14 cheap or free things to do with adventurous kids

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Free Things for Kids to Do This Summer

Spring has arrived in many parts of the country, the school year is winding down, and it's time to try some fresh ideas for keeping boredom at bay. These activities will engage adventurous kids and spark their sense of excitement.

Related: 50 Ways to Beat Summer Boredom on a Budget


It's the ultimate family treasure hunt. Bust out a smartphone and sign up for a free geocaching account. Then use the phone's GPS to find a nearby cache. Try this anywhere -- at home, in a park, or on vacation -- and there is sure to be a cache nearby.


A thrill for adventurous kids may be just a short car ride away. Cheapism.com found 11 affordable zip line courses all over the world, and there are many more that won't leave a wallet empty.


Even something as mundane as a trip to a park becomes a free adventure with parkour, the sport of athletically navigating an urban environment. It can be attempted anywhere there are obstacles in the path. Start by challenging kids not to touch the ground while traveling from point A to point B and they will develop simple parkour moves. Professional parkour artists the Tapp Brothers have more ideas on how to get started.


This one depends largely on location, but lucky families may have access to something like Ohio's Old Man's Cave, a series of caves connected by hiking paths. Touring the caves is free and makes for a good day trip.


Spend the day fishing and exploring nearby scenic waterways for some one-on-one bonding with a child. In addition to catching fish, this is a chance to be among wildlife and make other discoveries out in nature.

Scary Movies.

For kids who are tough and not afraid of much, pop in a scary movie, dim, the lights, and try to spook them a little. Just be careful not to screen something too scary right before bed. NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast inspired listeners to make suggestions online in the comments for an August episode.


Whether the model is Robin Hood or Katniss Everdeen, children will be excited to get a bow and arrow in their hands for some exercise and target shooting. Highly rated starter bow-and-arrow kits run as low as $20 at Dick's Sporting Goods, and Amazon has a variety of practice targets for less than $1.

Farming for a Day.

Find a working farm that is open to the public and lend a hand for the day -- many welcome the help. Some farms charge a little (typically $20 or less per family, depending on the activity). For younger kids, think story time and a chance to explore the farm. Older kids can sign up to be a farmhand for the morning, learn the art of wood carving, check water ecosystems after sunset, learn about beekeeping, and learn to identify edible plants, plus much more, depending on the farm.


Pack a picnic lunch and take the kids out for a day of wading in a nearby park or nature preserve. Teach them to skip stones, catch tadpoles, and look for other wildlife in or near a creek.

Watching Trains or Planes.

This is especially appealing for young kids, who seem almost universally fascinated by trains and planes. Pack them up in the car and follow the tracks to find a secluded spot to park and watch trains come and go, or head to a local airfield or airport and watch the planes take off and land. It's fun during the day and even more spectacular at night.

A Night Walk.

Everything looks different at night. Grab some flashlights and head out for a nighttime walk -- maybe even turn it into a scavenger hunt by giving everyone a list of things to look for. Just be sure to wear bright clothing and reflective pieces for safety.

Rock Climbing.

See how kids fare high off the ground on a rock-climbing wall. There are climbing gyms across the country that charge between $15 and $30 a day. This activity will bring a sense of accomplishment and wear everyone out.


Test kids' balance with slacklining -- similar to tightrope walking -- at a local park, beach, or ski resort. With a slackline kit available on Amazon for less than $40, a line can be set up in a backyard or other area with strong trees or poles, close enough to the ground that a fall won't cause injury.


Camping is one of the most adventurous things to do with kids -- depending on your version of "roughing it." It could include making a fire, catching food, putting up a shelter, and scouting for wildlife. Camping is one big adventure kids of any age will love.

RELATED: View 10 cheap summer vacation ideas

10 cheap summer vacation ideas
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14 cheap or free things to do with adventurous kids

Off-Season Ski Resorts.

Ski resorts offer great summer fun at cheap prices in the warmer months. Most resorts offer mountain biking and hiking, and depending on the resort, opportunities for horseback riding, river rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing may also be available. To entice travelers, resorts often offer package deals and promotions. Aspen, Colorado, for example, turns its ski slopes into a hiking and horseback mecca while fishing and mountain climbing also become popular when the snow caps melt away. Keystone, Colorado, is another summer destination that offers more than 15 free summer activities from June to September.

Photo: Getty Images


As summer vacations go, a backpacking trip is about as inexpensive as it gets. Carrying food and tent on your back allows access to some of the country's most amazing, unspoiled scenery. The magazine Backpacker offers loads of information for first-timers. To save money, borrow gear from a friend or rent it from an outfitter such as REI. While a backpacking trip may require a bit more preparation than a standard vacation, travelers willing to trade flight itineraries and hotel reservations for trails, campsites, and meal plans can get a true adventure in the bargain. Choose a destination within driving distance -- a national park for example -- to keep the trip costs even lower.

Photo: Getty Images


Staying on a houseboat, like renting a vacation home, lets vacationers save money by sharing expenses with other families and cooking their own meals. On the water, there are no temptations to eat out or spend money on entertainment. Instead, the lake becomes your playground and the scenery your entertainment. Many large U.S. lakes are magnets for houseboaters, with established rentals and harbors. Houseboats run the gamut, from luxury 70-foot boats that sleep more than a dozen to smaller rigs that comfortably house a family of five. Sites such as Houseboating.org can aid your research.

Photo: Getty Images

Canoe Trips.

In states such as Minnesota, extended canoe trips are quite common. But you don't have to be from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" to enjoy a summer vacation in the great outdoors. Other popular destinations include New York, Maine, and Vermont, which are connected by the the North Forest Canoe Trail. The best venues for canoe trips are rivers, large bodies of water, and areas where many lakes sit close together (because canoers have to carry, or "portage," their vessels from lake to lake). Like a backpacking trip, this involves time in the wilderness, traveling with your own food and shelter.

Photo: Getty Images

Forest Service Cabins.

If camping seems like roughing it a bit too much and renting a house is too expensive, consider renting a Forest Service cabin. Rustic but affordable, these cabins are situated throughout the U.S. National Forests. They're often located in the backcountry, and while a few are accessible by road, most are not. Visitors must backpack their way in with the food and clothing they need. Many cabins come with bunk beds and counter space for cooking; a few include wood stoves or propane heaters, rowboats (if lakeside), and incredible views. Visit Recreation.gov to research locations by state. It's worth noting that many state parks offer standard cabin rentals, as well.

Photo: Getty Images

Family Camps.

Summer camp is not just for kids. Consider a week-long adventure at a camp that caters to the whole family. Meals and lodging are included in the price, and you don't have to plan any activities -- or do any planning, really. In general, the lodging is rustic, with wall tents or bunkhouses, but that's part of the reason it's so affordable: This isn't a resort. The YMCA offers several family camps across the U.S., including Merrimack Valley Camp in Massachusetts and Medomak Family Camp in Rockland, Maine.

Photo: Getty Images


Sightseeing vacations are easy on the wallet because many of the activities are free. Washington, D.C., for example, offers a host of museums, monuments, and government history -- all for free. While lodging isn't cheap, there are ways to save money on transportation. Washington is easily walkable, and for destinations further afield, the regional mass transit system, the Metro, offers an unlimited day pass for $14.50. Boston is another city packed full of history and free entertainment. Take a walk on the Freedom Trail, which includes famous historical landmarks such as the sites of the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party. You can also score free tours of the U.S. Custom House and the USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship.

Photo: Getty Images

Road Trip.

With gas prices lower than they've been in years, driving to a favorite destination may be the cheapest way to get there. Whether it's camping at a state or national park or a weekend at a theme park, the adventure is only limited by imagination. Family road trips are a fairly inexpensive way to explore interesting places and historical sites, and remove some of the inconvenience (and expense) that comes with flying. They also permit more spontaneity, allowing the freedom to take a last-minute detour or visit destinations off the beaten path. If time is a factor, create a list of destinations within your own state you've long wanted to visit. Staying close to home can limit the distance and overall cost of the trip, but it doesn't have to limit the fun.

Photo: Getty Images

The Beach.

Beach hotels and resorts are at their most expensive (and popular) during the summer months, which could reduce the number of days you can afford to stay. A beach doesn't have to mean the ocean, though. Lakes offer just as much fun in the sun at a much lower cost -- minus the salt. Small apartments just steps from Lake Michigan or Lake Erie can be rented for as little as $100 a night. Consider renting a house or cabin with another family to make the lodging even more affordable. Lakeside cities such as Holland, Michigan, feature attractions like sand dunes and summertime art fairs.

Photo: Best View Stock

House Swap.

A twist on sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway, home exchange clubs let adventure-seekers rent their homes to people visiting from the place where they hope to vacation. Just keep an eye on fees, which reach as high as $500. Love Home Swap membership ranges from $20 to $34 a month depending on the searching options you choose. IVHE.com starts at $13 a month. To increase the chances of finding someone to swap homes with, browse multiple club websites before joining one, or sign up for the free trials that many sites offer, to determine how many swaps are available in the city you want to visit. The more homes available to swap, the greater the chances of finding the right deal.

Photo: Getty Images


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