Playgrounds are the perfect destination when you need a change of scenery and a change of pace. Your kids get fresh air and exercise for FREE! But what happens when your school-aged children decide they’re too cool for their once-favorite neighborhood parks? My 8-year-old former playground-enthusiasts have recently begun to turn their noses up at the local swing sets. And if I do talk them into a playground visit, we last about five minutes.
Playground parents—don’t give up yet. I haven’t! There are some destination playgrounds in New Jersey with features and contraptions novel enough to satisfy even the pickiest playground cynics. These play areas include zip lines, crazy slides, Spiderman-type climbers, and other structures that challenge the ages 7-and-up crowd. We've rounded up some of our top picks across the state, and take note: These playgrounds all feature plenty to entertain the younger siblings as well.
Find more romping spots in our Parks & Playgrounds Guide for Jersey Kids.
A gentle safety reminder: Before you step out, be sure everyone is outfitted with a mask and plan to practice social distancing while you explore. Pack plenty of hand sanitizer for these playground outings!
Hilltop Playground has challenging obstacles for big kids to conquer. Photo courtesy of Designed for Fun, Inc.
Highlights: flying saucer swing, suspended bridge, rope climber
I spent my childhood on the metal swings and slides at Holmdel Park. Today’s Holmdel Park is home to the jazzed-up, modern Hilltop Playground. After flying around on the saucer swing, bigger kids enjoy tackling the multi-level rope climber, which leads to a shaky wooden bridge that connects to another play structure with a twisty slide. Holmdel Park’s lush grounds also feature hiking and fitness trails, another playground, a pond, and the Historic Longstreet Farm.
Highlights: twisty slides, bouncy bridge
Welcome to the jungle! A well-designed playground with innovative wooden structures, Jackson Jungle is a giant maze of towers, tunnels, rope climbers, and super-twisty slides. Monkey bars and a bouncing bridge add to the fun.
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KidStreet's rope zip line is a big hit. Photo by Kaylynn Ebner.
Highlights: rope swings, rope zip line, giant slides, tire swings
Hands down, this is the cream of the crop for my picky playground-goers. With structures comprised of wood, ropes, and tires, this massive playground is one of the most imaginative around and one of the few my kids actually ask to go to. The rope swings and rope zip lines are the highlights of the big-kid attractions. Also featured for the older set are a swinging tire net, rocking benches, tire climbers, and a large, slippery slide. Read our full review of this destination playground.
Highlights: rocking boat, rope obstacle course with crawl-through discs, standing see-saw
This bright, colorful playground has its own section for the 5–12-year-old crowd, complete with unconventional challenges. There's an obstacle course of ropes, crawl-through discs, and climbers. A standing see-saw, LunarBurst rope climber, and Sway Fun rocker add to the fun. The day trip-worthy Colonial Park also houses gardens, paddle boats, and a dog park.
Highlights: giant climbers, man-made beach, splash pad
It’s a playground; it’s a beach. And it’s smack between two urban downtowns. With views of Manhattan and access to the Riverwalk to Hoboken, Newport Green features an awesome play area designated for 5-12-year-olds. Featured attractions are a rope climbing dome with suspended sitting areas, a rope bridge, a large slide, a climbing wall, and a spinning apparatus. Warm-weather visitors love the splash pad, carousel, and the Hudson River’s only urban beach. Read our full review of this destination playground.
Highlights: intricate rope web with trampoline, shaky bridge
You can't beat a playground with a trampoline. The ginormous rope structure at Overpeck has towers, a connecting web, and a trampoline in the center. Getting through the rope maze is a challenge in itself. Climbing walls and spinning structures add to the older-crowd attraction. The sprawling park also features boating, walking and biking paths, and views of the Manhattan skyline.
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The Ponderosa Park rope tower is set in the middle of a massive playground. Photo by the author
Highlights: twisted tube slides, rope pyramid, splash pad
This fairly recent addition to Union County has two distinct playground areas. The one designed for the mature playground crowd includes a climbing wall, twisty tube slide, tunnels, and a rope bridge. A supersized rope tower and a spinning contraption add to the adventure. Ponderosa also has water features, fields, and bike paths.
Highlights: climbing hills, giant slides, flying saucer swings, water mist area
Climb the hills, spin on the merry-go-rounds, going flying on the saucer swing and conquer super-high slides at the recently-renovated Verona Park. Built on a soft, colorful ground with shade coverings, this vast playground offers adventures for all ages. While you're there, enjoy paddle boats, walking paths, and the snack bar. Read our full review of this destination playground.
Highlights: spinning monkey bars, castle climbing structure, rope bridge
Castle-play isn’t exclusive to the younger crowd. The complex, castle-themed climber at Zelley has rope bridges, slides, and a steep sliding pole. Monkey bars that spin, a starry climbing wall, and a rubber bridge round out the older-kid area.
Top photo: Newport Green. Photo courtesy of LeFrak.