adventure tower

We call it the Adventure Tower, and it’s the centerpiece of outdoor play for my two kids (ages 6 and 10) and all their friends. I designed and built the basic structure five years ago and have been adding (and sometimes subtracting) new play elements ever since. I treat it like my own giant Tinkertoy set, and have just as much fun building it as my kids have playing on it.

In the beginning, my goal was to build a big play structure that was rock solid (strong enough for adults to play on), had a small footprint, and maintained high play value as my kids grew.

Triangles are the answer to rock-solid structures, so the frame of the Adventure Tower is built around a tripod of 4×6 treated timbers 16 feet long. The base rail is made with three 12-foot timbers, and the deck uses three 8-foot timbers. The metal brackets are the only non-off-the-shelf items: an engineer friend designed the bracket that secures the peak of the tripod and the brackets that attach the horizontal 4×6 timbers to the tripod.

All the lumber and hardware were purchased at my local big-box home improvement store. The fun add-ons — the slide, rings, swing, driver’s wheel, telescope, etc. — were purchased there as well. The cargo net came from an army surplus store, and the rock climbing handholds were purchased on the web.

I eventually built a clubhouse under the Adventure Tower, and the kids love it. The main door was “secretly” hidden on the climbing wall and I built two smaller secret escape doors. The kids pleaded for locks to be added to the doors, and I obliged and was told it made the clubhouse experience “way better!” Who would have thought?

I asked my 10-year-old son (a big MAKE magazine fan) what was most important to share in this article, and he said, “Tell them how big and strong it is.” Size and toughness are important to him because he’s played on the small, wimpy play structures in his friends’ backyards.

In school last year, my son brought my scale model of the Adventure Tower in for show and tell, along with two little action figures. When I picked him up after school, he jumped in the car and said, “Everyone wants to come over to our house to play!” Now that’s cool.

See photos and video of the Adventure Tower in use at adventuretower.com.