My preschooler’s request for a simple picnic in April turned into a full afternoon of nature play, wildlife spotting and cargo-net clambering. And, thanks to the warm temps, we were able to be outdoors for hours. Bonus: if you can make it out before school is out, you’ll beat both the crowds and the mosquitoes! Here are 10 things we’re confident kids of all ages can enjoy at the RICHARDSON NATURE CENTER and HYLAND LAKE PARK RESERVE in Bloomington:
Try Out Some Of These Fun Ideas: 65+ Fun Nature Play Ideas for Kids
Go wild in the Nature Exploration Area
In this unstructured outdoor space within the park reserve, build away at stick shelters and bridges over a shallow ravine. It’s amazing what happens when kids realize that going to the “playground” doesn’t have to involve a plastic slide and swings.
Put on a one-of-a-kind show
There’s a woodland puppet theater inside the Richardson Nature Center. I had a front row seat for the children’s production of “Wake Up, It’s Spring!” This is just one of the indoor activities to take advantage of when the weather isn’t prime for playing outdoors.
Go on a mural scavenger hunt
The walls of the nature center are absolutely popping with colorful critters. Pick a card from the scavenger hunt bucket and see if you can spy the corresponding animal in its natural habitat.
Take a book break
A preschool-sized pond-shaped table and cattail chairs make a great spot to spread out with nature puzzles and books.
See what you can spot in the backyard
In the “backyard observation room” an activity box is stocked with binoculars, birding charts and other suggestions for getting kids interested in observing wildlife common in Minnesota. A wall of windows overlooks a space arranged with bird feeders, hollow logs, a small pond and ample trees to encourage the wildlife to put themselves on display.
Get up closer to birds of prey at the indoor/outdoor raptor exhibit. My preschooler displayed her more sensitive side as we talked over how the nature center treats injured birds from the wild.
Check out free exploring equipment
It’s possible to check out tools at the front desk including junior-sized pond kits and birdwatching equipment in handy backpacks. Then, take to one of the gentle trails looping around the nature center. All six are less than a mile in length for younger hikers.
Preschool & family programming
Preschool programs & Free Family Fun Days are presented weekly or monthly at Richardson: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs, My Preschooler & Me, Puppet Escapades, and Free Family Fun Days are inexpensively priced and ideal for the whole family. Find any of these through the Three Rivers Program Calendar.
Cool off at the beach
BUSH LAKE BEACH is conveniently across the road and features a sandy space, guarded swimming, concessions and grills. The beach officially opens in early June and you are allowed to swim at your own risk. Vehicle permits have been waived in since 2021.
A giant playground nearby
The “Chutes & Ladders” playground is the well-known and well-deserved nickname of the giant HYLAND LAKE PARK RESERVE playground just down the road from the nature center and beach. 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! To avoid disappointment, we recommend checking the Three Rivers Play Areas page for closures.
Richardson Nature Center within
Hyland Lake Park Reserve
8737 E Bush Lake Rd, Bloomington
Park hours: 5am-10pm
Nature center hours: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm
Hyland Play Area hours: 9am-sunset, April-October
Admission is FREE for the above.