Summertime Swimming Spots (Mon., 6/29/20)

Swimming and More: Sandcastle + State Parks with Beaches 

Look beyond the city to find wide-open beaches at state parks. This is one of several on the big lake at Pymatuning.

Look beyond the city to find wide-open beaches at state parks. This is one of several on the big lake at Pymatuning. (photo: Kathryn Hamilton)

It’s not a great summer for sunning and swimming at your favorite pool. City and Allegheny County pools are closed, as is the historic Dormont Pool, while the Crawford Pool in Shaler Township is open only to Shaler residents. Swimming in the rivers? Pittsburghers have done it for generations, but more than a few have drowned, so we are not up for recommending it nor for posting a list of precautions. One hint, though: Swimming while intoxicated is an insanely bad idea. 

On the bright side: Sandcastle opens to the public July 11 (July 7 for season passholders), offering a wave pool and lots of water slides. Online reservations are required and daily capacities are limited—which should mean shorter lines at the slides. 1000 Sandcastle Dr., West Homestead. Also, state parks are already open, and several within striking distance of Pittsburgh have lakes with sand-beach swimming areas. They have other attractions as well, so you can make it a “swimming plus” jaunt. Here’s a quick look at four popular parks. 

Raccoon Creek State Park—31 miles and about a 35-minute drive from Gateway Center, Downtown—has a swimming beach on a tiny lake, plus hiking/biking trails and a campground. 3000 PA Rte. 18, Hookstown. Moraine State Park, 40 miles and 40 minutes from Gateway Center, has two swimming beaches on manmade Lake Arthur, about 29 miles of hiking trails, and limited biking trails. The lake is a meandering, multi-armed one of middling size (about five square miles total) that’s often a close-to-town choice for sailing, canoeing, and other forms of boating. 225 Pleasant Valley Rd., Portersville. Pymatuning State Park is farther—89 miles, about an hour and a half drive—but offers more, and has plenty of campground for multi-day stays. Pymatuning Lake is a truly spacious body of water: over 26 square miles, with several islands. There’s a big sand beach plus mid-sized to small ones; sailboats and kayaks abound. Numerous small towns ring the lake, and though dedicated bike trails are few, the surrounding terrain is popular for road biking, with scenic roads that roll through farmland and countryside. Park office: 2660 Williamsfield Rd., Jamestown. The lakes at Moraine and Pymatuning enforce a 20-hp limit for motorboats, which means you’ll have relative quiet and no speedboats. 

Finally, going ‘way north to Erie (132 miles, two hours and change), Presque Isle State Park isn’t really an island but a peninsula reaching into Lake Erie. Attractions here: multiple sand beaches, the only real opportunity for “surf swimming” (when the wind kicks up the lake), and all sorts of boating with no horsepower limit. There’s a 13.5 mile bike-and-foot trail within the park. Privately operated campgrounds are nearby. 301 Peninsula Dr., Erie.