Kelly Rd Park (Apex, NC)

Sometimes, the best laid plans go amiss. After realizing the blueberry farm we were meeting friends at was closed to allow for more ripening, we adjusted our plans and rendezvoused at nearby Kelly Rd Park. I’ve been wanting to visit Kelly Rd Park for years, given that it’s one of the last wooden playgrounds (see Raleigh’s former All Children’s Playground) in the area. Exploring this park with friends made for a perfect morning for kiddos and mamas to catch up with each other.

The Town of Apex’s Kelly Rd Park is located at 1609 Kelly Rd in western Wake County just outside I-540. Kelly Rd Park features multiple playgrounds for all ages, swings, picnic shelters, baseball fields, and tennis courts. With 7 girls under the age of 7, we spent all of our time exploring the massive wooden playground areas also known as KidsTowne.

DSC_0132As you enter the KidsTowne playground area, the memorial honoring Kathy Carlisle Smith immediately catches your attention. The Town of Apex remembered Ms. Smith for her dedication to the Greater Apex area and making the KidsTowne playground a reality. KidsTowne has two playgrounds for the different age groups. The playgrounds have fencing all around except for the main entrance area in the middle. 

The smaller age playground features tot swings, one-level climbing areas, balance beams, bouncy bridges, and fun wooden paintings. A long bench sits nearby, perfect for watching the littles climb around.

DSC_0162The older age playground features an enormous wooden playground with multi-level, interconnected bridges, tunnels, slides, and towers. It resembles a fairy castle because of its purple and green stained wood, fire poles, decorative paintings, play boats, and towers. Regular swings and a tire swing sit behind the playground. The girls loved climbing the ropes and monkey bars, playing hide and seek, jumping on bridges, and finding shade. They also spent a ton of time flying high on the tire swing.

Though no one picked blueberries that day, we chatted about our kindergarten graduates and personal highlights, and made fun summer memories!

Thumbs up: unique wooden play structure, plenty of seating areas, fun climbing and swinging spots

Thumbs down: lack of shade

Jack Smith Park (Cary, NC)

Jack Smith Park splash padBack in June, my sister and niece visited the same weekend we planned a trip to Jack Smith Park with our Raleigh Jaycee friends. Jack Smith Park is located at 9725 Penny Rd and opened towards the end of last summer. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for outdoor fun, this is the park!

Jack Smith Park features a splash pad, multiple playgrounds for all ages, a rock climbing structure, walking trails, and a dog park. We arrived at the park at 10am when the splash pad opened. Luckily, some friends saved a table under the pavilion for our group to stash our gear while out playing. The splash pad features tall buckets that dump, gentle water fountains, circular misting fountains, and maneuverable water guns. Picnic tables with umbrellas, clean restroom facilities, large pavilion, and half-walls for sitting are adjacent to the splash pad. 

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After my kids tired of the splash pad they played on the playground areas and rock climbing structure. The smaller kid playground features several slides, a small rock climbing wall, sails for shade, and a curved climbing ladder. The bigger kid playground features a tall spider web climbing net, challenging curved climbing ladders, gyro spinners, slides, and stepping stones. The regular swings, baby swings, and tire swing are located near the perimeter of the park. When I wasn’t poking my head around parents and play things to keep an eye on the girls, I was pushing the girls on the tire swing. Boy, do they LOVE a tire swing!

And, my oldest daughter loves rock climbing! She’s pretty fearless and persistent, and loves the challenge that rock climbing presents. The park’s rock climbing structure is at the far end of the park. Large natural rocks surround the structure which sits upon a rubbery surface. She tried multiple times to climb the hardest section of the rock before trying her hand at the flatter sides. Though she didn’t climb up very far, she enjoyed climbing alongside the bigger kids.

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The Town of Cary parks always impress me with their attention to landscaping, public art, and availability of public restrooms. Young trees surrounded by half-walls create nice sitting areas for parents. The park features several ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and a large open grassy field down from the playground. Many benches and shaded picnic tables also scatter the perimeter. Vollis Simpson’s folksy art sculptures take center stage as you park near the playground. Finally, the restrooms are very clean and roomy, and have water fountains and a nearby hand shower for spraying off the treated water.

Despite being super busy on a weekend morning, I look forward to bringing the girls back here one day. Splash pads offer a quick water alternative to cooling off in the pool. And, with so many other activities at this park, it makes for many fun-filled hours!

Thumbs up: one-stop shop for fun, rock climbing structure, mixing water play with dry activities, outdoor art, natural climbing rocks, nice landscaping, lots of seating options

Thumbs down: very crowded, can be difficult to manage multiple small kids

First Day Hike 2015 – Falls Lake Rolling View

IMG_5058On New Year’s Day 2015 we visited the Rolling View section of Falls Lake State Park to participate in the NC State Parks First Day Hike.  The First Day Hikes are organized hikes designed to encourage folks and little ones to get exercise and explore nature in the great outdoors.  We decided on the Rolling View hike because there were several scheduled on the hour, leading me to believe the hike would be a short one – perfect for a restless toddler in a backpack.  After a 35 minute drive northwest to the Rolling View entrance of Falls Lake in Durham, we followed the main road to the back of the park before turning left into the large parking lot.  This part of the park is also where the recreational swimming area, playground, and picnic shelter 12 are located.

IMG_5080Once the families gathered at the trail head, the park rangers explained more about the short .75 mile hike and gave each child a scavenger hunt brochure of things to look for along the way.  Ashley was a little too young for the scavenger hunt, but the older kids had a great time.  They also explained the Kids in Parks Track Trail initiative that several parks are doing throughout the country as a way to encourage kids to experience the outdoors through a network of family-friendly adventures; this trail happens to be one of those adventures!

IMG_5074In the past our hiking experiences with our kids have mostly been self-guided with very basic objectives: 1) survive (Grandfather Mtn Profile Trail & Calloway Peak were the ultimate test), 2) limit the crying (adults included), and 3) have fun (no brainer, that’s why we do it)!  With the Rolling View hike being a guided tour by a park ranger, I wasn’t sure if Ashley was too young to feel engaged, but the park rangers were amazing at interacting with all the kids.  They kept the hike going while pointing out really neat nature things on/off the trail, answering questions, prompting the kids with questions, and giving some history about the park.  We definitely experienced things in nature we wouldn’t have had we been on the hike by ourselves; we saw animal footprints in the puddles and streams, learned about the importance of controlled burns, discovered deer bones, gained appreciation of decaying stumps as a food source, and so much more!

After our short .75 mile hike, which took less than an hour (of which Claire screamed most the way) we headed to the nearby playground.  The playground is designed for those ages 5-12 and has several climbing ladders, swings, a tire swing, and bridge.  It is very close to the swimming recreation area, bathhouse, and picnic tables, making this a great spot for warmer weather.  The recent rains caused the lake water levels to come very to the playground so after our short playtime we headed home for some much needed grub.

Check out the Kids in Parks Track Trail website – the search and filter features make it easy to find outdoor adventures close to home!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: friendly and knowledgeable park rangers, guided hike, nature experiences for kids

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Knightdale Station Park

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We are fortunate to have a great group of moms and kiddos through Stroller Strides of Midtown Raleigh to explore local parks with and a trip Knightdale Station Park last fall is no exception.  Knightdale Station Park is located at 810 North 1st Ave just outside 540 and south of US-64 business in Knightdale.

This park has a bit of everything – walking trails, large playground areas for kiddos under 2, ages 2-5 and ages 5-12, a dog park, and athletic fields.  We spent most of our time exploring the various playground areas, where all boast a farming/barn theme.  The playground area designed for ages 5-12 has a large play silo with a steep enclosed slide.  A spiral staircase is enclosed in the play silo, so if you have adventurous younger children, make sure they use extra caution.  Other than the play silo, this large playground has monkey bars, wide wheelchair-accessible ramps, smaller slides, and other climbing structures.  The nearby tot playground for ages 2-5 is a train with tunnels, slides and climbing structures.  It’s rather small for a tot playground, but the adjacent corral with bouncy horses and spinning cups provides some more activities for the young ones.

img_4530Ashley’s favorite play structure at this park was the play chicken coop designed for ages under 2.  She loved throwing mulch down the egg shoot for her friend to catch at the bottom.  This play area is covered and great for early walkers as kids can access it by a small ramp or short steps.

Scattered around the playground areas are benches, tot swings, regular swings, a large faux tire swing, mushroom stools, twirling structures, and sandbox with large tractor tire.  The different playground areas are joined by concrete sidewalk paths and covered with shredded bark.  A large pavilion with picnic tables and separate restroom building are also near the playground as is a walking/running trail.  Finally this park also has several athletic fields and an off-leash dog park with separate small and large dog areas.

For more information about this park and future plans visit the Town of Knightdale website.

Thumbs up: unique farming themed play areas, all ages incorporated into play areas, walking trails adjacent to playground

Thumbs down: climbing enclosed staircase in silo is a bit scary for little ones, young landscaping yields little shade

Laurel Hills Park

On the first day of Christmas, we came across swings, rings, and other things!  I’m talking about none other than Laurel Hills Park located at 3808 Edwards Mill Rd near Crabtree Valley Mall.  With all the great features this park has, it’s also super easy to access regardless of where you’re coming from in the Triangle area.  It’s also very close to Glen Eden Pilot Park and Crabtree Creek Trail on the greenway.

Laurel Hills is mostly known for the All Children’s Playground.  This truly is a playground for kids of all ages, even being accessible for kids with disabilities.  There is a large tot area with four tot swings, rings, monkey bars, tires for climbing through, and a slide.  The tot area also has a slightly spongy surface, which is nice for the crawlers.  Just a few feet from the tot area is the older kid playground, which is an enormous wooden, castle-like structure over a sandy surface.  It has bridges, towers, tunnels, tires for crawling through, amazing places for hide and seek, slides, and monkey bars.  There are 6 swings and the most impressive tire swing I’ve ever seen.  Two girls were having the best time on the tire swing as their dad tried to keep up with their laughs and gasps by sending them higher with each swivel! The nearby pavilions, picnic tables, and benches are convenient for keeping a close eye on the young ones as they play.

There has been much talk over the past few years of reconstructing the playground (it’s 20 years old now) but funds have to be raised first.  Visit Sassafras All Children’s Playground to learn more about the plans and how you can help.

In addition to the playground, this park also has a large community center used for group rentals, open gym, recreation programs, and other activities.  There’s also a large pavilion with picnic tables and charcoal grill.  If you’re looking for outdoor recreation, there is a large soccer field, two lighted baseball fields, two basketball courts, and a paved walking trail.  The restroom facilities near the pond are very nice and even have a child changing station.

Thumbs Up: All Children’s Playground, tot swings, climbing areas, small pavilions near playground, walking trail, community center, recreational facilities, tire swing, proximity of different playgrounds to each other

Thumbs Down:  no sidewalks from Edwards Mill Rd to inside park

Pullen Park

A few weeks ago, I went to the Pullen Park VIP Event with my friend, Jason, from southwestraleigh.com.  This post originally appeared on southwestraleigh.com, where you can learn more about what a great place South West Raleigh is to live, work, and play.

Excitement was in the crisp Fall air during the Pullen Park preview event on Thursday afternoon and it’s not going to die down any time soon.  Children played on swings, adults rode the newly renovated carousel, and the train sounded off when leaving the station.  It’d been nearly two years since the amusement area had been open and the smiles say it all – it’s well worth the wait.

Pullen Park is located at 520 Ashe Ave, just west of Downtown Raleigh and at the edge of NC State University.  The renovations to the amusement center cost more than six million dollars and are part of the 2003 Parks & Rec Bond Referendum.  During the renovations, the Pullen Arts Center and Aquatic Center remained open.

Upon entering the park, your eyes are immediately drawn to the new sign extending across the walkway.  Near the entrance is the new Pullen Place, serving healthy, local fare at very reasonable prices.  Adjacent to the cafe is a large outdoor eating area, restrooms, and the Welcome Center where you can learn more about the park, purchase tickets for rides, or purchase park schwag.

If you head right, you can explore the various playground and climbing areas, swing sets, sand and water play areas, misting fountains, tire swing, and open play areas.  The different play areas have guides indicating the ages appropriate for the equipment.

Also in this area is a restored caboose with seating inside for having a picnic.  Smaller children can also enjoy a boat ride for one ticket.  A must-see attraction is the CP Huntington miniature train ride, which is great for all ages and a beautiful way to explore the park from the perimeter.  The views of the park from the train, especially around the lake, are gorgeous.

Another main attraction at the park is the carousel.  With over 50 hand-carved animals, it is a Dentzel Carousel housed in a gorgeous new building.  Among the animals you can ride are pigs, ostriches, horses, and billy goats, just to name a few.  The Wullitzer organ produces music that sets the mood.  The Pullen Park emblems outside the building provide a royal touch to the carousel.  The weather vein atop the building is unique in that it contains colored glass and animals other than just horses.

Heading from the carousel to the lake, you’ll pass a large pavilion with picnic tables, another restroom building, the pedal boats, and the Andy & Opie statue. Be sure to stroll around Lake Howell, where you can admire the waterfront views, stop for photo ops, or enjoy the fauna.  The new bridges are spectacles in themselves, adding a rolling hills feeling to the park.

With so many things to do, see, and hear at Pullen Park, you may not notice the attention paid to the small details.  The cedar shakes, green color palette, emblems, new landscaping mixed with mature trees, and stonework are also worth mentioning as it all adds to the atmosphere of the park.

The park’s grand opening was Saturday, November 19 from 10am-6pm.  Be sure to also purchase tickets for Holiday Express, where Pullen Park is transformed into a Holiday Wonderland from December 8-11, 4pm-7pm.

Thumbs up: playground area, views around lake, carousel, unique details in woodwork/design, miniature train ride, Pullen Place

Thumbs down: not many, but parking may be tough, especially in the beginning months