50+ Ways to Have Free Outdoor Fun

by Julie Rains on 23 August 2011 9 comments
Photo: Julie Rains

There are lots of ways to have free outdoor fun. "Naturally," being outside can be all about exploring nature — taking a rigorous hike in a national park, for example — but there are loads of things that you can do outside that involve neither hugging trees nor sweating. (See also: 47 Cheap, Fun Things to Do This Weekend)

Relax and Contemplate

  1. Gaze at the sky, looking at the stars. Or use this guide from Astro Guyz to learn how to spot a satellite.
  2. Walk a labyrinth. Find a place that is free and open to the public using this labyrinth locator.
  3. Relax on a park bench, Forrest Gump-style.
  4. Lie on the grass and look at the clouds. If you want to know more about different types of clouds, check out these descriptions of clouds.
  5. Watch a sunrise, sunset, or both. For times where you live, check your local newspaper or visit this sunrise-sunset website.
  6. Write. Compose a letter, record your thoughts in a journal, or create a blog post.
  7. Read outside. Take your book or e-reader outdoors.
  8. Listen to night sounds like crickets chirping.
  9. Do yoga poses outside, which you may find more soothing than doing them indoors.
  10. Visit a nearby river or creek (or urban park with lots of fountains) and listen to the water flowing.

Learn Something New

  1. Walk around looking at architectural styles in your neighborhood or city. Study styles before you go (see photos of various architectural styles) or take photos for review afterwards.
  2. Visit public gardens. Use this public garden search tool to find a place to visit; check out each garden’s website to see if there is free admission.
  3. Go on a bird walk. Organize your own or join one sponsored by an Audubon Society chapter.
  4. Visit a national historical monument. Find one using this national monument list. One of my favorites is Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly, which is great for a view, hike, and historical tour combined in one outing.
  5. Go to an air show. Find a free show at an Air Force base near you like the Wings Over Wayne Air Show or Joint Service Open House.
  6. Take part in a ranger-led outing at a public park.

Hang Out With Your Kids

  1. Look for four-leaf clovers.
  2. Climb a tree.
  3. Play at the playground, or relax in the shade while you watch the kids play.
  4. Build a sand castle at the beach or the big sandbox at the playground.
  5. Play flashlight tag after dark.
  6. Teach your kids how to play outdoor games (or let them teach you the games they play).
  7. Collect rocks from your backyard.
  8. Watch construction from the visitor’s side of the fence. (My son loved watching the big equipment when he was a small child.)
  9. Play catch.
  10. Toss a Frisbee.
  11. Go to a parade (or walk in one) around Independence Day or the holidays.
  12. Cool off in the summer by wading in a creek, river, or lake.
  13. Catch and release fireflies after dark in the summer.
  14. Build a snowman, make snow angels, or have a friendly snowball fight in the winter.
  15. Go leaf viewing in your neighborhood or jump in piles of leaves in your backyard in the fall.
  16. Pick flowers in your backyard or walk around to see blooming flowers in the spring.

Hang Out With Friends

  1. Attend free outdoor concerts or plays sponsored by downtown associations, theater groups, etc.
  2. Go window shopping in a quaint downtown. Find an interesting historic downtown to explore.
  3. Visit street festivals with art exhibits, street performers, and craft demonstrations.
  4. Watch people take part in technical activities, like rock climbing, kayaking, or sailing, to see if you would like to start a new sport.
  5. Take in a kids’ ballgame such as a Little League game or high school scrimmage.
  6. Sit on the grass outside the stadium (if allowed) for college or professional events.
  7. Talk with friends outside. This is especially fun during the time from dusk to nightfall in the summer, or nearly anytime in the spring and fall.

Be Productive While Having Fun

  1. Volunteer for a charity bike ride, triathlon, or road race, such as a 5K or marathon. Find events using Active.com, and visit the organizer’s website to learn about opportunities. Check out the event route and logistics if you want to participate in upcoming years.
  2. Take photos of your family members. Use these in your annual holiday cards.
  3. Exercise your dog.
  4. Get involved in a community gardening project. Check with local hunger relief agencies, cooperative extension office, or gardening organization to find a program or learn how to start one.
  5. Participate in a community cleanup or river cleanup project.

Move Around and Get Fit or Faster

  1. Hike. Ask your outdoorsy friends about their favorite places or check out Backpacker Magazine's community recommendations.
  2. Go running at a steady pace.
  3. Do interval training to get ready for a race or outdoor adventure.
  4. Swim in a lake, river, or ocean. Be careful and have fun.
  5. Take a stroll in your neighborhood. Stop and talk with your neighbors.
  6. Take a bike ride. Go alone or find a group ride with local cycling groups, outdoor groups, or bicycle shops.
  7. Enjoy a multi-use trail. Find a trail by checking out maps from your parks and recreation department or use a trail finder.

Enjoy Nature

  1. Get closer to nature at a national park or state park. Check out the National Park Service's website to find a park to visit at no charge and discover free activities.
  2. Take photos of nature. See this tips for capturing images of birds, flowing water, and more.
  3. Watch the moon go through its phases.

What are your favorite ways to have free outdoor fun?

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Guest's picture

i think yoga is also an outdoor fun activity and listening to calm and soft new-album music make people relaxed and happy !

Guest's picture

In college a group of friends would take a deck of cards to the park and play for hours. Absolutely free entertainment!

Julie Rains's picture

sounds like a great way to spend time -- in addition the cards, whatever is going on at the park adds to the entertainment

Julie Rains's picture

thanks Andrea -- I thought of geocaching but have never actually done it

Guest's picture
bonzaibb

Foraging is the ultimate frugal, entertaining and not to mention tastey way to spend
a few days every year. I find (color) pocket guides to be better than big books.
Make sure it is a guide or mini book specific to your region.

Even in the big city you would be surprised at all the edible and medicinal plants.

Look for a place that is not sprayed and does not get a lot of foot traffic and stay away from plants on the main streets.

In Chicago everywhere I look there are wild grapes, Dandelion leaves for salads,
Milk Thistle for liver detox, wild berries, edile flowers, wild tomatillo's, and the list goes on.

If you are frugal then this will be truly addictive just pick 5 things at a time to look for and make sure its there season.

There are great Youtube videos that can give you pointers I like the channel
EatThe Weeds and also mountainroseherbs is good if you want to learn how to make your own herbal products from your harvest.

Guest's picture

hiking is a great way to spend time outdoors and get some exercise!

Julie Rains's picture

hiking is one of my favorites also, great way to be outside and if you have a group, hang out with friends and family at the same time

Guest's picture

Great ideas! The outdoors hold limitless opportunities for fun activities. And they're all the better because they're free! My favorite way to enjoy the outdoors is to take a long walk or hike. Not only is it great being outside and breathing in the fresh air, but it's exercise too - like killing too birds with one stone (though I don't recommend doing that on your hike lol). My favorite place to be outside is at the beach. Though it's not always free here in NJ, when it is (in the off season or at night) it's usually the least crowded and it's the perfect place to take a nice long, relaxing walk. Win win!