A toddler-friendly park

One of the coolest things about toddler parenting is the constant newness — new milestones, new friends, new foods, new experiences. 

Particularly satisfying is finding a wonderful new place to explore. 

If you haven’t already, take a trip to Jensen Lake in Eagan. 

For the sake of discussing the toddler-friendly nature of this location, I’m calling it a park — but it’s really much more. 

To map it, you’ll actually have to search for Jensen Lake Trailhead or Jensen Lake Shelter. It’s part of the beautiful Lebanon Hills Regional Park.

The playground is sprawling, clean and safe. It’s somewhat segmented into two halves — one side for little kids and the other for big kids — ideal for those of you who have toddlers with older siblings! 

That said, the big-kid zone is fun for toddlers to explore with adult supervision. (Some of the climbers and slides are high and steep, so you’ll want to stay close.)

Once you’ve exhausted the playground, picnic in the nearby covered shelter or on a blanket under one of the many trees. Across a small service road is a large expanse of grass and trees — perfect for stick collecting, bubble blowing, ball throwing and simply running free.

Photo courtesy of Dakota County Parks

I could easily see parents using this uncrowded destination for a playgroup meeting place or even birthday parties.

Another perk of this park is the lake itself. While Jensen Lake isn’t a swimming destination, it features an easy trail, ideal for nature walks with tots. 

Newness abounds around every little bend as you bird watch, leaf hunt, skip stones and perhaps meet a turtle or toad — or two. Sturdy shoes or rain boots are best for the easy, but uneven and, sometimes, muddy terrain. 

Extend your adventure

If Eagan isn’t really in your neck of the woods, make the most of your broader outing with a side trip or two, as nap time allows:

  • Schulze Lake Beach offers safe, clean swimming and abundant umbrella shade. (Hint: Get there early if you want a shady spot right near the beach.)
  • The Blast indoor playground at the Eagan Community Center can be your backup destination in case of rain; the center also hosts an open-gym play time for ages 1 to 5 from 9–11:30 a.m. on weekdays.
  • Cascade Bay Water Park is awesomely toddler-friendly and super fun.
  • The Lebanon Hills Visitor Center is worthy of its own park spotlight — and you’ll want to add it to your list of winter havens as well. Here you’ll find more hiking trails and a great little exploratory area with books, toys and natural artifacts, all designed with little ones in mind.
  • Nicollet Commons in Burnsville features a dreamy natural rock water fall wading pool and splash pad for cooling down and cleaning off.
  • Rita’s Italian Ice offers “ice custard happiness” in Eagan. Yum! 

Enjoy the season, Toddler Parent! May is IDEAL for park days and outdoor exploration — winter behind you, plenty of green, not yet too hot. 

Stretch and sun and play!

Jen Wittes is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in St. Paul. Learn more about her work at jenwittes.com. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com. Featured photo by Husam Ismail