While you aren’t likely to plan your next family vacation around a playground, there’s no doubt that once you arrive at your destination, you’ll end up at one when the kids need to burn off some energy. Some days, any playground will do, but if you’re looking for something more than a slide and a swing set, these awesome Minnesota playgrounds will inspire even the parents to get in on the fun.
Children of all abilities will find several inclusive playgrounds around Minnesota. A new addition to Bemidji’s popular Paul Bunyan Park, the area’s first all-inclusive playground features rubberized surfaces, ramps for wheelchairs and walkers, and high-back swings and spinners, all with a north woods theme. One of the largest accessible playgrounds in the country, the new playground at Willmar’s Robbins Island Park has a wheelchair-accessible liberty swing, dedicated tot area, zip lines, misting station, spider web and much more.
In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Woodbury’s Madison’s Place opened in 2016 for children with and without disabilities to be able to play side by side. In addition to accessible zip lines, teeter totters, swings and spinners, the play area also has a splash pad for cooling off on hot days.
South of the Twin Cities on the Mississippi River, Colvill Park in Red Wing is home to a massive universal playground as well as a wheelchair-accessible raised-bed garden. Other accessible playgrounds can be found at Wilson Regional Park in St. Cloud and Silver Lake Park in Rochester.
In a state known for its great outdoors, sometimes you don’t need manufactured slides and swings to create a great place to play. Duluth’s Hartley Park is a destination for nature lovers of all ages, and its natural playscape is filled with nature-made structures like stumps for leaping, logs for balancing, and sand for digging holes all the way to China.
About 30 minutes south of St. Paul in Farmington, the nature play area at Whitetail Woods Regional Park allows children of all ages to build dams and forts, climb and balance on boulders and logs, and splash in water and mud puddles (with a restroom nearby to wash off before getting back in the car).
For the preschool and younger set, the play yard at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska is divided into three zones by age and features sand and water play areas, hopping stumps, a tree swing and a stage for dramatic play. Arboretum admission is $15 for adults and free for youth 15 and under.
Sand, water, mud, wood, a garden and a manufactured rock wall will keep the kids entertained for hours at Tamarack Nature Center, about 20 miles north of St. Paul in White Bear Township. Unique activities include building a tree fort, watering the vegetables, and crawling around in the hobbit house.
Animals, Art & American Ninjas
Stillwater’s Teddy Bear Park is a kid magnet thanks to its larger-than-life stuffed animal statues and other fun elements, like a giant tree house and colorful choo-choo train. Animals are also a draw at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve in Rockford, where woodland creatures like eagles, raccoons and woodpeckers can be found hiding among the slides and tunnels.
For artsy types, Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer features over 100 artist-designed sculptures, several of which encourage visitors to climb, swing, slide and play on them.
Teens may think they’ve outgrown playgrounds, but they haven’t seen this one in Golden Valley’s Schaper Park (just west of Minneapolis’ popular Theodore Wirth Park). The outdoor challenge course takes cues from the reality competition show “American Ninja Warrior,” complete with a timer that participants can start before moving through the many obstacles. The park also features a new, all-inclusive play structure.
Rain or snow in the forecast? There are still plenty of options for playground fun indoors. In the Twin Cities area, towns including Maple Grove, Eagan, Edina, Chanhassen, Ham Lake, Minnetonka and several others have indoor play spaces that range from standard to spectacular. Most charge a daily fee of $4-$9 per child depending on the location; babies and parents are usually free. Elsewhere in the state, similar play areas can be found in Winona, Rochester and Detroit Lakes.
Another great way for kids to stay active year-round is at Minnesota's children's museums. In St. Paul, the recently renovated Minnesota Children's Museum features a four-story play area called The Scramble, where guests ages 5 and up can take off their shoes and scale the towers, crawl across the netted catwalk and zoom down the twisty slide (there are also tot areas for the littler ones). At the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato, bridges, tunnels, tubes and nets come together to create a giant, climbable tree fort.