A Day at Forest Park!

So, it’s summertime and I wanted to find something fun to do. A splash pad would be fun, or maybe a playground? We hadn’t visited a zoo yet, so maybe we could do that instead. Or a picnic would be special. I couldn’t decide…

So why not do it all? And throw in a farmer’s market while we’re at it!

Where does one find all those things in one place? Why, Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts

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Forest Park is an amazing little gem in the middle of a huge sprawling city. The Park is actually one of the largest urban parks in the country, covering over 735 acres of land! It is pretty impressive in its size and it offers many things within that space. In addition to the zoo and playground, there is a swimming pool, spray pad, athletic fields, an arena, multiple picnic areas, gardens and hiking trails. Seasonally, there is a summer farmer’s market, and in the winter there is an ice skating rink. Forest Park is also home to the famous Bright Nights, which is a huge Christmas light spectacle! There are so many more things that you can find at the Park- it’s impossible to list it all! 

forest-park-map

(from the Forest Park Website) 

We went on a Tuesday (which is when the farmer’s market is held during the summer). It was not crowded at all at the park. Most of our visits to the park have been during the week, so I can not attest to how busy it gets on the weekend. 

Once you enter the main gate, you approach the booth where you pay the parking fee

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Use of the park is free (with the exception of the zoo). However, if you drive into the park you have to pay what they call a “vehicle storage fee”. Basically, you pay to park. For Massachusetts license plates, the cost is $3 per car. Out of staters (meaning us in Connecticut) pay $5. Honestly, it’s pretty cheap when you consider everything included!

Once you pay the fee, you’re given a parking tag to hang on your rear view mirror. 

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Inside the park, there are signs for all the different attractions. Most of the park is one way– so if you miss your destination, you will have to drive around the park again!

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Our first destination was the zoo!

There is parking all over the park, but the best place to park for the zoo is in the large parking lot next to it. We had our choice of spaces on the day we visited! 

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Before you approach the zoo, there is a small building just outside of it. Here you will find restrooms. These are the only restrooms available near the zoo. There is no restroom inside the zoo (except port-a-potties). So if you need to use the bathroom, now would be your chance to go. These restrooms do NOT have a changing table. So, bring a blanket because you’ll have to change those diapers on the ground (that’s what I did!). 

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Finally, after a quick bathroom run, we had arrived at the Zoo! 

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The Zoo hours vary throughout the year. On the day we visited, they had opened up at 10 a.m. It’s important to check their website for current hours before you plan your trip! 

As I mentioned above, admission to the Zoo is not included with the park entrance fee.  Currently, admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors (62 and older), $6 for children ages 5-12, $3.75 for children ages 1-4, and free for those under age 1. 

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However, if you do some research, most libraries offer a museum pass for the Forest Park Zoo. The library pass will either get you into the Zoo for free or at a reduced cost. In Enfield, our library’s museum pass allows for five free admissions into the zoo! So, we had our museum pass with us that day! Both me and my boy were able to enter for free!

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We had our pass scanned at the main gate before entering the zoo. 

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The zoo is very easy to walk around – it is basically a big circle and where you start is where you end. You definitely won’t get lost in this zoo. Also, the zoo is mostly a dirt path but it’s really easy to move around with a stroller. Some smaller exhibits, like the reptile room, are harder to get in and out of, but overall this is definitely a stroller friendly place. 

The zoo is home to A LOT OF ANIMALS! The first animals we encountered were the monkeys! 

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We also got to meet a special, new resident to the zoo, Wally the Alligator. Wally had recently been rescued from someone’s backyard in West Springfield. This guy was pretty big, and it’s crazy to imagine something like that lurking behind your neighbor’s fence! Yikes!  

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There are a number of barnyard animals, like mules, goats, donkeys, miniature horses, and pigs. 

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This camel was pretty awesome to see!

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My favorite part of this zoo is the free roaming peacocks! My boy was not too sure about them but I think they’re great to see just walking down the paths or throughout the grassy areas. 

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There are a lot of varieties of birds, including these East African crowned cranes, as well as a red-tailed hawk, cockatoos, turkeys, chickens,  macaws, kookaburra and hawks, amongst other species.

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There is a section of the zoo called the Outback, which is home to kangaroos and wallabies! 

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It’s also the home of this tired fellow – it was pretty hot that day, I could have gone for a nap too. 

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There were a lot more animals we got to see including porcupines, bush babies, and this tired little kitty… 

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Once we made our way around the zoo, we found ourselves at the barn house which has several petting zoo type animals, such as goats. It also has a small room of insects and reptiles (which I skipped, because yuck!). 

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We got to see the baby goats on the day we visited! How cute (despite how much they stink!). 

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Outside the barn is the gift shop

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Also, one thing that caught my eye just near the gift shop was this: a sunscreen dispenser. That is the coolest, and smartest, idea EVER!

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We had basically seen all the exhibits in the zoo by this point. With a two-year old, you move around pretty quickly, and we were in and out of the zoo in under an hour. With an older child who will be more into feeding the animals in the barn, or watching the animals for longer periods of time, you may spend a couple of hours. But this is definitely not an all day zoo, you can expect to be done pretty quickly. 

Our next stop was the playground, but before we had a chance to check it out, we discovered something… a train. Oh boy. 

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Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the train. And since we were carting around a stroller and some bags, I was not prepared for a train ride. And my child was NOT happy with this. But sadly, today was not a train riding day. I did learn though that the train runs often throughout the day during the summer. It is also very cheap for a ride: only $3.25 a person per ride. Tickets can be purchased at the zoo admission gate. 

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Thankfully, I was able to distract him with the playground!

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There were lots of slides! 

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And things to run on and climb!

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It was a really fun playground! This kept us entertained for quite some time! And then the train came back around… and we were in trouble again. So, time for a change of scenery! We returned to our car, and went for a drive around the park so we could find a parking spot closer to the spray pad. You CAN walk from the zoo to the spray pad. It’s not that far, but when it is as hot as it was on the day we visited, you moved your car!

On our way back to the car, I spotted this snack bar which has ice creams, drinks and other food items for sale. So, if you don’t want to pack your lunch, you can definitely find some food to enjoy here at the park!

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We found parking right near the spray pad on the road. There are several places where you can park along the road. In case, you do not want to park in the parking lot. 

The spray pad is located right next to the swimming pool. It is open during the summer, and from what I understand, the water is basically on all day. 

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The one thing I am not sure about is changing rooms for the spray pad. When I visited, we arrived at the spray pad before noon. The spray pad was running and could be used; however, the swimming pool was NOT open yet (it opened at noon). The changing rooms were behind the fence for the swimming pool. There were several lifeguards and other teens working at the pool, setting up for opening, and they were very kind to let us come through the locked gate to use the changing room. So I was able to get both myself and my child dressed for the water. Otherwise, I’m not sure where we would have gone for this. There is a restroom near the baseball fields, and of course, the one at the zoo. So, it might be worth changing into your bathing suit at one of those locations, or wearing your suit under your clothes. I don’t know if the changing rooms are available for patrons of the spray pad (or if it’s just for the pool users only). 

We were very thankful they let us use the changing room, so we could fully enjoy the spray pad!

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The spray pad is very simply designed, it doesn’t have the frills and fancy water sprayers like some spray pads in the area. But on a hot day, it cools you down, so really, it doesn’t matter what the place looks like! 

Besides, this child was having a ball, regardless of where the water came from!

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Of course, we HAVE to drink the water.

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There are benches that surround the spray pad, so if you’re not like me and get in the water with your child, you can always sit back and relax while your kids go crazy!

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We spent a lot of time in the spray pad, but soon before one, a bus arrived with a lot of older kids, and we took that as our cue to leave! Prior to that, we had seen only a handful of kids coming and going through the spray pad. 

Once we changed into our dry clothes, we decided to eat lunch. I found a nice little picnic area just diagonal from the spray pad. It was shaded and had a lot of picnic tables. We actually caught the end of a birthday party at the tables next to us. What a great idea to have a party here!

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PB&J for lunch, of course!

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We had one last stop before we left the park for the day (even though we were slightly overdue for a nap). But I had to check out the Farmer’s Market. Again, we moved our car to be closer to the market, which takes place just near the Cyr Arena. 

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The Market is held every Tuesday from 12:30 to 6 during the harvest season (usually May through October).  Also, if you are just going to the Park for the Market, you can actually park for FREE. 

I love this Farmer’s Market. There are so many vegetable and dairy farms selling their goods, bakeries, food trucks and other vendors. You definitely will not leave here empty-handed (I was good and only bought green beans and some pastries). If not for my farm share, I probably would have bought more… 

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That was our day! We spent almost 4 hours at the Park. You can easily spend the day if you spend more time at the spray park, or playground, or zoo. Or if you check out any of the hiking trails or gardens. But when you are dealing with an overtired 2-year-old, you cram as much as possible in a few short hours and then call it a day! 

This is absolutely worth the drive to Massachusetts, and its only a few minutes over the border. It is fun to visit any time of the year, whether during the warmer months for the spray pad or in the winter for ice skating and Bright Nights! Another park in Massachusetts to add to your last!

This about sums it up…

302 Sumner Avenue- Springfield, Massachusetts 

Website

Hours: Park is open from dawn to dusk. 

Zoo hours vary by season, please check their website for up to date hours. 

Farmer’s Market is held every Tuesday, 12:30 to 6, from May through October. Please check their website for up to date information. 

Costs: Vehicle Storage Fee (parking fee) is $3 for in state residents, and $5 for out of state residents. Annual passes can be purchased as well. 

Zoo admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors (62 and older), $6 for children ages 5-12, $3.75 for children ages 1-4, and free for those under age 1. Make sure to check with your local library for a museum pass to save on admission costs. 

Train rides are $3.25 per person, per ride. 

Features:

  • Stroller accessible
  • Playground
  • Spray Pad & Swimming Pool (the pool costs)
  • Zoo
  • Train Ride
  • Farmer’s Market
  • Tennis and Volleyball courts
  • Walking and bike trails 
  • Benches found throughout park, picnic areas and pavilions available for rent. 
  • Plenty of parking available throughout the park
  • Bathrooms throughout park (changing areas may be hard to find)- changing tables are also hard to locate
  • Food available for purchase
  • Open sunny areas throughout park, bring lots of sunblock! There are also many covered, shady areas. 

A few additional tips:

  • Water shoes for you and your child are a must in the spray park!
  • Wear a bathing suit, mom! Do not be afraid to have fun in the water with your child! 
  • Remember your sunblock. There is no cover in the spray park, it is easy to get burnt! 
  • Bring lots of towels for the  splash park
  • Bring money for the train and for the parking fee, as well as if you choose to buy food
  • Definitely bring a snack or lunch, and plan to stay for a while! 
  • If you plan to visit the park for Bright Nights, be prepared for long lines!

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