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20 Cheap (or FREE!) Summertime Outdoor Activities

summertime outdoor activitiesSunshine. GLORIOUS sunshine. Here in the Midwest, we’ve had a rather overcast spring. Now that the temp has decided to kick freezing temperatures to the curb, our family has launched itself into summertime outdoor activities.

The thing about “activities” is that they often cost money. Simple actions like eating food, traveling, or spending time together as a family can become budget busters.

They don’t have to, though.

According to a 2013 American Express survey, over one-third of Americans planning to vacation this summer will spend over $1,000. If you’re going on a trip and you’re trying to save money or get out of debt, you’re faced with three decisions:

  • Delay this year’s vacation and apply the full amount into savings, paying off debt, investing, etc.
  • Swap the big vacation for a “staycation” and save roughly half of your original vacation budget toward your financial goals.
  • Go on vacation, make memories, have a great time, and resume attacking your financial goals when you return.

There is no right choice here, but the point I want to make is that even if you go on a big trip, you can still plan for a great summer back home that won’t break the bank.

20 Cheap Summertime Outdoor Activities

To help bring that idea to light, here is a list of 20 summertime outdoor activities with very little investment. I’m passionate about activities like this for a few reasons:

  • Participating in summertime outdoor activities promotes a healthier lifestyle for you and your family.
  • Getting out and attending local events helps support local businesses, thereby supporting your local economy.
  • Enjoying events together as a family creates new opportunities to bond and grow closer together.

1. Picnic in the park

Eating out as a family can wreak havoc on an unchecked budget. Instead, grab some blankets, a basket, a few sandwiches and drinks, and your loved ones. Find a shady spot next to a river or at your favorite park (or in your own backyard) and enjoy a very low-cost picnic together.

2. Tour of public gardens

Does your city or town have a park with flower gardens on display? After a busy week, block out a chunk of time to give your wallet a break and, quite literally, stop and smell the roses.

3. Public pool

Perhaps you don’t have a membership at the YMCA or you don’t have a neighborhood pool to visit this summer. A public pool isn’t free, but it’s a rather low-cost activity for you and your family to have fun, get exercise, and get outside.

summertime outdoor activities4. Hiking trails

Walking paths are another one of my favorite summertime outdoor activities because of how frugal and healthy it is. Do you have a nature trail you’ve been meaning to check out one of these days? Now is as good a time as any.

5. Local sporting event

Obviously the cost for a local sporting event will vary, but even the $5 cheap seats for our local baseball team in my city give my family a great view of the diamond and some fun out in the sun.

6. Family sporting event

The alternative to attending a local sports team as one of your summertime outdoor activities might be visiting someone you know who plays in their own league. Perhaps you have a nephew playing baseball or a friend in a softball summer league. Donning a ball cap and supporting your friends and loved ones is lots of fun at virtually no cost to you (except maybe a snack at the concession stand).

7. Local festivals

Summer is a great time of the year for annual festivals. It’s true that many of the more popular ones happen in the fall, but don’t assume they all do. I’ve recently become aware of some smaller, less known festivals happening in my city throughout June and July that are very cost friendly and unique. One of these festivals is completely free and consists of a gathering of street performers who put on a live show for attendees.

With a little research, you might be able to find some local festivals happening in your neck of the woods that will spice up your summer without a huge expense.

summertime outdoor activities8. Touring downtown

Summertime outdoor activities don’t automatically have to take place where there are trees and grass. Grab a little cash and head downtown to enjoy the sights on foot, grabbing a couple ice cream cones from the local place you’ve always wanted to try, of course.

9. Fitness events

My city promotes an ongoing fitness event that incorporates people of all ages who want to walk, run, and cycle from 5K to 100K depending on their level of insanity. Many terrific charities are supported through events like this. Find out if there are any fitness events for your family to enjoy.

10. Local shows

Do you love muscle cars? Boats? Animals? Local shows like these usually cost a small entrance fee (and if you’re like me, then you CAN’T leave without a rotisserie chicken from one of the local high school marching bands raising money nearby).

11. Fireworks displays

Free oooohs and aaaaahs just waiting to happen.

12. Live outdoor performances

I already highlighted the street performing festival happening in my town, but there are also lots of chances to see live outdoor music if you look. Outdoor theaters, malls, or bars are a few examples that come to mind.

13. Outdoor public movie night

Are there any drive-in movie theaters nearby? Perhaps they offer a summer family movie night for free. We have an outdoor amphitheater that offers free movie nights once a week during the summer.

14. Tour De Playgrounds

This might be my kids’ favorite activity. We find a block of time in our day when we can visit a playground and do our best to visit a different one each time. I had no idea there were so many until I had kids!

15. Splash pad

Many playgrounds now offer a free splash pad perfect for kids on those extra hot days. Don’t forget to bring some towels for the drive home. (Learned that lesson the hard way…)

outdoor summer activities golf16. Mini golf

Nothing like reliving your teenage dating years on a dime.

17. Batting cage

After a long, stressful week, sometimes it’s nice to just go swing a bat and hit a ball.

It can also be a good place to bring your teenage baseball player to try out BBCOR bats for high school , and keep him in shape during the off-season.

18. Driving range

Frugal and satisfying (unless you’ll end up being tortured by the imperfections in your golf swing and feel led to spend more money perfecting it. In that case, you probably shouldn’t do this one.)

19. Check your city calendar

I’ve listed several specific examples of summertime outdoor activities, but the best thing to do is to simply check your city’s calendar of events and jot down a few that sound fun.

20. Check Groupon

One great source for saving money on regular activities like mini golf, go cart racing or even dining, is Groupon. Type in your city’s name here and find some summertime deals and steals.

What’s your favorite free or cheap summer pastime? Tell us in the comments below!

Battle of the Mind Money


My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. It’s amazing all of the free things you can do to entertain yourself if you just do a little bit of planning. Hopefully, we can get a couple of parks and picnics in before it gets too hot! I’ll also be checking the public library and the Macaroni Kid calendar to make sure there aren’t any free events going on for the kiddos.

    • I hope you find some awesome, memory-making events on those calendars, Latoya! I’m thinking it’d make for some great blog material for you down the road, too. 🙂 Have a wonderful summer!

  2. #2 is one of my favorites. The local county park, which has offers a ton of activities within it, includes a gorgeous rose garden that my wife and I love to visit.

    • Thanks, Gary. It’s amazing what pops up on your radar once you have a family. When I was single, reading on a park bench or trying out a new coffee shop was about the extent of my exploration of the city. Now, with kids, I have this whole new window in which to view outdoor activities. My daughter and I both share the middle name “Rose” so you have good taste in places to take your wife. 🙂

  3. These are really great practical and cheap outdoor activities anyone can do to save money. It is amazing what we can do to have fun even when we do not have much money to spend. I am definitely be book marking this page.

    • Yes, sometimes the simplest moments are the most memorable. So glad you enjoyed this article, Esther!

  4. Most museums have at least one free day a month. Libraries have free classes and movie nights. Front porch sitting allows you to meet more neighbors in a city of strangers.

    • Excellent suggestions, ZJ. My new neighbors have front porches. I think we picked the right neighborhood. 🙂

    • So cool of you to stop by, Jaime! Yes, I can’t remember a summer without hours spent at the ballpark in our family.

  5. Great ideas! It’s surprisingly easy to find free events if you’re willing to get creative and take the time to look for them. My favorite free activities are hiking and free yoga classes.

    • Spot on suggestions, Frugal Millennial. I’m tempted to start a mom + toddler yoga class where all our kids file up to the front and we follow every move they make for an hour. No cost for babysitting AND everyone will sleep like rocks that night, haha. Win-win.

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