Natural playgrounds are great for kids’ imaginations. Natural elements, like trees, plants, rocks, and water, help them connect to and explore the natural world. And how the objects and structures get used spur their creativity.* The good news is, there are several excellent natural playgrounds near Des Moines!
Below are six of the best natural playgrounds in and around Des Moines (with a map at the end)!
Natural Playgrounds Near Des Moines
Reichardt Family Natural Play Area, Des Moines Water Works Park
The Reichardt Family Natural playground lets kids’ imaginations guide them! Kids can jump, balance, run, and hide between the natural wooden structures. And there’s a sandbox too! The play area is on the park’s east side, next to the amphitheater. Restrooms and a water fountain are nearby.
Other features of Des Moines Water Works Park are the paved trails, picnic areas, crabapple arboretum, fountain, and fishing spots. And it’s right across the street from Gray’s Lake, where you can rent a kayak or paddleboard!
Sargent Park Natural Playground
Sargent Park has a fantastic natural play area, complete with a sundial and tunnels. And kids love splashing in the water fountain on hot summer days. There are also ropes to climb and stumps to jump. Four Mile Creek is nearby and a fun place to explore. Also, the Gay Lea Wilson Trail runs right through the park.
Jester Park Natural Playscape
The natural playscape at Jester Park features all-natural materials, native plantings, and much more! Boulders, trees, wooden blocks, and a water feature are just a few of the things kids can explore. And the peace pole near the center reads “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in four languages. Find the playscape near the Elk and Bison herds on the park’s west side. See the brochure for more information.
While you’re there, be sure to stop by the Nature Center, where there is a beautiful little creek and prairie. When we were there, buckets and nets were available for kids to play in the small stream. And behind the Nature Center, a Story Walk was set up on a loop trail. Pages from a children’s book told the story as we walked along the path.
Brenton Arboretum Nature Play Area
The Brenton Arboretum is a few minutes west of Des Moines but worth the drive, in our opinion. It has scenic, themed trails and also features a Nature Explore Certified playground. The O’Brien Nature Play Area has natural structures for climbing, swinging, and crawling. It even has a living tunnel! The pavilion is nearby and is perfect for some shade and a picnic. Find the natural playground on the north side of the park. For more information, see the Brenton Arboretum website.
The Enabling Garden
Though it’s not just a natural playground, the Enabling Garden in Altoona is worth visiting. It has a one-of-a-kind, accessible, interactive children’s garden and play area. Kids can play tic tac toe and musical instruments and dig in the sand and jump the stumps. They’ll also revel in the beautiful flowers and art throughout the garden! Find the Enabling Garden in Altoona at the Prairie Heritage Park.
McHenry Park Natural Playground
There’s plenty to keep the kids busy at McHenry Park. They can explore the regular playground and natural playground, along with the spraygrounds. Boulders, large stumps and logs, tunnels, and a “stream” are a few features here. A shaded picnic shelter and restrooms are nearby. Also, follow McHenry Park Trail for about a half-mile to get to Riverview Park. There, you’ll find an amusement park-themed accessible playground.
Visit the natural playgrounds in Des Moines!
Here in Des Moines, we’re fortunate to have several great natural playgrounds! The great thing about them is, each object can get used, explored, and looked at in so many different ways. Kids get entertained and also tap into their creativity and learning at the same time. So, get out there with the kids and let them use their imaginations!
Map of Des Moines Natural Playgrounds
*To learn more about the benefits of natural playgrounds, check out the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation: Research Findings.