Climbing the peak at Van Doren’s Landing Park. Phot credit: Natasha Dillinger
Fun fact: A 4-year-old became the youngest person ever to summit Mount Rainier when he and his family climbed our most famous peak in 1999.
If that feat seems a little out of reach for your kids — or most adults — don’t worry. The unique new playground at Kent’s Van Doren’s Landing Park offers a pint-sized mountain, inspired by the real deal.
On a recent sunny day, my family and I set out to assess this mini Mount Rainier. Bottom line: Your crew will love climbing to the summit, over and over — with no mountaineering experience required.
“I climbed a mountain and I turned around”
My own 4-year-old shows no signs of wanting to strap on crampons and carry an ice axe, but he happily bounded up the mini mountain’s springy poured-rubber surface. Toddlers who need more stability can grab on to authentic-looking mountain ridges. Kids can stand triumphantly at the top, then choose one of three concrete slides to glissade down to the ground, before another summit attempt.
While the play mountain will undoubtedly grab and hold kids’ attention, Van Doren’s Landing’s updated playground has lots more to offer.
Spin, zip or swing
Zip lines hold a special attraction for my kids and they made a beeline for this family-favorite feature as soon as they descended from the mountain.
This zip line has a relatively high launch platform with minimal space to wait. Two older girls helped my son climb aboard and even gave him an extra turn whizzing down the wire. Playgrounds offer a unique opportunity to practice social skills, and the park goers playing during our visit deserve an award for the kindest kids in town.
A double-decker cone spinner located at the foot of the mountain drew in my 7-year-old, along with several other older kids, like a magnet. They took turns pushing each other and climbing to the top for a spin with a view.
For a bigger challenge, my daughter loved standing on the Kompan Supernova spinner and trying to balance as gravity whirled her around. This simple-looking but tricky piece of equipment resembles some sort of tilted merry-go-round, circular balance beam and treadmill all in one.
Play for tots
Younger children will find a number of sensory panels and slides of their own size at a pirate-ship-themed climber near the zip line.
Relatively clear sightlines allow caregivers to supervise a toddler and an older child at the same time. Another bonus for parents of young children: The park sits away from the parking area and the road, so there’s a lower risk of your tiny tot darting into traffic.
The swing set, with two belt swings and two toddler swings, seemed a little like an afterthought when compared to the splashier park structures. My kids “rested” for a few minutes while my husband pushed them on the swings, but then they were off for more mountain fun.
I saw a few steps toward accessibility, but I felt the park update missed the mark a bit in this regard. Playground architects recommend that the coolest feature of a park should be accessible to everyone. While the mountain climber has a combination of accessible rubber surfacing and turf, it’s probably too steep to access for someone using a mobility device, and the slides end in the wood chips that cover the rest of the playground.
An accessible swing with appropriate surfacing underneath would go miles towards making the park more welcoming for kids with disabilities.
Moving mountains for play (and salmon)
Van Doren’s Landing sits on the shores of the Lower Green River, a 21-mile waterway that provides critical salmon habitat, but is also susceptible to flooding.
Improving flood containment structures and providing a better environment for salmon required completely relocating the park to the east, as part of the $52-million Lower Russell Setback Levee project. Not a small undertaking!
While locals missed this popular park during the nearly three-year closure, part of that massive budget went towards constructing this unique new playground with more space for community gathering.
The park gets its fair share of sunshine. Sapling trees planted throughout the park will take years to grow large enough to provide any shade cover. I appreciated the light color of the rubber surfacing and slides — no metal scorchers or heat-absorbing dark colors to burn little legs as they climb — but make sure you apply plenty of sunscreen and wear sunglasses or the reflective glare will leave you squinting. (Not unlike real mountaineering!)
Two large picnic shelters with grills and water-filling stations look like the perfect place for your next barbecue. A Wiffle ball field and pickleball court provide older kids and grown-ups an opportunity to be active and offer peekaboo views of the real Mount Rainier.
Don’t forget your bikes and scooters. Luckily, we had ours in the car after a holiday-weekend camping trip. Scooting along the smooth new pathways kept our park visit going long after the thrill of a new playground had subsided. You could even make a day of your visit by biking along the adjacent Green River Trail.
Whether you visit the park early in the morning for a crowd-free “sunrise summit” (I’m sure the Washington Trails Association will list this mountain hike soon – ha!) or make it the site of your next group gathering, Van Doren’s Landing is a must-visit new playground for this summer.
If you go…
Open hours: Kent parks are open daily, dawn to dusk.
Parking: Free parking is available in a dedicated lot.
Facilities: Multi-stall restrooms are available, but there were no changing tables. We saw water-bottle-filling stations at both picnic shelters and near the restrooms, although the restroom location was not operating during our visit.
More playground fun: Kent is really on a recent playground roll: