Willen Lake is the most popular park in Milton Keynes. On a sunny day it’s often the place that many local people head to. There are watersports, a splash park and a treetop extreme area – all of which you pay to do. It’s also the location for Park Run and many events. Despite having visited countless times, I’m writing this review five years after starting this website. Previously I’d preferred to feature lots of other alternative places to visit as Willen Lake is so well known locally. However, I’m conscious that many of you may live outside of Milton Keynes; have relocated; or are looking for some tips about visiting even if you have been before. So this is a review focusing on what you can do on a day out with the kids at Willen Lake for free and some helpful information for planning your visit. If you find this review useful, please do consider buying me a coffee to support the running of this website. Milton Keynes Kids is free to access and all reviews are independent.
Where is Willen Lake?
Willen Lake is in Milton Keynes and is very easy to get to. The address is Willen Lake, V10 Brickhill Street, MK15 0DS. It’s connected by the redways – the cycle network around Milton Keynes – so we go there by bike from where we live. If you’re travelling by car then there are two payable car parks. It’s a bit confusing if you’re visiting for the first time though. So make sure you know which car park you have parked in. The SOUTH bay car park is pay and display so you have to pay when you arrive and put a ticket in your car. The NORTH bay car park is ANPR so you have to pay on exit. Here’s all the latest info on parking charges. Please make sure you park and pay properly. I’ve heard about a number of people who haven’t returned within the time limit in the pay and display area and been fined, or others who have paid as soon as they’ve arrived in the ANPR car park rather than when they leave. You can also park at various other places outside of the lake and walk or cycle in. I’ll talk about those later. Willen Lake is managed by the Parks Trust which is a charity – it’s not council-owned. The parking revenue goes towards the parks.
What are the main play areas like at Willen Lake?
The main play areas are located a short walk from the car park. At the time of writing (March 2021), new play equipment was being added as part of a big development at the site which includes a new watersports centre, however as I write this there are two play areas. One is for young children where there’s a slide, boat, swings, little house and rockers. That play area is gated. The other is for slightly older ones and isn’t gated. There are climbing frames with slides, a spinning cone-shaped climbing thing and a wooden dragonfly. My children have enjoyed both play areas over the years. Unless the weather is terrible, the play areas are generally busy. However given that Willen Lake is the biggest park in Milton Keynes, and MK is growing at a rapid rate, the play equipment isn’t anything out of the ordinary and it’s perhaps a missed opportunity to have something bigger like at Stanwick Lakes in Northamptonshire or more distinctive like at Irchester Country Park.
What’s the splash park at Willen Lake like?
There is a large splash park at Willen Lake. It’s NOT free and it’s not open all year round so don’t just turn up hoping to go in it. Other splash parks you may have visited will probably have been run by councils and are free. Willen Lake is managed by the Parks Trust and you do have to pay to visit and you do have to book in advance. There are advantages and disadvantages to this depending on your view. Booking in advance does mean that numbers can be restricted; you know that once you have booked you can plan your trip in advance; and everyone gets an equal turn. The disadvantages are that you do have to be organised and keep an eye on the weather; you may book for a day where it’s not as hot as you would like; the cost can add up if you have more than one child; and if the weather is lovely in the height of summer and you fancy booking on the day, you may find it’s already full booked. When the splash park opened I believe it was £3 for 25 minutes which seemed really quick. Looking at the latest info as I write in this in 2021 it’s £5 for 45 minutes and you can book online here. When we went my children had an excellent time. There are lots of jets of water and a big bucket. There are jets more suitable for younger children too. You can’t take photos whilst the children are playing. There are benches for adults to sit around and watch as well as toilets and refreshments. We would go back as we don’t live far away and it is an excellent facility on our doorstep. I do recommend looking at the weather forecast and if you think it will be hot then to book ahead. Occasionally they do offers or open up on days that weren’t originally scheduled so it’s well worth keeping an eye on Willen Lake’s social media pages for updates.
What else is there to see and do at Willen Lake?
Willen Lake is a circular walk and approximately 5km in distance. It’s split up into two lakes so if you don’t want to walk that far then you can just go around one. It is accessible. You can cycle and scoot around it but it is busy. If you go anti-clockwise around the lake from the main play area then you’ll come to a restaurant as well as paid for activities liked pedalos. There’s also a couple of food vans there. There used to be a miniature train, and you’ll still see the track but it hasn’t been running in at least a couple of years. There’s also a high ropes course as well as gym equipment. If you go clockwise around both lakes then there’s a watersports centre where you can book ahead to do Aquapacks, sailing, windsurfing etc, a big wheel and funfair rides. There’s more info about those on their website.Once you go under the underpass you’ll come to a Buddhist temple where there is a lovely Japanese garden. Do be respectful if you want to go an look at it. There’s also a circular set of stones and a peace pagoda. In the summer near the peace pagoda there are lots of beautiful daffodils.
Are there any other play areas close to Willen Lake?
There are two other play areas although they’re not part of the Willen Lake site itself. One is located near Willen Pavilion. The other is located near the church / Willen Hospice. If you want to go those instead first then you can park in a small free Parks Trust car park located just around the corner from the pavilion car park. An approximate postcode is MK15 9JP. One of the play areas you’ll see as you approach the parking area. To find the other once you’ve parked you need to head into the Willen Lake site but immediately turn left. A short distance away you’ll see the church and the other play area (pictured) is just to the left there. If you want to find them on foot then they’re about a 15 minute walk from the main play area. With the big car park on your left, and the lake on your right, head in the general direction of the peace pagoda as if you’re going clockwise around the lake. When the path forks, keep left and go under the underpass. The peace pagoda will be on your left and the lake on your right. At a point where the path curves around to the right (dpn’t go that way) there will be a small car park to your left. One of the play areas is around the corner from that. The other is near the church up ahead.
Any tips for visiting Willen Lake and what could be improved?
Willen Lake is the most popular park in Milton Keynes and hence the busiest. So if you want to avoid the crowds then on a hot, sunny weekend it’s probably not the place to go, and you may enjoy one of these alternative local walks or one of the many excellent residential play areas instead. Willen Lake does have toilets although they are quite outdated and I look forward to seeing if they will be replaced as part of the plans to update the site. They have been in a right state on more than one occasion when we’ve visited. On busy days, lots of rubbish gets left including used barbecues, and bags can be piled up. It is much quieter in term-time on weekdays if you have younger children and are looking to visit. I also recommend going in the evening as there are fabulous sunsets. You can make it a free day out by parking elsewhere (see below) and walking or cycling in and taking a picnic. If you are visiting for the day from outside of the areas and want to make the most of the facilities then it’s well worth looking up what you want to do in advance and booking. Do set yourself a budget as you can end up spending quite a lot of money. If you enjoy running then in non-covid times there’s an excellent Parkrun there which I recommend doing.
Where else can we go that’s close to Willen Lake?
Willen Lake is really well connected and it really depends whether you’re on foot, cycling or driving. On foot you can walk to the Poplar Plantation which is a nice area full of big trees. You turn right down the path just after the high ropes course. And from the Poplar Plantation it’s only a short walk to Woolstone local park where there’s a couple of good play areas. (You can also park in Woolstone for free if you wanted to go there first and walk on to Willen Lake. You can also walk or cycle to Middleton where there’s a small train themed play area. If you head out of Willen Lake towards Newlands you can walk or cycle to Campbell Park – or along the canal boardwalk and on to the rhino park in Downhead Park, and spot works of art which form part of the Gyosei Art Trail. The list is endless. Have a look at my map so you can see where you fancy heading to.
I'm Laura, mum to two boys aged seven and five. 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.
- Buy me a coffee - Had a great day out or found some useful tips from reading this post? I'm so pleased. Buy me a coffee to help towards the running costs of this website and creating the content.
- Facebook - Follow me on Facebook and message me any great photos you've taken of your adventures.
- Instagram - Like my Instagram page - and tag me in any of your photos of places you've visited.