station square fountain
The Fountain at Bessemer Court in Station Square. Photo courtesy of Station Square.

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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? While many public pools are operating on limited hours due to staffing issues, there are plenty of other options — including many Pittsburgh spray parks.

Neighborhood spray parks, county parks, and architecturally designed fountains offer a different take on a most welcome spritz of refreshment. Here is a roundup of favorite spots to beat the heat this summer:

Photo by Ed Massery

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 as they await 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.

The plaza at PPG Place Place. Photo by Mihai Balaban.

PPG Place Plaza Water Feature

The one-acre PPG Place Plaza 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 and a great place to relax on a summer day.

The real fun comes during the interactive hours between 6 and 10 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Although kids are asked not to dash through the water sprays (and we’re told that the security staff at the plaza often has to kindly ask kids to step out of the water), anyone standing at the periphery watching the dancing waters is likely to enjoy a cooling mist when the breeze blows.

Allegheny County spray parks

Among the many Pittsburgh spray parks are two run by the Allegheny County Parks system – one in Deer Lakes Park and another in Round Hill Park. Both are free and 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.

Water Steps

On the North Shore next to PNC Park, the Water Steps are a popular spot. Some kids make a splash before Pirates baseball games, others wander down along the river walk from a Carnegie Science Center visit. And for many families, the Water Steps are a destination all by itself.

These 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. There’s also often a cart selling cold treats during busy hours, so bring cash!

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 for 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.

Photo courtesy of the City of Pittsburgh.

CITIPARKS spray parks (eight of them!)

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.

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.

There are also 19 other CITIPARKS with smaller spray features, such as Marmaduke Park in Brighton Heights and Nelson Mandela Park in Garfield. You’ll find the full list here.

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.  The Beechview and Burgwin Spray Parks are currently closed as they await parts for repair. Check the website for updates.

The fountain at Point State Park
The fountain at Point State Park in Downtown. Photo by Silvia Fang for Unsplash.

Point State Park Fountain

Technically speaking, the magnificent fountain at Point State Park is not intended for wading – that activity is a no-no. It’s not even officially a spray park. But with handy seating around the 200-foot wide basin, even the slightest breeze sends a spray of cool water drizzling over visitors. The fountain’s tallest blast of water hits 150 feet, with a splashdown that can drench nearby kids if they happen to be in the soak zone.

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 balls and Frisbees. 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.

Community Spray Parks

Several local communities boast their own spray parks that are open to anyone for free. Leetsdale has a spray park bordering Ohio River Boulevard (with a fence, of course!), Moon Township boasts a new space-themed spray pad and playground, and Pine Township. Pine Township currently requires a reservation, which can be found here.

For more ways to stay cool this summer, read 10 great creeks to explore around Pittsburgh.

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