As people who spend a lot of time with small people, we have probably all invested our share of time making impressed noises as our children barrel down slides, spotting them as they swing across monkey bars and even mindlessly pushing them on swings. And here in Portland, there are a lot of playgrounds to choose from to do just that. A lot to choose from.
Yet sometimes, no matter where you are, it can seem like you’re in the same place. There’s the set of swings. There’s that blue plastic slide. There’s that bouncy bridge. And usually, that’s totally fine.
But for those times when it’s not, for those times when you want a real playground adventure, there are these playgrounds. These playgrounds are outside the box, meant to foster imagination and totally worth the trip.
Originally published Summer 2018, bonus parks added in 2022
Memorial Park (Wilsonville)
“Wow!” Huuuuge!,” my two-year old said when we rounded the corner onto this beauty of a playground. Memorial Park boasts two large structures – one meant for younger kids, one for older (ages 5 and up or so). The structures both reflect a farm theme, with the structures actually looking like barns. (If that’s not enough, there’s a real barn just down the hill – though no animals in there.) The show-stopper is the two-story barn structure, with enough places to climb and swing from to make even your pickiest little monkey happy. There’s also a spiderweb-like climbing dome. Walk just a few minutes across a grassy hill and you’ll find a well-designed splash pad. It’s got little waterfalls, a running stream and little upside-down “U” shaped water features to run through. The park also has plenty of spots for a picnic, including a grassy amphitheater, where you can catch views of mountain ranges through the trees. (Check out our guide to all the area’s splash pads here.)
Good to know: They’ve got real bathrooms here, and nice ones too. And although there is the traditional swing set, it’s tucked away enough that your kids won’t be clambering for you to push them on them the whole time you’re there.
Location: 8300 SW Memorial Drive, Wilsonville, OR 97070
Dickinson Playground (SW Portland)
This park is so far from the traditional playground design that you almost feel as though if you’ve stepped into outer space when you get there. It just looks futuristic with its strange webs and oddly-shaped pieces of metal and plastic. It’s sure to get a “wow!” from your kids once you spot it. This park is a total must for kids who love to climb. It’s got rope ladders, circles to climb through and DNA-like twists. My oldest, who is six, tried out every single one, making it into a timed obstacle course. There is also a smaller section of the playground that younger kids might feel more comfortable with, that has a small platform and a slide.
Good to know: No bathrooms here, not even the portable kind, so come prepared. Also the playground is at the edge of a nice little hill. We spent a good quarter of the time here rolling down it (intentionally). Which, if you have not done recently, I highly recommend. Although man, I don’t remember getting so dizzy from it when I was a kid.
Location: SW 55th Ave, off Alfred Ct., Portland
Frances Street Playground (Hillsboro)
Kids can captain their own ship at this boat-themed play structure. The structure is simple enough for the youngest kids, but engaging enough for older kids too. The boat is found in the center of a ring of soft Astroturf. Surrounding that is a circular paved path, which is perfect for little kids just learning to bike or scoot. There are many benches surrounding the area, making it a natural meeting spot for parents to chat while they watch their kids. The park also includes tennis courts, a basketball court, ample open grassy areas, and some wooded areas to traverse if you’re so inclined.
Good to know: The playground is below the Hillsboro airport’s flight path, making for some pretty cool plane and helicopter sightings. There is a porta potty, but it’s a few minutes walk to it.
Location:6205 SE Frances Street, Hillsboro
Westmoreland Park (SE Portland)
Westmoreland Park got a huge makeover a few years ago, and boy does it look good. The playground is one of Portland’s finest nature parks. It has a large sand pit with lots of tools for digging and building. The sand area also has a pump with running water in the warmer months. It has logs to climb. It has a huge rock to summit. It has areas to build forts from nearby tree limbs. It is, in a word, awesome. We’ve reviewed this park in detail before here. You’ll also find a map to the area’s other nature parks in that article.
Good to know: There are bathrooms on location. You may want to bring a change of clothes, as kids can get pretty covered in wet sand by the end of a long morning excavating.
Location: SE 22nd Ave, near SE Rex
The Fields Park (The Pearl)
This is an urban park in an urban part of Portland. The play structure here mirrors the Fremont Bridge in the background. It’s all metal and ropes, chrome and black. But despite the modernity of the play structure, the park is also an oasis. It has a large green field to run or cartwheel in, a long sand area for digging and scooping, and plenty of picnic tables for snacking or resting.
Good to know: There are bathrooms located just outside the park. You’re also right next to Ovation Coffee and Tea, so you don’t necessarily need to precaffeinate.
Location: 1099 NW Overton St., Portland
Marshall Park (Vancouver)
**Update: Marshall Park is being transformed into a Harpers Inclusive Playground Summer 2022**Just across the state line lies this mega firetruck-themed playground. In addition to a tyke-sized firetruck, there’s a multi-story, multi-slide, multi-monkey-barred affair that’s great for climbers and adventurers. Another bonus for climbing enthusiasts is the pyramid-like rope structure. You’ll need to hold your breath as your kids near the top. It’s high! The playground also has a small nature area with wooden logs and a sand pit.
Good to know: Supervision is definitely required for younger kids on this one. The center of the structure has no railings, and a steep drop into a web-like maze of ropes below. There are bathrooms onsite.
Location: 1015 E. McLoughlin, Vancouver WA
“Pirate Park” (NW Portland)
For those not expecting it, the sight of ship masts along the paved trail of Rock Creek Greenway may be a bit surprising. But for those looking to have a pirate-themed adventure, the masts are a good sign you’re almost at your destination. Pirate Park has two boat-themed play structures, with slides, bouncy bridges, interesting step configurations, binoculars, masts and pretty much all you need to set sail. The smaller structure is set atop a bouncy, ocean-themed blacktop, with the larger one on the more traditional wood chips. For those needing a break from climbing, you can test out your digging for treasure-hunting skills in the small sand area. There are also two sets of swings, book-ending the structures.
Good to know: There is no dedicated parking for this park. Instead you park on the neighborhood streets and walk through a path between houses to get to the park. Using the address below will take you to one of these paths – just turn right when you get through it and you’ll see the structure in no time. There is a porta-potty here, but not a “real” bathroom.
Location: 16321 NW Brandberry Dr., Portland
Ibach Park (Tualatin)
For budding paleontologists, this park is a great choice. You can’t miss the rib cage of “dinosaur bones” when you enter the park, and there’s plenty of sand there to dig for bones or other treasures. Or skip the digging and divert the running water to create rivers and dams in the sand. The park also features two slides built into a steep embankment and some interesting natural-looking climbing areas. One of the highlights – a “river” crossing, where kids sit on a platform and someone else uses their arm strength to carry them across. (It’s not easy!)
Good to know: There’s a climbing area for older kids on the other side of the park. The park does have bathrooms.
Location: 10455 SW Ibach St., Tualatin
Harper’s Playground (North Portland)
This accessible-for-all playground is located in Arbor Lodge Park. The playground was inspired by Harper, a girl who loves to play but, because of a disability affecting her mobility, was largely unable to use traditional playgrounds. This playground is the answer to that. It now features universally accessible paths, play equipment, a sand pit with pumpable water and sensory play elements (like metal turtles and other statues). There are also slides, mini-rock climbing walls and various rope climbing features located above soft Astroturf or spongy ground covering to dampen falls.
Good to know: There is plenty of accessible parking. There are also accessible bathrooms here. Be on the lookout for parks in the style of Harper’s Playground at Couch Park and Gateway Park.
Location: N. Delaware and N. Saratoga Streets, Portland
Peninsula Park (North Portland)
Just a mile or so from Harper’s Playground you’ll find Peninsula Park. The structure here is a relic – huge and blue, with a tunnel arcing far above the ground, lots of ladders to climb up and down, balance beams, slides and more. But what’s really cool about this park is how much other stuff is located on the premises. The community center pool is there. There is a mini splash pad resembling a frog. There’s a basketball court and horseshoe pit. There’s a small pavilion perfect for taking a rest or having a snack. There are the beautifully-kept roses in the rose garden, surrounding an “ooh”-worthy fountain. You could easily spend a morning here working your way from one attraction to the next.
Good to know: The equipment is fun because it’s different – but that also makes it a little less accessible than the plastic stuff we are used to. Younger kids (maybe under 3) may have a hard time accessing most of the structures without some help. There are bathrooms here.
Location: 700 N. Rosa Parks Way, Portland
More Parks to Explore
This new park in SE Portland is the first Portland park named for a Black female leader. Check out Verdell Burdine Rutherford Park and learn more about the civil rights advocate, community activist and historian behind the name.
This epic playground in Washington Park is a longtime Portland favorite. With its access to the Rose Garden, Oregon Zoo, Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, memorials and more, you can easily spend all day there.