Anyone who has ever visited a playground can tell you how much fun they provide for children of all ages. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that playgrounds not only provide fun and entertainment, but that they also provide important opportunities for children to learn and foster new skills. At playgrounds, children tackle new challenges, using their problem-solving abilities to assess the risks and rewards and utilizing perseverance and determination to master new skills. Playgrounds also provide an arena for children to socialize with their peers, building interpersonal skills such as sharing and collaborating.
Playgrounds provide exciting learning opportunities that build a child’s self-confidence and let their creativity flourish. Outdoor play allows children to explore and interact with their world, all while getting much-needed fresh air and physical activity. There are some amazing playgrounds in the United States with unique and interactive equipment that is sure to delight children and their families. Here is a ranking of the 50 Best Playgrounds in the U.S.; they are sure to make you wish that you were a kid again.
50. Rural Studio Lion’s Park Playscape: Greensboro, Alabama
There is a sea of old steel drums dotting the landscape in Greensboro, Alabama, but it’s not because it’s the site of a landfill. Instead, this labyrinth of 2,000 recycled 55-gallon galvanized steel drums is an imaginative playground conceived by students at Auburn University’s Rural Studio. In a former life, the drums were used to transport mint oil. In their new arrangement, they are a maze that kids can explore by running, hiding, jumping and climbing. Sound tubes and sensory rooms are hidden throughout the maze, and there is even a large sunscreen made of old drums that hang over the playscape, keeping the area cool and comfortable.
49. Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Located in East Fairmount Park, Philadelphia’s Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse is situated on 6 ½ acres of original historic landscape. The playhouse mansion, built in 1899, is a sprawling 16,000 square feet. It caters to children five years old and under while the playground is for children ten and under. The playground is also enormous, covering the span of six football fields. It includes “Swing City,” the “Tot Lot,” and a giant slide that is almost 40 feet long, allowing up to 12 children at once. Best of all, the entire park is free and there is ample parking.
48. The Geometry Playground: Traveling provided by Exploratorium
For the most unique and inspiring playground design, look no further than the Geometry Playground. This is a traveling exhibit without a permanent home. This playground aims to change the way you think about geometry by engaging your brain and body in playful investigations into the subject. The traveling playground delves into the invisible geometry of light, from points of view to reflections. It also explores the angles, arcs and shapes created by motion. Lastly, it focuses on patterns and shapes and how they fit together in space. The interactive activities that are part of this traveling playground are sure to mesmerize children and adults alike. It provides an amazing way to get children excited about math by relating it to real world phenomena. Hopefully, they’ll be passing through a town near you.
47. Blackberry Farm Adventure Playground: Aurora, Illinois
Blackberry Farm is Fox Valley Park District’s living-history museum where pioneer life is recreated in interactive ways. The Adventure Playground located there is reminiscent of a rustic, historic farm settlement. The layout encourages children to go from one activity to the other as they make their way through the multi-level buildings. There are climbing decks, rope tunnels, catwalk bridges, slides and zip-lines to get you to each new and exciting destination. Throughout the playground, colorful panels educating children about fruits, vegetables, and grains help to incorporate the farm setting.
46. Adventure Playground: Berkeley, California
This half-acre park situated on the Berkeley Marina on San Francisco Bay certainly doesn’t appear to be a playground on first glance, but rather looks like a seaside junkyard. The dirt ground and chaotic appearance of structures belies the innovative theory at work. Adventure Playground is one of a handful of the country’s “wild playgrounds” that embraces free, unstructured play where children can cut loose as they self-organize and become better problem solvers. Here, children are encouraged to pick up a hammer and nails and some wood out and see what they can create. Paints and brushes are also available, and children are invited to paint almost any surface at the park. Children at Adventure Playground have the unique opportunity to truly explore and manipulate their surroundings in whichever ways suit their imagination.
45. Brooklyn’s Playground: Pocatello, Idaho
With a community full of volunteers who believe in “the gift of play,” Brooklyn’s Playground is a place for all children to interact and grow together. Led by the parents of Brooklyn Fisher, a girl with spina bifida, the playground is accessible to the 11 percent of students in the Pocatello-Chubbuck school district who have a disability. That’s nearly 3,000 children who benefit from this all-inclusive playground, which features pretend tractors, a general store, a clock tower and a rocket ship, among other things. There are ramps to all of the play structures, accessible swings that can accommodate children with disabilities, and solid surfaces throughout.
44. Castle Park: Winter Park, Florida
This community playground in Winter Park is a creation from nationally renowned playground designer Robert Leathers. It has on old playground style that parents who grew up in the 1980’s will be sure to appreciate, as the park features natural wooden structures that resemble a castle fort. The playground is complete with swings, monkey bars, recycled tires to climb and swing on, secret little nooks for hiding, and several slippery metal slides. Thanks to the oak trees covering the play area and providing shade, these metal slides stay cool to the touch; a big improvement over the metal slides that parents remember from their childhood.
43. Dodge Town Park: Merriam, Kansas
Situated in the sprawling Antioch Park, the Dodge Town play area features pint-sized buildings that transport children to the Wild West. The row of main buildings includes a general store, post office, hotel, and bank. This quaint miniature Main Street creates the perfect setting for pretend play and games of hide and seek. Nearby, there are two adjoining, modern play areas that include a rock wall, jungle gym, and slides. The playgrounds are all accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. There are also plenty of benches and picnic areas, making Dodge Town Park an ideal destination for the entire family.
42. French Park Playground: Plymouth, Minnesota
This playground, located in the French Regional Park, is a classic wood and rope playground. The large, interconnected system of spider web rope nets, wooden posts and tires let children test their balance and strength and enjoy some friendly competition with their friends. While not flashy in any way, the park provides hours of entertainment as children climb, jump and maneuver their way through the equipment. The park also features areas that are more suited to toddlers and their abilities.
41. Hadley’s Park: Potomac, Maryland
Hadley’s Park in Falls Road Park is truly accessible to all children, even satisfying the needs of the visually impaired. Built in 1999, the park features braille throughout its signs and games as well as high edge curbs, allowing children who are visually impaired to play alongside the other children. The park features a hard yet yielding surface that is perfect for wheelchairs, not to mention bikes, scooters and rollerblades. This rubber-based surface covers 34,000 square feet, making it one of the largest pour-in-place playing surfaces in the world. Within this footprint, the park is divided into three main areas that look like a pirate ship, a castle, and a fort, encouraging children to play make-believe. The ample free space within the park ensures that children will get plenty of exercise running from one activity to the next.
40. Natural Playground: Westport, Connecticut
Situated within the Leonard Schine Preserve, this playground was built completely with natural materials that were all found directly on the preserve. Geared toward children from three to seven years old, this 10,000 square foot meadow has areas for building, digging, climbing and creating nature collages. There are also walking trails and an “elvin village” where children play with dolls made out of pinecones. The natural elements are seamlessly integrated into the surroundings of the park, creating a wondrous world of adventure waiting to be explored.
39. La Laguna Playground: San Gabriel, California
La Laguna Playground, affectionately known as “Dinosaur Park” by its guests, is a whimsical play destination that has been delighting children since 1965. The park is known for its 14 concrete monster sculptures designed by Mexican artist Benjamin Dominguez. The sea creatures include a dragon with a slide built into it, an octopus with eight legs to climb on, and a whale with a cavernous mouth to explore. The park was slated for demolition but luckily a group of preservationists stepped in and the colorful sculptures were restored for more generations to enjoy.
38. Medora Children’s Park: Medora, North Dakota
Medora may be just a small town, but it features some amazing playgrounds. Medora Children’s Park was created thanks to the help of over 300 volunteers who constructed the space. The playground’s quaint western theme is reminiscent of a simpler time. The false storefronts and fort make up an Old West town, complete with a stagecoach and train engine. This free attraction is open to children of all ages, letting everyone experience the fun of being a cowboy first hand.
37. Riverview Park: Mesa, Arizona
With its bright blue ground surface and impressive climbing equipment, the playground at Riverview Park is truly a site to be seen. The landscape is dominated by a 50 foot tall Genesis climbing tower that will challenge even the agilest climbers. This is the largest structure of its kind in the world and can fit up to 250 people at one time. The park also features a 60 foot long caterpillar mesh rope climbing structure that builds children’s coordination. There is also a huge splash pad that is perfect for those hot and steamy days. The park includes two different play areas: one for children aged two through five and another for those aged six through twelve.
36. Discovery Playground: Auburn, Washington
Discovery Playground allows children of all ability levels the chance to discover their environment in a truly interactive way. Located in Les Gove Park, Discovery Playground lets children with disabilities play right alongside their able-bodied friends and siblings. Ramps, bridges, and transfer stations allow everyone to reach the highest deck of equipment. Sand tables, interactive walls, and activity panels are easily accessed by all. The sensory garden provides a series of integrated spaces that are devoted to the five senses of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. This barrier-free playground promotes acceptance and compassion, both important values for children to embrace.
Photo Credit: City of Auburn
35. Shiver Me Timbers Playground: City of Lake Charles, Louisiana
The Shiver Me Timbers Playground, situated right on the water, is a part of Millennium Park, also known as Bord du Lac Park. Originally, the site held a wooden playground that was funded entirely through public and private donations and built by over 6,000 volunteers in September, 2000. Unfortunately, the park was destroyed by a fire a mere four months later. Amazingly, volunteers rebuilt the park in less than a year, and it is now bigger and better. Twice the size of the original, the new playground was built with plastic materials and is accessible to disabled children. It features a 40-foot long pirate ship and a 20,000 square foot Eagle’s Nest structure giving children a view of the entire playground from the top.
34. Possibility Playground: Port Washington, Wisconsin
Here is a place where all children are reminded of the possibilities that are available to them in life. Port Washington’s Possibility Playground allows children of all abilities to play together. Playtime quickly turns into learning time and therapy time thanks to the variety of over 30 specialized pieces of equipment and activities available at the playground. There are monkey bars, musical alligators, bridges, and a pirate ship complete with waves, a motion platform and a rain wheel. The poured-in-place latex-free soft surface that spans the size of a football field is easy and safe to maneuver.
33. Preston’s H.O.P.E.: Beachwood, Ohio
Preston’s H.O.P.E. is a magical playground located at the Mandel Jewish Community Center and open to the public. The playground, which provides opportunities for children with a wide range of abilities, has play areas with swings, slides and tunnels perfect for preschoolers and school-aged children. The Imagination Village features make-believe houses, including a school house and a hair salon, which are all connected via an elevated, accessible walkway. This allows children in wheelchairs to view the world from high vantage points that they don’t typically see. There is also a Play Theatre complete with a performance stage and a Sand & Water Area where kids can dig for dinosaur fossils.
32. Rotary Centennial Park: Jonesboro, Arkansas
Designed to enable children of every ability to explore together, the Rotary Centennial Park located in Craighead Forest Park is 70 percent universally accessible and yet still challenging for all of its guests. Adorned in bright primary colors, the park features a wheelchair track, a fort, swings, a bank-shot basketball court, an elevated sand play area, and picnic areas. A new and exciting addition is the water splash pad. The park’s location on the water offers a serene view for parents as well.
31. Big Creek Playground: Poly City, Iowa
Featuring a large wooden playground built in the classic castle style and situated right on the lake, the Big Creek Playground provides good old fashioned fun for all children. Parents will enjoy watching the sailboats scurry across the lake while their children scurry up and down the playground. Children can hang from monkey bars, walk across balance beams, bounce from huge tires, and climb up and down the castle towers. Parents can reminiscent about their own time playing on playgrounds just like this.
30. Michael E. O’Donovan Playground: Westbrook, Maine
The playground at Spring Harbor Hospital is the first playground in the region designed to specifically meet the needs of children on the autism spectrum. The playground is safe yet still physically stimulating, allowing children to explore their environment and build their physical skills, as well as their cognitive understanding. There is soft cork flooring and a variety of different textures to feel. The playground may be small, but it provides a wealth of sensory integration activities to stimulate learning among children with developmental disabilities.
29. Westminster Center Park: Westminster, Colorado
Perhaps better known by its visitors as “Peter Pan Park,” the Westminster Center Park sprawls over 9.5 acres which include a walking trail, plaza, playground, amphitheater, water features and grassy expanses. The playground itself is based on Neverland, the vibrant world created in the classic Peter Pan story. There is a pirate’s cove and ship-themed play equipment, a Neverwood Forest with tunnels and slides built into the artificial logs and boulders, and an interpretation of the Darling House that Wendy, John, and Michael lived in. This fantastical park will have children and parents alike singing “I won’t grow up,” just like Peter Pan did.
28. Tatum’s Garden: Salinas, California
Tatum’s Garden describes their mission as bringing a one-of-a-kind, shoulder-to-shoulder play experience for children, regardless of ability. They transformed an old parking lot into a huge playground that was envisioned and built by the community. Reflecting the rich agricultural history of Salinas, California, the park features an agricultural theme. There is even a virtual vegetable garden in the playground. Tatum’s Garden includes a tot lot for small children, a quiet corner for anyone with sensory issues, music stations, as well as your typical swings, see-saws, slides, and climbers.
27. Teardrop Park: New York, NY
Providing a green sanctuary in the middle of New York City’s bustling Battery Park, Teardrop Park is a hidden gem within the community; one that many locals still don’t even know about. The park features natural plantings that offer a welcome retreat from the concrete jungle of the city. The play area holds a slide, sand pits and a water playground. The other half of the park is a broad lawn providing open play space for children as well as park benches, a rock seating area, and a small wetland play path. The two areas are divided by a large rock wall and connected by a short tunnel. Being in New York City, the park wouldn’t be complete without some art, and works by Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil are on display.
26. Blue Lake Regional Park: Fairview, Oregon
This 101-acre park, located near the south shore of the Columbia River, includes playing fields, boat houses, picnic areas, ponds, wooded areas, a lake and a wetland. There is a 40 mile paved loop that runs through the park and is open to hiking and biking. There is a 3,500 square foot spray playground stocked with fun activities that give children plenty of room to run around. When you’ve had enough hearing the squeals coming from the spray playground, you and your family will find ample space to roam and enjoy the peace and quiet that this serene park can provide.
25. Union Square Park Playground: New York, NY
This 15,000 square foot park is truly the only space of its kind in New York City. The three outdoor sections of the park feature different play equipment for various age sets. While there is plenty of traditional play equipment such as swings, sand pits and climbing structures, you’ll also find exciting modern equipment like The Nest, the Cat-Tails, and the Icarus. The checkerboard rubber flooring and gleaming silver semicircular climbing domes give the park a distinct look and enliven the plaza perimeter. Water features, spiral climbers, and horned talk tubes provide plenty of action for children, and the gardens and greenmarket in Union Square provide plenty to keep parents occupied as well.