Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Surface: wood chips.
It feels a bit un-Toronto of me to leave the legendary Jamie Bell Adventure out of my top 5 playgrounds. Whenever a Toronto blog or newspaper puts out a “best playgrounds” list, this one is right up there. And in a lot of ways, it deserves to be.
First of all, it’s in High Park. A vast, beautiful treasure of greenspace with a bit of everything: baseball diamonds, cafes, tennis courts, dense forest, a truck that pretends to be a train, and of course a small zoo with adventurous Capybaras. There’s also the second playground, with a very nice splash pad, at the park’s north end.
Second, the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground is just so cool to look at. The visual impression as you approach it, with your children tugging expectantly at your hands, is quite something; three distinct (yet connected) castle-like structures cascade away from you, culminating in the distance with the tallest one, a four-turreted wooden behemoth with an orange slide that boasts more curls than my toddler’s adorable head.
And of course, there’s the history – the main structure was destroyed by an arsonist in 2012 and rebuilt by TV reno superstar Mike Holmes. It’s not quite enough to inspire a documentary, but at least enough for a heartfelt segment on local news.
So why isn’t it in my top five?
On my last visit, I started to look beyond the visual appeal of this wonderful wooden playground, and I noticed that as awesome as it may be, it does have some striking shortcomings, considering its popularity and notable location. Consider:
There is no sandbox
There are no water features
There are no shared toys (some people don’t care about this, but it’s a big deal to my kids)
The nearest bathrooms are up a flight of stairs and a small hill
For a structure so large, there are surprisingly few slides
It’s not easy to get there by car (minimal parking nearby) or by transit (it’s at the south end of the park, the subway is at the north)
Hey, I’m not saying you should skip this one. With a score of 90, it still earns that gold star as a “Dad’s Pick,” and if you’re visiting High Park with kids, you should definitely spend some time here.
I’m just saying that High Park’s famous play spot might be just a tiny bit overrated, and Toronto has better, more balanced, and less busy playgrounds to explore.
2021 Update: The playground at High Park's north end has been rejuvenated...and is now even better than this one! Read the updated review of that playground here.