When you’ve got toddlers, especially a wobbly new walker, sometimes the playground can feel like a harrowing experience. With tall play structures with high drop-offs, a child who doesn’t yet understand not to walk in front of the swings (or not to poop in their pants for that matter), and all those big kids out of school… eek, we get it. It can leave you feeling annoyed, nervous, or just make you wanna stay home.
Little Lake County comes to your rescue once more! The following playgrounds have been tried and tested by our very own toddlers and come with a two-sticky-thumbs-up guarantee. We base our recommendations on the following 5-Star System:
- Restrooms: We like real flushing toilets for potty emergencies.
- Sight Lines: Can you see all or most play areas from any angle? We like panoramic views of the playground with few areas where a toddler can hide themselves from your view.
- Ground cover: How does it hold up underneath little ones who are prone to taking a tumble?
- SPF: Does the playground have shade?
- Height of Structures: We don’t like to have to rescue a toddler who’s climbed too high, nor do we want to see them fall when they do!
Betty Russell Community Park, 5300 Pinewood Rd., Gurnee
Find more information on Gurnee Park District website.
Our number #1 pick for a toddler-friendly playground in Lake County has to be the Betty Russell Community Park in Gurnee. It easily fulfills all five of our toddler-approved criteria perfectly. Well-kept restrooms are located right next to the playground. Lovely shaded pavilions with seating surround the play area giving perfect sight lines of all the playground action. Spongy ground cover mixed with some wood chipped areas give your toddlers a soft space to land and no death-defying heights to give you palpitations. Lively colors, a fun toddler-sized maze, and this incredible train structure make it extra appealing to small children. Learn more about this adorable playground in our Betty Russell Playground Profile and see it featured in both Best Playgrounds for a Picnic Playdate and our Ultimate Train Lovers Guide for Kids in Lake County.
Engle Junction Playground, 2200 Grass Lake Road, Lindenhurst (Part of Engle Memorial Park)
Find more information on the Lindenhurst Park District website.
Coming in at a close second is what our writer Holly calls, “the holy grail of playgrounds” for parents of toddlers. While developed for the Lindenhurst Park District’s preschool program, the Engle Junction Playground is in fact open to the public and is situated in front of the park district building. Everything you and your young child could want is right here, with the added bonus of being completely enclosed by a gate. They’ve even added a large canvas shade to keep cool on hot summer days and the park district building means you can pop in for bathroom breaks and to use the water fountain. It’s got all the amenities you crave! Oh yeah, the kids like it too… Learn more in our Engle Juction Playground Profile and you’ll also see it featured in our Ultimate Train Lovers Guide for Kids in Lake County.
Don’t discount any of these playgrounds just because they didn’t merit a full five stars. Serious good times and parental convenience will still be had at any of these wonderful playgrounds. Many of them are our readers’ favorites!
Hastings Lake Playground, 22155 W. Gelden Road, Lake Villa
Find more information on the Lake County Forest Preserves Website.
Since we published our Hastings Lake Playground Profile in 2014, it has received the most views of any playground profile we have published. Each and every time we post photos of this beloved playground, our readers remind us of how much they love it! And what’s not to love? Aside from the pristine bathrooms, water fountains, and spongy turf ground cover, what wins our hearts over time and time again are the charming characters like the turtle and frog pictured above. Kids go gaga over the beavers too and love to play hide and seek in the logs and beaver dam. The only drawback? No shade.
Lambs Farm, 14245 W. Rockland Rd., Libertyville (playground located in business courtyard in front of Sugar Maple Country Store)
For more information visit the Lambs Farm website.
This cute little playground came as quite the surprise to me. Even frequent visitors of the Farmyard at Lambs Farm may not be aware of its existence, but hidden away past the Dogwood Garden and Pet Center and the Cedar Chest Thrift Shop, you’ll find a little courtyard situated directly in front of the Sugar Maple Country Store. The addition of the wooden train was a recent donation from Discover Financial Services. You won’t find spongy turf ground cover here but thickly laid bark mulch makes for soft landings. The only non-toddler friendly structure is a climbing ribbon, but it’s no cause for worry as little ones won’t be able to climb high enough to raise any alarm. There’s no shade on the playground itself, but shaded seating can be found next to the surrounding buildings. CAUTION: You will be tempted (or cajoled by a toddler with a sweet tooth) to visit the Sugar Maple Country Store to buy some sweets, but the good thing is proceeds benefit the important work of Lambs Farm, to help adults with developmental disabilities in our community to live fruitful and dignified lives. Read A Hidden Surprise! Tot Lot at Lambs Farm for a full profile.
Sunset Woods Park, 1801 Sunset Road, Highland Park
For more information visit the Park District of Highland Park website.
Our Managing Editor, Jennifer, was just in awe of this park with its varied playscapes and protected natural areas. There are actually four different play areas in which to choose from, but parents of toddlers will want to gravitate to the tot lot. According to Jennifer,
The tot playground, which is completely fenced in, consists of a pirate-themed ship with various areas to explore. There is also a sandy area with a sand table structure within the tot playground. A brick knee-wall surrounds the sandy area, which is convenient for supervising young builders.
The downside is that the other play areas are so equally alluring in their own way, your toddler may wish to venture further afield and beyond the fence. The other play areas can be more difficult for small children and their worrisome caregivers to navigate. Indoor restrooms are located inside the park district building, but they are no short distance for a toddler with a small bladder or full diaper. Come prepared and it’s definitely a park your whole family will enjoy. Look for Jennifer’s full playground profile in the near future.
Adler Park, 1500 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville
For more information visit Libertyville Recreation & Sports Complex Department website.
Adler Park was a frequent stop when my children were smaller, primarily for the low structures and because you can sit on one of the benches in full shade and have a clear view of the entire playground with almost no blind spots. I could keep an eye on my kids and actually hold a conversation at the same time! My kids especially loved the sand pit with diggers and if you have a kid who loves construction vehicles he or she will love it too. The restrooms, while nearby, are not necessarily close enough for a potty-training toddler in an emergency and I felt the whole playground could use several more inches of mulch, but I still rank it as a 4-star toddler-friendly playground. For an in-depth look at this park read our Adler Park Playground Profile.
Jewett Park, 836 Jewett Park Drive, Deerfield
For more information visit the Deerfield Park District website.
Jewett Park has so many awesome amenities, it’s no wonder we made it a destination on our 2015 Playground Tour. If you have toddlers though, you will want to hone in on just one of the three playgrounds onsite. The tot lot at Jewett Park is one of two playgrounds that is located right next to the Jewett Park Community Center. According to Maureen,
The upper play area is a tot area, which includes a sandy play area, along with a train play structure, lots of small climbers and tot size vehicles and interesting play spots. They also have large disc swings in this area that were lots of fun. But the highlight of the tot area for me had to be the fact that it’s fenced in with gates that those little hands cannot open. This part of the play area is not far from streets, so the fence is a great added layer of protection for parents watching multiple kids.
We love the full shade, the gate, and easy access to indoor facilities but this playground meanders around a corner creating differentiated spaces, so you’ll need to follow your toddler around to keep track of them (although the fencing is a great feature to put your mind at ease.) At times; however, this playground may be closed for use by summer camp or preschool programs. Call (847) 945-0650 to verify before you head out if you want to specifically use this playground. Read our Jewett Park Playground Profile for more information about the park’s other playgrounds and attractions.
These playgrounds may not have received 4 or 5 stars, but they still have qualities that make it worth a trip for you and your toddler if you’re in the area.
Clifford Park, 770 Cunningham Drive, Antioch (behind the Antioch Scout House, south west corner of Poplar and Cunningham)
This little playground is such a hidden gem, it technically doesn’t even have an official name, but locals call it Clifford Park. Holly tells you why she likes it so much and what makes it great for toddlers in the Clifford Park Playground Profile.
Hart’s Woods Park, Robert W. Rolek Community Center, 814 Hart Road, Round Lake
For more information visit the Round Lake Area Park District website.
While there is equipment meant for older children at this park, Rosie and her little boys really enjoy the tot-sized equipment as do many of our readers. Lots of shade and a fence that completely encloses the entire play area make it very accommodating. Read all of Rosie’s impressions in the Hart’s Woods Park Playground Profile.
Did we miss your toddler’s favorite playground? Tell us about it!