The heat is on! But instead of schlepping your crew to an air-conditioned mall (AGAIN), hit up a strategically shaded playground instead. You’ll save a ton of money, and the kids can run off all of their energy (sans a sunburn). Courtesy of an abundance of shade trees, oversize umbrellas and covered play structures, keeping your cool really is a walk in the park at these play places.
photo: Thiago Cerqueira via Unsplash
Burke Lake Parks
This 888-acre park has it all: mini golf, an ice cream parlor, boat rentals, an ice cream parlor, a 4.7-mile flat trail, a mini train, an ice cream parlor, a carousel, several playsets situated among the trees to keep them cool and shaded – and did we mention an ice cream parlor? Check the website for details on events such as the Full Moon Boat Tour ($6, July 26 at 8:30 p.m.) for ages 6 and up and Campfire Saturdays: Stargazing ($6, 8:30 p.m.) for ages 3 and up.
Where: 7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station, VA
Cabin John Regional Park
Lots of happenings at this location, including the Friday Night Campfire and Nature Walk (July 20 at 6:30 p.m.) and Tuesday in the Park, monthly naturalist-led walk around the park. For something at your own pace, there are athletic fields, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, tai chi, ice skating at the enclosed Cabin John Ice Rink, and 8.8 miles of trails for hikers and bikers along a stream in this wooded location. Little ones will enjoy the tree-sheltered Adventure Playground for climbing and sliding, and the mini train that takes passengers on a 2-mile, 15-minute ride through the park.
Where: 7400 Tuckerman Ln., Bethesda, MD
Established in 1918, this park offers more than a good slide. While the kids play, knock out some grocery shopping at the farmers’ market here (Wednesdays, 3-7 p.m. through October), or catch a free summer concert (July 9, 5:30-7:30 p.m.). There are also bike and walking trails, a baseball diamond, tennis courts – where some famous players of the past got their start, we might add – and, of course, a play structure.
Where: 26th St. & O St. NW
Bluemont Park Playground
With separate sections for bigger and smaller kids, this 70-acre park’s well-shaded playgrounds offer something for everyone – including benches for grown-ups. Bonus: The park surrounds Reevesland, the last operating dairy farm in Arlington.
Where: 601 N Manchester St., Arlington, VA
Surrounded by trees, the playground at this park is partially covered by a gigantic umbrella. The 12-acre space includes two ball fields, well-shaded nature trails and an amphitheater. Besides the playset, there’s also a 20-foot spider web-like ropes structure, a standup teeter-totter and other fun equipment.
Where: 2400 N Sycamore St., Arlington, VA
Friendship “Turtle” Park
Reopened last summer after a massive renovation project, the park has a spray pad and separate areas for tots and younger children, in addition to a huge sand pit with decent shade. This summer, the park is offering the Turtle Park Jazz Project on July 21 and Aug. 18 (6-8:45 p.m.) with music and food and ice cream trucks.
Where: 45th St. & Van Ness St. NW
Ashburn “Dinosaur” Park
So-called because of the theme of the playground – not because it’s a hot spot for finding fossils – this park offers lots of shade around the play structure and a covered pavilion. Four sets of equipment keep all ages happy, plus there’s a nature trail that leads to a creek.
Where: 43546 Partlow Rd., Ashburn, VA
Wheaton Regional Park
OK, so the play structures at Adventure Playground aren’t the most shaded, but this park makes the cut because it has a covered carousel from 1915 and a replica 1863 C.P. Huntington engine train. Plus, you and the kids can cool off inside Brookside Nature Center, which has live reptile and mammal displays and a constant supply of programming. There’s even a fenced-in field for Fido, not to mention the Wheaton Indoor Tennis Facility, Wheaton Ice Arena and 50-acre Brookside Gardens.
Where: 2000 Shorefield Rd., Wheaton, MD
Play in a place of history because this park is one of 17 original federal appropriations the government purchased in 1792. It was also part of the L’Enfant design plan for Washington and has been known as Garfield Park since the late 19th century. Although much of the playground equipment is in the sun, there are plenty of big trees to take a break under.
Where: 800 3rd St. SE
Refinished a few months ago with all-new play equipment, this park has several playsets, a sandbox and swings to meet all ages’ requirements for fun. At the right time of day, the sun isn’t too bright over the play area, but the picnic pavilion is covered. The site also has a basketball court, Little League field and a big multipurpose field, complete with a hill that many youngsters love to roll down.
Where: 10300 Sager Ave., Fairfax, VA
East Potomac Park
The fact that this park is nestled between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River gives its already shady playground an extra air of breeziness. After the kids run themselves hungry, stop by the picnic area for grub and a gorgeous view of the city. Bonus: Newish play equipment is set up on rubber mat surfacing (read: perfect for strollers and not-yet-steady-on-their-feet toddlers).
Where: Hains Pt. & Ohio Dr. SW
Rosedale playground is DC’s first fully inclusive playground that gives children of all abilities the opportunity to play and learn together. Ramps are wide enough for two wheelchairs to maneuver side by side and special equipment includes wheelchair accessible swings and slides. The playground equipment is designed with a National Mall theme that includes the Capitol, White House and other DC landmarks. A particular bonus during DC’s oppressively hot, summer days, is a shaded pavilion area where parents and children can take a break.
Where: 1701 Gales St. NE
Located near Dupont Circle, Stead Park is composed of a playground, basketball courts, a multi-use playing field, picnic areas, splash park, performance stage and indoor recreation facilities. Both the spray park and the jungle gyms are shaded so you don’t have to catch too many rays in summer.
Where: 1625 P St. NW
Girard Street Park
Girard is a small urban park featuring a playground & splash fountain, a basketball court & game tables. It has two shaded areas for relief from the heat!
Where: 1450 Girard St NW, Washington, DC
Tire Playground at the Patapsco State Park Hilton Area
With tons of recyled tires to climb on, in, and through, what’s not to love?! Some of them are made into forts and other play structures. There is also a newer play structure that isn’t made out of recycled tires but does have climbing features and slides. There are swings (tire swings) and tons of picnic tables, benches, and pavilions in the vicinity. The playground is located at the Hilton Area of Patapsco State Park so there is a small entrance fee ($2 or $3 per adult. Kids in car seats or booster seats are free). The playground is well shaded and connects to hiking paths if you still have energy for a walk.
Where: 1101 Hilton Ave, Catonsville, MD
This sprawling wooden playground in Bel Air has a little something for everyone. There are tons of slides, tons of swings, climbing structures and walls everywhere. There is a separate tot lot area with play houses and other imaginative play touches, and there is a sandbox. There are plenty of benches and a pavilion located next to the playground for picnics. The playground is very well shaded.
501 E Churchville Rd (Bel Air, MD)
Westminster City Park Playground
This playground was revamped in 2017 so it’s all the rage! There is a seated zipline, tons of swings, smaller play structures for younger kids, balance pads, and a modern version of spinning play apparatus where 5 or 6 kids can see how fast they can twirl before getting dizzy so beward if you have a child that suffers from motion sickness! The entire playground is shaded and very enjoyable.
11 Longwell Avenue (Westminster, MD)
—Meghan Yudes Meyers, Guiomar Ochaoa, Stephanie Kanowitz and Ayren Jackson-Cannady
featured photo: Laura Green