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Every Playground in South Minneapolis, Ranked From Best to Not Really That Bad at All

All 42 playgrounds south of Franklin Avenue, ranked according to our Proprietary Algorithm.

Powderhorn Park, Minneapolis Parks and Rec Board

We love our parks, don’t we folks? 

There are 42 Minneapolis Parks & Recreation or Regional parks in South Minneapolis (for purposes of this article, defined as all parks south of or adjacent to Franklin Avenue) that feature playgrounds. Some of them have multiple discrete playground areas, bringing the playground total to around 50. And that’s not counting the additional playgrounds at schools, churches, or daycare centers—those are outside the scope of this ranking.

That’s a ton of playgrounds! And, in all honesty, nearly all of them are pretty excellent. The parks department really does a great job maintaining the playgrounds and surrounding facilities. And really, most days the best park is the one closest to your home. But that shouldn’t stop us from making a ranked list to fight about! 

I rated each park based on 10 different criteria, ran them through a Proprietary Algorithm (added them up), and compiled the results here. The divisions between the tiers, as well as questions of tie-breaking, are primarily vibes-based. The Top 5 all scored a perfect 100 out of 100. 

Criteria: 

  • Equipment for kids of various ages: Almost all the playgrounds do well on this count. I have a moderately adventurous 2 ½-year-old, and I used him as a barometer: I only took points away if he was comfortable playing on almost all of the equipment, because that probably means that older kids would get bored quickly.
  • Equipment condition: I tried not to be too harsh here, because playground equipment doesn’t have to be new or even new-ish to be fun for kids. But if something has clearly deteriorated to the point where splinters or cuts are a concern, I tried to account for that. Here’s the Parks Department’s Construction Projects Dashboard to keep track of what will get worked on soon. 
  • Splash pad (or other water): If a playground is within a reasonable walking distance of a lake, I gave full credit. Here’s a handy Splash Pad Map for the whole city.
  • Playground surface: I’ll put my cards on the table: I have a strong preference for mulch- or rubber-surfaced playgrounds over sand. I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Plus, there’s never been a major motion picture that featured mulch worms. The Power Rankings reflect this. 
  • Benches in shade: There are some truly beautiful, gigantic trees near some of these playgrounds, and most of the time they’re accompanied by a place to sit. This is a preferable scenario.
  • Coffee within three blocks: It’s nice to be able to walk to grab coffee or a snack, all else being equal. 
  • Bike/pedestrian accessibility: This didn’t end up being much of a separator. I biked to every one of these playgrounds, none felt unsafe. 
  • Water fountain: Just one less thing that you need to remember to pack. 
  • Restrooms: Can be a real day-saver.
  • Playground distance from street: I tried to honestly evaluate any kid safety concerns; there are several playgrounds that are close to the street that have fences or berms, which is equivalent. 

Tier 6: More to Come

INC. 28th St. Tot Lot (175 E. 28th St.)

This was a casualty of the I-35W construction project—the playground equipment was removed and the land used as a material staging area. “We are going to receive bids for the work this week and anticipate constructing the playground improvements, seating, and an entry plaza this fall,” project manager Carol HejlStone tells me. “The skatepark component will follow at a later date once funding for construction can be lined up.”

Reserve Block 40 Park

Tier 5: Perfectly Cromulent

41. Levin Triangle (1600 W. 26th St.)

Levin makes the most of its available space, with unique undulating tracks between equipment. There’s no water and little tree cover though, so this is a place that would be most appropriate for spring and fall usage. 

40. Reserve Block 40 Park (3501 W. 24th St.)

Did you know that the neighborhood between Cedar Lake and France Avenue is still Minneapolis? And that they have an oddly named city park in a little subdivision? If so, you were way ahead of me at this time last week. It’s not far from Cedar Lake Point Beach, but pretty distant from any other landmarks. 

39. Todd Park (5600 Chicago Ave. S.)

Todd is mostly athletic fields, but there’s a little playground tucked into its southeast corner. There’s nothing distinctive about it, but it’s fine. 

38. Washburn Ave. Tot Lot (5809 Washburn Ave. S.)

Another park that does a lot with limited space, and two enormous trees. There’s also a little patch of pavement with an eight-foot basketball hoop that’s absolutely begging to be dunked on. 

37. Cedar Avenue Field Park (2500 Cedar Ave.)

An earthen berm makes this feel a lot less like it’s right on top of Cedar than it has any right to.

Lake Hiawatha Park

Tier 4: Really Good, But Not Exactly "Destination Parks"

36. Kenwood Park (2101 W. Franklin St.)

Come for the Giraffe, stay for the old-school cable zip line. 

35. Windom South Park (5821 Wentworth Ave.)

Adjacent to the elementary school, and a nice setting. 

34. Park Siding Park (3113 W. 28th St.)

Shoehorned next to the new SW light-rail track between Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, and Bde Maka Ska, it’s a bit of a geographical oddity, but totally nice. 

33. Lake Hiawatha Park (2701 E. 44th St.)

It says something that the 33rd best playground is still one that I absolutely love. A great stop after a run to A Baker’s Wife.

32. Stewart Park (2700 S. 12th Ave.)

Close to Abbott Northwestern. 

31. Bossen Field Park (5701 S. 28th Ave.)

Tucked between a bunch of softball fields and Hwy. 62, there’s not much reason to end up here. But if you do, the playground is quite nice. Bring your sunscreen.

30. Lyndale Farmstead Park (3900 Bryant Ave. S.)

The playground structure has a pulley system to hoist small buckets, and there are a bunch of pine trees around, so it’s fun to see what kind of pinecone inventory you can amass before naptime. 

29. Painter Park (620 W. 34th St.)

Location is the main differentiating factor for Painter: coffee and ice cream on two of the corners of the intersection, and a guitar shop on the third. A new skate park was completed in 2023.

28. Phelps Field Park (701 E. 39th St.)

The distinctive feature of the Phelps playground is a large, green rope structure with a neoprene slide installed in 2021. This is the playground closest to my house, so I’ve spent a lot of time here over the past couple of years. It’s a “park in a bowl,” which should lend itself to excellent separation from the surrounding streets, but unfortunately the playground is situated on the north end of the park, which is level with 39th Street. Close enough to the street/parking lot that smaller kids will definitely bear watching.

Phelps Field Park

Tier 3: Is It Possible to Have Too Many Good Parks? Asking For A Friend.

27. Minnehaha Regional Park (4801 S. Minnehaha Dr.)

The playground nearest Minnehaha Falls is convenient if you’re visiting the Falls and need a playground, but it’s unexceptional otherwise. But Wabun playground is along the river, and it’s fantastic. Wabun “has a historic element that’s super cool: It’s a throwback to the time when there was a car campground here with cabins to rent for people that didn’t have campers,” Park Board District 5 Commissioner Steffanie Musich explains. “Some of the park equipment is an office, there’s a roll on camper rocker (for people with mobility devices), and some of the climbing equipment looks like tents.” I think that description is quite apt, because this playground feels like one of the more isolated ones in the city. That’s fantastic for a large group gathering—we had our son’s birthday party here, and it was a wonderful spot for that. But these metrics favor playgrounds that are more integrated into the city. 

26. Lynnhurst Park (1345 W. Minnehaha Pkwy.)

There are two playgrounds here, a tot lot on the north side of 50th with somewhat run-down equipment nestled among mature trees, and a huge, new structure on the south side with little or no shade. When I visited on a sunny weekend morning, all of the kids were at the tot lot. 

The next six are all very nice parks, and I have nothing clever or insightful to say about them, so I’ll include some historical trivia about their namesakes. 

East Phillips Park

25. East Phillips Park (2399 17th Ave. S.)

The Phillips neighborhood and this park were named for abolitionist and orator Wendell Phillips, who was born, raised, died, and is buried in Massachusetts. He never set foot in Minnesota, as far as I can tell. (It's still much better than naming anything after John C. Calhoun.)

24. Pershing Field Park (3523 W. 48th St.)

This park was named in 1922 for John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, an American general during World War I who also probably never set foot in Minnesota and is considered the founding father of military police. However, he has no “Controversies” section on his Wikipedia page. Win?

23. Kenny Park (1328 W. 58th St.)

Kenny Park was named after Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse who developed an (at the time) unconventional treatment for polio and basically founded modern physical therapy; the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute was also founded by her. Win!

22. Hiawatha School Park (4305 E. 42nd St.)

From the park’s web page: “The park is exactly what it was named, a playground park for Hiawatha Elementary School.” Lake Hiawatha was previously known as Mud Lake, Rice Lake, and Lake Ann by Euro-American settlers, before getting its current moniker in 1924. 

21. Morris Park (5531 39th Ave. S.)

Morris Park Elementary School (now Cyber Village Academy) used to be adjacent to this park. According to the All of Minneapolis blog (not to be confused with the Frey-friends' All of Mpls PAC), the school and neighborhood were named for Mary Morris, the widow who originally platted the neighborhood in 1911. 

20. Brackett Field Park (2728 S. 39th Ave.)

The tunnel under the Midtown Greenway on 38th Avenue is a great way to make your entrance. The park is named for George A. Brackett, one of the original members of the Minneapolis Park Board and the city’s sixth mayor. (He won the 1873 election with 2,188 votes.) 

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park

Tier 2: The Best of the Rest

20. Pearl Park (414 E. Diamond Lake Rd.)

Nearly new equipment throughout, and right across the road from Diamond Lake.

19. Bde Maka Ska Park (3000 Bde Maka Ska Pkwy.) 

Swings that feel like they arc out over the water.

18. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Park (4055 Nicollet Ave. S.)

It’s close to the Kingfield Farmers Market, but feels totally separate because it’s on a little plateau. 

17. Beard’s Plaisance (4525 Upton Ave. S.)

The setting on the west side of Lake Harriet couldn’t be more beautiful. 

16. Mueller Park (2509 Colfax Ave. S.)

It’s appropriate that Whittier and Mueller are back-to-back, because they’re relatively close to one another on opposite sides of Lyndale and have a very similar, pleasant vibe. 

15. Whittier Park (425 W. 26th St.)

This is a good park, conveniently located to other stuff, and it’ll likely get even better in the coming years: A concept design for playground upgrades and other improvements came out in 2023, and appears to be in a review stage currently.

Longfellow Park

14. Longfellow Park (3435 36th Ave. S.)

A lot of similarities to Corcoran (see below) but no devious squirrels—at least as far as I’m aware. 

13. Fuller Park (4802 Grand Ave. S.)

Tangletown’s representative is making its presence felt. Another park that doesn’t have a lot of extra room, but does a lot with what it has. 

12. Peavey Field Park (730 E. 22nd St.)

If, say, you go to the walk-in clinic at Children’s Hospital and they’ve just closed for lunch, this is a great place to kill an hour. The bike lane on Chicago ends at 24th, so the last block arriving from the south is a little uncomfortable. If I had it to do over again, I’d take the sidewalk on the west side of the street.

11. William Berry Park (3810 Richfield Rd.)

Maybe the most majestic play structure in all of the parks in South. It only gets a demerit for sand. 

Armatage Neighborhood Association

Tier 1: Worth a Special Trip

10. Armatage Park (2500 W. 57th St.)

The play structure is massive, as is the tree that shades it. Named after Maude D. Armatage, the first woman elected to the park board.

9. Corcoran Park (3334 20th Ave. S.) 

This park had quite a bit of new playground equipment installed in 2023, and it looks and plays great, with mature trees providing ample shade, especially to the tot lot and wading pool. HOWEVER. If it were up to me, I’d demote this playground to Tier 2 because of the squirrel that always tries to eat my groceries out of our box bike when we stop here to play on the way home from the store. But I am a Man of Integrity, and The Numbers Are What They Are. The numbers say this is a Tier 1 playground, so Tier 1 it is.

8. Keewaydin Park (3030 E. 53rd St.)

It makes lots of best-of lists for a reason. “It’s one of those rare parks department/school district collaborations,” Haas observes. “So there are two playgrounds on one block and one of them is top shelf.” Double cable zip line! 

7. Bryant Square Park (3101 Bryant Ave. S.)

A perfect spot to drop by if you’re in Lyn-Lake and your kids need somewhere to run around. Should’ve sent a poet to flesh out this write-up; perhaps Wiliam Cullen Bryant, who this park is presumably named after. 

6. Sibley Park (1900 E. 40th St.)

This is a forward-looking ranking: The play area is currently fenced off and under construction. The “playground and wading pool will be completed this summer. We anticipate opening them in June,” confirms project manager Bianca Paz. The new equipment looks pretty sweet from the street, and I’m looking forward to turning my toddler loose there soon. With the playground being well below the surface of the surrounding streets (40th St. & Longfellow Ave.), it has a nicely isolated feel. 

5. Powderhorn Park (3400 15th Ave. S.)

There are actually four playgrounds in Powderhorn, and two of them are wonderful: on the west side near 32nd St. & 10th Ave., and on the east side by the rec center, just a block from May Day Cafe or Reverie. I also love the one on top of the hill along 14th Avenue, but it’s almost comical how much of the equipment is broken. The playground in the southeast corner of the park is probably in even worse shape, but that’ll change this summer/fall, when it’ll be getting a full makeover.

4. McRae Park (906 E. 47th St.)

McRae’s playground equipment was re-done in 2022, and it’s great. The hockey rink has even been fashioned into a pickleball court during the warm months. Most of our visits are on weekend mornings, when the slides are dew-coated and you can achieve thrilling speeds. Also, Sovereign Grounds coffee shop at 48th & Chicago has an indoor play area, so if you get caught in a quick rain shower, there’s a ready backup plan. Trivia: “The park was named in 1955 for Alexander A. McRae, a banker who served as a park commissioner for 18 years and was the board’s president 1919-1921.”

3. Linden Hills Park (3100 W. 43rd St.)

It has everything you’d want in a park, and nothing that you wouldn’t. The new equipment from 2020/2021 is a delight, with the tot lot climbing structure featuring image inlays of different bugs. It's easy walking distance from both the Linden Hills Farmers Market and Cafe Ceres make it a good lazy weekend morning destination.

2. Matthews Park (2318 29th Ave. S.)

There are three distinct playgrounds here (the newest installed in 2017), and you can just sort of work your way along from one to the other. It’s very pleasant! The more you know: “The park was named for Charles E. Matthews on May 7, 1969. Matthews was a resident of the neighborhood who had been active in the community, in particular campaigning for the park. Until the park was officially named it was referred to as Seward Park after the elementary school adjacent to the park and the neighborhood in which it is located. The school was named for William Seward, a former U.S. Senator from New York, who became secretary of state in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet.”

Lake Nokomis Triangle Park

1. Lake Nokomis Park (4955 W. Lake Nokomis Pkwy.)

This includes the playgrounds in the picnic area near the rec center on the northeast side of the lake, and Nokomis Triangle Park on the west side of the lake at 54th & Bloomington. The Bloomington playground “has amazing tree cover and some awesome climbing trees,” Musich says, and I concur with that assessment. Nokomis correspondent Michael Haas notes that the rec center playground “even has the old WPA-era swings hidden a little ways away from the new playground, plus a nature playground area.”

Michael Haas, Dave Silas, and Molly Poganski contributed reporting to this article. 

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