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Statewide Allison Batesville Bentonville Jonesboro Mountain View
Statewide Travel 1

Family-Friendly Summer Activities on a Budget


It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s summer in Arkansas. Kids are ready to get out of school, and parents are beginning to worry about how they will occupy their children during the coming months. Family vacations and weekend getaways are great, but only last a few days. I know I’d rather not spend a ton of money, so I’m always hunting for activities that pack a punch but won’t break the bank. These family-friendly summer activities are perfect for all ages, can be enjoyed by kids and parents, and cost little to no money!

Splash and Swim

Summer is the perfect time to cool off in a pool, creek or at a splash pad. Many cities across Arkansas have free splash pads like the one at Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro and the one at Lawrence Plaza in Bentonville. Pool membership costs can vary from city to city, but many have budget-friendly summer memberships or day passes. My family loves the Batesville Community Center and Aquatics Park, and it’s just $5 a day.

Here are a few more across the state:
7 South Arkansas Water Parks and Splash Pads
27 Arkansas Splash Parks and Aquatic Centers

Swimming in the creek is a childhood rite of passage, and there are some excellent swimming holes scattered across the state. Sylamore Creek in Mountain View is one of my favorite spots. It runs below the Swinging Bridge in Allison which is also worth taking a look at.

Check out these free and fun swimming holes:
15 Refreshing Swimming Holes in Arkansas

Car Shows

My young son inherited his father’s childhood Hot Wheels collection, but he has built a pretty impressive collection all on his own. He can also tell you the make and model of cars I’ve never even heard of before. He’s an old soul and loves a good car show where he can “talk shop” with old men and dream about the cars that will one day fill his garage.

Car shows are fun because you often don’t have to travel far, they are usually free to the public, and you don’t have to invest much time. Plus, you get to see some beautiful and unique automobiles and explore some history.

Arkansas Car Shows 2023

Gardening and Foraging

I have a small 400-square-foot garden, so while I do realize that full-scale gardening isn’t a cheap endeavor, you can start a small garden on a budget. Growing a tomato plant or some fresh herbs in a bucket (or an old grill) is a small investment, and kids love the responsibility of watering while they watch it grow. The flowers may attract butterflies, and hunting for hornworms is fun and creepy at the same time. When it finally fruits, you can make a batch of salsa or a killer BLT sandwich. Fresh herbs can be added to various meals, and your family gets the joy of knowing you grew your own food.

Here are some resources for starting a garden:
Arkansas Gardening: 20 Things To Do This Summer
Growing Native Plants in the Arkansas Landscape
Beyond World Wars: A New Season of Victory Gardens

Foraging can also be a lot of fun and a great way to get out and explore the outdoors. Foraging means looking for natural growing food, and there are edible plants growing everywhere, even in your backyard!

The Surprisingly Exciting World of Arkansas Mushroom Foraging
More Than Meets the Eye: Weeds You Can Eat
Nuts of Arkansas
10 Wild Edible Plants in Arkansas

Fossil Hunting

We love hiking and floating along the Buffalo National River. In mid-summer, a float trip is a great way to cool off and explore the region and one of our favorite things to do is look for fossils. Riverbeds are loaded with all kinds of cool fossils, we enjoy seeing the unique patterns and designs left by bugs and creatures long ago.

Do be careful because while fossil hunting is allowed on state land, collecting fossils within the boundaries of Buffalo National Park or any national forest is prohibited. We prefer to take pictures and leave our finds behind just to be safe.

Fossils in the Ozark Mountains
Celebrating 50 years of the Buffalo River
Dinosaurs in Arkansas
Arkansas Mastodons

If you don’t feel like hunting for fossils, you can also check out one of Arkansas’s rock shops which are full of treasures.


Grab a stick, a string, a hook and a worm and you can fish on the cheap. Growing up, my sister and I regularly crafted homemade fishing poles and fished in a pond behind our house. We never caught anything, but we made some great memories. In a time when there is so much to distract us, a simple fishing outing can be a great way to slow down and connect with your kids.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will host its annual free fishing weekend on June 9-11, 2023. You can also borrow a rod, reel and tackle at over 50 locations across the state. It’s completely free!

It’s Always Fishing Season in Arkansas
Arkansas Fishing Spots
5 Beautiful Fishing Holes in Northwest Arkansas
Fishing the Little Red
Fishing with Dad in the Natural State

What free activities does your family enjoy? Leave us a comment so others can check them out too.

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Julie Kohl works from home as a writer and teaches art part-time at a local private school. A former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas where they raise chickens, farm hay and bake bread. Julie loves adventure and sharing it with her husband and son. They frequent the trails, campgrounds and parks of Arkansas, always on the hunt for new adventures and new stories to share. Learn more on her blog Seek Adventures Media.

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One response to “Family-Friendly Summer Activities on a Budget”

  1. Vanessa Gilmore says:

    Looking For Day Trips for Seniors

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