Outdoors

Best (Free) Splash Pads and Spray Grounds Around Houston

There's no denying that when the first heat wave of summer hits Houston, it hits hard. And as every Houstonian knows, once it comes it's here for the long haul - sometimes well into "fall." This means it becomes crucial to find fun ways to keep the kids cool without locking them indoors. Luckily, there is no shortage of splash pads here.

These are our favorites, and they are all FREE. Most are open year round, but if you're visiting outside of summer months be sure to check the park website before heading out. And if you're looking for something on a larger scale, check out the amazing water parks you can visit around Houston.

10 Easy New York State Park Hikes for Families

Late spring is the perfect season for hiking, before the sweltering summer heat takes hold. The beautiful Hudson Valley is home to 18 New York State Parks that offer tree-lined trails, stunning panoramic views, and lots of special features like waterfalls, swimming lakes, and sandy beaches. With so many parks and trails to choose from, it's hard to know where to start!

To help, we've picked 10 of of our favorite kid-friendly hikes in the Hudson Valley. In addition to opportunities to enjoy nature and wildlife, some of these parks—like Bear Mountain and Franklin D. Roosevelt—boast additional attractions such as a zoo, playgrounds, pedal boats, and even a giant swimming pool. Best of all, these hikes are just a quick day trip away from NYC or southern Westchester.

10 Great Picnic Spots for Families in Northern New Jersey

Picnics are simple pleasures that kids of all ages can enjoy, so grab a blanket and your favorite goodies and head out to one of North Jersey's best spots for family gatherings. From majestic views and wooded trails to tranquil lakes and shady playgrounds, these parkland treasures are worth a visit. Whether you are celebrating a birthday, planning a family reunion, or just heading out for an afternoon of fun, New Jersey's parks will not disappoint.

For even more warm-weather activities, check out our spring fun guide, featuring our top picks for family campgrounds and more.

Free Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rowboat Options in New York City

With all the water surrounding New York City, it's no wonder there are so many sightseeing cruises and fun ferry rides to great kid destinations. If you want to be your own captain, NYC offers many seasonal opportunities for NYC families to get out on the water by themselve—kayaking, rowing, canoeing, and sailing. Much of the fun kicks off Memorial Day weekend or early summer.

We've rounded up 11 great New York City organizations that offer boating sessions on our wonderful waterways—and they're all FREE. Ahoy!

Summer Festivals Chicago Families Won't Want to Miss

Here it comes: The most fun-packed, jam-packed, outdoor festival-and-fair-packed season of the year in Chicagoland. Seriously, just compiling this list of all the family-friendly street fairs, festivals, and neighborhood celebrations in Chicago this summer—many of them FREE—called for major backup, and a nap.

Why do Chicago families love summer festival season so much? Let's count the ways: concerts in Millennium Park, movies on Navy Pier, and neighborhood festivals honoring the many communities that call our city home, including Lincoln Park Greek Fest, Lincoln Square's German Maifest, Andersonville's Swedish Midsommarfest, Hermosa's Colombian Fest, and the Chinatown Summer Fair. And then, because it's Chicago, there are the food fests: Ribfest, the Chicago Hot Dog Fest, the Pilsen Tacos y Tamales Festival, Roscoe Village Burger Fest, Taste of Polonia, and the big one: Taste of Chicago. Even the biggest party-scene street festivals in Chicago, like Do Division, make room for families with kids' zones and activities. 

So while your local playground may beckon and your backyard grill may look lonely, there's just too much fun happening out there not to sample a street fair or two this summer. Bookmark this list and get your calendar (and some comfy shoes) ready.

Let's Go Camping! Family-Friendly Campgrounds Near Philadelphia

Who's up for camping this summer? It's a wonderful way to make family memories and enjoy the outdoors together, and there is no shortage of great campgrounds within a quick drive from Philadelphia. Regardless of experience level -- first-timers or veterans, bare-bones campers or real-deal glampers -- the suggestions below have you covered. 

All campgrounds on the list are 2.5 hours or less from Center City, and they range from "primitive" (pretty much just a clearing in the woods with a fire pit) to moderate (campsite, fire pit, basic bathroom nearby) to "luxury" (campsite, fire pit, electric and water hook-ups, bathrooms and showers nearby, campground with amenities such as a pool, playground, even wifi). The good news is, you don't need to drive all day or sacrifice the basic comforts of home for a scenic, unforgettable camping adventure with your kids.  

Enjoy Free Family Camping in NYC Parks with Urban Park Rangers

Contrary to what you might think, you don't need to invest in expensive equipment or even leave New York City to pitch a tent and camp this summer. The Urban Park Rangers offer FREE overnight family camping in city parks at select times and locations throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Bonus: They bring almost everything you need for a night spent under the stars, including the tent!

The annual program kicks off a little before Memorial Day and although it's FREE, advance registration is required for all campouts. Read on to find out how to snag a spot at one of these cool camping trips—including some signup periods that open this week!

10 Free Pools in Houston Kids Will Love

I grew up in Northern Michigan in a town that often makes the news for beating the record for the most snowfall and the coldest temperatures, and somehow I was lucky enough to have a pool in my backyard. I loved jumping into that pool after working out or having friends over to swim, and now that I live in a city with weather that could accommodate an almost endless pool season, there is, unfortunately, no pool outside my back door. Instead, we take advantage of Houston's many free community pools.

The city of Houston has 37 FREE community pools open June 1- Aug. 11 (in the 2019 season) from 1-8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday and from August 17- Sept. 1 on Saturdays and Sundays only, and 29 water spraygrounds that are open year round.

Without further ado, here is a list of some of the best FREE pools with great features and amenities. And be sure to check out our recommendations for Houston splashpads and playgrounds, as well as our Summer Fun Guide, which has water park recommendations, parks with shade, and more!

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