Maggie Daley Park: Chicago’s Grand Playground

Maggie Daley Park: Chicago’s Grand Playground
Maggie Daley Park. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Maggie Daley Park (MDP) on the site of the former Daley Bicentennial Plaza in Grant Park has been transformed into something "Mag" nificent that not only honors Chicago's beloved former First Lady Maggie Daley but provides the city with a grand playground.

The magnificent lakefront recreation center features a neighborhood playground on steroids with larger than life climbing areas, bridges, sculptures, slides, giant boats and an imagination-filled enchanted forest while, at the same time, showcasing the city's skyline and beautiful lakefront.

Open 365 days a year from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., MDP offers something for all ages--just don't bring your dog--they're not allowed.

With the exception of the climbing wall and skating ribbon--everything is free. You can even bring food to picnic in one of several picnic areas located around the park. Food is also available for purchase in the concession area.

Here's what you need to know to go:

GETTING THERE...

The BP Pedestrian Bridge. Photo: Maricel Cruz

The BP Pedestrian Bridge. Photo: Maricel Cruz

My favorite way to arrive is via the Frank Gehry designed BP Pedestrian Bridge that snakes through Millennium Park over Columbus Drive to Maggie Daley Park. Brushed stainless steel plates reflect the sun's rays creating a spectacular kaleidoscope of changing colors and overhead vistas.

ON ARRIVAL...

One of the many play/climbing areas. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

One of the many play/climbing areas. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

If you're with kids they'll probably want to hit the play areas as soon as they arrive at the park. If you're on your own or with adult friends, you may want to scope out all the park has to offer--while adding steps to your Fitbit or Gamin--before deciding where you want to settle.

The park is divided into two axis -one the play area--the other the park area. The 3-acre play axis or "Play Garden," according to a MDP spokesperson, was designed in the spirit of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Six play areas comprise the play axis that is restricted to children 12 and under with two areas "The Watering Hole" and "The Harbor" especially designed for children, ages 2 to 5.

Curvilinear pathways wind through the landscaped park area offering changing topography and views. Seasonal plantings specially chosen for color and texture offer year-round interest.

THE CLIMBING WALL...

Malkin-Sacks rock climbing walls at Maggie Daley Park. Photo: Chicago Tribune

Malkin-Sacks rock climbing walls at Maggie Daley Park. Photo: Chicago Tribune

The Malkin-Sacks rock climbing walls at the park stretch skyward from the center of the  skating ribbon. The two enormous rock-climbing walls--40 feet at their peak over an area of 19,000 square feet--provide exercise and fun for all levels of climbers from beginners to experts. Children must be 4-feet tall or more to climb.   Private climbing lessons are available for a fee.

There are costs and rules to climb the walls that accommodate from 25 to 100 climbers at a time on a first-come first-served basis. The climbing wall hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The "climbing season" runs from spring to fall.

AN ENCHANTED FOREST...

Upside down trees stripped of bark along with spooky nighttime illumination are part of the enchanted forest. Photo: Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune

Upside down trees stripped of bark along with spooky nighttime illumination are part of the enchanted forest. Photo: Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune

One of the six play areas, the Enchanted Forest, welcomes children of all ages. Special destinations in the Enchanted Forest include a large circular tea party table with eight bench seats, an open mirrored maze, called the Kaleidoscope, set in a grove of Quaking Aspen and a "Turning Stone" where children can let their imagination run wild.

THE SLIDE CRATER...

Suspension bridge. Photo: Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune

Suspension bridge. Photo: Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune

The Slide Crater play area for children ages five to 12 offers a suspension bridge--high above the park that children can walk across--if they dare.  The 12,000 square area also offers spiral slides, wide slides, rail slides, and slides that emerge from a Play Pyramid.

CONCESSIONS...

The concession area offers a kid-friendly and seating area. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The concession area offers a kid-friendly and seating area. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The concession area offers a kid-friendly menu with hot dogs, tacos, desserts and beverages where diners can order to go or sit at nearby tables. In addition to the concessions area, Maggie Daley Park features three picnic groves on the east side of the park near the Play Garden and three more on the west side of the park near the BP Bridge. The groves offer attractive wood picnic tables, with each of the six groves offering seating for between 30 and 40 people.

THE SKATING RIBBON...

The skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.

The skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.

The skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is a popular attraction that opened in December 2014. It is designed for year-round use. Winter months offer ice skating along with skate rental. During the warmer months, the ribbon can be used as a walking path or for inline skating and scooters--no bikes or motorized vehicles are allowed.

THE FIELDHOUSE...

The redesigned Fieldhouse (337 E. Randolph St.) is home to special programs, including day camp, play school and fitness classes. There are also lockers, washrooms, a skate/climbing wall rental counter and three community rooms.

CAF TOURS...

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is offering tours of Maggie Daley Park that showcase the park and impart information on park design and the engineering that went into producing those rolling hills and panoramic views of the city along with the history of the area on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays now through Tuesday, September 29. Tickets: $20 adults, CAF members free. For times and to purchase tickets, click here.

PARK INFORMATION...

The park is located at Columbus and East Randolph Street. Metered parking, available on East Randolph, will set you back $6.50 an hour or you can park in the Millennium Park garages, walk, bike--Divvy or your own (bikes must be left outside the park)--or take public transportation. For more information visit Maggie Daley Park.

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    Carole Kuhrt Brewer

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