Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Unplayground playgrounds

While my daughter could spend hours at a playground with a good set of monkey bars—and truth be told we have—sometimes I wanted something a little different. Places where forts are made from driftwood, logs are balance beams and imagination takes the lead. And something where her older brother doesn’t utter the words “I’m bored” five minutes after we’ve gotten there.

So here are some of our favorites. The ones that started out as just an outing and ended up with “Can we go back there tomorrow?” and years later we’re still going back. They are the places that offer us a different adventure every time we go.

Bonus, if you're into letterboxing several of these parks have them. Not sure what letterboxing is? Check out my post from the other week. And if you're looking for a good set of regular monkey bars check out my post about all the different playgrounds in West Seattle.

  • Camp Long
    5200 35th Avenue SW
    This was our first unplayground discovery years ago. There’s a series of trails to hike, a pond to explore, a huge field to play in and two rock climbing areas for a lot of different adventure options all in one place. In addition, in more normal years, there are rustic cabins to rent, nature programs for younger kids, a ropes course and rock climbing classes for older kids.

    Parking: Large lot by the lodge and street parking outside the main gates and outside the north end of the parking lot. There is also street parking by a back gate entrance at SW Brandon Street and 29th Ave SW.

    Notes: Map available at kiosk and online. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Restrooms are sometimes open.

    Update 9/2022: Cabins are again available to rent (seasonally) along with the ropes course and climbing rock.
  • Fauntleroy Park
    3951 SW Barton Street, across from SW Henderson Street
    (one of several entrances to the park)

    One of two densely-forested parks in West Seattle—the other one being Schmitz Park—this park has a network of wooded trails that are great for doing a short hike any time of year. Added fun for kids is a series of boardwalks, bridges and a creek, which runs through the park and flows into the Puget Sound by the Fauntleroy Ferry terminal and is home to coho salmon. You could even add to the adventure by doing a salmon adventure walk I created that starts here.

    Parking: The main entrance is along Barton Street, where you can park on the street, but there are two additional entrances with parking. One from the parking lot at the Fauntleroy YMCA and one at SW 97th Street (between 39th Ave SW and 41st Ave SW). Do note, while you cannot park in the Y lot there is usually plenty of street parking nearby. Other entrances are walk-in with no parking close by.

    Notes: Map available at kiosk and here. There is also a brochure for a self-guided nature hike created by the Fauntleroy Watershed Council that is sometimes available at the kiosk as well.
  • Jack Block Park
    Terminal 5 / 2130 Harbor Ave SW
    Tucked off Harbor Ave by Salty’s is a Port of Seattle park with a long paved path that starts at a non-traditional play area (giant metal buoys to climb on) and ends at a tall observation tower with views of Harbor Island and downtown. Bonus is a little beach which makes a great spot for lunch and seal-spotting. The path does have some hills which can be fun for riding scooters and bikes, as long as you know how to use your brakes. And if you have a kiddo that loves heavy machinery at work check out this terminal tour for details about things you can see here.

    Parking: Main lot and then a couple of spots near the beach/observation tower.

    Notes: Restrooms are sometimes open.
  • Lincoln Park
    8011 Fauntleroy Way SW
    While a go-to park for more traditional reasons, you can also build driftwood forts on the beach, look for sea critters at low tide or hike the upper trails and feel like your in the forest instead of the city. The flat, paved path along the beach is especially good for scootering and biking and in the summer Coleman Pool is open for outdoor swimming and there also a wading pool for younger kiddos in upper north end of the park by the playground.

    Parking: Two lots (south and north) and street parking. If parking on the street make sure to be aware of the times you can and can't park because of the ferry line so you don't get towed.

    Notes: Restrooms by the beach, by the pool and near the north play area/wading pool.
  • Schmitz Preserve Park
    5551 SW Admiral Way
    Located just above Alki on the north end of West Seattle, this old-growth forest is another lush wooded playground to explore. It’s great for rainy day hikes or a place to cool off in summer with a canopy of dense trees and a creek to splash in. You can also discover an alligator log to climb on or find hidden letterboxes. Make it a bigger adventure and hike from the park via Schmitz Boulevard down to Alki Beach—stopping along the way to play at the Alki (Whale Tail) Playground—and then loop back around to where you started.

    Parking: The main entrance is just off Admiral Way on Stevens Ave SW. Look for a kiosk and park along the street.

    Notes: Map available at kiosk and here.
  • South Seattle College Arboretum and Chinese Garden
    6000-16th Ave SW (North Parking Lot)
    Located on the campus of South Seattle College is a wonderful arboretum we first discovered when we were part of the co-op preschool there and had A LOT of little energy to burn off after class. There are a bunch of paths to run and explore with each one leading to another different type of garden and then connecting to the Chinese Garden.

    Parking: There are a handful of spots right by the Arboretum which always seem to be open even when school is in session but you’ll need to pay a small parking fee. You can also park on 16th Ave right outside the campus for free.

    Notes: Restrooms are sometimes open, by the garden center. Info and maps of the arboretum and Chinese Garden.