Top 10 Best Playgrounds in Rockville (and Gaithersburg)
By Julie Palakovich Carr, Rockville Recreation and Parks Foundation Board member
Summer vacation is here and those of us with kids (or grandkids) will be looking for safe outdoor activities to fill the time. Playgrounds are a great choice, but visiting the same playground repeatedly can get monotonous. So instead of going back to your local park, why not visit new parks this summer?
If you are feeling really adventurous, you could replicate the challenge my son and I completed to visit every municipal playground in Rockville and Gaithersburg.
This endeavor started when my son was four years old. We had just read a book about a girl and her dog having a ‘bucket list.’ My son was inspired to create his own list of things he wanted to accomplish, which included visiting every playground in the world and eating at every ice cream shop. After some negotiation, we settled on visiting all 38 playgrounds operated by the City of Rockville as well as the 16 municipal playgrounds in Gaithersburg and going to a few ice cream shops.
We started our efforts in late May 2019 and finished in November of 2020. (I’m confident that we would have finished sooner if not for the pandemic’s closure of playgrounds in the spring of 2020.)
Here’s what we learned from visiting every municipal playground in Rockville and Gaithersburg.
Rockville is a city of parks. Most residents live within a ten-minute walk of a park. Many of us have ‘our’ neighborhood park that is nearby home. It’s worth the effort, however, to branch out to other playgrounds. Many playgrounds differ in terms of the types and amount of play equipment. I was surprised how often we would go to a different playground and discover something we hadn’t seen before, whether it was a particular play structure or its surroundings in the park.
City playgrounds are refreshed about every 20 years. Each year, there are one or two new playgrounds installed somewhere in the city. So even though my son and I have been to every playground in Rockville, there will perennially be redone ones to visit.
Although the city’s parks are fun places to play, be prepared for the heat. Most playgrounds do not have adequate shade and the ones with rubber mulch play surfaces get especially hot in the summer.
And now on to what you all are reading this blog post for: our list of the top 14 playgrounds. My son and I collaborated on this list, but it was hard with 38 public playgrounds in Rockville to choose the best ones. So our analysis leans heavily towards the more unique playgrounds and the ones with more equipment and play structures.
Without further ado, here’s our list of the most interesting and fun playgrounds in Rockville, as well a bonus list of great playgrounds in Gaithersburg.
Regional picks: our favorite playgrounds in each part of Rockville
East side of Rockville: Twinbrook Park is one of the larger playgrounds in Rockville and has a great diversity of play equipment. Plus there are usually other kids there to play with. It also checks all of the boxes for me as a parent. It’s shady and has plenty of benches right by the playground equipment. And because of the after school programs and summer camps that take place at the adjacent community center, there are often others kids at the playground to help entertain my only child.
Central Rockville: Welsh Park’s super tall slide structure is great for kids who like fast slides and climbing. Like many of Rockville’s playgrounds, there is also a smaller play structure geared for younger kids. This playground is also adjacent to the swim center, baseball fields, and a brand new skate park.
West side of Rockville: Horizon Hill Park has undergone major changes in recent years as part of a stormwater management project. What was once a heavily forested area is now an open corridor along the stream valley. The playground sits at the top of a hill with a pleasant view and has shade from a few mature trees. There is also exercise equipment adjacent to the playground, in case you want to work on strength training while your child plays.
Northern Rockville: The playground at Thomas Farm Community Center in Fallsgrove Park is a great playground for younger kids. It has a varied collection of playground equipment, some of which is unique to this playground, at least as far as Rockville goes. There is also a short paved walking path through the adjacent woods that is great for exploring with a toddler.
Southern Rockville: Montrose Park is another playground that is larger than the typical neighborhood park. This park also features a Bankshot court, if your family is interested in playing an inclusive game for people of all physical abilities. (Note: bring a basketball with you to play.)
More Top Playgrounds in Rockville
The best playground for a hot summer day is Monument Park. Located a little west of Town Square, the playground is in deep shade and the play equipment has a delightful forest motif that fits right in with the trees.
Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park at the northern edge of Rockville is great for younger kids. Most of its equipment is low to the ground, which is perfect for your little ones who are eager to climb but aren’t ready yet for bigger kid equipment.
Glenora Park is our top recommendation for older kids, especially those who love climbing. The complicated climbs to the top are worth it to ride the “elevator” back down.
From left: Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park, Glenora Park, and Maryvale Park, photo credits: Julie Palakovich Carr.
In the category of best playground near a pond, we were split between Maryvale Park and College Gardens Park. Both are fairly typical neighborhood playgrounds with several play structures, but the parks themselves make them notable. Both parks have working stormwater ponds and its a great opportunity to educate your kids about runoff and protecting our local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
Our final category is the best place to get ice cream afterward. Although there were other contenders in this category, Woodley Gardens Park came out on top. The playground itself has a nice diversity of play structures, but the thing that sets it apart is its proximity to Carmen’s Italian Ice, which is just across the street.
Bonus: Gaithersburg Playgrounds
The City of Gaithersburg has fewer playgrounds than Rockville, but in most cases, Gaithersburg’s playgrounds are larger and more unique than the playgrounds in its southern neighbor.
From left: Constitution Gardens, Bohrer Park, and Green Park, photo credits: City of Gaithersburg
Constitution Gardens is a playground that uses logs, stones, and other natural materials to create the play spaces and structures. At its heart is a giant sand area with a water pump that kids are happy to spend hours digging in. My son also loves to climb the tree in the picnic area; it has plenty of branches low to the ground and therefore is a good introduction to tree climbing for younger kids.
Bohrer Park has what is likely the largest playground in Gaithersburg or Rockville. The park also has other amenities, including a miniature golf course, swimming pools with slides and splash zone for kids, and a lovely paved walking path around a pond.
Green Park is another playground that is worth the drive. It has some delightful equipment for younger kids. And because the playground is more spread out, kids will burn a lot of energy running around.
If your family is interested in replicating this challenge, my son and I would encourage you to go for it! We kept track of our progress with a paper chart and applying a sticker next to a park’s name when we visited it.
I’ll note that nearly every playground, even those that didn’t make our top 14 list, were still worth visiting.
This was certainly a wonderful way to spend a lot of time with my child and to see some new sights in my community. And even if you don’t have the time or interest to go to all 54 playgrounds, visiting one or two new ones will be worth the effort.
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