Review - Visiting Thurrock Thameside Nature Park With Children

Thurrock Thameside is a nature reserve in South Essex managed by Essex Wildlife Trust. It seems to variably be referred to as Nature Park and Discovery Park, but it is the same place. Located right on the edge of the River Thames you get views over the coastal mudflats and salt marsh which are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area. There are lots of birds to see as well as container ships going in and out of the nearby London Gateway Port.

This beautiful location was used for gravel extraction until the 1960s when it became a landfill site for waste from London. It is now 120 acres of parkland with footpaths and cycle ways, with plans to expand the park to 845 acres. 

In May 2023 the Discovery Park is celebrating 10 years since Sir David Attenborough officially opened the site calling it “a monument to what can be done to restore nature”.

Thurrock Thameside Discovery Centre and Play Area
Children will enjoy the play area while adults will appreciate the views

Visiting Thurrock Thameside Nature Park With Children

Why Thurrock Thameside Nature Park is a good place to visit with children:

  • Free parking
  • Good play areas
  • Café and toilets
  • Child friendly trail and footpaths

playground at Thameside Nature Park
There are two play areas, this one has a zip line, seesaw, nest swing and climbing frame

What is there to do at Thurrock Thameside?

The main attraction at Thurrock Thameside for most children will be the playgrounds.  There are two playgrounds next to each other: a younger children’s area has a small sand pit, a wooden lighthouse, swings and other things to climb on and an older children's play area with a climbing frame, seesaw, nest swing and zip wire. My children played in the younger children's area for some time, but other than the zip wire they were less interested in the other part. I didn't see any age guidance for either area.

The Discovery Centre is right next to the playgrounds and at the end of the road where the parking is. It has toilets, a gift shop, café and the full length windows looks out over the Estuary so it’s good for bird spotting. You can also go on the roof of the visitors centre to see 360 degree views of the nature park. Access is through a door in the cafe or by the play area door. There is ramp that curls round the building making the roof accessible with a wheelchair or pushchair. 

There is space to eat inside if you buy food or drink from the café, or plenty of picnic tables outside. 

The café had a nice selection of food and drinks including some allergy friendly options. I personally didn’t like the coffee, but I'm fussy and my partner thought it was ok. It was good to see they had sachet's of oat and soya milk.

To encourage children away from the play areas you can go on the Hare Trail to find 9 wooden 2D hares which have been painted in different designs. It’s pretty easy to find them all, but it’s nice to buy a map from the Discover Centre because it has questions to engage children and ensures you don’t get lost (there is one point where you might accidentally end up heading to the Cottage car park instead of turning off to continue the trail route). 

If you follow the trail round the outside of the main picnic area you walk past a bird hide which has pictures and information about the birds you might be able to spot through the windows. 

Like other Essex Wildlife Trust sites there are regular activities you can book on to online including Nature Tots, Forest School sessions and other child focused events in the school holidays.

A wooden 2d hare on a fence painted blue with a moon and stars on
Can you find all 9 hares on the trail?

A child looking out a window in a bird hide towards mud flats
Stop at the bird hide to see what animals (and boats) you can see on the mudflats

What You Need To Know Before Visiting Thurrock Thameside.

  • The Visitor's Centre is open 7 days a week 10am - 4pm in Winter (November to Mid Feb) and 10am to 5pm the rest of the year round (reduced hours over Christmas and New Year). The car park is open from 8.30am.
  • It is free to visit and to park, but signs encourage donations, especially if you make use of the facilities. 
  • Toilets (including baby changing facilities) are located inside the Centre so they are only accessible when it’s open.
  • The main paths don’t seem to get too muddy although there were puddles in places. They are easy to walk on, but would be tough going with a pushchair.
  • It can get very windy so you might want to ensure long hair is tied back and you have a windproof coat. 

Is it Dog Friendly?

Dogs are welcome on leads, and this is especially important between April and August to protect ground nesting birds. There is a water bowl outside the Discovery Centre and a “dog house” next to the playground (this is basically a shed with no door and a few chairs and a table in so you can get out of the wind/ rain with your pup). They are not allowed in the Discovery Centre. 

How To Get To Thurrock Thameside and Where To Park

Address: Mucking Wharf Road, Stanford-le-Hope, Thurrock, Essex SS17 0RN

There are two free car parks. The first you come to is a small car park in front of Crown Green cottage. This is open 8.30am to 4.30pm. It is a bit of a walk to the playground and Discovery Centre, but it has the advantage that you don’t have to drive down the access track which is rather bumpy in places. The main car park has space for about 80 cars.

A sign at Thameside Nature Discovery Park by Essex Wildlife Trust
Thameside Nature Reserve is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust

Where Else Is There To Go Nearby Thurrock Thameside Nature Park?

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