Montlake Playfield. Photo credit: Linnea Westerlind
There’s been a lot of discussion in the media in recent years about whether we are giving kids enough opportunities to take physical risks in their free play. One way for parents and caregivers to encourage kids to safely test their limits is to seek out local parks that offer more challenging playground equipment. Here are our top picks for Seattle and Eastside-area playgrounds where kids can get a true thrill, from steep slides to high-flying swings to long zip lines. (Note: Remember to always read signage at parks for safe play guidelines and make sure your child knows his or her limits.) Did we miss a playground? Add it in the comments!
Othello Playground, South Seattle
A longtime favorite, Othello Playground’s long metal slide is built into a steep grass hillside. Climb the wooden stairs and then get ready for a fast ride to the bottom. Kids will want to take this ride again and again. This park also features a play area with climbing structure, swings and a zip line (parts of the playground are set to be replaced and improved in 2017). You’ll also find lots of space for games of Frisbee or soccer at this popular neighborhood park.
Location: 4351 S. Othello St. in South Seattle. Free street parking is available, and buses stop nearby. The Othello light rail station is located one block to the east.
Summit Park, Issaquah
This little-known neighborhood park in the Issaquah Highlands community has two exhilarating slides that start at the top of a hill. Parents can check out views from the top as kids zoom down these curving plastic slides. Older kids will enjoy the Kompan climbing structure. Don’t miss the oversized checkers and chess boards. Note, Summit Park is a private park owned by the Issaquah Highlands Community Association, but it’s open to the public.
Location: Corner of 30th Ave. N.E. and N.E. Harrison St. in Issaquah. Free street parking is available. Buses stop in the central shopping district 1.6 miles away.
Shoreview Park, Shoreline
Part of a huge greenspace that is actually two adjacent parks making up 88 acres, this playground sits near the playfields, within easy wheelchair- and stroller-accessible reach of the parking lot. Two colorful climbing structures are bursting with slides — eight by my count. Gutsy kids can climb to the top of the larger play tower that has two tube slides that drop two stories. The smaller structure is just as fun for little tykes. The park also has kid-friendly hiking trails, an off-leash dog park, tennis courts and a second playground (more slides!) near the baseball field.
Location: 700 N.W. Innis Arden Way in Shoreline. Free parking is available in the lot near the playground. Buses stop near adjacent Shoreline Community College, 0.7 miles away.
Thrilling zip lines
Lincoln Park, West Seattle
Dozens of parks in the area have zip lines now, but Lincoln Park’s has been around for a long time and is still one of the most exciting. The ride starts out slowly but picks up speed before hitting the tire for a giant bounce. (The parks department has been replacing older zip lines with the new, slower style zip line, so ride it while you can!) Nearby you’ll find a wooden playground, sandbox and swings. The beach is also a fantastic play option, just a short walk down a paved path. The park’s north playground (near the wading pool) was replaced in 2016 and is also worth a visit for its new zip line and treehouse-style climbing structure.
Location: 8011 Fauntleroy Way. Park for free in the southern parking lot located at Fauntleroy Way S.W. and S.W. Cloverdale St. in West Seattle. Buses also run regularly along Fauntleroy Way S.W.
Rainier Beach Playfield, South Seattle
Rainier Beach Playfield has a playground packed with fun equipment, including one of the longest zip lines in Seattle. Jump off the little hill for a long, smooth ride. The playground also has a tall net climber and other challenging rope elements including a cool bridge. The wonderful Rainier Beach Pool is located adjacent to the playground if you want to make your trip into a longer outing.
Location: 8802 Rainier Ave. S. in South Seattle. Parking is available in the lot near the playground. The South Henderson Street light rail station is located a half mile to the east of the park, and buses stop outside the pool/community center
Wilburton Hill Park, Bellevue
Although it’s a huge park (more than 100 acres), Wilburton Hill Park is much less known than Bellevue Botanical Garden, which is next door. You can combine these parks for a fun, adventurous half-day, and Wilburton’s zip line is a great place to start. Sit or stand on the disc and take a good push off the small hill to get the most speed. The rest of the play area includes a colorful train to play on, a net spinner, swings and a two-story tree-house-style structure. Fabulous flat hiking trails are within easy reach at the botanical garden to the west of the play area (or drive down the street and park closer for little legs).
Location: 12400 Main Street in Bellevue. Free parking is available in the lot near the playground. Buses stop about a half mile away.
Cowen Park, North Seattle
The Cowen Park swings are well known for being very long, allowing kids to reach an impressive height. In addition to the two regular swings and two baby swings, Cowen Park has a playground with slides, a merry-go-round and a zip line. Hiking trails that connect to Ravenna Park are a fun excursion for families with older kids.
Location: 5849 15th Ave. N.E. in North Seattle. Parking is available along the side streets. Buses stop next to the park.
Woodland Park, North Seattle
Woodland Park's 12-foot swings are some of the tallest in the city. Four regular swings and one baby swing are connected on one structure. The playground features a large treehouse-style attraction and a dome net climber. For younger siblings, there’s a mini version of the treehouse and more baby swings. The playground is a great place to visit before or after a trip to the zoo.
Location: Immediately north of the Woodland Park Zoo at Phinney Ave. N. and N. 59th St. Free parking is available on nearby residential streets. Paid parking is available in the adjacent Zoo parking lot and buses stop on Phinney Ave. N.
Tallest net climbers
Montlake Playfield, Seattle's Montlake neighborhood
This super-adventurous park outside of Montlake Community Center has some of the best climbing equipment around. Start on the challenge course where kids (and adults!) will take rope bridges and climb nets to reach a high pinnacle and then exit through a long, tube slide. On the other structure, take a ladder up to the top of the spaceship for a view of this whole park, which includes tot play toys, adult exercise equipment, a waterfront wildlife viewing trail, basketball hoops and much more.
Location: 1618 E. Calhoun St., Seattle. Parking is available in the free lot. Buses stop near the 520 bridge exit.
Powell Barnett Park, Seattle’s Central District
Powell Barnett’s net climber gives kids a thrilling climb and a view of the rest of the playground, which has plenty of fun and challenging things to do. The Kompan play structure includes a steep steel slide and climbing walls. Little ones have several smaller play spaces including a cute fire truck and play house. Flat paved paths in the park are bike-friendly.
Location: 352 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Seattle. Free parking is available on the street. Buses stop in front of the park.
Roxhill Park, West Seattle
A popular West Seattle play area, Roxhill Park boasts a fun dome climber that offers challenges at various levels as kids master their climbing skills. Older kids can also test out the unusual climbing wall that consists of rock climbing holds fastened to vertical poles. The large playground that resembles a castle is exciting for all ages. Roxhill Park also has a large sandbox, swings and short walking trails.
Location: 2850 S.W. Roxbury St. in West Seattle. Parking is available in a small, free lot. Buses stop regularly along S.W. Roxbury St.
Best rock-climbing walls
Deane's Children's Park, Mercer Island
This amazing forested park can keep kids busy for hours. Older kids and even teenagers can do some serious bouldering on the large rock climbing structure. Two large playgrounds provide more fun — one has taller challenges and the other is designed for littler kids. And kids of all ages can appreciate the fun dragon slide that’s been an icon in the Mercer Island community for decades. This shady park is ideal for hot summer days. During summer, kids can also build away at the park's Adventure Playground program.
Location: 5500 Island Crest Way, iMercer Island. Note: On some maps programs, this park is called Island Crest Park. A parking lot is located close to the play area. Note: On some maps, this park is called Island Crest Park. A free parking lot is located close to the play area entrance.
Bayview-Kinnear Park, Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood
Tucked underneath one of Seattle’s most famous viewpoints, Kerry Park, you’ll find Bayview-Kinnear Park (also known as Lower Kerry Park). Rock-climbing holds cover a long cement wall along one side of the play area. Kids can practice bouldering back and forth and even getting a little bit of height off the wood chips. The other big draw at this park is the set of fast slides that are built into the hillside. You’ll also find challenging Kompan play equipment. Buses stop two blocks to the east and south of the park.
Location: Third Ave. W. & W. Prospect St., Seattle. Free parking is available along the street.
Overall adventure playgrounds
Fisher Creek Park, Snoqualmie
This awesome park opened in 2015 and is a must-do for adventure-seekers. The seven steep slides are pretty scary, the two zip lines pick up a lot of speed and the net dome climber has an unusual, challenging shape. Don’t miss the huge climbing wall that could occupy kids for plenty of time on its own or the obstacle course-style play structure. Finally got bored? Head into the small forest to find the kid-friendly BMX bike track.
Location: 7805 Fisher Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie. Free parking is available in the lot near the playground. Buses, although infrequent, stop near the entrance to the park.
Artists at Play, Seattle Center
Opened in 2015, the artist-designed playground at Seattle Center (at the Next 50 Plaza, between EMP Museum and the Armory) is one of the most adventure-oriented playgrounds in the greater Seattle area. Features include a jaw-dropping, 35-foot climbing structure, one of the tallest such structures in North America. Kids (recommended ages 5–12) can scale the rope ladders that lead straight to the top or take the route up through the large climbing net and then traverse the narrow rope passageways to reach the top of two tall tube slides. Younger kids or the less adventurous will like the ADA-accessible swing set that prompts wind chimes to ring; an ingenious sound fence where kids can pull on a billiards ball and a string plays a perfectly tuned note; a labyrinth; and a smaller play structure.
Location: Next 50 Plaza, Seattle Center. Paid parking is available in several lots and on side streets. Many buses stop close to Seattle Center. Another option is to take the Monorail from Westlake Center.
Jefferson Park, South Seattle
For a full day of activities to challenge your kids, take a trip to Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill. At the top of “Beacon Mountain,” you’ll find the most exciting attractions: Two zip lines cross the hillside — including the longest in Seattle! Nearby you’ll find two slides — one is so steep that parents should watch little kids near the top. The park also has several pieces of Kompan equipment including another steep slide and challenging climbing elements. All ages will enjoy the spray park that’s open in the summer and flat paved paths that are perfect for biking.
Location: 3801 Beacon Ave S. in South Seattle. Free parking is available in the parking lot. Buses stop frequently nearby.
Editor's note: This article was written in August 2014 and updated and expanded to add more parks in March 2017.