Lazy summer days at the pool are an absolute must. But, do one better and schedule raging days at splash pads. Some we’ve uncovered are neighborhood gems while others are all-out amusement-park-style destinations. Either way, you and your tot will be happy to cool off without taking a dunk or forking over much — most are free. Keep reading for the hottest picks for a cool-down.
Buffalo Grove Spray 'N Play
Enjoy a Wisconsin Dells-like day without crossing the border. Kids get drenched running through rainbow-colored archways, shooting water cannons and traipsing through geysers. Those scared of getting splashed will love the sprawling, multi-level water table with boats. The ground is concrete, so pack your bag with sturdy-soled water shoes and a few band-aids—just in case.
951 McHenry Rd., Buffalo Grove (847-793-0570 or bgparkdistrict.org)
Adams Playground Park
While many places offer sprinklers, this one is a veritable water park with a mini slide and pipes springing “leaks.” The waterfalls are gentle enough for babies, but you’ll find older kids in the mix, too. Just beyond the fenced-in splash area is a playground and generously sized sandbox filled with toys. Bonus: The fieldhouse here is one of the nicer ones around town; take advantage of it for potty breaks and changing in and out of swimsuits.
1919 N. Seminary St. (312-742-7787 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
Standing guard as the gateway to this massive park, the water sprays here look like flowers from an Alice in Wonderland scene. Gentle showers and intermittent geysers shooting upward leave plenty of room for active imaginations—and little legs. Hop over to the adjacent playground to dry off, or better yet, hold an epic game of tag on the gigantic baseball field.
300 E. 31st St. (312-747-5962 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
Ty Warner Park
When a park is named after the king of the Beanie Babies empire, expect fun to be top priority. Watch the kiddies make a beeline for the soft-surface play area featuring water cannons, mushroom cap waterfalls, spraying anchors and dumping buckets. When they finally peel themselves away for a break, spread out snacks on the shaded picnic tables or, better yet, indulge in ice cream, pizza or corn dogs at the concession stand.
801 Blackhawk Dr., Westmont (630-969-8080 or wpd4fun.org)
31st Street Harbor
This sprawling sanctuary off the lake is known for its crayon-colored trees, climbing wall, and a playground even your big kids would fawn over. A few steps away lies a spray area with jets of water gushing from rocks as a respite from the heat. The setup is such that you can stay with your tot and still keep an eye on your older kids on the slides. Pack the beach towels, too, and hit the 31st St. Beach for an entire day of summer revelry.
3100 S. Lakeshore Dr. (312-742-5121 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
The Living Coast at Brookfield Zoo
After baking in the sun for so long, the animals need to cool off. Your animals, that is. Water mists dot the walkways around the zoo, but kids can enjoy getting fully drenched in the mini splash pad outside The Living Coast entrance. Make it an all-out day trip to take in everything the zoo offers—don’t forget to check your local library for a free entrance pass (parking rates apply).
8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield (708-688-8000 or czs.org)
The cushioned water playground is a favorite, with enough space and sprayers to keep a big crowd happy. It sits next to a pool, so if you have both toddlers and big kids to entertain, bring a friend to divide and conquer. There’s something for everyone at this park, from walking paths to canoe rides, a playground and soccer and baseball fields.
5100 N. Francisco St., Chicago (312-742-7516 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
If you find yourself in the Elgin area, Festival Park is a must-visit. Right off the river and down the road from cute bistros and shops, the water area here is a collection of geysers shooting up to delight toddlers and tweens alike. They’re set in a circle formation surrounded with benches mercifully sitting in the shade for you to relax and monitor your babe. There’s also a playground, but odds are your kids won’t even notice.
150 Dexter Court (847-931-6100 or cityofelgin.org)
Located in the northeast corner of Oak Park, Andersen Park's splashy playground features a bell-shaped spray feature, directional jets and ground geysers. The multi-purpose room at Andersen Center provides a great rental opportunity for birthday parties. A small soccer field is perfect for little kickers.
824 N. Hayes Ave.., Oak Park (708-725-2720 or pdop.org)
Lucy Ella Gonzalez Parsons Park
This humble corner playlot in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood isn’t the trendy destination that others are, and that’s why we love it so. Sure, the playground’s newer, as are the whimsical rainbow-shaped fixtures flowing infant-friendly sprays. But it’s situated in a mainly industrial corridor, tucked away without fanfare: a true hidden gem. It’s also one of the few parks named after a woman — and a labor rights activist at that. Soak up the history while your tot splashes at this pit stop.
4712 W. Belmont Ave., Belmont-Cragin (773-685-3351 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
Barry Recreation Center
Spending a few extra fidgety minutes in the car will be well worth it once your kids lay eyes on this gorgeous park. Rainbow sprinklers, geysers, water shooters, buckets; you name it, this water park has it. Lounge on the deck chairs while your littles romp, or take them just outside the gates to the shaded playground.
6140 N. Scott, Rosemont (847-298-1965 or rosemontparkdistrict.com)
Little Bear Park
Kids get to stretch their pseudo-seafaring legs at this free suburban oasis. Just a stone’s throw away from Kohl Children’s Museum, it’s the stuff of summer vacation: a castle-themed playground, shrubbery maze, nostalgic porch-style swings and, of course, the cool interactive splash pad. Kids stomp on buttons to shoot streams of water from the ground while a cooling mist envelops the whole area.
Located at Patriot Blvd. & Chestnut Ave., Glenview (847-724-3337 or glenviewparks.org)
Mary Bartelme Park
In the heart of West Loop, this park is the epitome of urban cool with its unique playground and sloping hills. The sprawling steel sculptures in the middle aren’t just an artistic statement; they shoot out mist to refresh your pink-cheeked park-lover without having to break out a swimsuit. Bring Fido with you, since an enclosed dog park is also onsite.
115 S. Sangamon St., West Loop (312-746-5494 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
Pool, schmool. An entire aquatic playground awaits here, and it's composed of three areas. The main one features a slick water slide, water guns and geyser-spitting pipes. A few steps away is a pole crowned with buckets, ready to dump water on squealing kids. The third features a crowd-pleasing simple sprayer. If only a dunk in the deep end will do, venture indoors to the zero-depth Olympic-sized pool for laps. Bonus: Mario’s Italian Lemonade is within walking distance.
1312 S. Racine Ave., University Village (312-746-5086 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
Fellger Playlot Park
To be a hip urban parent is to frequent this place. As one of the first parks to have updated sprinklers and a soft surface, it personifies city living by packing forward-thinking fun in such a small footprint. You’ll find a county fair-worthy wooden train and whimsical kid-sized clubhouse to stoke imaginative play. The layout of this space, right down to the concrete bench perimeter, makes it feel cozy and communal -- a true neighborhood cornerstone.
2000 W. Belmont Ave., Roscoe Village (312-742-7785 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
The Hub at Berens Park
Look beyond the five lighted ball diamonds, three irrigated natural grass soccer fields, four batting cages and the 18-hole miniature golf course and you'll spot the giant, 6,000 sq. ft. spray ground and its nine exciting water features at Elmhurst's Berens Park. Pick up a Big Squirt at the Big Squirt filling stations to soak your friends. Easy parking, a party room and a picnic pavilion make this a popular spot for summer birthday parties.
493 Oaklawn Ave., Elmhurst (630-782-4955 or epd.org)
Millennium Park Crown Fountain
Though it's not officially a splash pad, city kids have claimed Millennium Park's Crown Fountain as a water play area of their very own. Two digital displays feature smiling faces that transform into waterfalls. Three inches of water divide the displays, where kids love to skip, splash and make water angels. Bring water shoes as the grounds can be slippery.
201 E. Randolph St. (cityofchicago.org)
Skokie Water Playground
With its five slides, a fully-accessible sprayground and interactive multi-level play area, Skokie Water Playground makes for a cool summer afternoon. Locker rooms with showers and the onsite weberparkcafe.com mean you can play, picnic and wash away the sunscreen and sweat afterward.
4701 Oakton St., Skokie (847-674-1500, ext. 3200 or skokieparks.org)
Portage Park Water Playground
The 36.5-acre Portage Park, located at the corner of Irving Park Rd. and Central Ave. is an expanse of lush landscaping that offers a fun option for every kid that loves to play, including six tennis courts, a new soft-surface ADA accessible playground, a slab for in-line skating, a new dog friends area, a bike path, a nature walk, five baseball fields, two combination football/soccer fields and two fieldhouses, one housing a gymnasium and the other a cultural arts building. But things get super cool on hot summer days at Portage Park, thanks to an Olympic-size pool, a large deck for sunning, misting sprays and interactive water play area with slides. The small kiddie pool is heated, too, for those days that are on the chillier side.
4100 N. Long Ave., Portage Park (773-685-7235 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)
Mary Knoll Splash Park
Located within Maryknoll Park (at the corner of Pershing Ave. & Route 53), this fab park is the place to play in the summertime: 12 spray pieces, a water tower, an amazing power launch pod, a water tunnel, an aqua dome, spray cannons and a zero-depth pad offer hours of splash-worthy fun. Bring a picnic to enjoy under the pavilion and plan to spend some time at the adjacent Maryknoll Park Adventure Playground, where you'll find a 75' zip-line, climbing boulders and shade structure.
845 Pershing Ave., Glen Ellyn (630-469-788 or gepark.org)
Oak Brook Splash Island
This incredible island oasis, a zero-depth entry interactive splash playground is perfect for little ones that aren't quite ready to jump into a pool but still want to splash and play on a summer's day. Three waterslides, bubbler jets, dumping buckets, a water tornado and shooting water animals guarantee oodles of fun. Shade structures keep sun-sensitive kids safe. Bring a picnic to enjoy at the separate eating area.
1450 Forest Gate Rd., Oakbrook (630-645-9581 or obparks.org)
Lillian L. Lutz Recreational Center
Jewish Council for Youth Services' rec center in Highland Park is way more than a splash pad. Besides fun with H20 at the spray ground and pool, they also offer a sport court, tennis courts and sweet and savory munchies at The Lil' Cafe. Got a summer birthday in the family? Rent this space for your special birthday boy or girl. Summer memberships are available if you think this will be a frequent stop for your family.
1195 Half Day Rd, Highland Park (847-432-6355 or jcys.org)
— Amy Bizzarri & Selena Kohng
Featured photo: Roman Boed via flickr