10 Nature-Themed Playgrounds in NYC for a Fun Fall Romp

The Zucker Natural Play Area debuted its unique playground in 2013. Photo courtesy of the Prospect Park Alliance
The Zucker Natural Play Area debuted its unique playground in 2013. Photo courtesy of the Prospect Park Alliance

In the concrete jungle of NYC, it’s easy to get swept up by the towering skyscrapers, busy streets, and loud city sounds. The best medicine—and what we probably all need a bit more of—is nature. With that in mind, we culled our knowledge of NYC parks and playgrounds to find the best nature-themed playgrounds for kids to re-connect with the great outdoors.

This list will have you and your kids romping in green spaces, climbing unique structures, and exploring natural wildlife areas, all without leaving the urban jungle. Take a deep breath, dive right in, and enjoy the fresh air! Find more fun places to play in our Guide to Parks and Playgrounds for NYC Kids.

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Nature-Themed Playgrounds in Manhattan

Indian Road Playground – Inwood Hill Park

At the northern tip of Manhattan, nature lovers can experience all that Inwood Hill Park has to offer. After you take a leisurely nature walk or join the Urban Park Rangers for an educational outing, make sure to save time for a romp in the sandpit and playground at Indian Road. There are sprinklers to cool off in the summer months, a wooden canoe, and a play structure to inspire imaginative play at this historic spot that was once part of a trail used by the Rechgawawanc clan of the Weekquaeskeek tribe.

Adventure Playground – Highbridge Park

Living up to its name, this newly-renovated playground in upper Manhattan is worthy of a visit no matter where you live in the city. The giant rope structure is a definite highlight. The surrounding planters add to the natural feel of this friendly play space. Couple your playground adventure with a visit to the nearby Morris-Jumel Mansion to soak in some of Manhattan’s history.

RELATED: Riverside Park’s Best Playgrounds Ranked for Kids and Families to Enjoy

Girl standing on a play hippo at a park surrounded by trees
When the city sun is too much, head to shady Hippo Playground with its water features for kids of all ages. Photo by Jody Mercier

Hippo Playground – Riverside Park

This is the playground that inspired Central Park’s Safari Playground (below), and it is a joy all on its own. This nature-inspired oasis transports children of all ages on a faraway jungle escapade. Kids can even climb inside one of the hippos. Needless to say, even the youngest visitors are filled with glee at this shady Upper West Side spot.

Nature Discovery Playground in Fort Washington Park has plenty of logs and leaves to hop on.
The Nature Discovery Playground in Fort Washington Park is a natural oasis. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks

Nature Discovery Playground – Washington Heights

A natural oasis, the Nature Discovery Playground is one of Fort Washington Park’s special play areas. This playground is surrounded by soaring trees providing plenty of shade and natural beauty for rompers. There’s a beautiful treehouse with rope ladders, slides, and a spiral staircase for kids to enjoy. Nature-themed statues of leaves and mushrooms provide a terrific interactive play area. The highlight for many nature lovers here is the zipline. This feature will have kids feeling like they’re zipping through the treetops in their own NYC “backyard.”

RELATED: Hidden NYC: 23 Fun Things To Do in Central Park

Boy riding on play hippos at a park
Ride a hippo at Central Park's Safari Playground. Photo courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

Safari Playground – Central Park

This popular Central Park playground is famous for its hippopotamus statues that dot the safari’s “river.” The addition of play canoes scattered among the hippos allows children to ramp up their imaginations as they enjoy their NYC safari. Parents can appreciate a stunning view from the playground, which overlooks Central Park's reservoir.

Billy Johnson Park is built with natural wooden logs and creatively integrated into its surroundings.
Billy Johnson Playground is well-known for its thoughtful integration into the surrounding landscape of the park and its spectacular, fast slide. Photo by Jody Mercier

Billy Johnson Playground – Central Park

Wooden structures abound at this outdoor escape in the heart of Central Park. Everywhere you turn, the play space resembles a sculpted forest, adding to the natural feel of this space. Toddler swings and tire swings hang from polished logs, and kids will be thrilled to zoom down the long, winding granite slides. There are built-in wooden benches for parents and caregivers to sit on while the kids roam.

Nature-Themed Playgrounds in Brooklyn

The Donald and Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area – Prospect Park

If you and your family are craving the great outdoors, look no further than the Zucker Natural Exploration Area in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. This is a truly natural play area for kids to enjoy. Natural materials, such as trees and logs, collected after Superstorm Sandy make for an imaginative playground setup. They have been repurposed into structures that foster creative play and create a truly organic space for outdoor adventures.

Marine Park Playgrounds – Marine Park

There’s are four playgrounds nestled in Brooklyn’s Marine Park. They include Lenape Playground, Dr. John’s Playground, the PS 278 Playground, and Seba Playground. Swings and equipment are in abundance. Staying true to the park’s name, climbable sculptures of marine animals, including a turtle and hippo are found at these playgrounds. See how many the kids can spot along the way!

RELATED: Best Playgrounds in Brooklyn's Prospect Park (Ranked!)

The Seaside Wildlife Nature Playground is surrounded by nearly 20 acres of picturesque wilderness. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks

Nature-Themed Playgrounds in Queens & Staten Island

Alley Pond Park Playgrounds – Douglaston, Queens

Also boasting multiple natural playground spaces, Alley Pond Park is home to Horatio Playground, Springfield Playground, and Wild Flower Meadow. The park itself is a perfect spot to enjoy a nature walk and observe wildlife such as birds and turtles. Springfield Playground has unique features including a small climbing wall and textured slide that adds to the natural feel of the surrounding green space.

Seaside Wildlife Nature Park – Great Kills, Staten Island

A ride on the iconic orange ferry boat is a worthy introduction to this seafaring-themed playground. The play space is nestled in a natural area that is home to wildlife and sweeping waterfront views. If you arrived by ferryboat, then your little ones will be extra excited to use their knowledge at this entirely maritime-themed playground. A giant shipwreck, striped lighthouse, and shark are highlights to enjoy.

Bonus: Coming Soon to Lower Manhattan

Battery Playscape – The Battery

We simply cannot wait for the opening of this new nature-themed playground in lower Manhattan. There will be five themed areas: riverbed, bluff, meadow, dune, and marsh. These urban ecological spaces will be surrounded by gardens, rocks, sweeping slides, and treehouses. Ladders, free play space, and water features are just a few of the other unique features of this one-of-a-kind playground set for a November 2021 opening.

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