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Ahh, park season. The time of year when all the neighborhood kids gather for kickball and tee ball games, sliding and swinging until dusk, sipping lemonade and making the most of Minnesota's brief but beautiful summer season. If your family is anything like mine, people who live around you know you as the "park people." Your tiny neighborhood park is your automatic go-to when the sun is shining and the pent-up energy in your children has reached an emergent (borderline dangerous) level of ridiculousness. I swear by our neighborhood park.
But... seven days a week, two times a day...carry the one...do the math.
That's an awful lot of visits to the same.tiny.park.
Sometimes it's worth a hop in the car and a short drive to go somewhere huge, exciting and different! There are a number of great outdoor play areas around the Twin Cities, and I've collected a short list of some of our personal favorites for you here. Your kiddos will thank you for trying something different – and (bonus time!) they're sure to sleep realllllly well.
ELM CREEK PARK RESERVE | Maple Grove, MN
Definitely an all-timer, this park! It's relatively new, so all the equipment is in great shape and it just feels so safe. There is something for everyone here – from big slides and rock walls to a robust toddler area. The rubber matting and colorful umbrellas make it fun and welcoming for kids and parents alike. There is a sand pit with some dinosaur fossils, high-tech saucer swings, a rope climb, and plenty of seating for parents who want to take a break or enjoy a picnic lunch.
This play area is tucked back in the woods of the Elm Creek Park Reserve. Just follow the signs to the Recreation Area.
TAMARACK NATURE CENTER | White Bear Township, MN
Sometimes a park needn't supply all the bells and whistles to still be considered one of the top play areas in the metro. Tamarack Nature Center is a natural play area for kids of all ages to get wet, built forts, climb rocks and run. Just run. The kid's area is part of Bald Eagle-Otter Lakes Regional Park and includes an ankle-deep stream for kids to dip their feet, small waterfalls that are controlled by the push of a button, a hobbit house (that is awesome for the sole fact that it's - hello - a hobbit house!), and a section with long sticks and twigs where kids can construct their very own tree forts...with a little help from mom and dad.
LAKE MINNETONKA REGIONAL PARK | Minnetrista, MN
If you've got kids of varying ages and struggle to find a playground that will make all of them happy, try this one on for size. The two-level play area sits along Lake Minnetonka as part of the Three Rivers Park District and is enormous(-ly awesome) with slides that go from the top level to the bottom. Personally, I love that this place is swing-less, but it has plenty of bridges, tunnels, ladders and rock walls. The ground is safe and rubbery and the tables are shaded and plentiful. This park is a great destination for spending an entire morning climbing, hiking, enjoying a picnic lunch and maybe cruising to the chlorinated man-made swimming hole across the parking lot.
CLIFTON E. FRENCH REGIONAL PARK | Plymouth, MN
Do your kids require a bit more of a challenge? If you're up for something different, give French Regional Park's play area a shot. This one is also part of the Three Rivers Park district, sitting at the northern shores of Medicine Lake, and is surrounded by gorgeous woods and a paved trail that would make for a great family bike ride. The play area is old-school wood with the metal slides we all remember from our childhood (you know, the kinds that would leave burn marks on your butt cheeks when you'd wear shorts on a hot day). The most unique element of this play area is the climbing nets. About half of the large playground is made up of netting that kids can scale up then down then up and down again. If you're little monkeys are adventurous and game for something different, this park is the winner!
HYLAND LAKE PARK RESERVE | Bloomington, MN
Chutes and Ladders Park is SO enormous, it's actually pretty easy to lose track of your kids here. But – man, is it fun! This inventive playground – also part of the Three Rivers Park district – offers nets and chains to climb, a toddler section, two-level slides, tire swings, cushioned ground, tunnels, sand, and a large seating area to enjoy a picnic lunch. This place is perfect if you have children of varying ages. It's honestly one of my very favorites because your kids can be entertained for hours and never do the same thing twice. Just be sure you put a bell on them. :)
TEDDY BEAR PARK | Stillwater, MN
Just like the rest of Stillwater, Teddy Bear Park is clean, unique and completely adorable. The paved walk leads you through the park, which sits conveniently at the top of the hill just off of their equally-as-adorable downtown. With a small net spiderweb, a stone wall for little climbers, a tall treehouse, and a few trains with duel slides, Teddy Bear Park is a great adventure for preschoolers. And there is plenty of seating for moms and dads! Bonus: Right down the hill is Tremblay's Sweet Shop, so your kids can gain back all the energy they just burned in sweet water taffy.
CLIFF FEN PARK | Burnsville, MN
We recently discovered this one when hanging in the southern metro, desperately seeking a stop to burn off our sillies. It's not huge and it's nothing out of the ordinary, but it's got everything that makes up a solid, standard park, with safe plastic equipment and plenty of space to run. With a rock wall, tire swings, regular swings, see-saw, toddler spot and bridges and slides for bigger kids, this woodchip-covered park is a great stop when cruising down south.
TREASURE ISLAND | St. Paul, MN
As part of EXPO Elementary School, this community park is the real deal. An old, wooden play area shaped like a pirate ship, this playground was constructed by volunteers who wanted a fun and safe place for neighborhood kids to play. While it's 100% wood (read: not 100% safe), it's a total blast for kids who have creativity and an endless imagination seeping through their pores! It serves well for those who love a tricky game of hide and seek as well. It's small, but unique. Bring a sword and an eye patch and you're sure to be thoroughly entertained.
There. Now you have a metro-wide list of some pretty awesome playgrounds to enjoy when your neighborhood go-to is no longer entertaining your wee ones. No more excuses! Get outside and enjoy that sunshine. You'll be glad you did when you hear the sound of silence come 8pm. Zzzzzzzz....ahhhhh....music to my ears.