Cheap Outdoor Summer Activities for the Whole Family
I live in a Midwestern state that experiences far more cold, snowy weather than warm. And although I have plenty of ideas for things to do in Winter, it’s mostly for inside. Naturally, I feel extra compelled to make the most of the time I can spend outdoors once Summer comes. I am constantly looking for cheap, outdoor summer activities to get my family out of the house.
It is also my goal to come up with ideas that don’t cost a ton. Cause as much as I’d love to spend all summer at theme and water parks, Mama’s got bills to pay. So that’s not happening. And since you’re here, I’m assuming you feel the same way. To help you out, I’ve compiled for you my list of cheap, outdoor summer activities that the whole family can enjoy!
Cheap, Outdoor Summer Activities for the Whole Family
For convenience, I’ve divided the list into three categories: Active, Cultural/Educational, and Bonding.
Active activities are just what they sound like; they’re activities that involve moving…sometimes a lot of moving.
Cultural/Educational activities are those that get kids thinking, families conversing and exchanging ideas, or involve learning something new. They may also be things that involve getting into a new environment or exploring.
Bonding activities are those that inspire and cultivate an atmosphere of comfort and closeness. It involves situations that allow for opening up, learning something about each other, or really just spending time together. Time where your minds can wander and connect to one another unhindered by tasks and information.
Some of the activities overlapped in category, so I just picked one.
- Visit parks. Okay, we all think of this one. But I expanded on it a little. Try to find new parks, or bring a basketball, baseball and bat, soccer ball, or kite to mix it up and do more than just visit the park. Collect leaves, do a scavenger hunt, the sky’s the limit! Cost: FREE
- Go hiking. Lots of local parks have hiking trails that many people have never visited. Take the time to go off the paved pathways and do a little hiking. Look for wild critters along the way (just don’t disturb them!). Cost: FREE (depending on what park you go to, there could be a small fee)
- Visit a beach. I live right on Lake Michigan and do you know how many times a year I go there? Roughly zero. We completely take it for granted and don’t think there’s anything to do there. However, a few weeks ago we spent over an hour looking at shells and rocks and collecting “sea glass” and we had a great time. Zach threw rocks and sticks back in the ocean and wrote in the sand. We’ll definitely be going back. Cost: FREE (unless you visit a beach that charges, which some smaller lakes do)
- Try Geocaching! There are free apps that will give you coordinates to a small “treasure”. There are also websites. All you need is to plug them into your GPS and follow the directions. If you don’t know what Geocaching is, I suggest you visit the Geocache website and check it out! It’s like a weird, adventurous treasure hunt. Cost: FREE
- Find a bike trail. This one is self-explanatory. Cost: FREE
- Water balloon/gun games. I know some people don’t like water guns but they are SO MUCH EASIER to fill than those ridiculous, finger shredding water balloons. If you don’t have guns or balloons and don’t want to buy either, just fill buckets and throw water at each other. Fun all around. Cost: FREE (or a few dollars for water balloons/guns)
- Turn a play date into a family vs. family activity. Instead of a playdate for just the kids, invite the whole family on an outing. Then, face off in a game or sport like baseball, kickball, or mini golf. Or have a playground Olympics; who can swing the highest, who can jump the farthest in the sandpit, who made it home with the least amount of sand in their shoes… Cost: FREE
- Go old school and wash the car by hand. Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t go through car washes? Pull out the bucket, rags, and hose and give it a try. Kids will actually love this! Plus, how often do you get the opportunity to show off your garden hose water shooting skills? Just be careful; if they’ve seen the movie Sing, they may try to slide across the windshield on their stomach. Cost: FREE (except the cost of soap)
- Volunteer for a local park cleanup project. Most cities have organizations or community centers that operate river, park, or other outdoor cleanup projects you can volunteer for. Depending on the project, the volunteers may remove trash, clear brush, or make small repairs to keep their communities beautiful, clean and useful. If there aren’t any near you, you could consider starting one! Keep America Beautiful is a great place to start looking into it. Cost: FREE
- Start or tend to a garden. Take the time to pick out flowers or vegetables and grow them together! Let everyone pick something they’d like to plant, and work together to keep your garden clean and watered. Before you know it, you’ll have a lovely garden, built by hand by the whole family, for the whole family! We recently planted flower seeds and just saw the stems poking up through the dirt; my son was ecstatic! Cost: VARIES (free or as much as you want, depending on what you plant, and where you get the seeds/plants.)
- Visit a local botanical garden/zoo/museum. This can be expensive, but if you visit smaller museums and zoos, those are often free or very cheap. Larger places usually have a free day every month, sometimes every week, for residents of the city or state. Additionally, some have special events such as moms free on Mother’s Day or kids free with an adult ticket. Check into a few of your local facilities for the best deals! Cost: VARIES (free to as much as you want to spend)
- Check out local cultural festivals. In my area, there are tons of cultural festivals throughout the summer. Polish Fest, German Fest, Italian Fest, and Native American Fest are just a few of them. These are a great way to experience a different culture and learn about your neighbors in the community. Many are low cost for tickets, let kids in for free, have lower ticket days, or run promotions such as donating two non-perishable goods in exchange for entry. Look into local festivals in your area to see what is available. Cost: VARIES (this can be expensive if you purchase a lot at the festival, but that’s entirely optional)
- Visit a National Park. National parks are beautiful, historical and usually have lots to see and do. Some have lakes with canoes or kayaks for rent or amazing hiking trails. Others have lots of cultural and historical significance to learn about. Most parks aren’t too expensive and generally charge by the car, not per person, but there are also a few days a year that the national parks are free. Earth Day, for example. Some are free year round. Cost: Varies (A great option is the Annual National Parks Pass which is currently $80 annually and covers several people. Exact details vary slightly by park.)
- Check out a local outdoor event. Many cities host weekly outdoor concerts or movie nights. Some of these events are even designed to cater to kids or families specifically. There are also lots of summer holidays that include parades or mini-festivals. And then there is always the multitude of festivals put on by churches, schools, and other organizations raising funds. These are all usually free to attend, with additional cost for products and refreshments. Cost: FREE
- Visit a U-Pick farm. This is one of my absolute favorites. I cannot wait to take Zach to the local Strawberry picking farm. Generally, farms where you pick your own produce are only slightly more than what the produce would cost in the store (as long as it’s not a highly commercialized farm). The added bonus with U-Pick is the fun you get to have and watching the kids, especially little ones, see where their food comes from. We’ve picked apples and strawberries in our community, but raspberries, blueberries, and cherries are other popular U-Pick fruits. Cost: Varies (but if you buy lots of produce anyway, the cost usually isn’t much more, so it sort of offsets.)
- Go on an overnight camping trip. You don’t have to travel far or go to a big place for this to be fun. It’s about the experience, not where you go. Small campgrounds and national parks are usually really low cost for simple tent camping. You can roast marshmallows, cook a simple tin foil meal in a fire you started together, and tell stories around the campfire. Cost: $10-20 (plus the cost of whatever food you buy to bring and cook.)
- Sit outside and eat ice cream. Head out to a local ice cream shop. If you can walk to one, even better. Then, sit outside and enjoy the treat and the weather, completely unrushed. It sounds really simple, but how often do we take the time to do things like this? It will be a memory everyone will have for life. Cost: $2-3 per person
- Look for constellations. On a clear night, head outside and look for all the constellations you can find. You can get a book from the library and spend as long as you want. You can even try to come up with your own constellations. Find shapes in the sky and then give them silly names. They’ll be your families own, personal constellations. Cost: FREE
- Set up an outside art “buffet.” First, find lots of items to make art with and on. The messier, the better. Then, bring them all outside. Once everything is set up, grab the rest of the family. Finally, go wild with art! Everyone can make a mess and create their wildest creations. Whatever misses the canvases, or whatever you choose to decorate, will wash away in the rain (as long as it’s not something permanent like spray paint). Cost: FREE
- Build a sandcastle as a family. Visit the beach again, but this time, make a sandcastle. You can bring tools like buckets and small shovels with you, or you can make do without. Everyone can contribute to making the largest, most elaborate creation possible…as a family. Make sure that everyone gets to have input and add components they really want. Cost: FREE
- Go on a picnic. Pack up everyone’s favorite snacks and a simple meal like sandwiches or a cold noodle salad. Then, grab a blanket and head out. Go to a park, a beach, or your backyard. Have a nice, long, casual lunch while chatting away about anything and everything. Cost: FREE
- Visit a Farmer’s Market. Farmer’s Markets can be a great way to get kids involved in picking out new foods to try, seeing how they look before they’re cooked, and participating in the shopping experience. In addition, farmer’s markets usually have lots of local flare. Local artisans, bakers, and creators of all kinds show up to display their wares and talents. You can usually get a light lunch from a vendor and listen to someone (usually a middle-aged man in sandals and a poncho or a woman with long, dark hair) playing guitar and singing. They’re usually quite good, and kids love it. Cost: VARIES (free to go, but anything you buy will vary but is usually cheaper than the store)
- Hold a yard sale. Okay, so a yard sale can be a lot of work. However, it’s also a great bonding activity. While you sit and wait for customers, you’re literally doing nothing but sitting and talking with your family. It’s great. And leading up to the actual sale, you get to go through things and talk about memories, see what your kids have grown out of and are no longer interested in, and what they still really love. It’s also a bonus if you donate the money to a cause you all love. Everyone will feel great afterward. Cost: FREE (this one actually makes money!)
Get outside and enjoy Summer with your family!
There are so many ways to enjoy the summer days with family. And it can definitely be done without shelling out tons of cash.
These are just a few activities that go beyond the basic ideas we all have – but don’t really know what to do with – like go to the park or the general “play outside.” Not only that, but they are geared toward a whole family and include fun for all ages.
These are specific activities you can try. I know I have a hard time getting outside if I don’t have a plan for what I’ll do once I’m out there! I’m not much of a hang-out-on-the-front-porch-and-people-watch kind of person. It’s just not enjoyable for me. But these? I could definitely do these.
What do you think of the list? Do you have any fun, cheap, summer outdoor activities to add? Let me know in the comments!
-To a better life
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