Tamarack Nature Center : Minneapolis/St Paul Children’s Photographer

As a mom with two children, ages 4 and almost 1, I am constantly on the lookout for new playgrounds or nature centers that have activities and equipment for a wide-range of ages. (Shade and bathrooms are important, too, particularly for me!) I have spent the better share of the last week googling various phrases like “best twin cities playground,” trying to stumble upon a one-stop shop for information like this. I keep coming up with nothing.

I have decided that someone needs to start collecting this information, and that someone is going to be me. My blog will now have a weekly feature dedicated to this very topic–as I know there must be more parents out there like me. (And when I thought it about, I thought what better place to find fun things to do with kids–a children’s photography blog?! You can be SURE there will be lots of good photos!) My plan is to blog every Thursday about a different park or nature center, complete with pictures and as well as information/links, and directions. With kids as young as mine are I figure I will be able to blog about this topic for the next six years, at least!

Today we visited Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Lake Township. Super simple to reach, it’s just a few turns of off I35-E. For directions, click here.

What a way to start off this Thursday feature–WOW is all I can say. I am afraid every other place is going to pale in comparison! There was so much to do, we didn’t even BEGIN to do it all. But here are some highlights:

We spent most of our time in the Discovery Hollow and Garden, which is located right next to the Tamarack Nature Center’s main building. (Which incidentally does have bathrooms!) It’s described as a nature play area on the nature center’s website, but I seriously would describe it as a child’s nirvana! There are cliffs to climb, streams to jump over and play in, forts to build, gardens to tend, and mud to explore. I smile just thinking about how amazing it must all seem to a little person if it impacted me so much.

The first thing we encountered were the cliffs of the overlook. Holly LOVED I mean LOVED climbing on these rocks. She jumped, she climbed, she sang, she pretended she was a bear…she didn’t want to get of of them!  Here is a photo of only HALF of the cliffs. Lots and lots of space, so even when it did get busier as the morning stretched on, there was still plenty of room to play.

Older kids, like Holly, really loved going all the way to the top, and across. Little ones loved peeking in and out of the caves along the bottom, and with the help of any adult enjoyed climbing the rocks too. After the cliffs, we headed over to the log and hollow area where you can build forts, climb on logs, and play the xylophone. As fun as the cliffs were, I think this was my one of my favorite parts of the park. There’s something about building things with your hands that I think makes kids very happy and engaged. Holly spent a lot of time building her “beaver house.”Next up was the garden area. I was impressed that they had an old-fashioned well pump to get water from and had lots of watering cans and signs to help kids know where and what to water. Again, it got Holly SO ENGAGED with what was out there. She takes a lot of responsibility when it comes to tasks like that, and if I didn’t drag her onto the next thing I swear she would still be out there watering and weeding. (They had signs on where you can help with that too!)
We saved the best part for last. (If you can even say a best part. Writing this post, and looking at all of the pictures again, makes me realize just how wonderful of an experience it was. Seriously–have I not convinced you that you need to go there, like now?) There is a stream with little waterfalls that runs right through the middle of the play area. We didn’t come with any sand toys, but you sure could. There were oodles of mud and sand pits filled with kids having a BLAST. Definitely recommend bringing a change of clothes and wearing some sort of water shoe. (Holly went barefoot this time which it appears is ok too.) 

As with most nature centers there are wildflower fields, trails, a main building filled with displays….the things to see and do really appeared to be endless. ALL FREE. (They do ask for donations, which I eagerly gave when I saw how amazing this all was.) They have day camps, naturalist programs, and opportunities for birthday parties. Such an amazing place. I hope this inspires you to visit!
***If you are wondering where the baby was this entire time, she was sitting in her stroller taking it all in. She was wide-eyed the entire time, and never made a peep. If it had been warmer I am sure she would have loved to put her feet in the stream. By next spring, I can completely see her toddling around here!


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  • Stephanie - Yay, that blog went up quick! Those pictures are stunning, and I cannot believe all the things there are to do there. I wish I could get a two year do-over as a nanny so Holly and I could do all of this stuff. Instead, I’m stuck in a boring courtroom!

    Love your idea of going to a new place each week and writing about it. Brad and I are started the same sort of concept but ours is with a list of restaurants we want to try in the twin cities and critiquing them.ReplyCancel

  • Shannon Stewart - Thanks for all the great comments about Tamarack! The photos are fabulous. I hope you have been back later in the summer when the flowers were blooming and the garden was full of produce.ReplyCancel

  • susan - I’m so happy that you’ll be doing this project of describing and photographing Twin Cities area playgrounds. I found your blog by googling just what you described! Can’t wait to read future posts.ReplyCancel

    • admin - Thanks Susan! I actually have been to two new parks in the past two weeks–but am behind in posting them. The end of the summer is just CRAZY! Look for a post on Teddy Bear Park in Stillwater and the new park at Lake Harriet coming soon!ReplyCancel

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