NJ Parks: Exploring the Regatta Playground in Essex County's South Mountain Recreation Complex

6/18/15 - By Jamie Grill

The Regatta Playground in West Orange has been on my to-do list since it opened in 2014. Now that my family and I have visited the nautical-themed romping spot, I can confirm it's not just your run-of-the-mill playground. Located at Cherry Lane, the Regatta Playground is the newest addition to the South Mountain Recreation Complex, which also includes the Turtle Back Zoo, the Essex County Treetop Adventure Course, Codey Arena and MiniGolf Safari. With all those attractions, the complex is a pleasant day trip, although the Regatta Playground is a destination unto itself.


Since the playground recently opened, the equipment is still sparkling new. The waterfront at South Mountain Recreation Complex provides access to the Regatta Playground, which sits next to the Clipper Pavilion picnic area, a paddle boat launch, and a 1.7-mile walking path around a reservoir. In keeping with the water theme, the playground boasts equipment designed to look like boats.

As we drove up on one of the first warm days this season, my first impression was that it was overcrowded, but the parking ran smoothly with attendants in place. There are several ways to access the park, giving visitors a choice of parking. One way is to park across the street from the playground; another is to park at McLoones Boathouse, follow the path out to the reservoir, and make a right heading toward the paddle boats.

Once inside the playground gates, we found it busy but we had no problem finding seating among an ample supply of Adirondack chairs. The same went for the adjacent Clipper Pavilion picnic area, which had plenty of seating under the shady pavilion.

The gates themselves are one of the park's highlights. With only one entrance in and out, parents can have peace of mind that children won’t be able to scamper off. The playground also has a rubberized safety surface, so falls aren’t a worry either.

The play equipment is designed to look like boats and offers one larger area for 5-12-year-olds, and another for 2-5-year-olds. There are many structures for climbing, including rocky structures and rope webs. There are spinners and a field of fake plastic trees, as well as plenty of slides off the ships.

My infant enjoyed the musical station with drums and a shaker. There are also swings, however there was only one infant swing, so finding activities for non-walkers is a bit tougher. There were some low structures, such as a boat wheel, where he was able to practice standing, and a log tunnel for crawling through.

After playing in the playground, families can eat at the adjacent Clipper Pavilion picnic area or McLoones Boathouse, a great place to grab lunch and a drink on the deck overlooking the reservoir.

In front of the Clipper Pavilion are duck boats, which you can take out on the lake. Children must be ages 2 and up to ride them. Pricing for the two-person or four-person boats can be found on the website.

Finally, just taking a walk around the reservoir is a great way to spend an afternoon. There were some people fishing and it was a very dog-friendly path with baggie stations. We walked the whole loop and there is a pretty bridge, another area with chairs, and plenty of turtles and birds to spot along the way. The Turtle Back Zoo’s train runs through the woods and can be seen from the path. Our son loved waving to the riders as the train came by each time and whistled at the walkers.

A stop at the Regatta Playground would make a great addition to a zoo visit, but with everything else to do, you could easily make a day out of playing, walking, renting boats and having a picnic.

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