5 Easy Ways to Plan a Low-Cost Outdoor Adventure This Summer

Whether you are hosting family from out of town or planning a field trip for a camp, church group or scout troop, finding fun destinations that are affordable and keep kids engaged can be a challenge. Save time and money by using the following tips when planning an outing for a sizable group of kids:

1. PICK A PARK: Dayton has a wealth of parks and destinations that provide both recreation and education opportunities for kids and adults. All 18 Five Rivers MetroParks are free to the public year-round and are the perfect place for kids to be active and connect with the outdoors. Check out these fun-filled MetroPark destinations:

  • Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark: This MetroPark features sprawling greenspace, formal gardens and the Children’s Discovery Garden, an amazing hands-on sensory destination for young children. Groups of 30 or less can schedule a self-guided visit on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Cost: FREE.

Note: This location is such a popular destination, groups are booked until mid-August. Call sooner if you want to book a late-summer visit.

TIP: Though the Children’s Discovery Garden features a water-feature it is not intended for children to suit up and splash like they would at a waterpark. Rather, use the water feature as an opportunity for sensory fun—especially with early learners.

Additionally, while there are days reserved for groups, the Children’s Discovery Garden is still open to the public. Parents should take note of days when groups are scheduled and expect to play elsewhere in the park if the Children’s Discovery Garden is at maximum occupancy.

TIP: All schools, nonprofits and commercial groups of 10 people or more must schedule their visit, especially if they want to visit the Butterfly House. Guided visits to the Butterfly House are available July through August between 10 a.m. and noon, Monday through Saturday, and Sundays from noon to 2 p.m. The Butterfly House is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and groups are welcome to explore the house on their own outside of the guided hours. The Butterfly House can accommodate 10 children every 30 minutes, so schedule ahead to ensure you maximize your time.

  • Carriage Hill MetroPark: Visiting this MetroPark is like stepping back into the 1880s. Interpreters wear period clothing and participate in demonstrations that would have been commonly seen on a farm in the 1880s. The historical farm features a blacksmith shop, wood shop, farm animals and a family farm house. Cost: FREE

TIP: Tours are self-guided, with staff and volunteer demonstrators on-site Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Activities vary daily. The historical farm can accommodate groups up to 60 people. Group leaders should call ahead to schedule their group.

2. CALL AHEAD: Though many parks, museums and pools are available to the public—even if there is an admissions cost—these organizations still encourage groups of visitors to call ahead so that you can ensure you have the best and safest experience possible during your visit. Buildings, exhibits and outdoor spaces have a maximum occupancy that is set for the safety and enjoyment of staff and visitors. To ensure you have a fantastic day and aren’t panicked over a wandering niece, nephew or camper, call ahead to get some details and schedule your trip.

Need-to-know tips: Calling ahead also can give you the chance to collect some inside information that will maximize your experience and possibly save you money! Parents or organizations with smaller groups should ask which days are busiest so they can avoid high-traffic or heavily booked days. Avoiding high-traffic days and times will allow your group to enjoy their experience without having to navigate through large groups of visitors.

Additionally, many museums and attractions offer a group rate with a minimum number of visitors. When calling to schedule a visit at a destination that charges admission, ask for details about group rates—you could end up saving some money! 

3. BE A GUIDELINE GURU: Once you schedule a group visit with your extended family, camp, or organization, be sure to read through any group visit guidelines that may be available to you. What is the adult-to-child ratio? Who should you contact if your group drastically changes in size? Can groups occupy all the picnic tables in an area? Who should you contact if it storms and you wish to reschedule your trip? Take note before you visit so you can have a great group experience without impacting other visitors. Staff at local destinations always want to provide you with a wonderful experience—especially if you follow the rules and guidelines.

TIP: In addition to a list of guidelines, ask for a map of the location you plan to visit ahead of time—particularly if you have never visited the location before. Surveying a map beforehand can give you confidence when navigating a new area and will allow you to spot important amenities, such as bathrooms and water fountains.

4. HIDDEN GEMS: Search local blogs, entertainment and education websites for fun destinations that may not be on your list. The Dayton region has dozens of parks, museums, historical destinations and more. Check out a few suggestions below:

  • Possum Creek MetroPark: Visitors experience life on the farm while learning about environmental stewardship and local food. Be sure to visit the farm animals and the former amusement park in the Argonne Forest. Cost: FREE.
  • Hills & Dales MetroPark: Hills & Dales MetroPark is known for its beautiful views, Adirondack structures and trails, but there also are plenty of fun opportunities for kids to play. Visit the White Oak Camp for a traditional play space and then hike to the nature play areas for even more nature-based exploration. Nature play areas are constructed with natural materials and challenge children to use their minds and bodies, much like a playground. Cost: FREE.
  • Learning Tree Farm: Visit with cows, ducks, sheep and more while enjoying the great outdoors. Additionally, there is a milk, wash and carriage house to explore. Cost: View admission rates here.
  • SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park: Visitors can learn about the earliest Daytonians in the interpretive center, and then visit the partially reconstructed village and gardens outside. Cost: View group admissions rates here.
  • Montgomery County Environmental Learning Center: Visitors can tour this state-of-the-art education facility, featuring hands-on, interactive exhibits and a green parking lot. Guided tours are offered to all Montgomery County citizens and organizations. To schedule a tour for your family or your group, call (937) 781-3064. Cost: FREE

5. PACK A PICNIC: If you’re out and about with a hungry group of campers or kid-relatives, stopping to grab a bite to eat can be pricey. Opt to pack a healthy, well-balanced meal instead. Parks often have beautiful picnic tables and shelters, and picnicking is something children absolutely love.

TIP: According to the Children’s Hunger Alliance, more than 575,000 children across Ohio live in food-insecure households. During the summer months, children ages 1 to 18 are eligible to receive free meals at participating Summer Food Service Program sites. If you know a child who could benefit from this program, please click here.

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