Denver kids are spoiled in their ability to enjoy the outdoors with endless options for play. An old concept that is becoming new and fresh again is the idea of nature play areas. Transitioning from large metal play structures, city parks are now beginning to morph into more organic spaces where children are encouraged to play in the dirt, balance along logs, splash in water and use their imagination.
Natural Playgrounds in the Denver Area
Find a slice of nature in the heart of the city at Johnson Habitat Park. A first of its kind, where planners developed the first “environmental education-focused park in Denver” this space is a must see. Once a landfill dump site, it is now home to natural log play areas, kid-safe boulder climbing, outdoor classrooms, campsites, bike paths and pedestrian trails all along the South Platte River.
Kids of all ages will find the perfect place to explore, while parents revel in the natural beauty of the area. Watch them catch crawdads in the river, discover the brilliance of the landscape and use their imaginations to take them to another world.
The 6.3 acre natural playground at First Creek Park aims to separate itself from colorful metal parks so commonly found. A distinctive aspect is the fully accessible, double log bowl swing that is integrated into the landscape. It invites those visiting to play on the forest trails, walk along the natural amphitheaters, climb on the boulders, and swing across the ropes.
In January, along with the airport, Denver Parks and Rec acquired an additional 500+ acres adjacent to the park to be used as open prairie grassland, meant to protect the fragile environment and the species that inhabit it!
If prizes were given for the coolest natural playground, Westminster Station Park would probably take home the blue ribbon. Located across from the Little Dry Creek Dog Park and the Westminster Light Rail station, it is the crown jewel of their Parks & Rec Department. Highlights include a small “mountain”, water and sand play features, a tree house, switchback trails and a fossil dig site. All designed from natural materials, the 5 acre site is equitable, accessible and meant to be used by all citizens.
The popular Washington Park has always been an attraction for locals and visitors thanks to its lake, picturesque flower gardens, water features and walking trails. The addition of the natural, yet colorful play area takes it to another level. It is whimsical while also being subdued, allows imaginations to run wild with traditional play features while also incorporating innovative techniques to keep children grounded. It is the perfect combination of both old and new.
Bluff Lake Nature Center is a nonprofit agency that owns and manages a unique urban wildlife refuge and outdoor classroom. It is home to an abundance of animals and native plants which thrive in a variety of habitats. Bluff Lake is Denver’s largest open space managed as native habitat, and Denver’s only nonprofit nature center. If you are looking for activities, the nature center offers mini-camps, scout activities, field trips, after school projects, scavenger hunts and even birthday party packages!
One to look forward to, The Denver Museum of Nature & Science and Denver Parks & Recreation are breaking ground on the Nature Play & Waterway Restoration Project in City Park! They are aiming to bring to life “an immersive experience designed for accessible, multi-generational, and multi-sensory exploration, respite, and play.”
The project will be in construction through late 2024.
Looking for a day trip? About 45 minutes from Denver is Lafayette’s Nature Kids Discovery Zone. Sharing the grounds of the Alicia Sanchez International Elementary School is this two acres plot of play area built with a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. Children can enjoy the natural elements of our state, while jumping, climbing, running and exploring. Its creek inspires park goers to appreciate wetland ecosystems while the trails provide connectivity to the trail system of town. Use the picnic areas for a full day of fun!
Another one that requires a small drive, but is one hundred percent worth the time is McKay Lake Nature Play Area in Broomfield. The site has a large play zone with multiple interpretive experiences, a bike skills park, pump track, adaptive sports zones, a nature-based fitness course and trails all in one area. It is unique, represents all the natural ecosystems that can be round in Colorado, and is utopia for outdoor loving children.
Happy playing, exploring and enjoying the beauty of Denver.