Nature Play Area


Learn and explore at our nature play area located at the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge trailhead. Plan your visit today! 


Celebrate With Us

We're very excited to showcase this special outdoor space and announce its official unveiling to the public! The Nature Play Area opened officially as we celebrated Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day, on September 29, 2020.

Visit the virtual unveiling page for details about its construction, artists biographies, and more.


Welcome to Wild

Being curious is the way that children build knowledge. And when they move their bodies while learning they are even more likely to have a positive and long-lasting experience. We encourage children and their families to get outside and have fun together at our Old Cedar Avenue Nature Play Area where you can be At Home with Wildlife. Read more below to learn how this project came to be and why it is so important to us.

The nature play area, as well as other Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge trails and lands, are open from sunrise to sunset daily.

What is a Nature Play Area?

If you have ever climbed a rock, played in the leaves, or planted plants, you have experienced nature play! Natural landscapes lend themselves to providing opportunities for children to play, explore, imagine, and be challenged by the natural elements.

Natural play spaces are playgrounds...well, sort of. Instead of the standard metal and plastic structures that make up the bulk of traditional playgrounds, we encourage visitors to enjoy play by using the surrounding landscape and vegetation. Of course, kids and parents can venture into natural areas to build stick forts and look under logs, but many prefer a gentle introduction into nature play. This is where our Nature Play Area comes in: families can become comfortable playing on downed trees or jumping over large boulders before taking on a larger adventure of playing in the woods. 

At Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, we’ve created a play environment that consists of elements and textures from the earth such as logs, full sized downed trees, boulders, and native plants instead of a traditional playground structure that includes slides and climbers. The theme of At Home with Wildlife is found throughout the play area, as children build an eagle’s nest and beaver dam, cross the imaginary Minnesota River using a log bridge or build a stick fort and pretend to live in nature. 

Why Nature Play?

Natural playgrounds enable children to move freely around the environment allowing them to explore, run, jump, climb, crawl, feel, smell, and more. Studies show children spend even more time playing outdoors in natural play environments than on traditional playground environments. Our hope is to inspire the next generation of conservation leaders by providing a space to learn and explore.

    Let's Get Outside

    Designed for kids ages 2-8 with adult supervision, the Nature Explore Area provides a place for up-close and hands-on interaction with nature.  Kids will love exploring and being in this newly created space at the Refuge.  Parents will enjoy watching as their kids create, explore, and discover while using natural materials.

    Entering through the welcome archway created by artist Christopher Harrison, you'll find a variety of stations to play and use your imagination in a safe and inspiring space:

    Map (Not to scale)

     Old Cedar Ave Nature Play Area Map Illustration   


     Return to Nature Play Area grand opening page