Swimming and More: Sandcastle, State Parks, and Other Beaches
It’s going to be a great summer for sunning and swimming at your favorite pool. City and Allegheny County pools will both be open, as is the historic Dormont Pool, and the Crawford Pool in Shaler Township. 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.)
We can’t forget that the water wonderland known as Sandcastle is now open and they have a new water slide for the season. 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. Laurel Hill State Park also has a nice sand beach and amenities at Laurel Hill Lake and is about an hour and twenty minutes from Pittsburgh in the Laurel Highlands. While there also enjoy beautiful hiking along creeks and hemlock trees. 1454 Laurel Hill Park Rd., Somerset.
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. (M.V.)
North Park Swimming Pool and Trails — from early June (for the pool) and trails any time.
The Pittsburgh area has many beautiful public parks. Let’s zoom in on a couple of great features at just one. North Park is the largest in the Allegheny County park system, and so popular that some parts get quite crowded on weekends. Yet it has under-appreciated assets—notably the North Park Swimming Pool. Opened in 1937, this is one of the largest public pools anywhere, 50 meters wide and 105 long. And it’s not a wave pool, so you can swim 50-meter laps crosswise, bring children to make their own waves (how creative!) in the shallow end, and bask in the gorgeous traditional setting. Also somewhat out of sight, except to those in the know, is the network of multi-use trails in North Park. Over 40 miles of trails wind through the hills and woods, very suitable for biking, running, or hiking. Pools open June 4; trails are always open. North Park’s main entry is 303 Pearce Mill Rd., Allison Park. (M.V.)