According to The Nature of Americans, a collaborative study led by DJ Case and Associates, most Americans view being in nature as an enjoyable experience.
However, even with an interest in being outside, “Americans face a significant gap between their interests in nature and their efforts, abilities, and opportunities to pursue those interests in their lives.”
If you’re hoping to increase the amount of time you spend outdoors this summer, the good news is that it’s possible to do so without spending a lot of money. Here are seven low-cost summer activities that can help you get out more.
Approximate cost: $10 to $500
As long as you don’t insist on glamping, you can enjoy time outdoors for cheap when you go camping. Camping is a great way to save money on road trip accommodations or while vacationing on a budget.
After that, you only need to gather food and supplies. I recently went car camping for two nights with my son. We took food from our freezer and pantry and headed out to nature. Our immediate out-of-pocket cost included the gas to drive out to the site two hours away.
Over the years, I’ve bought gear on the cheap. For example, I spent $60 on two sleeping bags 12 years ago — and my son and I still use them.
Car camping allowed me to avoid spending money on a tent until I had saved up enough to get what I wanted. But if you don’t want to wait, it’s possible to find tents for less than $100.
Approximate cost: $50
If you’re looking for a low-cost activity outdoors, said Hernan Santiesteban, the founder of fishing website Reel Game, fishing can be a good choice.
“You can get a basic fishing kit for about $30 and find worms in your backyard to get started,” said Santiesteban. “Fishing licenses can be bought for about $20 a year in many states.”
If you aren’t interested in catching anything, Santiesteban said you can enjoy sitting near a stream or taking a walk around a lake or along the beach.
3. Bike as much as possible
Approximate cost: Free or up to $89 per day
“While other outdoor activities might be inexpensive, biking is one of the few that actively saves you money,” said Mary Weidner, one of the co-founders of the nutrition and training app Strongr Fastr. “Biking saves you money on parking, gas, Ubers, and car maintenance. I chose to bike to work and it saved me thousands of dollars.”
If you own a bike, it doesn’t need to cost you anything extra to go for a ride with your friends or family. Look for bike paths in your town or city to enjoy the great outdoors. Pack a picnic lunch and bike to a favorite park for practically nothing.
You could rent bikes for excursions as well. My son and I rented bikes one day for $5 each while in Montreal. It was a great way to get around and see the city.
In some cases, you might be able to get an annual membership to a bike share program. Greenbike, for example, costs $75. That type of program allows you to bike on any occasion without the need to purchase your own bike.
If you want to do less work, you could rent an e-bike, but you could end up paying as much as $89 per day.
4. Visit local and state parks
Approximate cost: Free or up to $20
Chances are, there’s a park somewhere near you. It’s a great chance to be outside. And if you have kids, the playground can keep them busy.
“Many cities have public parks with space for picnics and grilling, walking trails, and rivers or lakes for swimming or boating,” said author Janet Ruth Heller. “There might also be special events, like stargazing at night.”
Check with your city’s parks department to find out what’s available and how much it costs. You might discover low-cost activities for kids, day camps, outdoor classes, and other events taking place in your city’s parks.
“We have several great parks where I live,” said Courtney Barbee, who writes about business and accounting at The Bookkeeper. “I take my four-year-old on flat, even trails around local lakes and parks.”
Barbee’s family can choose to do shorter walks, or pack a picnic and snacks and spend all day at a park. Some city parks even have disc golf courses and other activities that don’t require a lot of extra costs.
If you don’t mind driving, you might be able to visit state parks for entrance fees as low as $5 per car. My state of Idaho offers a “passport” that costs $10 per year. With it, I get free access for day use at various parks around the state, including my favorite: City of Rocks.
Approximate cost: Free or up to $200
Barbee’s family does more than walk park trails, though. They also take hiking trips.
“Hiking costs us very little,” said Barbee. “Besides small incidentals, like snacks and bug spray, the only real investment is a good pair of hiking shoes and a sturdy backpack.”
I buy hiking shoes every three to four years and spend about $130 for them. We use old school backpacks when we hike, so there’s no need to make an extra expenditure.
If you can’t hike where you live, consider driving to a state or national park. Entrance fees at national parks vary. But you can get an annual pass for $80 that covers the entrance fee at each park.
6. Look for free passes
Approximate cost: Free
“Check your local library for museum passes or cultural passes,” suggested Larisha Campbell, the co-founder of parenting website We’re Parents. “Not all museums are inside. Our library offers passes to botanical gardens, and that gives us a chance to check out local places completely free.”
Find out if your library provides free or discounted passes to outdoor exhibits and attractions. In some cases, you might even score free passes to the zoo.
On top of that, some gardens and zoos offer free entrance days. Check with your local visitor center or parks department to find out when these days take place. You can also check online discount sites for coupon codes to local outdoor attractions.
7. Catch a ride
Approximate cost: $5 to $50
Looking to get out of town and save money on an outdoor adventure? There are new and interesting ways to get to the outdoors — without the need for your own vehicle.
Check local transit options to see if you can quickly and easily get to a destination. For example, a one-way trip on the New York City subway is $2.75. You can use that ride to get you to Central Park.
In Denver, you can catch the Flatiron Flyer at Union Station and ride to areas known for the outdoors, such as Table Mesa and Boulder, with a $9 day pass.
If you live in an area with Megabus, you might be able to hitch a ride to different outdoor locations. For instance, you can take a weekend trip to Niagara Falls from Buffalo, New York, for about $16. You’ll have to pay your other costs, but getting there won’t cost you much.
Another unique option for New Englanders: Use a carpool service such as Ridj-it. You can get a ride to various outdoor locations for a low price. For example, you can join a trip for the Newport Cliff Walk for $25.
Finding ways to get outdoors
No matter where you live, it’s possible to spend more time outdoors without breaking the bank. Whether you camp or picnic in your backyard or start a biking program, enjoy the benefits of being outside this summer. You just need to make the time.
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