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By the author of The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices
As the weather warms up, the cabin fever sets in. Nobody wants to spend all their time inside. There are things to do out there – a world to explore! The catch is that this often seems to cost money. But, if you have a national park near you, there are all kinds of things you can do for entertainment that are absolutely free.
Here are the top ten things you can do in your national park that won’t cost you a dime.
Hunting crashed airplanes
This is a hobby I like to pick up again every now and then. To date, I’ve only found two, but I’ve had a lot of fun searching for them. While this may not sound like something that happens very often, I can assure you that there are way more plane crashes in your area than you ever would have thought.
There are at least six that I know of within a two-hour drive of me, and from the research, I’ve done, this isn’t a high number. You’ll have to do a lot of online sleuthing before you get out there, but when you finally find the wreckage, it’s an exciting, somber, and eerie moment all rolled into one.
Summits on the Air (SOTA)
You’d have to have a ham radio license to engage in this, but Summits on the Air is a fun and technically challenging means by which one treks out into the middle of nowhere to specific mountain peaks with the goal of earning points. Within this contest, SOTA participants try to collect as many points as possible by “activating” as many or as difficult mountain peaks as possible.
One has to take a ham radio and antenna out into the woods with them, hike up these big mountains, and then make a number of “contacts” with other ham radio users. It’s a challenging means to see if you can’t make these contacts, get those points, and see if you can’t win some of the awards that are designated for the top earners in the SOTA contest.
You may want to look into Parks on the Air (POTA) as well.
National parks are notorious for being stuffed to the brim with hiking trails. The cool thing about these is that you can easily find a hiking trail scaled to exactly your physical abilities. There are flat, one-mile loops, and there are strenuous hikes that require you to hike in with a backpack full of food and water (Vermont’s 100-mile wilderness).
Some locations are more persnickety about this than others, but a treasure hunt in the middle of the woods is one of the best ways I know of finding the hidden gems all around you. With a GPS in your hand, you’ll be led out to monuments, abandoned buildings, waterfalls, and other anomalies that you would never have known about otherwise.
Several national parks offer guided ranger tours, where a park ranger will take you through an area explaining the trees that you’re seeing, the local history, the animals that inhabit the area, and a host of other tidbits about the area you wouldn’t have ever discovered otherwise.
For those with small children, this can serve as a fun activity for them to learn more about the world around them if you don’t feel well-versed enough in outdoor life to teach them yourself.
Grab your sleeping bag, pack the tent, and put your percolator in the car – it’s time to go camping. The most beautiful sunrises you’ve ever seen happen when you are fully immersed in nature. Here, you don’t wake up to an alarm clock; you wake up to the sound of birds greeting the morning.
While there are plenty of national park locations that want you to pay for a campground spot, there are also plenty of locations you can camp for free. If you’re on the hunt for free camping, I recommend looking into national parks that have either the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or Appalachian Trail running through them. You can generally camp right off of these trails without any problems whatsoever.
There have been many times I’ve headed out into the woods with a camera and little else than a desire to see what pictures I could get (of mushrooms, in particular). I’m not only able to get hours of entertainment out of this, but it doesn’t cost me anything other than the gas to get out to the woods and back.
While you may not want to head out staring at dead logs and the dirt when you’re out in the woods, perhaps you could go out seeking panoramas, clouds, lightning-struck trees, salamanders, bird nests, or bears.
Have horses? Then you’re likely always looking for a chance to hop into the saddle yet again. Your national park can serve as a great place to get your money’s worth out of your cowboy boots. The horses will enjoy the exercise and new scenery, and you’ll get to spend time outside with minimal expense other than the cost of towing your horse trailer out into the woods.
National parks often have the best swimming holes you’ll ever find. I grow tired of public pools where you have to compete for space with dozens of other people. If I’m going swimming, I go to swim with my friends and family – not with 100 other strangers.
This is where your local, national park can come into play. There are all kinds of swimming holes that are not only safe to swim in but are a blast to swim in as well. Some of the places I’ve found as exploring out in the woods are absolutely stunning. The water is as clear as it gets (or a crystal blue), I’m surrounded by nature (not people), and
Take a picnic
How many times have I found myself driving to my nearest national park with nothing other than a sack full of food and time? Picnics are a lot of fun – whether you’re having one with a group or just going it solo.
Not only do you get to enjoy the outdoors as you eat, but there’s something about a picnic that just creates a more relaxing meal.
You’ve already paid for the park (taxes). So, why not get out and enjoy it?
Your local national park will not only offer you the above activities but plenty more as well. Fishing, spelunking, metal detecting, foraging – these are all additional options you may be able to do in your area.
What are your thoughts, though? Are there other ways to get enjoyment out of your local national park without spending any money? Let us know in the comments below.
Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.