Exploring Minnesota’s playgrounds, splash pads & mountain bike trails

The following column, with a few modifications to localize it, appeared originally in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers. This version,  appeared originally in the SunThisWeek newspapers.  Pictures did not appear in the papers.

Exploring Minnesota’s playgrounds, splash pads &

mountain bike trails

This is a great summer to visit and share your family’s reactions to playgrounds, splash pads and bike trails around the state. It’s fun, active, and relatively inexpensive. If you visit, I hope you’ll share reactions and experiences with others.

Our children and grandchildren love to explore the amazing array of Minnesota’s playgrounds. Some are in city parks, like the terrific playgrounds in downtown Milaca, Crosby, Stillwater (Teddy Bear Park) and St. Paul (Harriet Bishop). Some are part of county systems, like the facilities known as “Chutes and Ladders” in Bloomington and playgrounds in French Regional Park and Lake Rebecca Park Reserve — these three are maintained by the Three Rivers Park District.  Our family has visited several of them. But in researching this article, I learned that the district has 10!


2 parts of of the “Chutes & Ladders playground in Bloomington, Mn.

In doing a Google search for Minnesota’s “best playgrounds,” I found the state-run Explore Minnesota website.

This resource includes information such as accessibility of the playgrounds, whether they have separate play areas for young and older children, whether indoor or outside, and other nearby facilities.

Part of the French Lake Playground, Three Rivers Park District

The state’s website seems to be illustrative, rather than exhaustive. Some of our family’s favorite playgrounds aren’t listed, such as playgrounds in and near Little Falls and Forest Lake. Several, for example, are at neighborhood schools. So some enterprising family, families or entrepreneur might create a website that describes and rates hundreds of playgrounds around Minnesota.

This may already have been done. If so, I hope a reader will tell me about this.

However, an organization called Singletracks has described and rated 131 Minnesota mountain bike trails, which are found in some of the parks mentioned above and many other places. Singletracks rated two trails we have visited: the amazing Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail near Crosby as No. 1, and the lovely Lebanon Hills Regional Park facility in Eagan as No 2. It also listed 129 more, including those in Anoka, Bloomington, Burnsville, Duluth, Elk River, Farmington, Lakeville, Maple Grove, Milaca, Monticello, Oak Park Heights, Plymouth, and Robbinsdale.

This website also invited people to post their own reviews. Many youngsters (and adults) would enjoy this. Along with ratings, the website has advice, and information about mountain bike trails in other states. Check it out here.

Even though this website is terrific, it did not appear to include the Root River State Trail and the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail in beautiful southeastern Minnesota, near Caledonia and Houston. Perhaps that’s not considered a mountain bike trail. I may have missed it. But it is scenic. And I know there are many other bike trails around the state.

Our grandchildren also love splash pads and wading pools. Here’s a list of 35 of them in the metro area. This includes facilities in Apple Valley, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Robbinsdale, Rosemount, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and other communities.

I was not able to find a comprehensive list of splash pads in greater Minnesota, such as Prairie Park in Otsego. Readers’ advice is welcome.

Some of the facilities mentioned above are free. Some require purchase of a daily or annual permit.

Our family also found that it’s valuable to get to some of these places early in the morning on weekdays. Some day care centers and nursery schools use these playgrounds during the week, so they can get busy and crowded.

Those are among the features your family’s review might note. You could create your own website or share reactions on social media platforms.

Minnesota has an astonishing array of playgrounds, splash pads and bike trails. I hope your family explores them and shares its experience with others (including me).

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @JoeNathan9249 on Twitter. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.