20 Fun and Cheap Outdoor Activities

people jumping on a beach during a sunset

Everyone loves summer vacations, but going on vacation can be costly. Considering that the price of gas and food has risen from last year and the cost of airline tickets is up more than 30%, vacationing will be even more expensive this summer. Many families will be embracing the staycation, but with the rising prices of everyday essentials, families who need to watch their expenses may also consider forgoing things like visiting local amusement parks or joining private swimming pools. After all, if you need a loan to cover the necessities, there’s no room in the budget for luxuries. But being budget-conscious doesn’t mean giving up on summer fun! The wonderful thing about summer is how many outdoor activities are going on that you can enjoy for little or no money, whether you’re single, part of a couple, or looking for things to do with the whole family.

Finding fun, free outdoor activities is easy. Follow the social media pages of local governments, library systems, and parks departments. These groups often host and publicize concerts, fireworks displays, block parties, and other community activities. You can also embrace fun at home by taking stock of what you already own. Many of us have sports equipment, tools, and camping gear sitting around unused. This is the perfect summer to put these items to use, sometimes in completely unexpected ways!

Out and About

paved walkway lined with flowers and shrubs

  1. Go the Zoo: Typically, tickets to the zoo range in price from free to more than $20 each, depending on the zoo. Luckily, many library systems have teamed up with zoos (along with botanical gardens and museums) to offer free passes to library patrons. These passes mean families don’t have to pay for tickets. Packing lunches and beverages and forgoing (or limiting) souvenirs can help families keep the cost for this outing well within their budget.
  2. Go on a Scavenger Hunt: Find a scavenger hunt for your city! It will push you and your family to enjoy new parts of your area by taking you on foot through places you don’t typically explore. Of course, you can always make a personalized scavenger hunt of places and things that are important to your family, too.
  3. Attend a Concert: Many local governments host a free outdoor concert series during the summer that families can attend for the cost of packing a picnic dinner.
  4. Go to a Game: It cost a little more than $250 for a family of four to attend a Major League Baseball game in 2021. Luckily, attending local Little League or minor league games is a cheap (or free!) activity that provides a lot of the same fun. And even concessions are cheaper at minor league or Little League games, so you’ll be able to get hot dogs for the family, too!
  5. Check Out Local Parks: Visiting these are either free or very low-cost, and some even have amenities like miniature golf or lakes to swim in. If you already enjoy the playground at your local park frequently, check out other parks in your area that you’ve never explored.
  6. Feed the Ducks: Skip the bread, but feeding wild ducks lettuce or corn is a fun way to connect with nature.
  7. Take Up Bird-Watching: Here’s a hobby the whole family can take up for the price of a pair of binoculars. It’s possible to save money there by grabbing a used pair from a pawn shop or Facebook Marketplace. The Audubon Society offers a free app with an extensive bird-watching guide so you can learn to identify different species.
  8. Go for a Hike: Urban and rural areas alike typically abound in trails suitable for hikers ranging from beginners pushing a stroller to experienced hikers looking for a new challenge. Remember to take water, sunscreen, and bandages and download a map of the trail to your (fully charged) phone. It’s always better to be prepared!
  9. Visit Public Swimming Pools: Pools operated by your local parks and recreation department typically have low daily and season pass prices for residents.
  10. Give Geocaching a Try: Use a GPS device or your phone to find local caches. When you discover the cache, sign the logbook, and if there are trinkets inside, you can take one and leave a different one for the next person. Look through your house for trinkets you already own to bring along!

In Your Own Backyard

small table in a backyard

  1. Set Up an Obstacle Course: Using already owned items, like outdoor chairs and Hula-Hoops, set up an obstacle course in your yard! Then, move things around to keep it fresh and challenging.
  2. DIY Giant Jenga: Make your own Jenga set out of scrap wood, then have fun playing with the family.
  3. Move Dinner Outside: Dining al fresco at restaurants is quite trendy in the summer. Eating outside at your own home provides all the fun of a restaurant without the big check! Small touches, like a tablecloth and candles, can add to the aesthetic of the experience without adding to the cost.
  4. Go Camping in Your Yard: Camping is typically a frugal activity, but just like everything else, campground fees are on the rise this summer. But you can still enjoy sleeping under the stars by pitching a tent in your backyard, and you’ll still have bathroom and kitchen facilities close at hand.
  5. Catch a Movie: Skip expensive tickets and concessions by hosting an outdoor movie night. This can be as simple as setting up your laptop or as complicated as borrowing a projector and screen. Either use a streaming service you already pay for or check out your local library: They usually offer DVDs to check out, but many systems also have subscriptions to streaming services like Kanopy.
  6. Start a Summer Book Club: Pick some beach books and plan a night on the patio with your friends and neighbors to combine the ease of summer entertaining with the mental stimulation of talking about books. Once the club is established, you can move it inside during the winter.
  7. Plant a Garden: Don’t get fancy in your first year gardening, but planting some herbs and hardy vegetables can provide your family with something to do, improve your yard, and hopefully even give you some food!
  8. Have a Backyard Dance Party: Dance lessons abound on YouTube. Queue up some and make learning to dance into a project for the entire family.
  9. Play Backyard Yahtzee: Start by making some large dice, and then spend the rest of the summer playing Yahtzee like you’ve never played it before!
  10. Host a Potluck Barbecue: One way to host a crowd without blowing the grocery budget is to ask each family to bring their own main dish.

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