Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Grab the kids and head to Mill Creek's new Exploration Park playground and you'll find lots of room to run, play, climb and hide. Your little adventure crew can get a taste of nature here — climbing boulders and tree trunks, exploring a stream bed and scaling a mountain — all right in town. Find this 1.2-acre circular park in the North Pointe neighborhood of Mill Creek, just off 35th Ave. S.E.
Half of the park is a brand-new grassy play lawn that provides ample room to run. The other half is nature-meets-parkour course. Kids can summit a mini mountain, duck through a tunnel underneath, cross wooden bridges and dig in the gravel-filled den. Playground equipment includes a hillside double slide, a balance beam and a Kompan rope climber and swing set. A dry stream bed filled with rocks leads down to a frog pond.
The new picnic tables are wheelchair-friendly and the concrete sidewalk circling the park meets ADA accessibility standards. It’s a great route for beginning bikers, too. We saw a little boy practicing his balance-bike skills, his dad trailing him with a baby sib in the stroller. “You can keep going, bud! You can go wherever you want,” the dad called out.
Building this new park cost a mind-boggling $1.25 million, with half the money going to grading, drainage and irrigation work. (No more soggy grass!) The park closed down from April to October 2019, and its North Pointe neighbors got to listen to construction vehicles rumbling for six months.
But what a payoff. This park was specifically designed as a neighborhood park, primarily for the 225 homes in the North Pointe development. It is intended for families living within a walkable or bikeable distance, not as a destination park (but you should still go). There are just 22 parking spaces built into the circumference of the park, so plan accordingly.
There’s no restroom here by design and adding one would have reportedly cost another $1 million (Really?). We planned ahead for that detail, though — there’s an Albertson’s and a McDonald’s on 132nd St. S.E., just a half-mile or so away.
Because of the hillside play area, parents don’t have great sight lines. But on a weekday morning, the park was quiet enough that a couple of moms could catch up while sitting at the picnic tables and still hear their kids playing. With all its nooks and crannies, Exploration Park is perfect for an epic game of hide-and-seek.
The swing set includes two regular belt swings and a basket swing. We watched a baby having the tummy time of her life in that basket swing. Later, we saw a determined toddler scramble up the faux-rock steps to the top of the mountain. This park really is for all ages — a super-fun obstacle course for bigger kids, but accessible for waddlers and tots, too.
The beautiful landscaping around the play area includes a frog pond/rain garden, which is designed to collect and filter storm-water runoff. You do have to keep an eye on kids around the little pond if they’re the kind prone to toppling in. Rocks the size of ostrich eggs in the stream bed proved irresistible to a gaggle of preschoolers we saw. We watched them heaving the rocks into the pond so it seems it'll be just a matter of time before that pond gets filled up.
I asked my 4-year-old what he liked best about Exploration Park, and he said it was the slide. At first he was scared and wanted to hold my hand, but then he discovered that the slide is super-slow. So slow he could stroll up and down the slide in his sneakers. It was an exciting discovery.
There’s a ton of fun packed into this half-moon-shaped playground. It’s well worth putting on your circuit, even if you don’t live in the North Pointe neighborhood (shhh...). Just plan a potty stop before and after playing.
If you go...
Find it: Exploration Park is located at 13901 North Point Circle in Mill Creek. (Mill Creek is a city of about 20,000 residents located about 20 miles north of both Seattle and Bellevue, and 10 miles south of Everett.)
Open hours: Mill Creek city parks are open daily, dawn to dusk.
Facilities: This park has no restroom; plan ahead with a pit stop at a shop or restaurant along nearby 132nd St. S.E. There's a Starbucks and a McDonald's within about a mile from this main drag.
Parking: There are 22 parking spaces; likely fine for a weekday. On a sunny weekend, plan to park on the street in the neighborhood and walk a bit.