A new type of playground is on the rise and the children in the Denver Metro area are reaping the benefits. But these playgrounds aren’t focused on who has the tallest slides or the fastest merry go round — and aren’t even made out of plastic or metal! Instead, these parks are built in harmony with the environment and formed by natural materials like trees, dirt, and water.
And kids love them.
According to Gordon Robertson, Director of Park Planning for Denver Parks and Recreation, “Studies show that when kids go to a traditional playground, they get bored quickly, whereas with nature play done well, kids stay longer and come back more frequently.”
Here are five of the latest and greatest natural play areas in the seven county metro area.
Spending time outside the city can be difficult when you are based in central Denver. But with the help of the Johnson Habitat Park, you can now find a slice of nature in the heart of the metro.
As one of the “first environmental education-focused parks in all of Denver”, Johnson Habitat Park is located right near the South Platte River. Some of the park’s features include natural log areas, large boulders for kid-safe climbing, an outdoor classroom and even campsites with fire rings where you can stay overnight.
It’s truly the perfect place for kids of all ages to enjoy a playground unlike others they’ve been to.
Ian Harwick, president of the Athmar Park Neighborhood Association states, “It’s an amazing park and…the investment on the river is long overdue for the city.”
In 2019, Mile High Flood District celebrated the opening of the 6.3 acre natural playground, First Creek Park, which was built in partnership with Denver Parks and Recreation as an Elevate Denver bond project.
Located in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, First Creek Park is now one of the best, fully accessible, natural playgrounds in Denver. It features a one-of-a-kind double log bowl swing set, sideways trees and boulders to use as climbing structures, beautiful trails and a natural amphitheater.
Valerian LCC — First Creek Park
Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds — First Creek Park Natural Playground
Denver Gov — Mayor Hancock, City Officials and Partners Celebrate First Creek Park Ribbon Cutting
Raising the bar for natural playgrounds is Westminster’s newest natural play area. Located across from the Little Dry Creek Dog Park and the Westminster Light Rail station, this playground features “a ‘mountain,’ embankment slides, sand and water play areas, climbing obstacles, bridges and lookout towers — all constructed from natural materials and designed to encourage children to unleash their creativity and connect with nature.”
The park comes complete with a picnic area and restrooms making it a wonderful choice for a full day of fun, outdoor adventures and activities, all right outside of Denver.
Westminster Legacy Foundation — Nature Playground
City of Westminster — Westminster Station Park: Nature Playground project
Denver Post — Westminster Welcomes Hub of Tree Houses in New Nature Playground
Sharing the grounds of the Alicia Sanchez International Elementary School in Lafayette, Colorado is two acres of play area and open space known as the Nature Kids Discovery Zone.
This playground was built with a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and is a great place for kids of all ages to visit and enjoy playing, climbing, running and jumping on natural elements such as tree stumps, ten-foot logs and many large boulders.
In addition to the playground, the Nature Kids Discovery Zone has a play creek to teach kids about the wetland ecosystem, a picnic area and access to the new Inspire Trail.
This Denver park has long been a popular location for jogging, walking or sitting by the lake on warm summer days. But in addition to its rare-for-the-city water features, Wash Park is also home to one of the most unique playgrounds in Denver.
Constructed primarily from wood — including large, colorful wooden bugs and flowers — the play area perfectly combines natural playground elements with more traditional options like swings, slides and a climbing net. All in all, this whimsical playground is a wonderful spot to spend the afternoon and let your children’s imagination run wild.
These five natural play areas are not just a more fun playground experience for kids. They are also connecting children and adults to nature, which leads to added social, emotional and educational rewards — as well as an improved quality of life. The hope is larger than just offering kids the opportunity to play in nature in an urban or suburban setting, but cultivating a generation who, based on their positive childhood experiences, become better community members, leaders and stewards of the environment.