Summer is the perfect time to leave the beaten path around the neighborhood park and explore some of the more unique playgrounds in the Twin Cities. We’ve been trekking to all corners of the metro to find and share new places to climb, slide, splash, swim and entertain your little bundles of energy this summer. Here’s our list of the 10 Best:
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10 of the Best Twin Cities Playgrounds
Last year, many of these playgrounds and beaches closed for health and safety reasons. We are not aware of any closures in 2021, but, when in doubt, we recommend calling ahead.
Round Lake Park | Eden Prairie
Our kids have enjoyed being able to run freely between the marine-themed splash fountains and the treehouse-ish play structure adjacent at the Round Lake Play Area. The playground also features quite the unique merry-go-round. Makes us sick just to look at it, but it probably won’t faze your older kids. Those older kids also might find it fun to rent youth kayaks ($5/hr), stand-up paddleboards ($8/hr) or bike ride the one-mile path around the lake. Nearby is plenty of shaded picnic space, a sandy beach and the new Round Lake Skate Plaza.
Hyland Play Area | Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Bloomington
The “Chutes & Ladders” playground is the well-known and well-deserved nickname of the huge Hyland Lake Park Reserve playground. There are myriad climbing and sliding opportunities for all ages here plus sand and a small spray zone. Just be prepared for crowds when school gets out and a challenge when it comes to locating your kids! Make a day of it just down the road at the Richardson Nature Center and Bush Lake Beach.
Elm Creek Park Reserve | Maple Grove
You would be hard-pressed to find a kid who won’t like Elm Creek Park Reserve’s Play Area. Gianna’s family affectionately calls it the Rainbow Park for its bright color scheme and equally enticing play equipment. The area covered is large, but fenced in with a single opening to ease the worries of losing little ones among the climbing apparatus and sandy dino dig. If you’re up for it, next door to the playground is the sand-bottomed, chlorinated Elm Creek Swimming Pond. At just $5/pp admission to swim, that’s a full day of bargain family fun.
Schaper Park | Golden Valley
Attention parents of tweens and teens: this is a playground that will capture their interest as well as younger siblings! The Schaper Park Challenge Course is said to be designed for ages 13+, but we found that much younger kids also enjoy tackling obstacles that participants navigate over, under, around, and through as they race against the clock.
There are two “challenges” that can be timed by stop clocks – a 40 yard dash (2 participants at a time) and a series of obstacles in a switchback layout. The turf is very soft and forgiving throughout the park. The only true “challenge” we experienced is that there is often a short line for the stop clock and it can be difficult with many kids playing at the park to get a clear path through the course. Don’t let that stop you from trying!
Central Park | Maple Grove
Maple Grove’s Central Park is a delightful doozy. It includes a huge and beautifully designed playground with plenty of challenging features for older kids, a garden, illuminated splash fountains, space to rent for birthday parties, trails and green space. The playground, carpeted with a forgiving rubber surface, is divided into seven separate play areas and includes a 24-foot climbing tower, a climbing wall that goes the distance, slides, swings and sand areas.
During the wintertime, take a spin on an LED-lit, refrigerated ice loop through the park. It is completely free to skate. Bring your own skates or rent from the pavilion onsite – which also has a fireplace for warming up.
Madison’s Place Playground | Woodbury
What makes Madison’s Place Playground stand out is its unique, all-abilities-are-welcome design. Sun-shaded play decks, swings, sensory play equipment and ramps for wheelchair access all take into consideration the needs of a very special set of families. The playground was brought to life through the Madison Claire Foundation whose continuing mission is to set a standard for how people think about and plan for inclusive play.
During the summer season, Madison’s Place – located on the campus of the HealthEast Sports Center – has a free splash pad with dumping buckets, nozzles and flower showers, and a space for smaller children.
Wabun Picnic Area | Minneapolis
Wabun is home to one of our personal favorite park pools – one of those hybrid options that feature the zero-depth entry and spray features that parents of younger children love along with a little deeper water to practice swim skills. The park also has terrific playground equipment that was recently installed to replace the old, worn-out stuff. My youngest loves the shaded sandy play area and the swaying vintage camper trailer, a nod to the park’s roots as an auto tourist camp. There is also ample covered picnic space at Wabun, perfect for that power lunch before, middle or after a rousing day at the pool and playground.
Bonus idea: If you think your kids might be up to the walk (it’s also possible to drive and park closer to the visitor center at 5000 W River Pkwy, Minneapolis), there’s a path that will take you from the Wabun Park Picnic Area down to Lock and Dam No. 1 on the Mississippi riverfront. The Visitor Promenade is open daily during park hours and little ones might enjoy spotting watercraft moving through the locks from a birds-eye view.
Shady Oak Beach Community Play Area | Minnetonka
Spend a day digging in the sand; there’s no shortage of it at Shady Oak. There is sand carpeting much of the play area (heads up, the equipment is best appreciated by kids under 8) and a sandy beach spanning 76 feet across the shoreline of a clear spring-fed lake. Lifeguards are on duty when the beach is open. The lake is deep enough to allow the beach a high dive if you’ve brought older kids along. Visitors can also rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
French Regional Park | Plymouth
We dearly loved the old French Regional Park playground with its maze of climbing nets and wooden watchtowers. But while it’s sad to see it go, Three Rivers took the community’s love of the mazes and nets into account when creating the replacement. The image below (courtesy of Three Rivers Park District) shows an overhead view of the new playground – including nets, mazes and watchtowers.
Carver Lake Bike Playground, Woodbury
We’ve heard great things about the bike playground at Carver Lake Park in Woodbury. It is quickly becoming a reader favorite. Kids of all ages can choose between a tot track, pump track or an advanced loop. In addition to the bike playground, find a beach and two traditional playgrounds.