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If I had to choose my favorite outdoor place for having fun while sticking to a tight budget, it would, hands down, be public parks. They are an endless well of activities, greenscapes, the fresh outdoors, and fun, not to mention how versatile they are.
No matter your age, there’s a park out there that has a fun activity to participate in, be you six months old or 106 years old. The best part is that so many of them are completely free.
How do you find the cool parks?
Well, first off, Google is my best friend. A quick search of “parks near me” or “playgrounds near me” will typically help you find something, but there are a lot of other resources as well. Here are some resources;
- Find Your Park: Search by state, zip code, park name, or even activity. Note that this site won’t tell you of any fees that may be associated with parking or entry, so make sure you look it up!
- Playground Find: It seems to work all over the world but looks like it relies on people adding parks, so some of the info may not be up to date.
- Playground Buddy: This appears to be a good app for both Apple and Android phones to find parks on the go. Similar to playground find, it partially relies on people using the app to keep it up to date, but it seems fairly active with its users.
So, we know how to find the parks. Now what can you do at the park?
Well, that’s where the fun comes in! You can do so many things that the possibilities are nearly endless. Here are some that I love.
Growing up, my sister and I loved to go to the splash pad. Especially since a lot of the ones close by were free. Less hassle than a pool but twice as fun because there was usually a jungle gym nearby too.
Some city parks will have free pools. If you or your kiddos like swimming, this will be a great one. Bonus, some pools have a designated adult pool, so if you want to go solo and not worry as much about splashing, it’s a great option. If your local pool costs money and you feel like your family will use it a lot, consider a season pass to save on entry fees.
Play a Sport
So many parks have big open fields or places designated for sports. Here are some of my go-to’s and ones I’ve seen most often:
Get on some wheels
Many parks have paved pathways that are great for wheels of all sorts. This will be a great place to bring those toys and go for a ride. Here are some great options:
Explore the trails and paths
As well as paved pathways, a lot of parks have trails as well. These are great for walking, hiking, mountain biking, heck, some trails even welcome horseback riding, depending on where you live. If you’ve got a dog, a lot of times, they’re welcome on the trails with you. Just make sure you pick up after them!
Many dog parks are completely free, so if you’ve got a 4-legged furry friend, this is a super fun option. Just make sure you use the dog park etiquette. Pick up after your dog, don’t leave your dog unattended (it’s not doggy daycare), don’t bring any food into the park, and be aware ahead of time of the rules with bringing in toys or children.
Zoos and Petting Zoos
Some parks include free or low-cost zoos and petting zoos, which make for extremely fun days. Up in Ontario, we have the Riverview Zoo in Peterborough, which is completely free and open year-round. It has made for many fun day trips, both with friends in college and taking kids along with me a couple of times a year.
A lot of bigger parks will often run free events such as fairs, festivals, farmers’ markets, and much more. Keep an eye on events in your area for upcoming fun plans to make.
Historical Sites and Museums
Many public parks have been built on historical sites or properties. That being said, there are many that include free or low-cost small museums, and I always take a quick look inside. What can I say? I’m a history nerd and love the chance to learn.
So many more…
There are so many more things you can do at a park; I could probably write a full book on the subject. Here are some other great ones, though:
- jump rope
- scavenger hunts
- water balloon fights (make sure you pick up the pieces!)
- water gun fights
- obstacle courses
- play hide and seek
- have a picnic
- bird watch
- identify different plants or animals
- hoola hoops
- play in a small waterfall
- fly a kite
- do a family photo shoot
- outdoor exercise classes
- skateboard ramps
One Last Thing
When you’re going to a public place like a park, or a trail, it’s important to treat your environment with respect. The rule we always had growing up was “Take nothing, leave nothing.” In other words, don’t go picking all the flowers or taking things from their natural habitat. And don’t leave garbage all over the place. Respect where you go, so others can enjoy it as much as you did.
Do your local parks offer any of these advantages? What’s your favorite park activity? Do you regularly visit parks? Did I miss anything? Let’s talk about public parks in the comments section.
About Chloe Morgan
Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea. Check out her other work on Medium, where she writes about lifestyle, mental health, and writing.