Every afternoon when I pick my girls up at carpool, I know I can expect one question in particular, “Can we go to the park today?” My girls adore going to the park. Last summer, we made visiting as many new parks as possible part of our summer bucket list. We are very fortunate to have a great park system in our area, but even within a couple of hours, there are tons of amazing parks and playgrounds.
Right In Our Own Backyard
BREC park systems are my obvious go-to for park visits around Baton Rouge. In the hot months, parks with splash pads are our favorites. We also love that our third child, our labradoodle, Howard, can often join us at BREC parks. There are 187 BREC parks in East Baton Rouge from small neighborhood parks to sprawling parks with many activity options.
Runners, conservationists, swimmers, boaters, star-gazers, horse enthusiasts, bird-watchers, fishermen, walkers, artists, and people who simply want to relax and get outside can find a park to meet their needs. With so many parks, how do you choose where to start?
Here are a few favorites:
■ City-Brooks Community Park–appeals to families, dog-lovers, walkers, joggers, fishermen, golfers, art enthusiasts, and tennis players.
This large, 155-acre park is super diverse and features many areas in one big park, including Raising Cane’s dog park, where dogs can run with wild abandon within a designated, fenced area; splash pads that are open from April to October; a Labyrinth which promotes quiet, balance, and reflection; a 50-acre lake for bank fishing (fishing licenses are required); the nine hole golf course which is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places; a walking track; a beautifully developed tennis center; the Baton Rouge [Art] Gallery; and, of course, an amazing playground for children. Pro-tip: Don’t try to do everything at City-Brooks in one visit.
■ Leeward Drive Park–appeals to families with small children.
This small hidden treasure, occupying just half an acre of neighborhood space, is packed with super appealing activities and equipment. Fun features include padded astroturf in lieu of grass, swings, bikes, a sandpit, and small pavilion. Pro tip: Take your little ones to the potty before you go to the park as there aren't any facilities available on-site.
■ Highland Road Park–appeals to tennis players, families, children of all ages, walkers, frisbee golfers, and trail runners. Highland Road Park covers a sprawling 144 acres in South Baton Rouge.
This is a fan favorite for local mom Meya Holloway’s family. She says, “Highland is our favorite park in Baton Rouge. My kids love to go on a bike ride or nature walk. It’s the perfect place to bring the family because there is definitely something for everyone.”
Official offerings include a tennis center, frisbee golf course, large and newly-improved playground, splash pad, community center, walking track, several pavilions, and restroom facilities. Unofficially, my girls like to “hike in nature” and visit our “favorite tree,” a massive oak that reaches over a small creek that just begs to be included in pretend play. Pro-tip: Bring water. There are water fountains in a few areas (playground and pavillions), but this park is big.
■ Liberty Lagoon–appeals to swimmers and those who enjoy water play.
Need to cool off? Liberty Lagoon offers 3.5 acres of splash pads, water slides, a lazy river, and pool areas. The kiddos will love the water soaked play structure and large shallow play spaces.
Local mom Hannah Smith let us in on her family tradition. “Every summer, we have a mini family reunion here with all of our children’s cousins. Ranging in ages from 2 to 14, they all have the best day,” she says.
Meals and snacks are available for purchase from the snack bar, and there is an ocean of picnic tables and pavillions for when you need to take a break and dry off. If you like your fun a bit more structured, check out their swim lessons and water aerobics classes. Park entry fee is $12 and under. Pro-tip: Bring more sunscreen than you think you will need. Hats and glasses are a good idea, too!
■ Farr Park Equestrian Center–appeals to all horse lovers.
Farr Park is large, encompassing 297 acres adjacent to the Mississippi River levee. With 256 horse stalls, indoor and outdoor arenas, trail riding, and an RV park, Farr Park is a dream for equine enthusiasts. The park offers both monthly one-hour trail rides and lessons in both English and Western styles of riding. Farr Park also offers equine therapy through their Hearts & Hooves Therapeutic Riding Program and summer camps for children.
Local mom Tiffany Moore shares of her daughter's experience, “My daughter, Scarlett, loved that she had so much interaction with the horses at horse camp. She was able to have her ‘very own horse’ for the duration of the camp, so she felt a real connection to her horse. The staff there truly love the horses and what they do, so it’s such a positive environment.” Pro-tip: Bring bug spray.
■ Blackwater Conservation Area–appeals to outdoor lovers.
Blackwater Conservation Area sits on 57.5 acres of former gravel pit turned wildlife conservation site. The park is a haven for people who love the outdoors, including two large fishing ponds (fishing license required), a pavillion, many native species of trees and animals, bird-watching, and walking trails. Dogs on leashes are welcome. Visitors are cautioned to watch out for wildlife such as snakes, ticks, alligators, and the ever unpleasant poison ivy. Pro-tip: Stay on the trails, and bring binoculars for an up-close look while keeping your distance.
Beyond Our Backyard
If you’re heading north, there are several noteworthy side-stops. The Alexandria Zoological Park is well worth a visit! We took a roadtrip last summer and made a detour to this well designed zoo. We were delighted by the themed exhibits, the playfulness of the animals, and the incredible play areas. There is a cafe and gift shop on site, and the zoo is open 362 days a year, and tickets are less than $8. Pro-tip: Make this park a part of your itinerary and have your camera ready.
Going even farther north? Continue to Shreveport and visit Sci-Port! This attraction is on our summer bucket list this year, and I am as excited as the kids. Attractions include an IMAX Dome Theatre, endless opportunities for pretend play within their beautiful Power of Play exhibit, an Exploration Gallery for budding scientists, and the Sawyer Space Dome Planetarium. Admission will be $12 per adventurer. Pro-tip: With the Sci-Port’s 92,000 square feet of inquiry, experiments, and engagement, be sure to plan plenty of time for your visit.
Our Denham Springs neighbors frequently enjoy their phenomenal park system, PARDS. We’ve been to some fantastic birthday parties at Aqua PARDS water park. This water attraction is small enough for parents to find some moments of relaxation, and big enough for kids to play until they are worn out and water logged. Admission is $9 and under, depending on residency. There is a concession stand on site and limited seating. Pro-tip: Again, you can’t go wrong with bringing an extra tube of sunscreen!
One of my favorite finds this spring was the Kid’s Konnection Playground at the Tammany Trace Trailhead. We were at the trailhead for a different event, but we quickly fell in love with this fabulous playground. There is seriously something for everyone at this play haven. Future engineers will really ‘dig’ the sandpit, complete with mechanized diggers. If sand is not your tyke’s thing (or your’s), opt for the multi-level water tables. For adventurers, there is a challenging rock climbing course, huge play structure, and a spinning volcano-shaped rope structure. Pro-tip: Located right off of I-12, this is a great stop to let the kids burn off some energy and might even earn you the peace of napping children when you continue on your journey.
Still Eastbound? Carry on to the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport, Mississippi. Tickets are $10 a person and well worth it for the adventures within. Children can climb the multi-story, fully enclosed structure, go on an African safari, tickle the ivories on the piano, host
a tea party, or explore the seemingly endless outdoor activities and treehouses. Pro-tip: If you need to leave for lunch (like we did), get your hand stamped, so you will be able to re-enter.
In my car, you will find (perhaps hidden beneath a treasure trove of art projects, school supplies, and crumbs of questionable origin) our family’s Park Pack backpack. This thing has come in handy so many times. Included in the Park Pack are: bandaids, a sealed bottle of water, small towels (one for each kid), sun screen, bug spray, collapsible doggy water bowl, an old sheet for picnics or to wear home when you “accidentally” fall in the mud, a couple of hats and old pairs of
sunglasses, and a backup dog leash. In the summer, we add backup bathing suits to the pack for when the splash pads call and my kids answer. Pro-tip: Make a Park Pack for your family today, and you will always be ready for park and playground fun with your kiddos.
With these incredible parks and playgrounds on your summer bucket list, this summer will be a summer to remember. ■