This summer we are exploring ways to have fun close to home. Why cross the metro when there is fun at your doorstep? Today, we’ve pulled together some family fun south of Minneapolis & St Paul in the community of Bloomington.
Note: In 2020, we are facing unique closures and delays. While we are writing this article for now, we also hope it will prove useful in the future. We’ve listed projected opening dates for anything that is currently closed. For an up-to-date listing of what is and isn’t open in Bloomington Parks, check the city website.
1. Can’t beat the giant playground at Hyland Lake Park Reserve
Hyland Play Area (or “Chutes & Ladders” as the original park was known in my generation) is right up top in the running for Minnesota’s largest playground. There are myriad climbing and sliding opportunities for all ages here plus sand to dig in and a small spray zone. Be prepared for crowds when school is out; this is a ridiculously easy park to lose track of little ones in.
In addition to the playground, Hyland Lake is home to the Richardson Nature Center, which is stuffed with kid-friendly exhibits, live raptors, a nature play area and very deserving of your time. Make plans for your visit there with 10 Things for Kids: Richardson Nature Center & Hyland Lake Park.
Learn more about family fun at Hyland Lake Park Reserve.
2. It’s not always winter at Hyland Hills Ski Area
So technically Hyland Hills is included within Hyland Lake Park Reserve, but there’s so much going on there we felt its own entry was warranted. During the winter months, the hills are a premiere family skiing and snowboarding destination. But think outside snow season – after the spring melt, the Hyland Hills Disc Golf Course opens. Summer brings free live music, lawn games and movies on a natural outdoor amphitheater. And when fall colors are at peak, take a chairlift ride to admire them. You can get the complete event calendar on the Hyland Hills website.
Learn more about the year-round activities at Hyland Hills Ski Area.
3. Catch some rays at Bush Lake Beach
Know before you pack your beach bag: Bloomington’s Bush Lake Beach is located on the EAST side of the lake, so don’t head to West Bush Lake Park hoping to swim unless you don’t mind hiking about a mile around the lake to reach the beach. However, if you park in the beach lot you will pay a daily vehicle permit of $8.
We rate this beach one of the best in the Twin Cities. Besides swimming, families can canoe, play sand volleyball, picnic and explore the trails.
Learn more about Bush Lake Beach.
4. Best summer entertainment at Normandale Lake Park
The bandshell at Normandale Lake Park comes alive during summer evenings with the Thursday Night Blockbuster Series. Bring a lawn chair and your picnic dinner; the music starts at 7pm. For something more up the kids’ alley, Moir Park (see separate entry below for more) hosts the Monday Morning Kids Series weekly at 10am, June through August. The family entertainment is part of Bloomington’s Arts in the Parks series. Please see the city’s website for the most up to date schedule.
Learn more about Normandale Lake Park.
5. Get zen at the Normandale Japanese Garden
The kids probably won’t let you meditate, but what else is new? You still might find some balance among the tranquil paths, pond, bridges and waterfall. The best times to visit the park with kids are in the spring for the cherry blossoms or in the fall for the annual Japanese Garden Festival. Pick up a self-guided tour brochure at the park shelter. Note that as the garden – one of the few public Japanese gardens in the Twin Cities – is located on the grounds of Normandale Community College, it is not a city-operated park. Admission is free.
Learn more about the Normandale Japanese Garden.
6. History comes alive at Pond Dakota Mission Park
Don’t bill your visit Pond Dakota Mission Park as a history lesson. Tell the kids you’re taking them to play at the Pond House – and if they happen to learn something along the way, that’s just icing. The park encompasses a former mission site and interprets life for settlers and native people during the mid-nineteenth century. Sunday Open Houses at the Pond House are super family-friendly – just ask my daughter (below) who got to dress up Civil War-era style. Each week features a new activity or theme. Admission is a suggested $2/pp; it is free to visit the park and take a self-guided tour.
Learn more about living history at Pond Dakota Mission Park & Gideon Pond House.
7. Nature backpacks at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
The huge wildlife refuge hugs almost 70 miles of Mississippi shoreline. Take just a bite out of all that nature at the Bloomington Education & Visitor Center. My kids got excited about borrowing free “Let’s Go Outside” backpacks to explore; these come stocked with tools like binoculars and bug jars (if you’re into creepy-crawlies). They also found it pretty cool to complete activity booklets and earn Jr. Refuge Manager badges. Other things to check out: a bird observatory with a great view (below) and lots of interactive indoor exhibits.
Learn more about the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington.
8. Splashy fun at Cedarcrest Park
Hidden behind a Bloomington church and school (and a massive parking lot) is pocket-sized Cedarcrest Park. It’s easy to miss, but parents with tots not yet ready to swim will want to keep this one on the radar. The park is home to the city’s only splash pad – and this one has unique rubber tile flooring to keep the little ones safer. The splash pad is open daily, 8am-8pm. There’s also a small playground with a separate tot lot.
9. Discover a hidden creek at Moir & Central Parks
Nine Mile Creek burbles into Bloomington from the northwest corner and makes its merry way through many of the city’s parks. You can get a sizeable sample of the creek on a largely hidden path through Moir Park, up through the Harrison Picnic Grounds and down into Central Park. This would make for a manageable hike with sturdy kids (a bit less than two miles one-way). There are other things to do nearby in the parks such as a free disc golf course and the kid-centric summer Monday Morning Kids Series.
Learn more about what you can find in Moir Park and Central Park.
10. Play all day at Valley View Park
Aside from the multiple ballfields that dot the park, Valley View may be best known as the home of the Bloomington Family Aquatic Center. Fun features include a zero-depth entry pool, climbing wall, water slides, diving boards, and a concession stand. If a day at the pool doesn’t wear your kids out, Valley View also has a playground and a skate park.
Learn more about the Bloomington Aquatic Center.
Keep exploring! More Close-To-Home Park Articles:
- Minneapolis Parks
- Eagan Family Fun: 10 Parks to Explore This Summer
- Burnsville Family Fun: 9 Parks To Explore This Summer
- Maple Grove Family Fun: 10 Parks to Explore This Summer
- Roseville Family Fun: 10 Parks to Explore This Summer
- Woodbury Family Fun: 19 Parks to Explore This Summer
- Chanhassen Area Family Fun: 8 Parks to Explore This Summer