There’s a fab play area and nature reserve which form part of the Nene Wetlands behind the shops at the Rushden Lakes retail and entertainment park in Northamptonshire. It’s free to visit and free to park for up to five hours. It’s a really fun day out for kids in Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire or nearby counties. We first visited in 2018 when my children were four and two and enjoyed it then and decided to return in July 2020 to see how the site had developed and how my boys would now find it – aged seven and five. If you do find this post useful and create some wonderful memories with your children, please do consider buying me a coffee to help with the running costs of this website, Milton Keynes Kids is run independently with no advertising in addition to my day job. Thank you. 

Where is the Nene Wetlands play area at Rushden Lakes? 

Rushden Lakes is a retail and leisure park in Northamptonshire. It’s about 35 minutes by car from where we live in Milton Keynes. There are lots of shops there including a Primark and House of Fraser. There’s also a cinema, soft play, cafes and restaurants. It’s easy to get to by car. The address is Northampton Rd, Rushden NN10 6FH. We went up the M1 and then the A45. When we visited you could park for free for 5 hours. The Nene Wetlands area is located next to the boardwalk. 

What’s the play area at the Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve at Rushden Lakes like?

The play area is excellent. There’s an otter themed climbing area with slides and tunnels. My children absolutely loved it. They pretend to be spies and it’s a great place for hide and seek. There’s also an overturned boat, spider and a heron’s nest with eggs. The area around the play equipment has become much more green since we visited in 2018 and the equipment blends well into the setting. Younger children can enjoy the otter area as it’s relatively accessible – but other children do tend to run around it so they’d need to be careful. Apart from the heron’s nest it’s all located in the same place but it’s not enclosed. 

What to do after the play area? 

After visiting the play area there are several walks you can do which vary in length. We went for the shortest one which took us around the lake. There are carved animals to spot including a badger, fox, snake and fish – look up and low. The path is hard and accessible. There were some woodland areas to follow steps down to as well. This short circular walk takes you around to the canoe centre and toilets. 

What else do we need to know about about visiting the Nene Wetlands nature reserve at Rushden Lakes? 

We visited the Nene Wetlands in July 2020. Some of this is time specific so do check before you travel what’s open. The toilets were open. There was an attendant at the toilet and you had to queue 2m apart outside before being told when to go in. I couldn’t see any sanitiser around the play area. We took our own. Sometimes the otter play area was busy but not to an extent they were put off from playing. There were a couple of places to get takeaway drinks and a place for ice-cream. You could also sit down in restaurants to eat. There were quite alot of deckchairs around and enough places to sit. There are a couple of good photo opportunity places. See pictures below. When we went in 2018 there was a splash area. That has gone and has been replaced by artificial grass, large Rushden Lake letters and deckchairs. The Nene Wetlands is managed by Wildlife Trusts Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire if you want to find out more about them. They also run events like pond dipping. 

Would we go back to Rushden Lakes and where else is similar? 

We would absolutely go back to the Nene Wetlands at Rushden Lakes. For somewhere completely free where there’s toilets and places to get coffee and ice-cream it’s great to visit. We did have to queue to get into the car park but managed to find somewhere to park relatively easily. Do bear in mind though it is a retail and leisure destination so people will be going there to shop as well as go to the cinema and soft play (when open) so it may be busy at weekends. We went on a week day in the school holidays. We didn’t go in any of the shops but I’d have a look at the Rushden Lakes website if you’re interested. If you found this review useful to have a look at the country parks section of my website. 

I'm Laura, mum to two boys aged nine and seven. I run this website independently and free from advertising in addition to my day job. If you have enjoyed this post and found it useful, here are some ways you can say thanks and support Milton Keynes Kids. 

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