Ah, to be a Minnesota parent. We white-knuckle it through some of the longest, hardest winters in the country, daydreaming of long days outdoors without fear of frostbite — green spaces galore, bicycle rides with the kids, bucking the confines of our four walls, thick boots, and oh-so-many layers.
Then we hit July. With stubborn refusal to complain about the heat, of all things, we smile through our sweat and watch our ice cream cones disintegrate in seconds.
Our best bet for beating the heat? Water, of course — from the glory of the back yard Slip ‘N Slide to the quintessential cabin on the lake. For those of us stuck in the city, bored with the front-lawn sprinkler and stale mall A/C, the dog days are a time to explore the Twin Cities’ many splash-happy, family-fun destinations.
Not familiar with a favorite urban oasis? We’ll get you started with a short list of the very best.
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Tropics Indoor Waterpark
Why: This indoor oasis caters to fun-seekers of all ages. The star attraction? The Shark Attack slide, featuring a state-of-the art jukebox system that allows participants to choose from 100 different songs to create their own personalized soundtrack and light show. Ride down with Lady Gaga, The White Stripes, The Beatles or even the theme from Jaws for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Tip: Check out the waterpark’s “Dive-In Movie” nights — crafts and games followed by a family-friendly movie projected on a screen over the park. Float on noodles, splash around or kick back on a lounge chair while taking in the show.
Information: shoreviewcommunitycenter.com/general-information/waterpark, 651-490-4700.
Great River Water Park
Where: St. Paul
Why: This is an affordable indoor option for really hot days — or during afternoon thunderstorms. Located right off I-94 and Lexington Parkway, this facility features a splash zone and wading pool for smaller children plus two big waterslides for older kids. There’s also a lap pool, a general swim area, a diving board and a sauna.
Tip: These three water facilities host a full summer of swim lessons through Saint Paul Parks and Recreation.
Information: tinyurl.com/greatriverwater, 651-642-0650.
Lake Hiawatha Park Wading Pool
Where: South Minneapolis
Why: Minneapolis is home to more than 60 toddler-friendly wading pools. This one — with bubbling fountains, sprayers and shade features — is one of the best. The view of Lake Hiawatha and a stellar playground, complete with “tot lot” for the traditional wading-pool contingent, set the scene for a perfect summer day.
Tip: This hangout is designed for crawlers, cruisers and toddlers. Bring along your favorite beach ball and water toys for some first lessons in sharing and making new friends.
Where: St. Louis Park
Why: For a quick cool-off, check out this elaborate array of no-plunge fun: You’ll find sprayers, sprinklers, tip buckets and more, ideal for those days when you just want to sit back, relax and watch them have all the fun.
Cost: FREE for St. Louis Park residents, $1 for non-residents.
Tip: The water area is located within a huge park with sprawling lawns, beautiful trees and a playground — a cool place for a nature walk, a game of tennis or a picnic before your splash.
Why: This little gem of a water park is tucked away in the southern ’burbs. The quality and feel of the place is on par with a bigger water park, yet it’s much more affordable and manageable — perfect for getting wet for a couple of hours without making a full day of it. With both big thrills and a zero-entry kiddie pool, it’s a good bet for all ages. A large sand area, a casual on-site eatery and a mini-golf course (extra charge) round out the amenities.
Tip: Go after 4 p.m. for reduced admission ($2 off), reduced crowds and less chance of sunburn.
Information: cascadebay.com, 651-675-5577.
Nicollet Commons Park
Why: This place feels like a little slice of vacation. Often described as a splash pad, it offers much more. Its main attraction is a grand, meandering waterfall slowly falling over beautiful rocks and clear water, surrounded by various plants and trees. You’ll find grassy hills near the action for picnicking and parent relaxation. A regular, timed sprinkler display in the heart of the square adds a thrill of anticipation.
Tip: Check out the city of Burnsville website (below) for oodles of summer concerts plus Friday-night movies at the commons, which includes a 250-seat amphitheater. You’ll find the Rockin’ Lunch Hour Concert & Rockin’ Readers from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday through Aug. 21 with storytime at 11:15 a.m. for preschool and early elementary-age kids, followed by a family-friendly concert. Also consider grabbing lunch or dinner at Mediterranean Cruise Cafe (medcruisecafe.com) before your splash. It boasts a fine patio, tasty food, belly dancing
and enticing buffet prices for kids.
Information: tinyurl.com/nicolletcommons, 952-895-4500.
Why: This Washington County park has pristine beaches and some of the clearest waters in the greater metro area, making it a destination for scuba divers. Other features include picnic tables, grills, a bike trail, a boat and canoe launch, excellent fishing and — new this year — stand-up paddle-boarding programs.
Tip: Make a day of it. On the morning of your trip, visit Teddy Bear Park and Tremblay’s Sweet Shop in scenic downtown Stillwater, before the noonday sun demands that you hit those crystal clear waters.