In many cases, weekend guides in popular cities focus on the main attractions that you should see and do. We enjoy these (and even wrote about them all in our first time in Pittsburgh weekend guide), but more often than not they leave us wondering what else a city has to offer outside of the iconic spots.
For our weekend guide series, we wanted to look at Pittsburgh from different perspectives. To do this we put together what we think are awesome itineraries for those who are on a mission to dive deep into just one aspect of the city.
For our outdoors weekend in Pittsburgh guide, we wanted to share some of our favorite outdoor spots in and around the city, all while keeping some of the major highlights in mind that you'd expect to visit during a weekend to Pittsburgh.
Note: Unlike other guides in this series, we know that going outdoors for a long hike can be rather exhausting. As such, we've built more downtime into this guide so you can relax or explore nearby attractions and Pittsburgh neighborhoods on your own.
Friday Evening – Arrive and Walk (or Bike) the North Shore River Trail
As is the case with most of our weekend guides, we want to start your Friday night off with a proper Pittsburgh experience- namely taking in a great view of the city!
Our favorite outdoors experience for enjoying the views of Pittsburgh is walking or biking the North Shore River Trail, starting at the free parking spots on River Avenue.
From the parking lot, head west (turn right if facing the river) and walk the quiet trail underneath the sister bridges (the Rachel Carson, Andy Warhol, and Roberto Clemente in order as you come to them) and continue down past PNC Park, the Mr. Rogers Memorial Statue, Heinz Field, and the Science Center before turning around.
If you plan your visit at the right time, the sunset colors will illuminate the city and provide an opportunity for some stellar photos.
- For those who want to walk a bit further than this two-plus mile route, you could alternatively walk across the Clemente Bridge, continue west along the river trail on the downtown side, and explore Point State Park as well without much extra effort.
- For those who want to bike the route instead, Healthy Ride offers bike share kiosks around the city with the locations at Federal St. and E North Ave.; Isabella St. and Federal St.; 21st St. and Penn Ave.; and 17th St. and Penn Ave. being some of the closest to these trails. Bikers should also check out the east sections of the river trail (left if facing the river) which offers a more natural setting than the bustling city to the west. (We do not suggest biking the trail at night, however.)
If you venture downtown, Butcher and the Rye, tako, and Proper Brick Oven are in easy walking distance- just be sure to make reservations in advance as these hot spots book up fast (some over a month in advance)! If you decide to stick around the north shore, several restaurants such as Nicky's Thai Bistro and Max's Allegheny Tavern are worth the visit as well.
Saturday Morning at Carrie Furnaces or a City Park
When it comes to exploring nature and outdoor spots in Pittsburgh on weekends, there are a number of parks and historical sights in Allegheny County to check out.
One of our favorite historical spots in the city is the former Carrie Furnaces, and during the summer months Rivers of Steel offers a fantastic tour of what remains of the furnace grounds. Between the gorgeous views and unique history, this is one is uniquely Pittsburgh. Just be sure to reserve your spot in advance!
For those who prefer hiking, there are several parks with miles upon miles of hiking trails- all right within the city limits! These parks are great for shorter hikes that don't require a full day's time commitment:
- For those who want to take in some unique views of the Cathedral of Learning while walking through wooded trails near Oakland, we recommend Schenley Park. The park also has a great open grassy area, Flagstaff Hill, for picnicking or relaxing with a book. Playgrounds, a sports complex, a swimming pool, and even a disc golf course combine to make this park one of the best in the city.
- For those who want more traditional hiking trails, check out Frick Park in Squirrel Hill/Regent Square. The trails are generally well-marked and wind up and down the wooded hills. The Frick Environmental Center, a stunning new LEED Platinum building opening September 10th, 2016, serves as a welcome center to the park as well as an educational center for children. If you've brought along your four-legged friend, there's also a fenced-in, off-leash dog area in the park.
After checking out the city's parks, a visit to Squirrel Hill or Regent Square for lunch is in order!
Squirrel Hill has a number of delicious dining options, with an emphasis on Asian (Everyday Noodles and Chaya are some of our favorites) and Jewish cuisine (Nu Bistro with its modern/fusion options and Smallman Street Deli with its classic deli menu are a few places worth checking out- try the Reuben at either!).
Regent Square is a smaller neighborhood with a more eclectic vibe, and is home to restaurants such as Square Cafe (a popular breakfast/brunch spot), Biddle's Escape (an offbeat neighborhood cafe), and D's Six Pack and Dogz which has dozens of beers on draft, over 1,000 beers in their beer cave, and a large food menu with hot dogs, burgers, pizzas, and more.
If you've taken in any of the above morning activities, odds are good you're going to want to go back to your hotel for a break so we are keeping the remainder of the afternoon open for you to enjoy the city at your leisure.
Saturday Evening Based on Your Interests
For Saturday evenings, there are a number of great outdoor activities available in the city. We'd like to make several varied recommendations and let you decide based on your mood (or how hard you hiked in the morning), the weather, and your itinerary as a whole. A few great options include:
- For music fans, we recommend heading to Riverview Park in the summer months to catch the Citi Parks summer jazz series- a free show on the hill in front of the Observatory. Popular movies are screened in the park immediately following the shows as well.
- For movie fans, we recommend heading to Grandview Park in Mount Washington. Like Riverview Park, Citi Parks hosts movies on Saturday nights in the summers at this location as well, with the skyline of Pittsburgh as a gorgeous backdrop!
- For photographers looking for more iconic views of the city, an hour-long sightseeing cruise on the Gateway Clipper is a great way to take in the city from a unique angle- on the rivers!
- For those wanting a drink, head to Strange Roots and/or Grist House in Millvale- two Pittsburgh breweries with nice outdoor seating areas that also host delicious Pittsburgh food trucks.
- For the sports fan, you can't go wrong with catching a Pirates game at PNC Park if the weather, season, and your budget allows.
- For those looking for something a bit more off-beat, we recommend heading to Mellon Park in Point Breeze/Shadyside after the sun goes down to check out the Ann Katharine Seamans Memorial which only comes out at night (note: this one will not be visible if snow is on the ground).
In other guides we would take this moment to recommend a restaurant in the neighborhood of our activity recommendation; however, since this section is based on your interest you may end up in any part of the city. For restaurant recommendations check out our best restaurants in Pittsburgh guide or explore our interactive map at the end of the post to find restaurants near your location!
Sunday Take a Morning Trip North of the City
We would not do any outdoor guides to Pittsburgh justice without recommending a day trip out to one of the many incredible state parks we have in the region. Our favorite parks are both about 45 minutes north of the city, and are quite worth the drive. So plan for an early start on Sunday, as you'll need it if visiting one of the following:
- Moraine State Park is centered around the 3,000-acre Lake Arthur, making it the perfect spot for boating, swimming, fishing, or windsurfing. There are also 28 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking trails, and horseback riding trails. The hiking trails wind along the lake and provide many scenic viewpoints.
- McConnells Mill State Park is situated around Slippery Rock Creek with the two main hiking trails running along either side of the creek. The rock formations along the creek are particularly picturesque, providing many great spots for photo ops. The other main highlights of the park include the old mill, a museum of sorts complete with guided tours by park rangers, and a covered bridge built in 1874 which is one of the largest Howe style truss bridges in the state.
From there, Sundays in Pittsburgh are hit-or-miss depending on what you are interested in as many businesses are closed or maintain odd hours, so you'll do well in planning the activities for the day ahead of time (our Sundays in Pittsburgh guide is available here to give you a good place to start).
As this weekend guide has you traveling all over Pittsburgh (and beyond), picking one or two neighborhoods for hotel recommendations is tricky as you could, quite literally, stay anywhere.
Perhaps the most convenient part of town for those who are exploring many of the parks featured in this guide is the North Side- home to many museums, sports stadiums, and off-beat-attractions that are perfect to fill some of your downtime with. In addition, you have easy access to the river trails for Friday night, the highways to get around and out of the city, as well as a decent selection of restaurants nearby.
A selection of great Pittsburgh hotels in the North Side include the following (The below links may include affiliate information. We may receive a small commission if you make a purchase.):
- Residence Inn North Shore
- SpringHill Suites North Shore
- Holiday Inn Express North Shore
- Hyatt Place North Shore
When it comes down to it, this weekend guide only scratches the surface of the outdoor activities Pittsburgh has to offer. One of the things we love most about this city is that there is always something fun to do, and to truly see it all you'll have to return to visit many times in the future!
Looking for more great things to experience in Pittsburgh? Check out our Things to Do feature which covers all of the best restaurants, attractions, and destinations in the city covered on Discover the Burgh so far! For more hiking trails, we recommend picking up a copy of the book 60 Hikes in 60 Miles – Pittsburgh Edition!
Have a recommendation for outdoor lovers in Pittsburgh? Comment below to share!