I love taking my kids to state parks so they can roam free, learn about natural science, and most of all, just enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors! That said, sometimes you just want a great playground. Maybe that’s how you can motivate the kids to come, or maybe it provides a little downtime for the caregiver while the kids play. Regardless of your motivation, here are the best Wisconsin state park playgrounds.
New Glarus Woods-A Unique Structure
The playground at New Glarus Woods is not the newest but it is big, unique, and a ton of fun. While one can start to see a lot of commonalities in the newly updated playgrounds, the playground at New Glarus Woods is different from most I see. It is wooden with several slides, bridges, rock climbing features, and tunnels. There is a pebble surface underneath. Around most of the outside of the playground is a row of rocks sized perfectly to act as benches for caregivers. There are plenty of surrounding picnic tables as well as a bathroom near the playground.
The playground is right at the entrance of the Basswood nature trail which is a half a mile loop. This is a great size for little hikers and a way for everyone to stretch their legs a little. There is also a small observation deck. It has no stairs but sits out over the land giving a cool view and allowing youngsters to feel a little elevated. We love New Glarus Woods State Park with kids, for more recommendations check out my dedicated blog post here.
High Cliff State Park-Three different Playgrounds
Even if High Cliff only had one playground it would be on my list (the new one is that cool), but with three different playgrounds it’s a shoo-in for one of the best playgrounds in a Wisconsin State Park. The newest playground is near the observation tower. It has climbing features, swings, multi-person teeter totters, and a solid cushioned rubber surface. There are flush toilets, several large parking lots, the Red Bird Statue, and the observation tower nearby. The playground is surrounded by plenty of picnic tables to make it easy to grab lunch.
There is an older playground in the campgrounds. Even though it is much smaller, it had elements that my kids don’t see as often and it kept their attention. The surface is small pebbles.
Finally, there is a small playground near the beach. This doesn’t have many outstanding features but it is near the beach and might be a nice break if someone is tired of swimming or getting cold and needs to be out of the water. It has a grass surface and is also surrounded by a large grassy area and plenty of picnic benches.
Another favorite activity for my kids at High Cliff is exploring the marina seawall. Check out my article dedicated to High Cliff State Park for more information.
Rib Mountain with nearby Rock Scrambling
The Friends of Rib Mountain recently provided a much-needed update to the playground. It is on top of the mountain which offers stunning views. The playground itself features slides, spinning elements, a nature theme, a rock wall, and more. The surface is wood chips. There are two large parking areas nearby as well as a concession stand for those needing a little treat.
One of our favorite parts of Rib Mountain with kids is being able to park in one spot and not only get to use the playground but also have plenty of rock scrambling opportunities. There is an outcropping of rocks just south of the playground. If you are itching for more, head towards the observation tower about 5 minute’s walk to the west. There are several large rock formations to test even your bravest climber. Then you can walk up the observation tower or take the blue or green trails around the tower for even more rock opportunities.
If you want more information about the hiking trails or general information on Rib Mountain in the summer click here, for the winter click here, if you are lucky enough to come during the beautiful fall colors, check out my advice here.
Willow River-A Traditional Playground and a Natural One
There are three playgrounds at Willow River State Park near the Wisconsin and Minnesota border. There is a traditional playground near the nature center. It’s bigger than average and boasts monkey bars, slides, and bridges. The surface is wood chips. While we haven’t seen it in person, I believe the playground near the campground is similar.
Perhaps my favorite part of the “playground” though, is the nature trail and natural playground. It is an approximately half-mile loop leaving just up the hill from the regular playground near the nature center. It features a human-sized bird’s nest, several rough-made teepees to explore, and a balance beam-type structure where kids can walk and climb on a bunch of different logs. We ALWAYS play with sticks and rocks but it’s nice to have a dedicated space for that where kids are encouraged to get hands-on with nature. We had a lot of fun hiking the trail and discovering the new features as we walked.
I’m not sure how permanent it is, but when we were last there in February of 2023, there was a “Migratory Bird Game” posted along the trail. It gives some information about the challenges birds face with migration and asks the kids to do silly things relating to the bird’s journey. At the end of the trail find out if you made it back home or had too many challenges to continue with this life.
While I feel it is probably the best-known feature of the park, I would be remiss not to mention the beautiful waterfall at Willow River. If you have time, it is absolutely worth your while to check it out.
Kohler-Andrae and Harrington Beach with Big Beaches
Kohler-Andrae and Harrington Beach state parks are only 20 minutes away from each other. Both of these Wisconsin State Parks have beautiful new playgrounds. The playground at Kohler-Andrae is bigger than the one at Harrington Beach. They feature slides, swings, and climbing areas. The playground at Kohler-Andrae has a sand surface while at Harrington Beach it is solid rubber.
Of course, everyone who goes to either of these state parks will almost definitely want to check out the beach at Lake Michigan. Since we came in the early spring and my kids hadn’t had beach time in months, it was hard to pull them away from the fun of the water and sand at the beaches despite the cool playgrounds. Give the kids a bucket, a shovel, or a digger truck. Then pull up a chair and enjoy the gentle sound of crashing waves while they play in nature’s giant sandbox.
Blue Mounds-Sandwiched Between Two Observation Towers
Wisconsin’s Blue Mound state park playground is aging a little bit but has some super cool features. There is a climbing tower, unique rock-type slides, monkey bars, swings, and some cool crawling/climbing obstacles. The surface is wood chips. We found some of the features in need of maintenance such as the zip bar. Even with those repairs needed, it’s still a fun playground.
The location is perfect as it is between two parking lots each which is next to an observation tower. If you are ambitious, see if you can climb both. There are bathrooms and lots of open grassy space with picnic tables adjacent to the playground. There are several options for shorter trails for little hikers. I recommend the Indian Marker Trail which is half a mile and goes from one observation tower to the other. Total mileage will be a bit longer by the time you walk across the grassy area and parking lots from one observation tower to the other.
Blue Mounds is also one of the only state parks with a swimming pool and splash pad. That’s a great way for more fun for the kids.
I haven’t seen this playground yet but according to this article, it has been recently renovated and well-funded. Have you seen it? Comment below and include a picture!
Each of these Wisconsin State park playgrounds is sure to please. I love hiking, my kids love playing, and sometimes it is so nice to have a really engaging playground to use as a reward to explore after a hike. These parks have really put forth an effort to offer great playgrounds and our family loves them!
I have a confession to make, I haven’t been to all the Wisconsin State Parks yet! Did I miss any great playgrounds?