Exploring Franklin Park with Toddlers

Spring is fighting its way tooth and claw into Boston, and what better way to celebrate than to bring the kids out into nature? This weekend we put on our rain boots and prepared to get muddy in Franklin Park. Boston's biggest park  sprawls through Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and Roxbury with lots of great areas to explore.


One of my favorite things about hanging out with kids is the uninhibited curiosity and enthusiasm with which they approach everything in life. The Franklin Park Coalition has an interactive map if you want to plan out your visit ahead of time, but with toddlers and preschoolers, choosing the entrance nearest you and winging it works just as well. Here are our seven favorite places and activities in the park:

  1. Ellicott Arch.  Located on the path into the park from the Williams Street gate, the Ellicott Arch is more affectionately known to our family as the Echo Tunnel. The one- to three-year-old age set can spend probably half an hour just running back and forth through the tunnel exploring the way their voices bounce off the stone.
  2. Scarboro Pond. This man-made pond is a great place to chase Canada geese and mallard ducks, or to feed them if you are so inclined. The pond is also home to fish. The hills surrounding the pond are great for good old fashioned playing in the woods, with lots of leaves and sticks to play with.
  3. Playgrounds. There are three playgrounds in Franklin Park: El Parquesito de Hermandad on Walnut Ave by White Stadium, which includes a water sprinkler for hot summer days; the Tiffany Moore Tot Lot on Seaver Street; and the American Legion Highway Play Area, which is part of a large picnic area.
  4. The Bear Dens.  Once home to several different kinds of bears, the four cages at the Bear Dens have been empty since the old part of the zoo closed in 1960. Now they are a fun place to climb and explore, if a bit on the eerie side.
  5. Climb on rocks. (pictured) Franklin Park is a great place to see Puddingstone, a type of glacial rock found only in Boston. There are large boulders and smaller outcroppings of the stuff everywhere and its lumpy features make it great for climbing on.
  6. Have a picnic.  There are several designated picnic spots with picnic tables throughout the park, or you can just bring a blanket and perch beneath the trees. Franklin Park is the only city park where it is legal to barbecue; red cans are provided in picnic areas for your hot coals.
  7. Look for wildlife. The Franklin Park Coalition has information on the flora and fauna to be found in Franklin Park. Make a list and turn it into a scavenger hunt, or just explore and see what you can find. My toddler and I enjoyed following the goose tracks (and poop) across the sand on the baseball diamond and watching squirrels scramble up trees. If you are lucky you might even spot a deer or coyote!

Things to keep in mind

Franklin Park was deliberately designed to be part wilderness, so it is important to use the same commonsense precautions you would when visiting any wooded area. Wear sunscreen and bug repellant when seasonally appropriate as well as shoes with good soles. While the park is generally clean and safe, it is also a large space that cannot be patrolled or cleaned 24 hours a day. Keep an eye out for the detritus of less savory activities happening in the park--empty liqour bottles and discarded syringes are occasionally found in the less open areas of the park. I would not let such things deter a visit to the park, but it is a good idea to look an area over before letting the kids roll through it. Overall the park is a great place to bring the family.


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