Get outside and play in nature

Whether you’re five or 95, we all have an inner child who wants to get out and play. That’s the philosophy behind Metro Parks’ natural play areas: bring out your inner child and have fun climbing trees, building forts and wading in creeks.

Natural play areas are great places for families and friends to play together. Photo/Melanie Slavens

There are natural play areas at eight parks, all of them palaces of fun for everyone to enjoy.

At Battelle Darby Creek, the 9-acre natural play area has boulders and fallen logs to climb and easy access to the creek, where you can wade in the water and search for aquatic wildlife. There are footpaths through the woods and several visitor-made forts to play in. You can access the natural play area from the last parking lot in the Indian Ridge Picnic Area.

Some of the natural play areas have easy access to creeks or streams where you can enjoy wading or search for aquatic wildlife. Photo/Kim Strosnider
Fort building is a popular activity in most of the natural play areas. Photo/Laura Beckwith

At Glacier Ridge’s 1-acre natural play area we have play structures made from cedar wood with towers, ramps, ropes, ladders and a zipline. The play structures were designed and built by students from the Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. The park also features a 4-acre obstacle course.

The rope wall is a popular feature of the play structures at Glacier Ridge’s natural play area. Photo/Bryan Knowles

At Sharon Woods, a 7.5-acre area includes a wooded hillside with trees and vines to climb and easy access to Spring Creek at the bottom of a hill. There is a fort at the top of the hill and plenty of natural materials to build more forts. There may be remains of fairy houses from the annual fairy and elf house building program. Enter the natural play area from the last parking lot at the Apple Ridge Picnic Area.

Large trees make perfect hide-outs for games of hide and seek. Photo/Allison Shaw




Fairy and elf house building at the natural play area is one of Sharon Woods’ favorite activities. Photo/Allison Shaw

Prairie Oaks has the largest natural play area, a 25-acre area that surrounds Beaver Lake and features giant sycamore trees. Go to the Beaver Lake parking lot on Lucas Road and enter the natural play area at the south end of the lot.

Natural play areas are there to have fun at any time of year and in any type of weather. Photo/Allison Shaw

At Blendon Woods, a 10-acre natural play area features a wooded hillside and ravine where kids can play. REI and Michelle Zugaro provided donations that allowed us to create some terrific play structures, including a zipline, teeter-totter, basket swing, cargo climbing net, a tether-ball game and various stepped logs over ravines and streams. Turn right at the ranger station then second left to the parking lot. Entrance to the natural play area is at the far end of the lot.

The rope walk and cargo nets are one of many exciting play features at the Blendon Woods natural play area. Photo/Michelle Zugaro

The Highbanks 15-acre natural play area backs against the Scenic River Trail and lets you explore a forest and take a path to the Olentangy River. There is a new zipline and plenty of sticks and branches to make a fort. Turn left at the intersection in the Big Meadows Picnic Area and stop at the first parking lot. Entrance to the natural play area is on the left.

A boy finds a crayfish at Highbanks. Photo/Kim Strosnider

At Slate Run, a 7-acre area is bordered by a creek and features trees to climb and leaves to play in. Go to the Shady Grove Picnic Area, walk past the observation deck on the Five Oaks Trail and down to the bottom of the hill.

Playing in the leaves at Slate Run’s natural play area is great fun for anyone. Photo/Andrea Krava

The 12-acre natural play area at Three Creeks features a pine forest where you can climb trees, play hide and seek and build forts from sticks and branches. Go to the Confluence Trails Area and look for the entry sign on the right.

There are lots of materials to build forts at Three Creeks’ natural play area. Photo/Dan Bissonette