Tamarack Nature Center Discovery Hollow

My Grands are at an age and activity level this summer where I can’t safely take them to an actual playground by myself. They both want and need attention, and while I turn for a “Grandma, look at me!” with Jack (3.5), Grace (2), the climber, will quick-as-a-wink, get herself in some dangerous spot. So, I am more comfortable with adventures rooted more firmly on the ground at the moment.


Monday, we had a fab morning at the Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township. It opens at nine, and it we had it to ourselves for a bit, which was great for the initial visit. Within the hour, it filled up with Moms and Grandmas, and even a few school kids, but everyone played together quite nicely! We started with the overlook to fulfill Grace’s climbing itch, but she had plenty of rocks her size below to occupy her for the two plus hours we were there. There is a sand pit with leftover sand toys and a water tap that allowed for great comradery in digging streams and diverting them with dams. There are other streams, toe to ankle deep, that are also very entertaining. There are man-made caves, a raised garden area with lots of info and watering cans for the kids to “help”. Another spot has large tree trunks and stripped branches for grand teepee building or anything else the kids might think of. Jack stuck branches in a hole in the bottom of a large trunk lying on its side to make it look like the entrails of a rocket ship while older kids were crisscrossing branches to make a “roof” between two trunks, strong enough to sit on. There are benches and shaded picnic areas, and a building with a few snakes, turtles, frogs, and bees to see up close.


Sunscreen, Crocs or Jellie shoes for water play, sun hats (for you too!), a towel, maybe a change of clothes or swim suit (G landed in the stream at least once), and maybe a stroller to keep it all together in one spot, not necessarily for kids.  There are trails and a trail map in case you want to use it for actually strolling. You could bring sand toys, but there are some there, and it would be hard to keep track as the kids go from one thing to another.


Play elements include:

  • The Wood: Build a tree fort!
  • The Overlook: Climb the cliffs.
  • The Stream: Make a dam and learn how water flows.
  • The Garden: Help grow plants, pull weeds and water.
  • The Mud Table: Play in the mud!
  • The Hobbit House: Crawl in and over the house like a hobbit!

Open daily: 9 a.m. - dusk (30 minutes after sunset)
Garden Hours: Monday - Saturday: 9am - 4:30pm, Sunday: noon - 4:30pm


This one is worth a drive, but do some googling to find what might be close to you. Here is a top ten list from the Nature Conservancy. The link is for Minnesota, but you can do a search for your state. And a link for Nature Playgrounds on Family Fun Twin Cities – several I want to try! Let us know what you recommend, even if you are in a distant state!