My family is so happy Spring’s arrived! The weather’s not too cold, and it’s not too hot. It’s our favorite time of the year to enjoy the outdoors without being bundled up in a winter coat or worrying about breaking out into a sweat. Even though we spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer months, there are certain places we prefer to visit during the Spring. As I begin to plan out our upcoming months for fun family activities that we can all enjoy, I considered the places that we’ve been to in the past.
I have compiled a list of six outdoor places in Philadelphia (or nearby) that your family can visit. These places are also nice to visit during other seasons. What I love about these places is that all but one are perfect for all ages. It can be a challenge at times doing family activities that all family members can participate in and enjoy. A few of these activities are free, while some of them are at a low cost. I was able to take advantage of discounts through Groupon and Living Social for some of the places that did have a cost, so be sure to check those resources for possible savings.
Six Outdoor Places to Visit
The Philadelphia Zoo
The zoo is 42 acres filled with many animal exhibits. The design of the exhibits allowed my family to safely get up close and personal with the animals, such as giraffes, flamingos, kangaroos, tropical birds, and lions. The exhibits include African Plains, Big Cat Falls, KidZooU, McNeil Avian Center, Outback Outpost and more. One of the kids’ favorite is the KidZooU which has an indoor and outdoor area to explore. The kids enjoy feeding the ducks, petting the goats, and learning about different kinds of pigeons. I’m partial to the Aviary where I can look at over 100 birds from around the world, many which are rare and endangered.
While you’re walking around the zoo, make sure to look up every now and then because you might see a big cat, gorilla, or meerkats above your head — such an amazing experience! The zoo also has attractions like the Amazon Rainforest Carousel, ZooBalloon, Express Train, Swan Boats, pony and camel rides, and a tree house. My kids look forward to the tree house because it’s the perfect space to play hide-and-seek.
There’s more to the Philadelphia Zoo than learning about animals from around the world. The zoo allows you to gain an appreciation of nature. There’s a little swamp, water fountain, large trees to climb and hide through, and grassy hills to roll down. I call them hidden gems because, if you’re not paying attention, you can miss these spots.
Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse
First, let me say; This is not your usual playground. It’s bigger and better than the playground you might find around the corner from your house. What makes it so different? The playground is situated on a historic landscape — 6½ acres of open fields, wooded terrain, and sloped hills — and is home to the 100-year-old Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide, a treasured play experience for generations of children from Philadelphia, as well as many other unique play structures. It is one of my childhood favorites, and it’s not a surprise that I bring my kids here quite often.
The playground has changed over the years, but only for the better. The playground has always provided and promoted opportunities for children to play and learn in an environment that allows freedom and creativity. I love how the natural resources available maximizes the experiences that children have. What’s even more special is the fact that it is located in Fairmount Park, and directly across from the playground are trees and grass, which is perfect for a picnic lunch and space to play freely.
In addition to the must-do, giant wooden slide (which is part of a tree house), the playground boasts more than 50 unique play pieces. They also have an area suited just for toddlers. The play areas provide opportunities for children to learn through nature and have fun getting messy in the dirt. There is also a 16,000 square foot Playhouse, designed for children five and younger, even though my kids had fun in the playhouse past the age of 5! This play mansion gives children a chance to drive the train, exercise their legs on the ride-on, pretend to cook in the kitchen, build with large blocks, put on a puppet show, and so much more.
Admission to Smith is FREE, but a donation is greatly appreciated! The playground is geared towards children up to age 10, but I found that my older kids have enjoyed the outdoor area up until the age of 13.
Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
Shofuso is a traditional 17th century-style Japanese house and garden located in West Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on the site of the Centennial Exposition of 1876. The Japanese values of truth (shin), goodness (zen), and beauty (bi) are represented by the uniting of history and culture at the house and garden. When taking a tour of the house, you’ll learn about the various rooms and what they were used for, how the Japanese lived, what they ate, and about their daily customs.
There are three kinds of gardens that span across 1.2 acres of land: a hill-and-pond style garden which is meant to be admired from the veranda; a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden in the style of an 17th century urban Kyoto garden; and a roji, or tea garden, which is a rustic path to their tea house. A visit to Shofuso was a great way for my family to learn about Japanese history and culture, all while being immersed in nature’s beauty. The afternoon we spent here was a very calm and relaxing experience, something we were glad to take advantage of.
Wissahickon Environmental Center (Tree House)
My family enjoys hiking, taking nature walks, and exploring the outside environment. Wissahickon’s purpose is to connect children, adults, and families to the outdoors. The tree house hosts various events that encourage children’s love of play through nature. For Thursday Tots, you can bring your preschooler for an hour of discovery at the Tree House. Each month a new topic that celebrates the season will be explored.
Some of their spring events are paper kite-building workshops, family full moon hike, dancing with the toads in the moonlight, meadow bird walks, creek exploration, amphibian adventures, owl walk, and astronomy. Some of these events take place during the day, while some occur in the evening. Most of the events are free but every so often, there is a small fee for some of the special events. In addition to the scheduled activities, Wissahickon is perfect for a family hike or adventurous walk on their trails. We had fun exploring nature in a woodsy environment as we came upon streams, hills, ponds, trees, and even horses in a nearby stable.
Tyler is a place of natural beauty. It is a 650-acre garden of plant collections, heritage and champion trees, historic buildings and 17 miles of hiking trails through woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. The Arboretum’s goal is to connect you to nature, encourage you to explore the beauty that lies within the garden and to grow your understanding of the natural world.
Our favorite part of Tyler is their 10 tree houses. My children had the opportunity to exercise many of their senses as they walked, climbed, ran, crawled, and maneuvered through the structures. Each tree house is unique and you will experience something different from each one. Kids will have the chance to explore music, imaginative play, textures, wildlife, and insects.
Another special exhibit is the 1,400-square-foot Butterfly House filled with native butterflies, caterpillars, chrysalis and the plants they depend on for survival. The butterfly exhibit is only opened in July and August, so be sure to visit again in the summer. You can easily spend a full day of discovery here, so dress comfortably, pack sunscreen, lunch, snacks, and water. Make sure you have your camera ready because there is so much beauty that you will want to capture it all.
After visiting here with my sisters, I must make plans to return back soon with my family. We had such a great time on our sisterhood outing that I would love for Larry and the kids to experience it as well. It would make a great family day trip.
Bushkill offers a lot of activities, such as various hiking trails of different levels, gift shops, mining for gemstones, mini golf featuring 18 holes of Bushkill Falls replicas, paddle boats (a fun ride around Twin Lakes and a nice way to cool off), fishing on the shoreline of Twin Lakes, picnic areas, a children’s playground, and a maze. Their exhibits are: the Pennsylvania Wildlife Exhibit, which features interesting displays of the area’s indigenous wildlife; the Native American Exhibit, which allows you to step into the life-size longhouse and imagine what it was like to live, cook, and sleep in it; and the “Story of Bushkills Falls” exhibit, which takes you back in time with the founder Charles E. Peters and his family.
Bushkills provides visitors a unique opportunity to experience the beauty and splendor of PA Poconos Mountains, a walk over natural pathways. It doesn’t take long to arrive at the Main Falls where you can view it from the primary observation deck. Three additional trails will lead you to other viewing angles of all eight beautiful waterfalls. Bushkill Falls is considered “The Niagara of Pennsylvania,” and it is simply beautiful and majestic. There’s something so amazing and serene about cascading waterfalls that causes me to stare at them in admiration.
They have 4 trails varying in length and difficulty. They have trails that take 15 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour and 15 minutes, and 2 or more hours to hike. Make sure to pick up a map to make the trails easier for you to follow, and be sure to wear comfortable shoes, bring sunscreen and bug repellant, and carry water and snacks.
There are so many wonderful experiences that kids can have that will help them learn, grow, and develop all while gaining an appreciation of the outdoors. These are just some of the outdoor places my family has visited during the warmer months.