Mt. Washington – The Overlooks/ Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines

Designers: Bill Swain | City: Pittsburgh, PA | Project Type: edge, overlook
Date Visited: 09.13.12
Location: Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh

The best place to take pictures of the iconic Pittsburgh skyline and bridges are atop the Mount Washington Overlooks, designed by landscape architect Bill Swain.

Though beautiful, the overlooks aren’t the only highlight. The journey to the top is a fantastic, quintessential Pittsburgh experience: ascending the steep, 367-foot high Mt. Washington in a historic incline car.


Mt. Washington was dubbed “Coal Hill” in the late 1700s due to the abundance of coal deposits dug out from the steep hillsides. The German immigrants who worked these mines got tired of hiking up and down the hills to deliver mined coal to the steel mills below so they decided to install the German-style funiculars (inclined cable railways).

Consisting of tram-like vehicles that move up and down the steep incline, the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines that reach Mt. Washington are among the last remaining of their kind in the country. These inclines are a whimsical and charming reminder of Pittsburgh’s industrial past as well as a local favorite.

To get to the inclines (they both arrive on Mt. Washington, but depart from different areas), walk across the Smithfield St. Bridge and ascend the steps for the inclines. The fare is $3.50 for a round trip. I took the Monongahela incline up the hill and the Duquesne Incline down. Unlike the Monongahela, the Duquesne lets you off in a pretty remote area, but that’s the tram car you’ll need to get the best views of the point. The inclines are slow, a bit rickety, and very steep ride but makes for an incredibly fun experience. I’m not usually afraid of heights, but it was hard not to picture a nightmare scenario of the tram cars hurdling down the steep hillside.

But stomach the ride and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views on the overlooks.

Landscape architect and Pittsburgh-transplant Bill Swain is responsible for the design of flower-shaped concrete platform overlooks at Mt. Washington. In Swain’s obituary on the Post-Gazette, he’s quoted: “There’s always a fascination for people at an edge…The attraction may be subliminal but it is a key, I think, to why Pittsburgh is such an interesting place to be.”

The side of Mt. Washington closest to the Monongahela Incline has many overlooks and a small touristy, middle-income area surrounding it. Nearest the Duquesne Incline, however, the area became increasingly ritzier. The views towards Pittsburgh were fenced off or overtaken by fancy hotels and restaurants; reserved for those who could afford to pay for them.

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