10 Ways to Turn the Local Park Into an Adventure Wonderland for Kids

Are you looking for something different to do at the park?

Do your older children complain that they’ve outgrown the playground?

These community resources have a lot more to offer than just swings and soccer fields (and sand in your shoes).

In fact, a visit to the park can be a brand-new adventure each time you go.

In this article, I’ll give you 10 ways to transform an ordinary park visit into a fresh family adventure that you’ll all enjoy.

Park adventures: here's how to turn an ordinary day at the park into something extraordinary and fun for everyone.

Why Plan a Park Adventure?

Parks are great—don’t get me wrong. Visiting the park is one of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy an afternoon together. Nothing beats a park for inexpensive outdoor fun.

But while the little ones never seem to tire of playing on the playground, by the time kids get a little older it seems that they’d rather plug into their electronics than play outdoors.

What’s a family to do?

Plan a new park adventure!

A park adventure isn’t fancy or expensive. It just requires you to look past the playground and find ways to turn an ordinary day at the park into something extraordinary and fun for everyone.

A park adventure doesn’t take a lot of money or effort. Simply take advantage of the natural settings and free resources at your park, add one of the easy adventures you’ll find below and you’ll end up with an activity that even your older children won’t want to end.

#1: Hunt for Treasure

Everyone loves a treasure hunt. They’re great fun for little kids, big kids and even grown-up kids at heart. A park is the perfect place to have a treasure hunt.

To start your quest, you’ll need to gather some treasure to hide. Plastic gold coins or costume jewelry work perfectly, are inexpensive and can usually be found at a local craft store. No time for a trip to the store? Dig through your kids’ toy boxes (Hot Wheels cars are a possibility) or your stash of office supplies (Post-it Notes are super easy); any small, similar objects will work.

treasure hunt

Treasure hunts are fun for all ages.

Once you’re at the park, find a quiet area where your treasure won’t be disturbed. A grassy section works well. Have your children close their eyes while you hide the treasure.

You can hide the treasure all together in one hiding spot (think pot of gold or treasure chest) or you can spread individual pieces over multiple hiding spots (like an Easter egg hunt). Choose according to your own kids’ ages, interests and abilities.

Tip: Count your treasure before starting so that you can be sure to pick it all up before leaving the park.

Once the treasure is hidden, point out the boundaries of the game and let the hunt begin! To add another dimension of fun, set a time limit and watch your treasure hunters race to see who can find the treasure the fastest.

Your kids will want to play again, so take turns hiding the treasure and searching for it.

You can make the hunt more challenging for older children by searching for letterboxes or geocaches instead. Hand over your GPS or phone and send them on a high-tech treasure hunt.

#2: Create an Obstacle Course

Playground equipment, ball fields, walking paths and even trees provide endless opportunities for you to create obstacle course challenges that are fun for everyone.

Some parks even have fun fitness ideas posted on signs that you can easily incorporate into an obstacle course race.

park obstacle course

What obstacle course challenges would you set up at a park like this?

To set up an obstacle course, all you have to do is plan a series of physical tasks, memorize the route and then race against the clock or each other to the finish line.

Here’s a sample obstacle course that will work at most parks:

  • Climb a ladder
  • Go down the slide
  • Go up the steps—backwards
  • Slide down the nearest pole
  • Run down the path and touch the nearest picnic shelter

    boy running

    Include racing games in your obstacle course. The kids will have so much fun they won’t realize it’s exercise.

If your park is too crowded to safely race on the playground equipment, map out your course in a wide-open space and set physical activities such as jumping jacks as your “obstacles.”

#3: Fly a Kite

Head to a park on a windy day and fly kites together. It’s the perfect activity to do as a family, because it usually takes at least two people to achieve flight.


How to make a homemade kite. Adult supervision required.

Be sure to find an empty field or grassy area away from trees and power lines.

#4: Discover a New Park

Last summer, my city hosted a citywide Park Hop to encourage families to visit our local parks. I was amazed by how many parks my family had never visited, and the different types of play areas and nature paths that we discovered.

This park near the airport has become a new favorite that we wouldn’t have known about. My kids love its aviation-themed playground, sidewalks painted as runways and amphitheater for plane watching.

park play structure

Try a Park Hop. You may discover some favorite new places.

Create your own park hop. All you need to do is search your city’s website to find local parks that you haven’t visited.

Find one or two new parks and plan a visit. Older kids will enjoy rating the different parks and publishing a local guide.

park observation tower

When you visit new parks, you may discover unexpected things like this observation tower.

Be sure to research the amenities of each park and identify the best entrance for your family before you go. My kids were disappointed when we entered a new park through the back entrance and totally missed the playground. We did find an interesting observation tower, though.

What will your family discover?

#5: Go on a Nature Walk

Many parks have wooded areas with walking paths for families. A family hike is a great way to spend time outdoors and teach kids to appreciate nature. Wear appropriate clothes and shoes and go on a short hike.

nature walk

Stick to designated trails. This boardwalk allowed us to get close to natural swampland without getting wet or dirty and without harming the plants and animals.

Here are some simple ways to add fun to a nature walk:

  • Find a park with a creek suitable for wading or another fun natural setting to play in.
  • Research local flora and plants and identify them while you walk.

    little girl picking flower

    Take a nature walk and expose kids to the wonders of the world.

Any time you go on a hike, be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks and keep the walk short enough to be fun for all the hikers.

#6: Pay it Forward

Teach your kids to be good caretakers of the earth and to make the park a nicer place. It involves more than just properly disposing of your own trash but also helping to pick up trash left by others.

Bring a trash bag, some gloves and hand sanitizer to the park and clean up trash for 15 minutes or a half hour. Remember to separate out the recyclables.

picking up trash

Sometimes picking up trash yields unexpected treasures, like this discarded tennis ball.

It may sound dirty and gross, but my kids love this activity! And it can open the door to several meaningful conversations about: the environment, service to the community, safety and more.

Tip: Be sure to wear gloves and use hand sanitizer to keep hands free from nasty germs. Remind younger children not to handle broken glass or metal.

#7: Ride Bikes

Parks are a perfect place to enjoy a family bike ride without having to deal with the dangers of street traffic.

boy on bike

Whether on two wheels, three wheels or four, a park is a fun and safe place for a bike ride.

Research your area to find a park with bike trails or tracks, and head out for a couple of hours of fun bike riding.

Remember to bring your helmets and a first-aid kit.

#8: Pack an Old-Fashioned Picnic

There’s something special about eating outside. It seems to make any meal taste a little bit better. Enjoy a delicious picnic in the park with your family.

Pack a quick picnic lunch or dinner, head to your favorite park and set your temporary table. Most parks have picnic shelters or tables, but it may be more fun to spread a blanket down in a dry grassy spot and eat on the ground.

family having a picnic

The park is a great place to enjoy a family picnic. Image source: iStockPhoto.

Pack a Frisbee or ball and take advantage of the wide-open space at the park to play a game after your meal.

#9: Observe and Identify Wildlife and Insects

Check out a guide to local wildlife and insects from the library or download an app to your phone or tablet, and head to the park to see what kind of animals or bugs you can find.

kids by pond

Creeks, ponds, and wooded areas teem with wildlife and insects for your family to discover.

To increase your chance of seeing living creatures or to see a wider variety of critters, choose a park with nature trails, observation towers or water.

Explore the park slowly and use binoculars or a magnifying glass to observe the life that you see.

ducks

My children never tire of watching the ducks. What creatures will you find?

Encourage your kids to try to identify the insects and wildlife you discover using the guide.

Take photos of the wildlife that you observe and create your own local guide at home using the photos. Or make casts of their tracks and start a collection.

#10: Go on a Scavenger Hunt

Ready… Set… Search!

Give your kids a list of things to find at the park and let them loose to go search for them. Be sure to provide small bags to collect the items or a pencil to check things off the list as soon as they’re found.

child on scavenger hunt

Kids love searching for things. Give them a bag to collect their treasure.

You can customize the list for your favorite park, or create a more general list of things that can be found at any park.

Here are a few versatile scavenger hunt ideas:

  • Color scavenger hunt: Find an object for each color of the rainbow and record it.
  • Nature scavenger hunt: Use a local guide to make a list of animals, insects and plants that your local park might have. Have your children mark down each type of nature listed that they see.
  • Letter scavenger hunt: Try to locate as many objects as you can find that begin with different letters of the alphabet.
  • Photo scavenger hunt: Instead of checking items off their scavenger hunt list, give each child or team a camera and have them take photos of their discoveries.

Some Final Thoughts

With just a little planning and creativity, you can turn a simple trip to the park into a memorable family moment that everyone—even the big kids—will enjoy. The park is a perfect place for a family adventure. Make the most of it!

What do you think? What activities does your family enjoy at the park? How many of the 10 adventures have you tried? I’d love to hear about your adventures. Please leave a comment or a photo below.

Image from iStockPhoto.

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About the Author, Bethany Winston

Bethany Winston is a mom, blogger, and Greenville News columnist. She enjoys helping families find that next great adventure through her two blogs No Twiddle Twaddle and Kidding Around Greenville. Other posts by »


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  • JDaniel4’s Mom

    What wonderful ways to extend play!

  • Bethany Winston

    We love our local parks! It’s especially fun to try to find a way to make it a fresh, new adventure.

  • Jacquie Fisher

    Such excellent ideas — we love heading to our local park to view the wildlife and it’s always so much fun to explore a new park or playground. This weekend, we visited a new-to-us nature conservancy for some hiking and had a great adventure :)

  • Bethany Winston

    We just discovered a new park yesterday that had an observation platform around a swamp. It’s amazing what exists in your average city once you take a moment to look for it!

  • Rose-Anne McGrail Schmidt

    I love the ideas, and I just love trying to figure out where you are in the pictures! I could place most of them!

  • Bethany Winston

    Do you have a favorite Greenville park Rose-Anne? I’m not sure what our favorite would be.

  • Rose-Anne McGrail Schmidt

    I do love Conestee, and so do my kids. But I actually just discovered Cedar Falls Park and really like that one too. They have a great playground and a really nice hike down to the waterfalls.

  • Bethany Winston

    We just recently visited Cedar Falls Park for the first time ourselves and my kids really loved it.

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