New Denver playgrounds go immersive with elaborate sculptures, themed structures
Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).
Playtime has gotten more artistic in recent years. That’s a boon for Denver’s kids, who are as eager to leap and climb as they are for creative, engaging activities.
As Meow Wolf Denver and installations such as Camp Christmas lead the way, playgrounds have increasingly turned into sculpture-driven public art. Gone are the bright but spare, generic plastic structures of the early 2000s; metro-area playgrounds now feature elaborate animal themes, water park-quality splash pads and features that cater to different ages and abilities.
The retro designs and themed structures encourage (slightly) more directed play, with indoor-outdoor features such as ‘roided-out treehouses (Denver Premium Outlets, Ralston-Central), and multi-story rocket ships and castles (Quail Crossing, Westminter Center; see dpo.st/3FYeskS for a curated list).
My kids have recently visited and loved a couple of parks that I’m considering immersive, near our Northeast Denver home, although there are many more along the Front Range. The key is that the parks contain recognizably sculpture-like features with covered areas, although not necessarily walled-in.
City Park’s new bond-funded play structure, replacing its beautiful but battered wooden kingdom, has all the usual slides and teeter-totters, but also a gated area with a custom swing for people with disabilities.
Its centerpiece is a gorgeous blue dragon that undulates over- and underground like a slow-mo sea serpent. A few feet away, a spiral staircase and vertical-boarded edifice invoke Gio Ponti’s original Denver Art Museum building (the castle-like structure now known as the Hamilton Building) with grated metal windows and a long, twisting slide. My 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter spent most their time in it during a recent visit (1700 York St.).
Also in my neighborhood: a brand new play area in a commercially revived patch of North Park Hill, known as Fairfax Park. It’s modest and in need of more shelter from the sun, but my kids also enjoy spending most of their time in its multi-story, orange-and-silver play structure. It has an open roof but its walls are a cross between a pro-wrestling cage and the tumble-happy layers of an aerial course like Adventure Forest (at Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus).
It’s all surprisingly fun to look at, giving parents an aesthetic diversion while they check the time every 5 minutes (I can’t be the only one to do that). It also gives kids somewhere safe and cozy-feeling to tuck their imaginations — however outdoors they may be (2856 Fairfax St).
Visit denver.org for more information on metro area playgrounds and updated COVID rules for visiting.
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