Lake Hiawatha is an easily overlooked member of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, but that has always been one of its most appealing characteristics. Lacking the hustle and bustle of Lake Calhoun, the poshness of Lake of the Isles, or even the size of Lake Nokomis, Lake Hiawatha has a sleepy and natural feel that is a welcome change of pace. It owes much of this to the details of its context. To its west is the Hiawatha Golf Course, a large open space that has relatively small numbers of users at any given time. It is directly north of Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Parkway, but unlike Nokomis Park which is right off Cedar Avenue, it’s busiest adjacent road is 28th Avenue, which has much lazier traffic flow. These factors, along with the wide native shorelines, wetlands, streams, and dense tree canopy make for a very quiet and contemplative park experience. Yet what makes the park feel most relaxing is the comparative lack of people. Aside from the person fishing from their canoe on the lake, the odd jogger, or the family pushing a stroller around the lake, it often feels like you have the place all to yourself even on a beautiful summer day.
Like the park itself, the playground stands out more for what it is not. It is tucked into the northeast corner of the park and was reconstructed in 2001 with improved play structures. The structures are appropriate for children of a variety of ages and there is a wading pool with an array of fountains and water jets.
These amenities are not particularly outstanding and are easily outshined by more extravagant play structures and water features at other playgrounds. Yet when visiting the place, my children and I often have way more fun than we do at fancier and more elaborate play areas. One of the features is that the whole space is quite compact, which combined with the lack of crowding makes it an easy place to keep track of your children. While that may seem like a trivial consideration, this also speaks to the amount of attention and involvement that as a parent you are able to exercise while playing with your child. It is a more intimate space that is not overstimulating to the point that everyone ends up riding home in tears. As a contrast, the playground at Lake Calhoun and 32nd Street has similar facilities, but has a busy bike/pedestrian path, a beach next door, and all kinds of boats zipping around. This makes for a very dynamic and exciting playground, but a less relaxing and contemplative one. To be fair, there is a time and a place for each, but in 2013 I think it makes sense to recognize an offbeat playground that is a great place to kill some time and take it easy.
The Lake Hiawatha Playground is a hidden gem that is well worth the trip when paired with a leisurely stroll around the lake. Plus (as the nominating party pointed out), the other great benefit is being able to stop by The Baker’s Wife on the way home to pick up a tasty pastry. A surefire way to make sure you have a happy ride home.