Top 10 Best Iowa City Area Parks and Playgrounds

I’m the first to admit that I’m not an outdoorsy kind of person. But my kids? They LOVE being outside. Even the 15-month-old has learned to say, “Outside,” while she pats the door hopefully or tries to figure out how to push it open. So, outside it is! When your kids are antsy to explore the great outdoors, there are lots of great options. Whether you are new to the area or just want to explore a different part of town than your usual stomping grounds, here’s a list of some of the best parks in the Iowa City area.

top 10 parks in iowa city

City Park

200 East Park Road, Iowa City

Situated right next to the Iowa River, this park has several different areas to choose from. The playgrounds are great. There are pavilions and grills perfect for birthday parties or big get-togethers. Basketball courts, tennis courts, walking/running trails, and big open fields make this park perfect for sporty kids and adults, too.

Kiwanis Park

Aber Ave & Teg Drive, Iowa City

This park has classic looking wooden structures that give it an old-fashioned fun feel. With plenty of large trees for shade, rocks for climbing on, and winding paths through bushes, this park offers a natural play setting that goes beyond just ladders and slides. Bridges, tunnels, climbing areas, and a picnic pavilion make it a great place to spend some time with your kids. Bring your shovels and pails for digging in the sand!

Mercer Park

2701 Bradford Drive, Iowa City

Newly remodeled, this is one of the biggest and newest playgrounds around! Your kids will be amazed at all the different climbing structures and unique play equipment. It also has big open fields perfect for bringing along your soccer ball or football and several picnic shelters for snacks in the shade. On one of my favorite visits to this park, my oldest played football with his friends in the big open field, my preschooler ran around to all the different play structures, and I pushed the baby in a bucket swing while being able to easily keep an eye on both bigger kids. Another great feature of this park is that it’s so close to Scanlon gym. If the weather turns bad, you can just head inside to the gym for Tot Time most mornings.

Creekside Park

1800 F Street, Iowa City

I’ll be honest. Creekside’s playground isn’t all that exciting. It’s got your basic slides, swings, and merry-go-round. There’s sand to dig in. But it’s awesomeness lies in its namesake: the creek! Bring an extra change of clothes for your kids, and let them dip their toes in the creek! (Or their entire bodies.) Tip: definitely wear water shoes to protect feet from potential cuts on sharp objects.

Iowa City parks and playgrounds

Hickory Hill Park

800 Conklin Lane, Iowa City

This is the opposite of carnival rides and sporty spaces like you find at City Park and some of the other parks I’ve already mentioned. This is where you go when you really want to connect to nature. There are wonderful walking trails, where you’ll be surrounding by flowers, trees, streams, and wildlife. If you want to take your kids on a nature walk to collect leaves, flowers, or maybe play a round of “Pooh sticks” underneath the many bridges, this is the perfect place to do it. This is not a stroller-friendly park, so you want to either have a baby in a carrier or wait until the kids are independent walkers. The entrance closest to North Dodge Street has easy parking and a small loop that my daughter could handle without too much grumbling at ages 2 and 3.

Fossil Gorge

2850 Prairie du Chien Road, NE, Iowa City

Something good came out of the floods of 1993 and 2008. The overflow of water washed away soil, trees, and even part of the road, revealing the very cool 375-million-year-old ocean floor, full of fossils. If you’ve got young scientists in the making, or kids who just like to jump around and find frogs, the Devonian Fossil Gorge near Coralville Lake is a ton of fun.

North Ridge Park

2250 Holiday Road, Coralville

With wide paved paths for walking or jogging surrounding pretty water, this is a great place for the stroller brigade to get together for some walking and chatting, followed by the kids playing at the playground. It has play structures and swings for both big and little kids. A giant sand area with a digger for construction fans and fun ride-on toys is great for those who are old enough to not eat the sand.

S.T. Morrison Park

1513 7th Street, Coralville

Right next to the Coralville Rec Center, this is a park with separate play structures for big kids and little kids, as well as swings, open areas for playing catch, a sand volleyball court, and a pavilion that’s great for big get togethers or little picnics.

Quail Ridge Park

Zeller Street, North Liberty

This park has playgrounds, picnic tables, a basketball court, frisbee golf, baseball/softball batting backstop, and picnic shelters.

Kent Park

(Between Tiffin & Oxford)
2048 Hwy 6 NW, Oxford

The Kent Park playground has a big play structure with slides and climbers. They also have swings for big kids and babies. If you want to make a day of it, you can go swimming at the Kent Park Beach (closed for the 2018 season!) or take the kids fishing, too.

Kent Park
Kent Park

Already know about all these and want to try something new? Check out a full list of Iowa City parks, Coralville parks, and North Liberty Parks.

If you like walking trails for you and your kiddos or if you’d like a new spot to train, check out this pdf of Iowa City running and walking trails

Did I miss your favorite park? List it in the comments and tell us what you love about it. 

 

Laura
Laura is a mom of three who works full-time from home as a Development Director for a children’s charity. Laura grew up in Maryland, spent her 20s living in Southern California and South Carolina, and has spent her 30s in Iowa, moving to Iowa City in 2010. Laura loves dancing, reading, baking, and music. She and her husband Ryan started dating in college (gasp – about 20 years ago!) and they have been sharing life’s adventures ever since. Their biggest adventure is, of course, parenthood. With three kids, the action is non-stop - which is just the way Laura likes it. Laura sometimes gives a good impression of having it all together, but she forgets about school picture day, drops her kid off on the wrong day for birthday parties, and those are just the things she’s not too embarrassed to tell you about. She makes some killer chocolate chip cookies, though, and hopes that might make up for the rest.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I would not include Mercer. some of the equioment is quite old. Crowds of kids swearing and cussing while just lazing around. NOT an area for little kids.

  2. Mercer Park is a great little park for kids and the best part is they have Tot Time inside Mercer Aquatic Center from 9 am to 11:30 am for preschool aged children. Jumpy houses, riding toys, balls galore. Perfect way to enhance socialization & dramatic play! No sign up required. Just show up and pay a small fee. ($1.50 — I believe) Parents all observe and watch their children as they learn how to play and communicate with new (and familiar) peers. Plus, parents get in some socialization or reading as well. Our students love going to Tot Time & having a picnic lunch at the play ground. One of the few parks that still have a Merry-Go-Round. I have seen some amazing raptors in the area as well and we have a great time watching the train in the afternoon off in the distance. I have met some great parents that frequent there and it has become a staple in their child’s motor skills and social / emotional development. Wonderful add to the list!

  3. I just returned from a trip to Osceola, Johnston, and Des Moines. They all have outdoor fitness centers attached to their bike trails. I live in Iowa City and was told there are 2 such parks in Iowa City. Where are they?

    p.s. We walk Terry Trueblood year round and love this beautiful park. Even though we are senior citizens, we play tennis at Mercer or City park daily, when weather permits. Love city park!

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