Fan Favorites: Best Playgrounds for a Picnic Playdate

Lake County Playgrounds

When the sun finally comes out, there’s no better way to make my children’s faces light up than to announce,  “We’re going on a picnic!”  But, since they are children, it’s essential to have a playground nearby to frolic with friends afterward.*

best playgrounds for a picnic

Best Lake County Playgrounds for a Picnic

Best Lake County Playgrounds for a Picnic near you:

We asked our readers which park/playground was their favorite for a Picnic Playdate.   Here are your answers along with some Editor’s Picks:

Hastings Lake Tot Play Area
Photo Credit : Melissa Haak

Hastings Lake Park, 22155 W. Gelden Road, Lake Villa
Arguably, our readers’ favorite playground since we profiled the park in 2014. Aside from the fantastic playground and beautiful Forest Preserve location, this site features three picnic shelters, two of which overlook the playground and are first-come, first-serve. The third shelter is a short walk away and available for rental. Picnic tables are also nearby along with heated restrooms with flush toilets and a water fountain. Parking is convenient and nearby, so you won’t have far to carry coolers or picnic baskets.

Betty Russell Community park

Betty Russell Community Park, 5300 Pinewood Rd., Gurnee
This is a reader favorite for toddlers and preschoolers and it’s easy to see why.  What makes it great for picnics are the covered picnic shelters and real bathrooms!

waren township playground gurnee
B. Honaker | | 2012

Warren Township Park, 17801 W. Washington St., Gurnee
Folks seem to have a love-hate relationship with Warren Township Park. It has so many excellent features like a giant sandpit, with dinosaur fossils and water features, a web climber, disc swings, and much more! Tall, labyrinthine play structures make an awesome impression on the older kids; but, parents of little ones are wary of high drop-off points. The size of the playground ensures room for all, but the spread makes it hard to keep track of multiple children running in different directions.

Still, it makes a great picnic site with a “Shade House” with tables in the southeast corner of the playground and a Picnic Shelter just off the shrubbery maze.  Water fountains, plenty of shade, and real bathrooms make it an ideal spot for a picnic playdate.

lakewood forest preserve playground

Lakewood Forest Preserve Playground, 27277 Forest Preserve Road, Wauconda
Lakewood Forest Preserve is Lake County’s largest forest preserve. Vast swathes of natural beauty abound, but what little ones will love the most is their large shady playground, which you can access off the main entrance on Route 176 just west of Fairfield and then continue straight onto the gravel road.

A unique feature that curious minds will enjoy is the Bat Shelter.  Once a former picnic shelter, it now serves as a nursery roost for a colony of Little Brown Bats which emerge at dusk.  You probably won’t have the chance to spy any of them during the day, but if you do, caution little ones to leave them alone.

Our reader, Gwen says:

Great playground, great picnic areas, and bathrooms.

Grayslake Spray Park
©M. Haak | Little Lake | 2013

Central Park, 250 Library Lane, Grayslake
Central Park is the Crown Jewel of the Grayslake Park District at 66-acres in the heart of town, just northeast of the Downtown Shopping District. It is home to two playgrounds, a newer playground near Lake Street on the west side, and the older playground located between the bandshell and Grayslake Aquatic Center by the ever-popular Grayslake Spray Park.

While the newer playground stands next to a shaded picnic grove with mature trees, our fan-favorite is the older playground. The older playground is located right next to the Spray Park, which is FREE all summer long, a shaded picnic shelter (two picnic tables only), plenty of green space and shady trees nearby for blankets, and real bathrooms and water fountains nearby.

Look for children’s programming like magic shows and concerts to perform in the bandshell during the summer. Parking is next to the Grayslake Aquatic Center, and you need to cross a large soccer field to access the playground, which gives you a bit of a haul if lugging picnic gear and/or squirmy children. Wagons will be a big help here!

jones island beach
L. Thomas | | 2015

Jones Island Park, 243 Harvey, Ave., Grayslake
Hidden away at the corner of Harvey Ave. and Alleghany Road, a few blocks south of Woodview Elementary in Grayslake, you’ll find Jones Island Park. The primary feature of this park is its FREE public beach; the only spot the general public can access Grays Lake.  There’s fishing, a boat ramp, picnic shelters (one that’s brand new!), sand volleyball, and of course, a great playground.

jones island playground
Jones Island Playground – L. Thomas | | 2015

Between the beach and playground, you could easily have an all-day playdate at Jones Island, but be aware of a few drawbacks. The parking lot is located across the street, and while there is usually minimal traffic, it’s a bit of a walk for dragging gear and wriggly toddlers – strollers will help. If you’ve got a runner on your hands, beware. There is no railing along the sides of the boat landings, and piers so curious toddlers could tip over the sides. Keep in mind there are NO guards at the beach; however, the water is quite shallow. At 3-years old, my youngest could easily wade in without being submerged. Also, no bathrooms, but there are port-a-potties.

Lake Villa township park train
L. Thomas | | 2013

Lake Villa Township Park (aka “Caboose Park”), 37908 N Fairfield Rd, Lake Villa
Most kids go through a train obsession at some point in their childhood, so when they see the real Soo Line Caboose, you’ll be the hero of the day! While the Caboose is this playground’s main attraction (hence the nickname), there’s so much more to get excited about. Nostalgic parents will love the old-school metal Merry-go-Round that runs on kid power. Dino lovers will be delighted with the Stegasaurus climber and a large sandpit with fossils to unearth.

There are three picnic shelters equipped with picnic tables. They are available to rent for township residents, but feel free to use them if unoccupied.  The Lake Villa Township offices are on-site and open during weekday business hours if you care to use the restroom facilities there, but it is closed on weekends.  Port-a-potties are available. There is plenty of open green space, and mature trees will give you a shady spot if you prefer to lay out your picnic blanket.  If you are monitoring multiple children of various ages, note that the park and playground equipment are very spread out.

Tim Osmond playground antioch
© D. Truesdale | Little Lake | 2012

Tim Osmond Sports Complex, 38 Depot St., Antioch
This 80-acre park on Depot Street is just west of Silver Lake. The playground features colorful equipment with sports-themed pictures and a shaded shelter with picnic tables.

Our reader, Janice says:

…pretty nice for varying ages with picnic tables that are very close to the play area and relatively clean portapotties [sic].

Here are two of my own personal favorites for a picnic playdate that our fans didn’t mention:

alleghany park grayslake
Alleghany Park – L. Thomas | | 2015

Alleghany Park, 31999 N. Alleghany Rd., Grayslake
This is one bustling location on the weekends! With four soccer fields, 5 baseball fields, and 2 tennis courts, the weekends and summer evenings can be packed for games.

However, during weekdays it’s a reasonably quiet space. With a picnic pavilion right off the parking lot, it’s a convenient spot for a picnic playdate. Parents can chat underneath the shaded shelter while the kids cavort on the playground, which has two play structures, one for smaller children and another for older kids. Two swing sets, a teeter-totter, and a climbing web are some of the other attractions.

A big pro is that there are clean bathrooms with real flushing toilets. But a con for me is that there is no shade on the play equipment at all. We prefer to come in the morning before the sun gets too hot in the summer.

Mill Creek Park
Mill Creek Park – L. Thomas | | 2015

Mill Creek Park, 1125 N. Atkinson Rd., Grayslake
I think so highly of this location for a picnic playdate, that I hosted one of my children’s birthday parties here. The picnic pavilion is right off the playground and is nice and shady for hot summer days.  You can rent the shelter but it is usually unoccupied during the week.

The shelter is so well-shaded it stays relatively cool on even the hottest summer days, and the playground has elements that both smaller and older children can enjoy. Even if the kids just need to expend some energy in a game of tag, the nearby soccer fields provide plenty of space to run around.  The downside is there are no real bathrooms, but there is a port-a-potty on site.

{Editor’s Update 5/22/2015}

millennium park lindenhurst
L. Thomas | | 2015

Millennium Park, 201 Country Place, Lindenhurst
How could I forget to mention Millennium Park?

Both the playground and shaded shelter (with real restrooms) are located close to the large parking lot, making picnics a breeze! It’s also directly adjacent to the Bonner Heritage Farm, which has its own small play maze that’s great for little ones, and it has a short walking trail lined with larger-than-life farming exhibits that make for adorable photo ops. Read Heather’s full playground profile.

bonner heritage farm
L. Thomas | | 2015

Did your favorite spot for a picnic playdate make our list of Fan Favorites?  If not, share the wealth – tell us YOUR favorite playground to meet up with friends for a picnic playdate. 

* When going for a picnic at any of these locations, please be conscientious about disposing of your refuse correctly.  Please use wet wipes on hands and faces afterward before the kids hit the playground, particularly if your lunch contains any of the Top 8 Food Allergens.  It’s also helpful to restrict eating to picnic tables and not on the playground itself. Together we can help keep kids safe!

By Loralie

When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home.

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