Review: Hainault Forest Country Park and Playground

Hainault Forest Country Park is a huge park combining woods, parkland and arable land. It is mostly managed by The Woodland Trust and different parts are owned by Essex County Council, the London Borough of Redbridge and The Woodland Trust.  It’s on the border of London and Essex near Romford and Chigwell.

There has been a huge investment in the park recently which has seen restoration of the Victorian barns, a new visitor centre, an upgrade to the farm area and most importantly a brilliant new adventure play area. The farm area re-opened early September but only has a few animals. There is also a boating lake, land train, cafés, wood sculptures, trails and regular activities organised by the Woodland Trust. You can see a map of the site here.

all about the new playground at Hainault Forest Country Park
The new playground opened in August 2023

Visiting Hainault Forest Country Park

Why Hainault Forest Country Park Is Good To Visit With Children

  • There are acres of woodland to explore.
  • Huge amounts of green space to run around.
  • You can check out the ducks on the lake (and also hire rowing boats weekends and bank holidays). 
  • The new adventure playground encourages exploration and play.
  • The 1856 café has great views and hands on activities to teach about nature.
  • The visitors centre and small shop also provide educational information about the wildlife and plants.
  • There is a land train you can go for a ride on at peak times.
  • There is a very small free farm next to the playground.

The bridge and balancing beams at Hainault Forest playground
Climb and balance in this great playground

What is There To Do At Hainault Forest Country Park?

Adventure Playground

The new adventure playground opened in August 2023 and is proving to be hugely popular. It’s not a swings and roundabout type of playground and I heard some parents say they were disappointed about that, but I love this playground. It is brilliant for climbing, balancing and going on adventures. It holds my children’s attention much longer than more traditional playgrounds. 

The centrepiece which creates a wow factor as you arrive is the big slide. There are numerous ways to climb up to the top which require varying levels of risk, but are fine for the adventurous preschooler and older. If your child isn’t a strong climber or is scared of heights they should be encouraged to avoid this play frame as you wont want to climb up to get them, but there is still plenty more to explore. 

For younger ones there is a little slide as well as wooden horses, a wooden play camp fire and a wooden house you can climb on.

There is a climbing wall area, various balancing beams and a bridge you can run over or crawl through. It has grips on one side to help smaller ones get over. Even the flooring is different textures and colours which soon had my children dividing areas into a beach, lava etc.

Lots of the climbing is challenging and children could fall in a few places, but I think this is great as it allows children to learn to manage risk in a relatively safe environment. The flooring is soft in areas where falls are more likely.

This probably isn’t the playground for you if you have a toddler who wants to climb as they could soon disappear out of reach and you’ll need to be close to make sure they are ok. I felt happy watching my 4 year old from a bench but if it was busier I would probably feel differently in case he was accidentally knocked by bigger, faster children.

It is a circular playground with 5 benches and a ring of grass you can sit on with good visibility across the area. It is fenced but the gates are left open so if you have a child who might run off position yourself near the gate.

As it’s new (and great) it gets very busy. We went early to miss the crowds. The car park opens at 8am, but when we arrived at 8.30 the staff were just finishing their safety checks in the playground before opening it for the day.

Sadly none of the playground is designed to be “accessible” however I have seen lots of playgrounds claim recently they are accessible whilst only having one or two pieces of equipment that are pushchair accessible so it feels like they are box ticking. 

On our visit I witnessed children being allowed to misuse the area including running through the flower beds, throw stones and climb on top of the slide. There was also rubbish despite staff cleaning much of it up. I am crossing my fingers that this isn't a regular occurrence.

a girl on a wooden structure looking down at her brother
Much of the play equipment encourages unstructured play

a girl working her way along a wooden climbing wall
Climbing wall

A wooden beam minimalist play house
A minimalist house to play in or on

Side view of the large play frame at Hainault Forest Playground
The large play frame has several access routes and a slide or fireman's pole down

A wooden camp fire surrounded by wooden seating area with a boy holding his hands out to the pretend fire to warm them
Warming his hands on the camp fire

Foxburrows Farm

The children's farm opened early September. It is right next to the playground and you can see some of the animals from the playground. The farm is free entry, but donations are welcome. It current has a pig, horses, ponies, llamas, goats, sheep, rabbits and chickens. The farm was closed for several years from the COVID closure and they still have a lot of work to do on it as it got rather overgrown. Don't expect a lot, but it's nice to visit if you are at the Country Park anyway. 

The Rest Of The Park

There is a Woodland's Trust Visitor’s Centre and shop with a few activities in as well as maps you can pick up. This is advertised as open 10am to 4pm, but it opened a little later than that when we went. A land train runs from outside at peak times, it’s £3 per person. We saw it running, but didn’t go on it.

If the playground is busy and you want to adventure further afield head towards the lake and see the ducks and geese. There is also plenty of parkland and woodland to explore so you could follow one of the trails.

What Age Is Hainault Forest Country Park Good For?

As a park it is perfect for all ages. More specifically the playground is great for preschoolers upwards, but younger siblings will find bits to play with too. At peak times younger children would be wise to avoid the big slide and climbing frame in case the older children are a bit rough or distracted. My 11 year old would enjoy it with her siblings, but wouldn't have much to interest her for long on her own.

Toddler slide at Hainault Country Park
As well as the tall slide there is a smaller open slide for toddlers

Is It Suitable For Pushchairs?

The playground, car parks and café areas are all good surfaces for pushchairs. The paths through the rest of the park are mostly grass and tracks so whether you want to use a pushchair will depend on the recent weather and style of pushchair. 

What You Need To Know Before Visiting 

  • Head there early if you want to avoid the crowds in the playground at weekends or holidays.
  • The playground is free entry (and I expect the farm will still be too)
  • Bring a picnic blanket in case all the benches are taken.
  • If you go in the main entrance off Romford Road the second car park is the best when visiting with children.
  • There are toilets in the 1856 café (which is open 9am to 5pm) and next to the Global Café (these have longer opening hours and include a champing places toilet).
  • Download RingGo app before you go to make paying for parking easy. 
  • You can find out the latest information on social media: Hainault Forest and Café 1856

Is Hainault Forest Country Park Dog Friendly?

Dogs aren’t allowed in the playground, but the rest of the park is dog friendly. There were plenty of dogs in the 1856 cafe and a water bowl for them. 

A road with grass on the left and stone structures on the right as well as a land train
View towards the Visitor's Centre and 1856 café from the car park

Walking past the Hainault Forest Woodland Trust Visitor's Centre
The Visitor's Centre

Eating at Hainault Forest Country Park

There are a few options for buying food and drink in the park, but they are all over the playground and Visitors Centre side of the park. 

At the main entrance to the park is Global café. This is open 9.30 to 5.30 every day and is snack bar style offering hot and cold food and ice creams. There are a few tables inside and out.

A short distance from the playground is the spacious 1856 café. This is located in a renovated barn and is part of the recent redevelopment. It has a nice range of food and while a cup of tea was only £1 some of the crisps and snacks were more expensive. It is a big, welcoming space. It has a good number of tables inside I can see that these will get busy at peak times. They could fit in more tables if they wanted. We visited mid morning and had cake, juice and coffee and it was lovely. You could help yourself to glasses of water with a choice of plastic or glass glasses. There are some displays and activities in the café to engage children and educate them about wildlife.

Outside the playground was a Carte d’Or Ice Cream Truck which opened around 11am, but this is probably day and weather dependant. I didn’t get a chance to see the range of ice cream due to my children running off the opposite direction.

comfy seats, tables and activities in the 1856 café
Inside the spacious 1856 café

What To Take To Hainault Forest Country Park

If you are heading to the playground area while the 1856 café is open (between 9am and 5pm) you don’t need to take anything except maybe a picnic blanket. If visiting outside of these times or you are planning on exploring more of the parkland take snacks, drinks and wellies (weather dependant).

Getting To Hainault Forest Country Park

Address: Hainault Forest Country Park, Romford Road, Chigwell, IG7 4QN

There are several entrances around the large park, but if you are driving head to either Fox Burrow Road off Romford Road or Manor Road for parking. The Fox Burrow Road entrance is also the best access if on foot and heading to the cafés, toilets, playground or farm.


You can park for free in the Woodland Trust car parks which are off Manor Road on the northern edge of the site. If visiting with children though it’s worth heading to the Fox Burrow Road car parks (IG10 4QL) off Romford Road as they are much closer to the facilities. You need to pay to park in these using RingGo, it’s worth downloading the app in advance because when you are set up it is really easy to use.

It costs £1.40 for 1 hour, £2.40 for 2 hours or £5.20 for all day, but if you pay on the app and want to extend your time before it runs out you can do (handy if you don’t know how long you will stay). You have to pay for reminder and confirmation texts so make sure you are opted out of these. It is so easy to go back into the app and see how much time you have left.

The Fox Burrow Farm car parks (near the play area) are open 8am to 8pm. The free car parks are open daylight hours. 

View across grassland with woods in the background
There is a huge amount of parkland and woods to explore too

What Is There To Do Nearby?

Redbridge Cycling Centre is pretty much across the road, but a 5 minute drive. It has purpose built road, BMX and off road cycling tracks which you can use for a fee. You can also hire bikes and go on courses. My daughters have both learnt to ride here in 1 hour 1:1 sessions with Sylvia. It’s a great place to go to help get children more confident and safe at cycling.

Fairlop Waters is a 10 minutes drive. It’s a large lake which often hosts events eg last winter there was an ice rink, in summer there is an inflatable water park (run by Aqua Action). There is also a free boulder park (the largest in the UK apparently), Owls soft play (which recent visits has suggested is in need of a deep clean and updating), a high ropes course and water activity centre (SUP, canoeing etc).

Golf Kingdom is about 10 minutes away with an 18 hole adventure golf course (Moby Golf) and 18 hole foot golf course. The adventure golf has a memorable giant sperm whale called Moby Dick and artificially blue waterfall.

Top Golf Chigwell offers a totally different golfing experience. It is about 10 minutes away in the opposite direction and has a high tech golf driving range

Rollerbowl is about 5 minutes away at the City Pavillion. There is bowling, pool and an arcade. We were invited to review it a few years ago and you can read about our visit here.

Wellgate Community Farm is a small free farm open every day. You can see a range of farm animals up close. They also hold regular event days which have extra activities and can be chargeable (this is mostly fundraising for the farm though).

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