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Elm Creek Play Area – Minnesota’s Biggest Playground?
Maplewood Nature Center – Permanently Closed, Nature Playground Open
Madison’s Place Playground, Woodbury

Elm Creek Play Area – Minnesota’s Biggest Playground?

You would be hard-pressed to find a kid who won’t like Elm Creek Play Area in the Elm Creek Park Reserve. Our family affectionately calls it the Rainbow Park. Two different parks in Minnesota make this list of the World’s Largest Playgrounds — Elm Creek and Hyland Park. When, I originally shared this, Hyland Park was closed for repairs, leaving Elm Creek the largest playground by default. Now I guess, someone will have measure the two playgrounds and make a definitive call! 

Elm Creek Play Area

After parking in the lot, you cross a bridge or run through the grass to begin this amazing playground experience. It has all the traditional fun of the playground fort and slides (but on steroids since the slides are 25 feet long).  Beyond that, though, there are so many other features of this playground that are hard to explain, but I am up for the challenge to try. Read More

Maplewood Nature Center – Permanently Closed, Nature Playground Open

During the summer of 2020, the City of Maplewood made the decision to not re-open the Maplewood Nature Center. Due to COVID19 and  budget concerns, the Nature Center will not re-open, but trails and the pond will be maintained. The nature playground will remain open. The staff will be laid off and the city will explore new ways to use the building. Read more here.

Take some time to add a little nature play into your busy schedules! Amenities at Maplewood Nature Center include a visitor center and nature play yard, as well as trails, gardens, and picnic areas on a 40-acre preserve operated by the City of Maplewood. For more information about Maplewood Nature Center and its programs visit the website or call ahead.

Maple Wood Nature Center

Maplewood Nature Center

Maplewood Nature Center’s Visitor Center

The visitor’s center offers families a quiet reading corner with children’s books and wildlife puppets. The younger kids will enjoy the crawl-thru log and touching skulls, antlers, furs and taxidermy subjects. While older children will enjoy exploring the live animals and informational signs and boards. Check out a pedal-power energy bike that powers a fan and lights. 

Neighborhood Preserves:

The Nature Center is the home base for Maplewood’s 14 beautiful open space sites scattered throughout the city. These nature preserves are sanctuaries for birds and wildlife, and provide a place for residents to hike, relax, and enjoy nature close to home. These preserves include Gladstone Savanna and Fish Creek Natural Area, both of which host nature events during the year.

Exploring the Trails

Trails wind through oak woods and marsh and are open every day from dawn to dusk. MNC recommends starting with the visitor center to learn a little about the surrounding environment before heading out on your hike or nature exploration. A helpful Phenology Calendar tells you which seasonal wildlife and plants you’ll most likely observe. While you are there, check out a nature backpack or bingo game. In the winter you can also rent snowshoes.

Maplewood has recently renovated its trails to be sustainable. They ask that visitors respect this by carrying out whatever they carry in, not disturbing wildlife, and not introducing new plants or animals (this includes your dog). You can grab a map and self-guided trail brochure in the Visitor Center or download a PDF copy here.

Make your hike an adventure by requesting one of these four self-guided activities from the Nature Center.

  1. Self-Guided Nature Trail: Match pictures with the posts as you walk the trails.
  2. Nature Bingo Hike: Try to match four pictures in a row as you hike.
  3. Waterworks Scavenger Hunt: Hunt for artsy items on stormwater structures while learning about waterworks.
  4. Tree Quest: Follow the clues to find and identify ten trees on the trail.

More Like This: Twin Cities Quests, Scavenger & Treasure Hunts for Families

The Nature Center Play Yard

The Nature Center Play Yard, which adjoins the visitor center, is designed to connect children with nature by using natural features such as materials for building forts, a small Discovery Trail that connects to the main trail system, climbing rocks and smaller rocks, stumps and logs, touchable native plants, a shrub tunnel and sand and chalk. You can borrow sand toys from the Visitor Center. There is also space for picnics.

10 Fun Things to Do in Maplewood’s Nature Play Yard

  1. Build a fort with the branches
  2. Explore the Discovery Trail that begins at the small arch bridge
  3. Conquer the kids’ climbing rock,
  4. Scramble over natural stumps, rocks, and logs
  5. Create chalk drawings on the sidewalk (you’ll find the chalk in the mailbox)
  6. Employ the senses to explore the native plants and flowers. Feel free to touch and smell as well as look and listen.
  7. Bring a picnic and enjoy an outdoor meal at the picnic tables
  8. Dig, build, shape and sift in the sand pit.
  9. Burrow through the shrub tunnel
  10. Watch butterflies in the nearby butterfly garden

Geocaching at Maplewood Nature Center

This park is part of Maplewood’s Geocache Passport Program. Stop by City Hall or the nature center for a packet or download this PDF.

Birthday Parties

Birthday Parties at Maplewood Nature CenterMaplewood offers naturalist-led birthday parties for as low as $80.00  (up to 12 children). There is also a $100.00 option (13-15 children). The organized party includes various themes, including an outdoor hike, snake, salamander, or toad party. Parties are geared to ages 4+. Parties include a decorated room and party favors. Parents provide the food. 

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Madison’s Place Playground, Woodbury

Outside HealthEast Sports Center in Woodbury, a splash pad and Madison’s Place Playground combine to create one of the most popular playgrounds in the Twin Cities metro. The city of Woodbury hosts several community events at this location each year, including four egg hunts, a 4th of July celebration, and a coin carnival. New for 2019, look for Splash Pad storytimes and pop-up events. Follow Woodbury Parks on Facebook to get alerts for these pop-up events.

Madison’s Place Accessible Playground at HealthEast Sports Center

Madison’s Place is an all-inclusive playground with sun-shaded play decks, swings, sensory play equipment and ramps for wheelchair access. 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. They hope this will be the first of many inclusive playgrounds.

Madison's Place Playground, Woodbury

Splash Pad at HealthEast Sports Center

During the summer season (Memorial Day to Labor Day), HealthEast has a free splash pad with two platforms — a larger platform with dumping buckets, nozzles and flower showers, and a smaller platform for smaller children. The splash pads have automatic shutoffs, but users can reactivate the system by simply touching a button located near each splash pad. Excess water is used to irrigate the sports fields. In season, the splash pad is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Nearby restrooms are available during these hours.

Madison's Place Playground, Woodbury

Learn More about offerings from HealthEast Sports Center here.

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