Destination Playgrounds in the DC Area: 15 Play Spaces Worth the Trip

Kids of all ages and abilities will love the colorful equipment at Clemyjontri Park. Photo by the author
Kids of all ages and abilities will love the colorful equipment at Clemyjontri Park. Photo by the author
5/9/21 - By Meredith Kiryakov

Families in the Washington, DC area are fortunate to have an abundant selection of neighborhood playgrounds and parks for kids to play, explore, and work out their energy. The playgrounds on this list take it a step further with unique themed play equipment, splash pads, mini golf, trains and carousels to amp up the fun.

When you’re looking to spend the whole day at the park, these 15 playgrounds in DC, Maryland, and Virginia are worth the drive.


Destination Playgrounds in Washington, DC

1. Anacostia Park Playground

Arrrgh you ready for adventure on the water? Visit beautiful Anacostia Park right on the waterfront and check out its pirate-themed playground. Kids can climb on the giant pirate ship climbing structure, shimmy up masts, and go down slides. There are also three other playgrounds in the park and a roller skating pavilion, along with peaceful trails to walk next to the river. There is plenty of parking, a nearby picnic area, and public restrooms.

2. Beauvoir School Playground 

This unique playground on the grounds of Beauvoir Elementary School is made of natural materials and designed to encourage outdoor adventurous play for kids. The play structures include climbing towers with suspended rope bridges, monkey bars, swings, and a zip line. The playground is best for elementary school-aged kids, although there is a small area called the “Little Village,” appropriate for 3- to 5-year-olds. Because this playground is part of a school, it is only open to the public from 5:30pm to dusk on weekdays and all day on weekends when school and camp are in session, as well as on holidays and breaks when school and camp are not in session. There is parking on the National Cathedral grounds, but no public restrooms.

3. Lafayette Park Playground

Not to be confused with Lafayette Park near the White House, Lafayette Playground in the Chevy Chase neighborhood has some truly amazing play structures for big kids. The centerpiece is a giant climbing area with ropes like a spider web leading up to a huge gray tunnel slide. Local kids call it “The Elephant” because of its size and the slide's resemblance to an elephant’s trunk. There is also a fenced play area for toddlers with smaller slides and climbing areas, play houses, bucket swings, and a sand pit. A sprinkler area with giant flower sprayers and a water table is open in the summer months for little ones to cool off and splash around. A public restroom and water fountains are available.

4. Palisades Playground and Splash Park

Leave it to the nation's capital to turn everything into a history lesson. This park’s theme is centered around the Potomac and the Native Americans that once lived in the area. From a mountain-climbing wall to slides and swaying bridges, the park is perfect for preschool-aged children. The splash pad offers a water slide, a fountain, and three raised fish that dump water onto the children. With a shaded pavilion, restrooms, and free parking, it is a fantastic spot to learn and play while cooling off.

RELATED: Sprinkler Parks, Spraygrounds, and Splash Pads Near DC for Kids 

Conquer the giant tire dragon at the Recycled Tire Playground. Photo by F Delventhal/CC by 2.0

Destination Playgrounds Near DC in Maryland

5. Cabin John Regional Park — Bethesda

This large park boasts a range of amenities, including tennis courts, an enclosed ice rink, lots of trails and nature programs, areas to camp in, and even a train to ride on. The adventure playground for kids of all ages is a must-visit. The play structures are scattered throughout a wooded area of the park, so it’s shady with lots of open areas to run around and explore nature. Kids can climb, crawl through tunnels, swing, slide, and make music on the play equipment. Children also love the interactive piggy trash can “Porky the Litter Eater,” who talks when you feed him trash. There are plenty of picnic tables right next to the playground if you can convince your kids to take a break, plus nearby bathrooms nearby and free parking.

6. Seneca Creek State Park — Gaithersburg

There are four different playgrounds in this large state park, but the standout is the Recycled Tire Playground. Much of the playground, including the mulch-like play surface, is actually made from recycled tires. There’s a large, castle-like wooden structure with slides, places to climb, and swings. Take a ride on or battle the giant recycled-tire dragon and put your kids to the test on the tire obstacle course. The park also has a nature play space where kids can build, balance, climb, and create. This imagination-centered play area is created from giant oak tree trunks, locust tree logs, and other all-natural materials. Park admission is free, there’s plenty of parking and areas to picnic, and there are public bathrooms.

RELATED: Great Skate Parks Near Washington, DC for Kids and Families

Slide down Dorothy's ruby slippers and more at Watkins Regional Playground. Photo by F Delventhal/CC by 2.0

7. Watkins Regional Park — Upper Marlboro

Follow the yellow-brick road (or I-95) to the magical Wizard of Oz-themed playground at Watkins Regional Park. Kids can slide down a giant pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers, climb on towers that look like the Emerald City, and play in Auntie Em’s playhouse. “Munchkin Land” is the perfect area for younger kids to explore. Pack a picnic and plan to spend a whole day at Watkins Regional Park to explore all it has to offer. Beyond the colorful Oz playground, Watkins Regional Park also has a carousel, a miniature train, an 18-hole mini golf course, and a nature center with trails. The Old Maryland Farm inside the park allows kids to interact with their favorite farm animals and agricultural exhibits and learn about farm life in Maryland. Admission is free with an extra charge for the carousel, miniature train, and mini golf.

8. South Germantown Recreational Park — Boyds

The seven-acre South Germantown Adventure Playground lets kids play out their fantasies of knights, dragons, pirates, and princesses with five themed areas. The large Royal Castle playground structure has castle turrets to climb and explore, giant slides, and a sea dragon in the “moat” around the castle. Beyond the castle, there’s a pirate ship playground for younger kids with tunnels, smaller slides, and swings. There’s also an incredible splash park and an 18-hole mini-golf course in the park. The playground is free, but there is a fee for the splash park and mini golf. Free parking is available, and there are public restrooms, changing areas, and picnic areas with vending machines. Note: The Adventure Playground Is currently undergoing a large renovation, so some portions may be closed. 

RELATED: Family-Friendly Camping Destinations Near DC 

All aboard! Don't miss the miniature historic train at Wheaton Regional Park. Photo by ssfaulkn/Public domain.

9. Wheaton Regional Park — Wheaton

Wheaton Regional Park has activities for the whole family, from Brookside Botanical Gardens to hiking and fishing to horseback-riding lessons. Kids will love the Adventure Playground, renovated in 2020. Toddlers can enjoy a dedicated area filled with concrete animals and a sandbox. For the more adventurous, there are slides of all sizes, including one super long tunnel slide, a climbing mound, climbing nets, and a climbing wall to conquer. There are also plenty of swings, monkey bars, balance challenges, and tunnels. After your kids tire themselves out, be sure to check out the miniature train and the classic carousel, both of which operate from May to August for a small fee. There is plenty of parking, and bathrooms are located near the playground.

Even the littlest tots will find Clemyjontri Park fun and accessible. Photo by the author

Destination Playgrounds Near DC in Northern Virginia 

10. Clemyjontri Park — McLean

With over two acres of play space, Clemyjontri Park is a fully accessible playground “where every child can play.” Children who use wheelchairs, walkers or braces, or who have sensory or developmental disabilities can have a parallel playground experience of fun and exploration. There are climb-on structures with slides, monkey bars, and balance challenges, as well as a variety of climb-on toys including cars, buses, planes, and animals. There are also dozens of swings and a maze to explore. During the summer, you can ride on a large carousel and a trackless train. Train rides cost a small fee. The rubber ground surface is stroller-friendly, and there are lots of shaded areas. There is plenty of parking, and you’ll find picnic tables, vending machines, and on-site bathrooms.

11. Annandale Community Park and Hidden Oaks Nature Center — Annandale

The Annandale Community Park and Hidden Oaks Nature Center are wonderful for nature-loving families with beautiful wooded trails, ponds, and the nature center to explore. The park includes two different play areas for kids. There’s a natural play area in the woods, where children can use their imaginations and natural materials to build and play. In August 2020, a new butterfly-themed playground opened at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, where kids can play and learn about the life cycle of caterpillars and butterflies. The accessible playground includes two different play spaces with equipment for kids ages 2-5 and 5-12 with balance challenges, climbing areas, and plenty of slides. There is a large shaded picnic area if you want to pack a lunch, and bathrooms are on site.

12. Chestnut Hills Park — Arlington

This four-acre park has two large, education-themed playground areas for toddlers and older kids. The toddler area has lots of wavy wooden bridges and tunnels for climbing and crawling under on a soft rubber surface, along with small slides and swings. There is also a large sand pit for digging and exploring. The big-kid play area has large slides and climbing structures, balance beams, a zip line, and a track for running around or riding bikes. The entire playground is fenced in and there are lots of benches and areas to sit in the shade. There are public restrooms in the park, although it’s a bit of a walk from the playground. There is no parking lot, but street parking is usually available.

13. Fantasy Playground — Woodbridge

Fantasy Playground is a great place for kids to explore and unleash their imaginations. The large main wooden structure is full of secret passages, tunnels, slides, and more. There are lots of swings, including bucket swings and a tire swing, as well as a sandbox area to dig in. There is a small picnic area and parking, but there are no bathrooms on site. The ground under the play area is covered in gravel, so closed-toe shoes are recommended.

14. Franconia Family Recreation Area — Alexandria

This recreation area is home to Chessie’s BIG Backyard, named after the Chesapeake Bay’s sea-monster cousin to the Loch Ness monster. This play area includes an accessible playground for all ages with a padded rubber surface and lots of features to climb, crawl, and slide on. There is also a tree house and the 2,160-foot Chessie’s Trail, where kids can explore sensory features like a sound garden and animal figures. A carousel runs from April to October. Our Special Harbor sprayground, open in the summer, has fun features including a spraying osprey nest and misting sunflowers, as well as a quieter beach area for younger kids with gentle fountains and interactive water tables. The park and sprayground are free, with a small fee for the carousel. There are bathrooms and covered picnic areas.

15. Potomac Yard Park — Alexandria

Potomac Yard Park offers inclusive playground spaces for toddlers and big kids separated by a large interactive fountain that kids can splash and play in during the summer. The toddler play area includes small slides, swings, balance beams, drums, and a maze with lots of interactive, sensory features. Bigger kids, ages 5 and older, can challenge themselves with larger slides, climbing structures, swings, and a zip line. Train tracks run right behind the playground and airplanes landing at National Airport frequently fly over, providing additional entertainment for the kids. The rest of the park includes an outdoor stage, lots of green space, fields and sports courts, and trails. There is parking available, public restrooms, and water fountains.

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