Our kids have always loved exploring creeks and waterways. There is so much fun to be had at the creek! You can find all kinds of critters, stack stones, play with the flow of water, splash around and cool off on a hot Summer’s day. The list goes on!

It’s always been a goal to incorporate these experiences into our backyard play spaces one day! However, the decision to build a dry creek bed was not done for the sole purpose of having a nice feature in the backyard. Our dry creek bed actually serves a few purposes which I’ll go into shortly.

But first, here’s a few before photos for you! We decided to add a few garden beds on this side of the yard in front of the shed. We decided this side would be our veggie garden, future chook pen and a bit of a kids area with the dry creek bed, a mud kitchen area and some bark.

How we made our dry creek bed

The first and really the only issue I had to deal with was convincing Casey to let me make a dry creek bed because she was worried it would look out of place. We chose our property for the beautiful big yard and she was worried about taking away too much green space.

Once I had her on board, I started by removing the old garden edging and timber framing around the rainwater tank replacing with new edging. I also created a new garden bed around our mango tree. This would also form the collection area to catch the overflow and redirect it out and away from the rainwater tank.

The kids helped me clear the back garden bed which we extended for our future chicken pen. During this process, I laid aggregate pipe (flexible pipe with small holes for water to enter and drain away) along the back fence in a channel which we covered over with small stones. This channel starts at the front of the would-be chicken pen and follows the back fence to an existing storm-water drain.

Knowing we would be putting weed mat (prevents grass and weeds growing through) down over the whole play area to cover it in bark, all I needed to do to direct the flow of water from the collection point to the drainage channel was dig a small trench about an inch deep in the rough shape we wanted the dry creek bed.

Next, we put the weed mat down and ordered 2 and a half tonne of River Rocks from Centenary Landscaping. The rocks we ordered ranged from 13cm to 30cm in length. When the truck arrived, we moved all the rocks into the backyard by wheelbarrow and then everyone helped to lay them around the edges of the creek bed, making sure to leave spaces for where we wanted our bridges.

Once we were happy with the design, we scatted the remaining large rocks in the middle of the creek bed before filling in the gaps with smaller stones. All of the smaller stones were recycled from the side of the house (we’ll eventually cover it with bark and larger stepping stones) and also dug out of the garden beds.

All that was left to do was lay the bark (Takura Soft Fall) and then build and stain our bridges from Educating Kids. I used Johnstones water-based decking oil to stain and protect the bridges from the elements. We also took a trip to a local nursery to grab some native plants and fruit trees to plant along the creek bed to give it a more natural look!

The dry creek bed has been such a good addition to the yard. It really defines the play space for the children and they all love playing there. Lilly often brings her Barbies outside to play along the creek and Elliot loves to drive his Monster Truck up over all the rocks.

So why did we decide to build a dry creek bed?

When we were house hunting and first saw the property, it had been raining quite heavily for several days and a good portion of the backyard was either under water or very, very damp. This is because most of the runoff from the roof goes into a storage tank for use on the gardens. This is a great use of water that would otherwise just go down the storm-water drain. The only problem is that the tank fills up very quickly this way and when it does, the water just overflows into the yard.

Now that we’ve created the dry creek bed, the runoff from the rainwater tank empties into the top of the dry creek bed and follows it down to the back fence where it meets aggregate pipe hidden under a channel of small stones. From there, it flows into the storm-water drain in the back corner of the yard.

Another reason we created the dry creek bed was to provide a natural border between the lawn and the kids play area. This means that because the kids area is filled with bark, I don’t have to deal with mowing around things like the mud kitchen and climbing frame.

I’ll be back soon to share a tour of the backyard!

About the author

Casey is a former teacher and now homeschooling mum of three who's all about infusing fun and learning into playtime! Her mission is to help families weave connection, play and education seamlessly into their daily lives. Whether it's through her playful, easy-to-use resources inside her Little Play Club membership or her inspiring daily tips on Instagram, Casey is your go to guide for creating a play-filled home. 

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  1. Kurtis,

    Your backyard is beautiful for kids!!! Where are you? I am in Salt Lake City Utah… I am the director of a preschool program and want to create something like this is an area away from our plastic playground.

    1. Hey Kim! Thank you – we're in Brisbane, Australia. It's definitely a really lovely spot for the kids to play and explore! They love looking for little lizards hiding amongst the rocks!

  2. What a beautiful, yet very functional idea and design. It turned out fabulous and it looks and sounds like the kids love it. We just bought a 7 acrea tract and I may be able to incorporate something similar into the landscaping there!!! Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Silly question, if there isn’t any rain water, do you have a water source or water pump to keep water moving through the rock bed?

    1. Hey there Tedd! Not a silly question at all – we basically run it as a dry creek bed 95% of the time. At the top end of the creek sits our water tank which connects to all the downpipes from our house. When it rains, the tank fills and then the overflow flows down through the dry creek bed and into the storm water drain at the back of our property. So it's mostly for aesthetics and for the kids to play in BUT doubles as a channel for water to flow from the tank down to the storm water drain when it's full.

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