Getting active doesn’t have to be expensive, especially during summer. Beyond the obvious options (free play outdoors, splash pads, and park visits), there are plenty of fun summer activities to do with your kids that don’t involve your entire paycheque or a whole lot of debt. These cheap (and free) activities will help your family make memories and find joy this season.
1. Disc golf
This fun, family-friendly sport is similar to regular golf, but instead of a ball and golf club, you use a disc (Frisbee) and you try to get it to the target (usually a wire basket) in the least number of throws possible. While you can purchase your own disc set, they are usually available to rent at disc golf courses for under $20. Alternatively, you can check your local library to see if they have disc golf sets to borrow. Here are some disc golf courses across Canada.
Paddling is a lovely way to spend a summer day, and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the most peaceful—and easy to learn—water sports there is. SUP boards can usually be rented for about $30 at your closest SUP school. While you can get a board for every family member (and kids as young as five can paddle solo), you can also pop a kid or two (or your dog!) on your board and paddle them around.
3. Park tour
It’s often easy and familiar to frequent the same parks near home that you usually go to, but even just heading across town to a park you don’t usually visit is enough to keep kids engaged and get them playing for longer. It’s a bonus if the parks offer features that your regular spots don’t (think splash pads, a stream, or a themed play structure).
4. Outdoor skateboard park or pump track
Grab your kiddo’s scooter or bike (and helmet/protective gear of course!) and take them to a spot you know they’ll be thrilled to wheel around. This activity is not only free, but also involves some big gross motor play. Mornings are your best bet for a younger crowd, as local skate parks and pump tracks are more of a teen hangout in the evenings.
5. Batting cages
This classic activity is great for the 8+ crowd (or just for kids who are already able to hit a baseball). Choose slo-pitch for beginners, and be sure to demonstrate for them first. If you (or your child) are worried about injuries, just remember to stay in the designated zone and let the ball pass you by if you’re not ready to hit it yet.
It’s hard not to love this family classic! It’s just the right level of competitive, while also keeping everyone’s interest thanks to cool water features and themed holes. You can usually go mini-putting as a family of four for about $10 per person.
7. Bike tour
Exploring a different neighbourhood or town is even more fun by bike. Find a nearby bike path that leads to somewhere interesting—think ice-cream window, cafe, or book shop. Our family loves a bike ride to our neighbouring town, where there’s an adorable cafe to stop for lunch and treats before heading home. And, if you need more inspiration, here are 10 ways you can make biking even more fun for kids.
8. Pond or stream dipping
A nearby stream, net, and bucket is all you need for one hugely successful summer day with your kids. My children will happily spend the day by our local stream with friends, turning over rocks and wading through the water to catch crayfish and minnows and observing them in buckets before setting them free.
9. Camping (or faux camping) in your backyard or a provincial park
Camping is typically considered a budget-friendly way to travel as a family. And it can be. But if you don’t have the gear, investing in it can be costly. Another option is to borrow a tent, cooler, and Coleman stove from a friend (or in some cases, your local library or outdoor store) and camp in your backyard for the night. If you love it, you can invest in your own gear. Don’t have a yard? Set up camp at your closest provincial park for the day. Booking a site costs around $30 to $60 and is a great test run to see if camping is right for your family.
10. Ziplining/adventure courses
Adventure courses provide a thrilling backdrop for a day of gross motor play. Kids (and adults) can’t resist climbing, ziplining, and sliding among the treetops.
11. Provincial or national park visits
There is so much beauty to explore in Canada’s national and provincial parks—which offer everything from pristine beaches to scenic hikes and stunning waterways. While there’s typically an entrance fee for day use, most libraries offer free passes. For example, this list shows all participating libraries in Ontario that offer free day-use entry to Ontario parks.
12. Check out some instruments or sports equipment from your local library
When it comes to budget-friendly (or just plain free) entertainment options, local libraries are often an untapped resource. Next time you go to check out a stack of books, be sure to ask what else they offer. Many libraries have bike lending programs, sports equipment lending, musical instruments, and toys.
13. Plant a native plant
Want a fun project that teaches your kids about healthy ecosystems and is also a great wildlife-watching opportunity? Provide for pollinators with the food and shelter they thrive on: Native plants. First, do a quick search of which plants are native to your area. Then, figure out which creatures you want to provide refuge for (think butterflies, bumblebees, etc.). Head to a local native plant nursery and let your kids pick a few options (they’re super budget-friendly!). After planting, enjoy watching your plants grow and waiting for pollinators to visit.
14. Hike it, baby
Canada’s hiking options are endless. Whether you have a toddler in tow or you’re ready to tackle bigger, more challenging hikes with your older kiddos, this completely free activity is also one of the most beautiful ones. Do a quick search of kid-friendly hikes in your area, pack up a picnic (and lots of snacks and water!), and head out for a day of fun.