11407 NW Jester Park Dr, Granger, IA 50109
Jester Park is not a long drive from Des Moines, but once you hit the front entrance it feels like another 20 minutes until you find the playscape. It’s a lovel drive, though, so just keep going and follow the speed limit. My kids like to sing songs from Into The Woods while we drive through the heavily wooded area. Do not go towards the playground, which is also nice, keep going towards the elk and bison, you will find the playscape.
A natural playscape is not a typical playground. There is no plastic or metal or rubberized surfaces. There are wood chips and rocks, dirt and weeds. Kids need nature and they are not being exposed to nature the way we were growing up. I use “we” assuming that if you have a family you probably grew up with skinned knees and wet shoes in the summer, but I’m not exactly sure when they started paving and padding everything. Goldy and Beauty were lucky to have a playground and a pond directly behind our apartments most of their childhood, so we didn’t frequent other pars very much. I love the exciting, modern playgrounds that I have previously written about, and they play a wonderful part in making sure our kids are moving and not spending too much time with screens in their faces, but if you want a true outdoor experience with the comforts of a playground you can’t beat a playscape.
There are 3 playscapes in the area, currently, that I am aware of, and another going in right in our neighborhood at our favorite splash pad, McHenry Park. I am always looking for more. (Hint hint leave a comment if you know of one!) Jester is probably our favorite because it is closer than Brenton Arboretum, which I will write about next, and the water feature is more fun than Sargent Park.
There is always plenty of parking fairly close to the play area. The bathroom is in the parking area, just a small building with an outhouse toilet and plastic urinal, but they keep it clean and provide antibacterial soap, if you’re into that. There is also a water fountain but I recommend bringing your own water bottles. There is not much shade anymore. They cut down our favorite shade tree that we usually sat under to eat lunch. There is a lot to do but my kids always go straight for the water. If it gets crowded or unruly we go down the hill to the sandbox. There are also wood blocks, a prairie grass maze, and prairie animals to view. There are no picnic tables at the playscape but you can lay out a blanket or drive to the nearby picnic areas. There are benches and one by the water that even provides a little shade. I imagine it would be a handy place to breastfeed a younger child while an older sibling played in the water. The website says this play are is best for children over 5, but mine have been having fun their since they could toddle. When it gets busy you may want to take little ones to the sand box.
For the love of all things pink and sparkly, though, watch your children. My sister in law and I witnessed several little boys throwing large rocks into the water where other kids were playing, while the adults responsible for them sat under a shady awning, ignoring them. When one little boy got a rock to the scalp and was gushing blood his mother patched him up, they told the kids not to throw rocks and went right back to their shady hideaway. I think I have mentioned that I dislike these trendy names for parenting types, helicopter moms and free range parents. I think we need a new trend. Common sense. If all the other parents at the play area have to make their kids leave the water because yours are being unruly, you need to hover a little more. That doesn’t make you a helicopter parent. It makes you and your child decent people. I allowed the kids to throw rocks in the water on our last visit because no one else was there. When other children showed up they stopped without being told because for as long as they have been able to pick up rocks I have been teaching them when and where they could throw them. Little S still needs reminders and when he does I remove him from dangerous situations. I don’t want to give you the impression this is a dangerous play area. Far from it! Kids can and do throw rocks anywhere. We go to Jester Park several times a year and have only had this one incident.
My family has been picnicking at Jester Park since before Beauty was born. I know because we have pictures of her there in utero. There are several nice shelters you can just show up and use as long as there isn’t a reserved sign, or you can reserve them for an event. There is a large modern playground with modern bathrooms and showers across the street, an equestrian center, an amphitheater, a golf course, camping, fishing and more. There is also a lodge for events and they hold classes there, as well. If your family loves nature or needs more time in nature you must check it out.
We had a great time and I hope you do, too!