UPDATE 5/24/16: Our first visit to Wickham Park was over 4 years ago! But we’ve been back for many subsequent visits. Don’t forget to check out our other posts about Wickham Park including this one about the Sensory Garden, model train, hiking trails and picnic areas with playgrounds. Wickham Park is now open for the 2016 season and will remain open through the last weekend in October 2016. You can find the most up-to-date hours & rate information here.
Back in December, one of our holiday destinations was the free visit to “Santa’s Workshop,” an annual holiday tradition at Wickham Park in Manchester, Connecticut. The only thing I knew about Wickham Park when we made our first visit there was that hubby and his work colleagues had participated in a “team building” activity that made use of the park’s disc golf course. However, it quickly became clear that Mandy and I would have to venture back in the warmer months to further explore this sprawling landscape.
So, a few weeks ago when we had that really amazing, July-esque weather with temps near 80, we decided to head over to Wickham Park one morning to explore the park’s Nature Center and Aviary, and to let the kids burn off some energy in the main playground.
First of all, let me say that Wickham is really a jewel of a park. With rolling greens, gorgeous gardens, wooded acres, and spectacular views, it is just postcard-perfect everywhere you look. It’s not surprising that many couples choose to have their weddings here.
Wickham Park is very conveniently located just off of 84. During the summer months there is an admission fee ($4 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and holidays) to enter the grounds. There is a little booth right at the park’s entrance/exit and there will be a ranger there to take your money. I didn’t confirm this, but I’d be surprised if they take anything but cash at the ranger booth, so you should probably stop at an ATM just to be safe. And here’s another little tip I got from the ranger on duty: if you are going early in the day, bring small bills, preferably $1’s. Otherwise, there might not be change available for your 20 dollar bill. If you plan to be a frequent visitor, weekday season passes are also available. Although, they are not valid for weekends and holidays. See the Momsense section for more details.
This park is filled with fun things to explore. There are gardens, nature trails, three playgrounds, a bird sanctuary, the list goes on and on. But today we are here to check out the main (and biggest) playground, the Aviary, and the Nature Center.
If you look at this map of the park, you can see where these three items are all clustered together just left of center.
After paying the entrance fee, we drove into the park and followed the road around to the left to the large parking lot near these attractions. We arrived around 10:00 on a Tuesday morning, and the lot was pretty empty. By the time we left at noon, it was definitely filling up. However, it was school vacation week for a lot of towns, so that may have had something to do with it.
We got the kiddos loaded up in their strollers so we could take a look around and visit the Aviary and the Nature Center before turning them loose in the playground. Everyone looked so sleepy this morning!
As a side note, I absolutely love Boo’s new stroller. If you are in the market for a hybrid between an umbrella stroller and jogging stroller, definitely check out the City Mini from Baby Jogger. You can watch the full review from Baby Gizmo here. But let me warn you, once you see how easy it is to collapse and stow this baby with one hand, you are going to want it…now!
Since the kids seemed content to be hanging out in their strollers, we ventured into the Nature Center first. The building is a very short walk from the parking lot.
I’ll pause here to let you know that the restrooms are around the back of this building (follow that paved walkway around to the right). There wasn’t a changing table in them, but there is a nice, big stall that you can easily bring your stroller into, so that scores big points.
Here is what Wickham Park’s website has to say about the Nature Center:
Expanded in 2006 to include a nature classroom, numerous interactive nature exhibits, historical information about the Wickham family & their estate, Wickham Park’s Nature Center is a facility designed to educate visitors about plant and animal wildlife in the area.
And that pretty much describes what we found inside.
It’s not every day that you see a sign like this. How nice!
On the way to the Aviary, we passed by this picnic area and snack bar that is integrated into the Nature Center building. The snack bar is not open on weekdays, but it looks like they have a pretty decent selection of food items. And also things like bug spray and sunscreen. That’s good to know. Also good to know: cash only at the snack bar. The website indicates that there are also vending machines around the building somewhere, but if we saw them, I have completely forgotten where they are located. Fortunately, it is a small building so you won’t have to look very hard 🙂
Just a short distance down the paved path, we found the side entrance to the Aviary. Here’s a little primer from Wickham’s site:
Wickham Park is home to a variety of display birds, in addition to the natural wildlife in the park. The birds include turkeys, pheasants, peafowl, owls, waterfowl, and exotic chickens. The park also shelters turkey vultures, Red-Tailed hawks, Canada geese, and a Great Horned owl, all migratory birds unreleasable to the wild due to injury. All of the many birds are kept in the park’s aviary where the public can view and learn about them.
In addition to housing all these fascinating birds, the Aviary is just a really lovely corner of the park. It’s sunny and filled with flowers, and there are benches everywhere. It’s pretty well enclosed, so we probably could have let the kiddos out to explore. Next time.
Each enclosure has a little sign on it with information about the birds inside.
Boo was captivated by the chickens.
For older kids (an adults too, of course), there is bird feed available for 25 cents. Don’t forget your change!
It was starting to get warm in the sun, so we headed over to the playground, which is right next to the Aviary. This playground has lots of excellent features, but on a day like today one of the best things about it is all the trees and subsequent shade. We haven’t found that many shady playgrounds around here, so this is definitely a bonus.
Another bonus? This is a completely fenced-in playground. Mandy and I were definitely thankful for that amenity as we tried to play zone defense with three fully mobile toddlers. This shot of them all in the same place was a VERY rare occurrence 🙂
The playground is large, with a different climbing/sliding structure in each corner and swingsets (including baby swings) in the middle and outer edge. Three of the four playscapes were great for our little kids.
The fourth play structure was a little too advanced for our wee crew. Boo did try to scale it, but he almost gave me a heart attack when instead of going down the slide he turned around and tried to climb back down the stairs. Then he decided both options for descending were too scary. Oy. Climbing up there myself and taking him down the slide was the only way out of that situation. Of course, now that I’ve read that article Mandy posted on our Facebook page about how dangerous it is to go down a slide with your child in your lap, I won’t be doing that again.
But there were plenty of other things to explore anyway.
After about an hour, the kids were starting to get tired. We had a little impromptu picnic before packing everyone up to leave. After a morning like this, we figured naptime was going to begin the moment we buckled the kiddos into their car seats.
We certainly enjoyed our Wickham Park adventure, but there is still lots more to see. Hopefully, we will be back soon to discover what else this wonderful park has to offer.
Have you been to Wickham Park? What is your favorite activity here?
1329 West Middle Turnpike, Manchester, Connecticut 06040
Get directions here:
Hours & Admission:
Wickham Park is officially open from the first weekend in April through the last weekend in October, but there are always special events going on year-round. Check their events page, which includes a monthly calendar, for more information.
During the open season, the park is open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. to sunset, but may be closed for inclement weather conditions.
“Picnic Store” Snack Bar: Saturday & Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CASH ONLY
Per car: $4 Monday-Friday; $5 weekends and holidays
See website for additional admission information about large vans, buses, etc.
Season passes are also available during the open season. These passes are only valid for admission on weekdays. A valid ID showing residency is required at the time of purchase.
Manchester and East Hartford residents: $60
Out-of-town residents: $90
- Three playgrounds in various areas of the park (all located in picnic areas), the largest is the one we visited for this post.
- Nature Center
- Sports facilities including a disc golf course, tennis courts, softball fields, volleyball courts, and horseshoe pits. Discs for disc golf, softball bases, horseshoes, and volleyballs are available for rental at the front gate.
- Picnic areas
- Bird sanctuary
- Access to bike and hiking trails.
- A fitness trail complete with 20 workout stations
- Three public restrooms, all handicapped accessible:1-near the Aviary/main playground; 2-Hickory Grove II; 3-part of the Wickham Pavillion.
- The park is patrolled by the Ranger staff who provide security, answer questions, give directions, and provide other assistance.
- Year-round special events
Tips & Things to Bring:
- Don’t forget cash for the entrance fee, the snack bar (on weekends), and change for bird feed in the Aviary.
- Although the main playground is fully fenced in, it is large and the playscapes are set far apart, so it could still be a bit challenging to supervise several wobbly toddlers or dare-devil preschoolers simultaneously.
- The main playground has good patches of shade, but the Aviary is very sunny so make sure you bring a hat/sunscreen for everyone (you too!).
- There are some benches in the playground, but they are not well-distributed. Be prepared to follow your child around and stand while he/she plays on the equipment. Hello sneakers!
- The playground surface is dirt, grass, and mulch. It is slightly pitched and a little uneven in places so just take extra care if your toddler is still unsteady.
- This is not a good playground for a crawling/non-walking baby, unless he or she is just happy to be in a baby swing. Fortunately, there is lots of green space at this park that makes for great crawling.
- The restroom near the Aviary/playground/Nature Center does not have a changing table, but you can fit a stroller into the larger, handicapped accessible stall.
- Speaking of strollers, we had no problem maneuvering our strollers (even Mandy’s double-wide) through the Nature Center, Aviary and into the playground, and the paved paths made it easy to get from one activity to another.
- Click here for more information on renting various facilities.
- Don’t forget to come back to visit Santa in December!
Surprise! Mandy’s got a special pre-Mother’s Day post for you tomorrow. Then next week, she’s sharing her favorite, top-secret playground only with you, our loyal readers. Shhhhh. Plus, it’s time for some tiny dining…Sunday brunch style.
Want to keep up with all our Out and About Mom adventures?
Check back every Tuesday and Thursday as we dish up more Momsense for getting out and about with your little ones. Don’t have time to check back in? Let us send you an automatic notification of new posts straight to your email inbox by signing up here. Also, you can like us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest posts and get some extra tidbits we share only through those sites.