With something for everyone—from daring climbers, twisty slides and refreshing splash pads—pack a picnic and get ready for a day of fun! Here are some of our favourite outdoor Canadian playgrounds.
Forrest Drive Park One of the larger playgrounds in a city of just fewer than 20,000 people, fun seekers of all ages can find something to explore on the multi-faceted play turf. Kids love the toddler swings and the pirate-ship-style rope ladder for climbing and dangling. A separate play area for little ones features a miniature slide, a small playhouse and a covered area for protection from hot summer rays. A larger jungle gym for bigger kids has stepping stones, monkey bars to test their acrobatic skills, and plastic rocks for climbing. There are picnic tables, a basketball court and a grassy area nearby where children can rest their tired feet—or run around some more! Open year-round.
5116 Forrest Dr., Yellowknife. 867-920-5600
Rotary Peace Park Playground Nestled along the Whitehorse waterfront, families come from around the city to explore Whitehorse Lions Splash Park, a baroque jungle gym and water park. Highlights include slides of varying heights and inclines, raised stepping stones, climbing and stability-testing apparatuses—including a firefighter pole to shimmy down—and a bumpy caterpillar-shaped climber. Don’t forget to pack swim gear, because the adjacent water park (open daily from May to September) has in-ground spray systems, towering arched sprinklers and animal sculptures that all shoot out a refreshing spray of H20. Curb hunger pangs at the in-park hot spot, Compadres Burritos, famous for their one-pound burritos and homemade sauces. Playground is open daily, year-round, and washroom facilities are open from May to October. 2nd Ave., Whitehorse. 867-668-8325
Stanley Park Famous for its scenic jogging paths and ocean views, this 1,001-acre hub is home to four play areas to explore. Second Beach is a sprawling jungle gym with a pristine view of the Pacific, a climbable toy fire truck, concession stands (selling hamburgers, hot dogs, fish and chips, ice cream and salad) and a bevy of climbing, swinging, crawling and hanging structures. Just across the field is the smaller Ceperley playground; it has a covered picnic area and plenty of space to run around. Drive a short distance (or take a 20-minute walk) across the park and you’ll find yourself at the Rose Garden playground, a beautiful botanical spread with a basic jungle gym. Nearby is Lumbermen’s Arch, Stanley Park’s famed splash pad featuring an array of upright sprinklers, including six massive yellow arms shooting cool water. Washrooms, change rooms, changing tables and drinking fountains can be found near all playgrounds. Open year-round from 7 a.m. to dusk.
8501 Stanley Park Dr., Vancouver. 604-681-6728
Panorama Recreation Centre Playground This fully wheelchair-accessible park, located just 25 minutes north of Victoria, is a maze of slides, climbing apparatuses and obstacles specifically designed with wide ramp access. Seven slides, a tube for hiding and crawling, a clock with moving arms, a steering wheel and various areas to climb are a dream come true for small playground enthusiasts. Stop for a snack at the adjacent rec centre, where visitors will find vending machines brimming with healthy choices like dried fruit, trail mix and protein bars. Water fountains and washrooms equipped with change tables are located inside. Open year-round from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
1885 Forest Park Dr., North Saanich. 250-656-7271
Garden City Community Park Jeff Cutler, this park’s architect, hashed out a plan by consulting local kids about what they thought would make the coolest playground. The end result features a pyramid of climbing nets that lead to swings and slides (including one built into a hill), and a few natural elements, too, such as a climbable tree stump and bolder. An uncovered picnic table area, benches, drinking fountains and washrooms with change tables are available on-site. Open year-round.
6620 Garden City Rd., Richmond. 604-276-4000
Bridgeland Community Centre Playground Padded with repurposed tires, this playground offers something for every age group. The preschool section boasts two ramps and a slide, while older kids can run amok or hop on a large saucer swing and take a shot at keeping their balance on suspended balance beams. Kids can explore the merry-go-round climber, slide and musical spinning panels that play classic children’s songs when spun. The park’s pièce de résistance is the pyramid-shaped climber. The adjacent grassy field is a great place to kick around a soccer ball or enjoy a picnic. Open year-round.
917 Centre Ave. NE, Calgary. 403-263-5755
Kinsmen Sports Centre Beside the High Level Bridge on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River, this family-favourite destination is packed with exciting amenities (including an indoor playground, a swimming pool and tennis courts). Famous for its large spray park, towering jungle gyms and adjacent baseball diamonds, the playground is also divided into zones to appeal to children of all ages. Pump your legs and reach as high as you can on the swing set to catch a glimpse of the legislative buildings downtown. The spray park features low and tall sprinkler systems shaped as woodland creatures like bears tipping honeycombs teeming with water and foxes who double as spray guns. Babies and tots are welcome, but must wear waterproof diapers. (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Drop by the Kinsmen Cafeteria for lunch or stop by Moo’s Healthy Food Fast stand for some fruit smoothies, wraps and frozen bananas. A water fountain and washroom with changing table are located in the lobby of the sports centre. Open year-round 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
9100 Walterdale Hill NW, Edmonton. 780-442-5311
McDonald’s Playground at Forestry Farm Park Part of the Saskatchewan Zoo Society, this woodland-themed playground boasts a foxhole tunnel, a bear statue guarding a climbing rock, netted ladders designed to look like a spider’s web, several slides of varying heights and a moose-track climbing wall (complete with rubber-covered chains to prevent chafing and blisters on little hands). Kids can pretend to be pirates at sea on the swaying boat. Barbecue pits are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Ice cream, hot dogs, popcorn, slushies and soft drinks are available for purchase. Washrooms equipped with change tables are located on either side of the playground with drinking fountains close by. Park access with zoo admission. General admission, $10.50; kids ages six to 18, $6.25; children younger than six get in free. Admission by donation during the off-season (November 1 to March 31). Open daily.
1903 Forestry Farm Park Dr., Saskatoon. 306-975-3382
Assiniboine Park Nature Playground As you venture down the tree-lined path to this whimsical playground, the first thing you’ll notice is the layout—it resembles Candy Land with its rolling hills speckled with colourful gumdrop-like boulders. Climb up a rope ladder to the tippy-top of a slide and slither down. Be sure to explore the nearby Streuber Family Children’s Garden, a sculpted shrubbery modelled after the classic game Snakes and Ladders. Natural materials are the name of the game on this side of the playground, so be sure to check out the giant robin’s nest constructed of reclaimed wood that kids can crawl through and explore. Stop for lunch under the covered picnic tables or check out the Park Café for some family-friendly dining. Water fountains and washrooms equipped with changing stations are located at either side of the playground. Open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk.
55 Pavilion Cres., Winnipeg. 204-927-6000
Jamie Bell Adventure Park The sprawling 400-acre spread at High Park is every urbanite space-seeker’s dream. The wooden playground (with a woodchip surface) features a medieval-themed village in which to roam and climb. There’s a fenced-in tot-lot with toddler- and accessibility-swings and age-appropriate climbers. On the big-kid side of the play area, children will love running through the tiered towers decorated with Toronto-themed paintings to get to the tall, curly tube slide. Picnic areas are located nearby and picnic tables, benches, water fountain and washrooms (open seasonally) are within the semi-fenced play area. This park tends to be busy, so come early to get a parking spot (two parking lots are located at the Hillside Gardens and the zoo, and there’s parking on the street). Open year-round.
1873 Bloor St. W, Toronto. 416-338-0338
Dufferin Grove Park This park is a major community hub. The enclosed play area and traditional wooden fun zones are housed under a leafy canopy, and nature is incorporated into another area with climbable fallen trees making up a mini-urban woodland. Be sure to pack an extra set of clothes and some towels in the warmer months as the wading pool (with sprinklers) and sandboxes make for happy, albeit mucky, children. Budding engineers and architects can hone their building skills by constructing bridges and dams in the sandpit, which even has a water hose—a key ingredient in mud pies. Snacks are usually available in the summer from the Cob Courtyard. Refuel with some fresh coffee, muffins and juice boxes. Open year-round.
875 Dufferin St., Toronto. 416-392-0913
Westboro Kiwanis Park Previously known as Cole Park, this Ottawa playground is popular among big kids for its infinity climber, called a Mobius strip (a circular monkey bar that rises and dips, creating a thrilling obstacle challenge). Attached to the Dovercourt Recreation Centre, the park features swings for toddlers, big kids and children with special needs. The wading pool—decorated with a new theme every year—is a popular summer attraction. Snack machines (packed with healthy granola bars, fruit snacks, water and juice), a full-service pay-as-you-go café open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., washrooms and drinking fountains are located on the main floor of the rec centre. Parking is free. Open year-round.
411 Dovercourt Ave., Ottawa. 613-798-8950
Riverview Park and Zoo Open 365 days a year, it’s easy to spend an afternoon at the playground or devote the day to exploring all the wild kingdom attractions—from lemurs, bobcats and camels to a train ride complete with a “screaming tunnel” ($2 per ride). At the playground a super-slide travels down a large embankment (and at 80 feet long, four times the size of a regular slide, but not as scary as it sounds). The spacious splash pad has in-ground sprinklers, towering arches that spray mist, and animal-shaped water squirters (open from May to October). Little ones will love learning about the zoo’s occupants at Meet the Keeper sessions (weekdays at 1 p.m. all summer), where they can interact with zookeepers and see first-hand how their favourite animals are cared for. Washrooms with change tables are located near the entrance, as well as family change rooms and a water bottle refilling station. Access to zoo and parking is free. Open year-round from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m, and until dark from mid-May to August.
1230 Water St., Peterborough. 705-748-9300
Salamander Playground This elaborate play centre focuses on the rich eco-system of its urban location. An aerial view of the playground pays homage to the environment by depicting a slithering salamander. The large splash pad features timed jets spraying water from stationary nozzles in the pavement leaving a perfect reservoir for splashing and cooling off. A large globe-like sphere in the centre of the pad is ideal for climbing, and the teeter-totter, balance beam and sand box are sure to entertain little explorers. A short walk away is Beaver Lake Pavilion, where families can find washrooms with change tables, benches, lockers and a cafeteria. The pavilion is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays, and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
1260 Remembrance Rd., Montreal. 514-843-8240
Westmount Inclusive Playground Park This airport-themed schoolyard was the original location of Halifax’s first municipal airport. It pays tribute with a stretching runway obstacle track. Kids of all ages love the accessible swing sets, slides, ramps, bars, a climbable fire truck and splash pad (with three sprinklers). Have a picnic at one of the shaded picnic tables, but be sure to pack some water, because you’ll have to trek off site for fountain and washroom facilities. Open year-round; best used after school hours on weekends and holidays.
Edward Arab Ave., Halifax. 902-422-9334
Haida Ship Playground Modelled after the WWII navy battleship, the HSCM Haida, one of Halifax’s largest playgrounds measures an astounding 30 feet in height and 63 feet in length. Toddlers to preteens will have a ball touring the vast wooden vessel. Poke through the nautical portal of climbable tires stacked between the deck of the ship or balance on the wobbly suspended bridge. Check out the variety of slides, climbable ladders and bars. Parents love the recycled blue-rubber padding below that cushions falls. Drinking fountains and washrooms with change tables are located on-site. Open year-round.
150 Waterfront Dr., Bedford. 902-490 5347
Glen Stewart School’s “Boundless Playground” Constructed on a wheelchair-accessible platform, the bright jungle gym includes specially designed equipment for children with physical, intellectual, hearing and visual limitations. Opened in 2007, the playground hosts multiple slides (including a wide three seater that toddlers will love), swings (some designed for those with disabilities, but no baby swings), a two-tier pirate ship complete with porthole, wheel and a plethora of monkey bars to climb, swing and hang from. Due to school hours and extracurricular activities, the playground is best visited in the summer, on holidays or weekends. Free parking adjacent to the playground.
34 Glen Stewart Dr., Stratford. 902-569-1995
St. Andrew’s Creative Playground Celebrating their grand reopening this year, explore the newly renovated schoolyard’s Tudor-style steeples, bridges, twisting slides and hideouts. Built 21 years ago, the playground’s facelift stemmed from generous donations and volunteers in the community. Located on the shores of Assamaquoddy Bay, the massive wooden structure features an extensive sprawl of climbable structures, monkey bars and ropes. Young adventurers can traverse through an etched maze and practise balancing on suspended beams. The main strip of St. Andrew’s is a short walk away, where visitors can find restaurants and shops for necessary pit stops. Shaded picnic areas and benches are nearby. Open year-round. Best visited on holidays and weekends off-season.
166 Frederick St., St. Andrews. 506-529-5011
A version of this article appeared in our August 2014 issue with the headline "Outdoor playgrounds," pp. 81-8.