As the newest member of CLP’s newest location, I’m keenly aware of summer’s approach as I plan our presence at neighborhood festivals, farmers’ markets, and other quintessential summer happenings. And while the writers of this blog have a well–documented love of the out-of-doors, I haven’t seen anyone mention what I consider to be our region’s best outdoors asset: Pittsburgh offers tons of natural beauty and strenuous outdoor activity right in the city limits. So for the countryside-averse, the car-less, and the time-pressed urban outdoorspeople out there, here are some of my favorite sources for info on how to get your hike/bike/boat on in the city of Pittsburgh.
Bob Regan’s The Steps of Pittsburgh: A Portrait of a City (Local History Company, 2004)
Recent research out of McMaster University in Ontario suggests that brief, extremely strenuous bursts of activity (known as intervals) yield health benefits comparable to longer, lighter workouts. Following that logic you may be able to get a year’s worth of cardio workouts done in an afternoon by traversing Pittsburgh’s quirky city steps. Follow Regan’s exhaustive survey of city streets that no car or bike can use to take your urban hikes to new heights.
So you’ve gone on a moonlight kayak tour, maybe paddled around the Point a little bit, and now you feel ready to explore Pittsburgh’s three beloved rivers on your own. Great! If you don’t want to bump into a bridge pile or run aground at Brunot’s Island, make a note to stop by the Main Library in Oakland and check out the navigational charts for the Allegheny, Mon, and Ohio rivers.
Louis Fineberg’s 3 Rivers on 2 Wheels (Mon Quixote Press, 2002)
The spandex-clad diehards will likely always consider Oscar Swan‘s Bike Rides Out of Pittsburgh to be the ultimate statement on rides in the area. But as the title implies, Swan’s routes all take the most direct path out of town. For those of us who prefer to stay within a quarter mile of a good restaurant, cafe, or library branch, Lou Fineberg (scroll down a bit after the click) keeps you in the neighborhoods with his excellent 3 Rivers on 2 Wheels. Just be sure to cross-reference your ride with a current map at Bike Pittsburgh’s website. The Pittsburgh cycling infrastructure was nowhere near where it is now when Fineberg penned the guide ten years ago.
Franklin Toker’s Pittsburgh: A New Portrait and Buildings of Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009) and Buildings of Pittsburgh (University of Virginia Press, 2007)
When you’re hiking out in the wilderness you might take along a field guide to help you identify birds, plants, and whatever else you might encounter out there in nature. When you’re hiking in Pittsburgh, give yourself a little cultural context by bringing along these guides to architecture and the history of the built environment of Pittsburgh. Toker, a popular professor at Pitt and architecture historian of national renown, uses buildings as a jumping-off point for an examination of the cultural, economic, and political history of Pittsburgh. And just as you might hope to spot a yellow-bellied sapsucker on a hike in the Allegheny Forest, you can get a similar thrill by spotting a Scheibler, a Burnham, or a Kahn where you’d least expect them to be.
Part of the joy of getting outside in the city is discovering new favorite places right in your neighborhood. You can’t always plan these discoveries–I found one of my favorite secret running route connectors when my street was blocked by a festival and I needed to get my groceries into the fridge before the ice cream melted–so the most important thing is to just get out there.
Do you have a favorite outdoor spot in the city? If you do, please mention it in a comment for others to discover!