburgh, PA. Use of this website and any information contained therein is at your own risk.
Is the water clean? Sometimes. There are several variables to consider when planning a river swim; the top two need to be double checked right before swim-time.
- Current. Since our rivers are controlled by locks and dams, conditions may change quickly. Always start your swim against the current (upstream, like a salmon), and finish with the current. A very rough approximation given our rivers typical size/depth is 10k cfs ≈ 0.5 mph (good explanation here). If a river narrows or is shallow, the current will be much stronger.
- Sewer overflow. Pittsburgh rivers are subject to combined sewer overflow (CSO). 💩 This means that after a heavy rain untreated sewage may be ejected into the rivers. It is never a good idea to swim within 24 hours of any significant rainfall.
- Temperature. Most swimming pools are 78º – 84º F . Be careful swimming in water < 70º F; know the signs of hypothermia. Also water that is too warm is dangerous. All-American Fran Crippen died racing in water > 86ºF. Check water temperature from the USGS here:
- Weather. Obviously, do not swim during bad weather. Due to Pittsburgh’s CSO problem (see #2 above 💩), avoid swimming after rainstorms; CSO status may not update immediately. Always check the radar before swimming.
- Traffic. Avoid swimming in the river during times when boat traffic is heavy, particularly weekends. Events like Pirates games cause an increase in boat traffic. Bring a kayak escort when possible, and/or swim with a buddy. Always swim defensively; don’t stray far from shore. Wear a brightly colored swim cap. Consider a swim buoy to help with visibility.
Locations from which to swim
This is an excellent trail and map guide (pdf) for the 3 Rivers Water Trail. Dangerous areas are marked with a warning sign ⚠.
Beware of broken glass, fish hooks, and other hazards along the rivers’ edge and bottom. Always swim upstream first! Here are a few public spots with good water access. I would like to add to this list. Please contact me with your suggestions.
- Kayak ramp under the 6th street bridge, north shore. Mornings are best. Added bonus: bring a friend and rent a kayak during the warm months.
- From 6th street bridge to RR trestle ~ 0.4 mi .
- From the 6th street bridge to the Veterans bridge ~ 0.6 mi.
- From the 6th street bridge to Heinz factory stacks is ~ 1 mi.
- Freedom Rd boat launch. Quiet backchannel swimming behind 12-mi Island. Use the public launch, not the private dock.
- From launch to tip of 12-mi island is ~ 0.5 mi.
- From launch to turnpike bridge is ~ 1 mi.
- Duck Hollow launch. Cross the steel bridge from the trail parking area, and look for a sidewalk that leads to the river. There is a long shallow wade-out to the channel (water shoes recommended). The channel is deep. Stay to the side, be visible, watch for barges. This is a beautiful section of the Mon and is my personal favorite swimming spot.
- First railroad trestle is ~ 1 mi.
- Verona public dock. There is a marina < 0.2 mi upstream, bring a kayak escort.
- Lawrenceville kayak launch. Under the 40th St bridge, city-side. No dock, footpath down to the waters edge.
- South side kayak launch at the 18th St boat ramp. Walkway down to the water just upstream from the motor boat launch. Very close to the new marina upstream, bring a kayaker for safety.
- Millvale park. The rowing dock on the Millvale side of the backchannel is public, anyone can use it. The TRRA dock on Herr’s Island is private. Watch for rowers and shallow spots. 2017 update: The back channel is too shallow for swimming; if you wade in at Millvale park you can swim between the tip of Herr’s Island and the 40th St Bridge. Caution: there is a marina just beyond the bridge.
Many lakes near Pittsburgh have swimming areas. If you are anxious about open water swimming, check out one of the designated swimming areas at lakes within an hour drive of Pgh: Keystone, Raccoon, and Moraine state parks.
Everyone swims at their own risk.
Always watch out for debris, rowers, jet skis, boats, and barges.
About me: I am a lover of both Pittsburgh and open-water swimming. I founded the open water swim program for our local triathlon club. I have been outspoken about the benefits and risks of open water swimming in our community. I am not a very fast swimmer, I’ve never swum more than 8 miles in one day, and I am not an expert, a coach, nor am I able to offer anyone advice other than some tips on how to enjoy our rivers, which I did my best to present here.
Swimming with a friend in the Allegheny,
typically the cleanest of the three rivers.