Nature-based Park Design

Welcome to another innovative park design spotlight post! This week we’re going to be taking a deeper look into some nature integrated park design. These parks focus on using natural elements, such as trees, dirt, rocks, and water, to encourage creativity and exercise of gross motor skills in children. To understand what a natural playground looks like we’ll be looking at some different examples from around the world.

WILD PLAY Garden in Sydney, Australia

WILD PLAY Garden was opened in 2017 and covers approximately 70,000 sq. ft., it is a truly massive natural playground. The Park was designed to accommodate children between the ages of 2 and 12 and mostly consists of trails surrounded by densely planted trees and shrubs. There are approximately 12,700 trees, shrubs, grasses, and succulents planted in the park. The designers of the playground also paid special attention to making sure that the vegetation was native to Sydney, which is a great practice to integrate anywhere! Other unique elements added to this park include balancing structures made of wood, splash pads, and rock creek beds. Below are some photos from WILD PLAY and a quote from the park designers. 

WILD PLAY in Sydney, Australia

“Kids like discovery, challenges, movement and adventure. They thrive on being in nature – playing with water, climbing trees, jumping through puddles, hiding in trees. We know this instinctively as parents, and as designers we build these observations into our work.” 

Sacha Coles, ASPECT Studios Director

Royal Park Nature Playground in Melbourne, Australia

This nature-based play space has elements that are generally geared to slightly older children than the previous park, generally 5 and up. This Park features more climbing structures and obstacle courses that generally is suited for slightly older children. One of the most interesting features of Royal Park is that there are no stairs, instead the designers used big slabs of rocks to create natural stairs. In addition to the climbing structures, this park also includes a water feature, swing set, and slides. 

Royal Park in Melbourne, Australia.
Credit: D Hannah &

Westmoreland Nature Playground in Portland, Oregon

The Westmoreland Nature Playground in Oregon is another great example of a nature-based play space. This Park was designed to mimic the spring fed creek that flows through the park. While the creek itself is inaccessible to preserve salmon spawning sites, the playground includes a creek play area to mimic the natural phenomenon. In the creek play areas children have access to sand tables and tools and water pumps that flow through channels down towards the sand play area. Apart from the creek play area, this park also includes a more adventurous aspect with slides and climbing mounds. Carefully designed and rooted log and boulder mounds are available for children to climb. There are also loose sticks scattered around that park that can be used to build mini forts and structures.  

Westmoreland Nature Playground in Portland, Oregon

Nature-based Playgrounds in Columbia Valley

One of the most valuable aspects of natural playgrounds is that they are adaptable. There is no real rulebook for creating one of these parks, which means any community could use their imagination to make a nature playground that would best suit their own needs. For example, if CVPRD obtains a lot for a park that either has an interesting shape, or some standalone natural features – such as a large rock or stump – these elements could be incorporated into a natural park design! Another positive aspect of this kind of park design is how it seamlessly connects urban and natural development. Columbia Valley has lots of beautiful natural features, and a natural park could be a way blend in with and emphasize those features. If you’re curious to look at more nature-based playgrounds, check out some of the links below.

Sources used to make this post:

Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden opens in Sydney’s Centennial Parklands

HOT: Royal Park Nature Play, Parkville

Westmoreland Nature Play Area Opens

The Big Deal About Natural Playgrounds

Additional Sources:

Tumbling Bay Playground (London)

Morialta Mukanthi Conservation Park Playground (Australia)

Fairy-tale Treehouse Hovers Amid Cherry Blossom Trees (Japan)

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