One of the things I love most about living in upper Manhattan is the abundance of green spaces. But while we've got amphitheaters and ball fields galore, we've had a lack of renovated, state-of-the-art destination playgrounds. However, that's starting to change. I noticed a handful of local parks on the city's list for revitalization, but those projects are still in the works and I have three energetic kids to entertain, pronto. That's why I was thrilled when friends raved to me about the overhauled Nature Discovery Playground in Fort Washington Park. My kids and I checked it out, and it did not disappoint! From a cool tree house to an exciting zip line, there are lots of exceptional attractions for kids, along with the usual fun play stuff.
Located around 165th Street in Fort Washington Park, the Nature Discovery Playground debuted in December 2013 and is just inland from the Hudson River. Surrounded by trees in this beautiful but remote area, you may feel like you're not in the city anymore, though the distant hum of cars is ever-present and Amtrak trains whiz by from time to time.
Train lovers will enjoy spotting the Amtrak trains as they rumble by.
Yes it's a bit of a trek to get to, but once there you can relax on the benches or at the picnic tables while the kids play. You can even try to snag one of the charcoal grills and do a cookout. Take note: during the summer months, tables and grills are both precious commodities, so arrive early if you want to stake your claim!
Kids should enjoy spending the day in this expansive, nature-themed playground, with larger-than-life sculptures of leaves, mushrooms and logs that are fun to jump on.
Nature statues dot the edges of the park; they're fun but challenging to balance on.
During the summer, the entrance opens into a sprinkler area adjacent to an enclosed swing section. The main play area features a large rope pyramid for climbing, a tree house and a series of zip lines. There's also a small sandbox on the northern end. I really appreciated the wide variety of activities; there was plenty of entertainment for each of my kids, who range in age from 1 to 9-years-old.
The zip lines always draw a crowd of happy kids.
The large, old trees provide plenty of shade, and the proximity to the river helps beat the heat, too. You may even catch a bit of a breeze! A word to the wise: While the Parks Department sets up Porta Potties nearby in peak season, the rest of the year you have to walk a few blocks north to the bathroom when nature calls.
All paths lead to this low-slung bridge.
The best way to find the Nature Discovery Playground is to enter Fort Washington Park (which sits below the Henry Hudson Parkway in Washington Heights) at 158th Street. Walking west from Broadway, head down a steep hill until you spot the winding ramp that takes you directly under the highway and into the park. From there, head north and enjoy the view of the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse until you reach the playground.
Looking down at the spiral staircase that leads to the top of the tree house!
While you're in the neighborhood, consider hitting another one of our favorite play destinations, Riverbank State Park about 20 blocks south, or peruse our Washington Heights Neighborhood Guide for the scoop on where to eat and go with kids in the area. You'll find more schlep-worthy romping spots in our Parks and Playgrounds Guide.