This guest post was written by Mercedes Benedict. A toddler mom and lover of the outdoors, you can find her and her toddlers adventures at: @maxwellandbeatrix
Let’s be honest, most kids love rain, it’s the parents who don’t. I’m not a huge fan of rain but I prefer rainy outdoor activities to children jumping off the walls of my house. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great indoor activities in Washington for rainy days, but this article is going to focus on how to keep your kiddos busy and happy (mostly) outside, even if it’s raining.
If your children are anything like mine they have been trained by Peppa Pig to believe muddy puddles are made for jumping. The key to raining outdoor play is good gear, a little preparation, and then let them go. Unless it really cold out, getting a little wet is super fun for them and just a little bit more laundry for you.
This is a fun shop, play, look, learn, and eat destination. Swanson’s is probably the most kid friendly nursery in the state and amazingly it is almost 100 years old. Located north of Ballard, this 5-acre space it is about half covered and has two large fully enclosed buildings. In the winter they have a very popular Reindeer Festival with a large train display and two real reindeer to visit. One of the main attractions for my kids is the koi ponds. Located inside, these ponds are full of large koi fish that love to nibble fingertips. Also in this building is the cafe. Unlike most kid destinations, this is cafe has proper food and most importantly coffee! I highly recommend Swanson’s on any day but it is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. And of course, they have a large selection of plants, decor and more.
This is a spot that took me awhile to find even though it is located just across the lake from a very popular hiking spot — Rattlesnake Ledge. Owned by Seattle Public Utilities, it almost looks like a private facility when you drive up but it is actually a pretty neat place that is open year-round Tuesday through Sunday.
- November – March: Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (wet season)
- April – October: Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (dry season)
When you arrive there is a small parking lot then a series of buildings. The main building is well marked but make sure to explore the grounds. Inside the education center there is a great display about water usage in the area that is specifically designed for kids. Outside there is a rain garden, fire circle, and a walking path to access the river. This is a great place to get outside and learn a little bit about water consumption.
Lions, tigers, and bears with an indoor play area and food court, oh my. Most parents know about the zoo and have been there before but I think it is an underrated rainy day location. On rainy days it is usually way less busy and that is a big win for me. It is mostly outdoors and paved so if your kids are still stroller age it is easy to move them around to each exhibit without them getting too wet. If your kids are too old for a stroller they can run their energy off without fear of getting too muddy. This can also be a full day activity because there is plenty of on-site food and if the weather takes a turn you can go indoors. Some of the indoor options include Zoomazium, the carousel ride, Butterfly Garden, River Otter exhibit, Rainforest exhibit, and of course the Zoo Store. Get a membership because you will definitely want to come back.
This is one of our favorite parks — rain or shine. This 55-acre park in the Lakemont area of Bellevue is mostly a natural space with trails. Bring your kid’s bikes or a stroller and you can explore the park on wheels or just go on foot. There are also two playground sets, which are pretty unique in Washington in that they have sun canopies. These canopies are meant to block sun so they aren’t 100% waterproof but they do keep the playground dry in a light rain. If the rain gets to be too much or you just want to dry off, the Visitor Center is open Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Deane’s Children’s Playground – Mercer Island, WA
This is most commonly known as the dragon playground and is located in a little forest right off Island Crest Way. It is a gem! There are three separate play structures along with giant dragon slide and two sets of swings. The covered picnic area is perfect for drying off and having a snack or lunch. There is a trail around the playground so if you are feeling like a nature walk you can do that too. The play structures are going to be wet in the rain but, because the area is heavily treed you are (probably) not going to get
fully soaked. It is a unique destination and kids love the dragon, so bundle them up and explore this great little spot.
The Gear You Need
Having the right gear is key for enjoying the outdoors in questionable weather. You want to keep it simple and effective. Gear can be expensive but you really only need three things: a waterproof layer, a warmth layer, and a waterproof boot. Disclaimer: I have not received compensation for my recommendations of the following brands. This is just my opinion from personal experience.
This is like a child hazmat suit and that is why I love it. You can basically put this thing on and let your kids run wild — underneath they are warm and dry. My kids wear it at outdoor preschool and it gets covered in mud but underneath they are squeaky clean. A couple tips: 1. Get it big and it will fit for more than one fall/winter. You can buy big because the arm and leg cuffs are Velcro and the waist cinches. Your kids may not love the outfit at first, but if you let them splash and roll around the mud once and they will request it in the future. 2. When removing at the end of play just peel it off and put it inside out in your trunk. This keeps the yuck from getting everywhere. When you get home, hose it off then just throw it in the wash (by itself). Also, Oaki is a local company with its offices in Vancouver, WA.
When the full hazmat isn’t necessary these items are great. Even if it’s not raining but the playgrounds are wet from previous rain, throw these on over normal clothes and they are good to go. Remember, while Patagonia can be pricey you can always trade in clothes through their Worn Wear program and get gear for the next season. And of course REI is another local company with great values.
Merino for kids? Yes!! I feel like this is the most under appreciated layer/item for kids. Merino is expensive. In America it usually reserved for adults but in many other cold climate countries it is very common for kids to have a wool layer or two for winter. When you put a soft wool base layer on your child they play longer and stay warmer. It is also a natural fiber so it’s a better option for the environment. Another option: Ella’s Wool long johns. We have also owned and loved this brand. Both merino brands are U.S. based.
These are expensive but worth it. Buy them in the off-season on sale at REI and you can spend half as much for the same great quality. Enough said.
Another option: Oaki rain boots. We had these for the kids when they were younger. They have super cute patterns and a great low price. For younger kids, these are a wonderful value. My kids are rough on shoes and we found they didn’t last a full winter at nature preschool.