Free and Cheap Things to Do with the Kids

Free and Cheap Summertime Fun with Kids

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my almost 5 years of parenting is that kids can be expensive. Six dollars for chicken nuggets from the kids menu and then they eat two bites. And no, they don’t want the reheated nuggets. We’re moving my oldest to his new car seat this month and my youngest had an unexpected trip to the emergency room. Things can add up quick! But, I’ve also learned that when it comes to having fun it doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it can often be free!

My husband and I took our kids to Disney World last year. We weren’t planning on a big trip like that until the kids were older, but since he had to be in Orlando for work we decided to go ahead and make it a family trip. Most of the week the kids and I would go to the hotel pool while my husband was working. Then we did a whole day at Disney World. What was my kids favorite part of the trip?  The pool. They loved that they got to swim and go down a water slide. It’s really is great when I think about it – the cost of the activity does not necessarily make it more fun.

I moved from Arizona to Poughkeepsie two years ago.  Since we didn’t know anyone in the area we needed to find things to do on our own.  I found local mom Facebook groups to be great resources. Also, randomly talking with moms at parks helped us find some of our favorite activities.

Free and Cheap Things to Do with the Kids

Here’s a list of family-friendly summer activities that are either free or nearly free in the Hudson Valley.

Indoor Activities

Local Libraries: Besides summer reading parties and programs, there are so many other activities to join. Free movie nights, special events and story times all make for those fun hot days. Find a nearby library here.

Frida’s Bakery (Milton): This has become one of our favorite go-to spots!  The playroom is the reason we go but the food is good, too.  I wish more restaurants would create play spaces like this. Treat yourself to a coffee and pastry while the children explore the fun space.

Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum (Poughkeepsie): The membership is well worth it’s price, but you can get free passes from the Adrianne Memorial Library in Poughkeepsie. I’ve been offered passes from the librarians many times so just ask – chances are there are some available!

Barnes & Noble: Check your local store or the Barnes & Noble website for storytime schedules. My kids enjoy the train table at the Poughkeepsie location.

FASNY Museum of Firefighting (Hudson): This museum has a ton of interactive, educational experiences for the kids and (shhh!) there’s almost always a deal for admission on Groupon which makes a family 4-pack only $10. Read all about our visit to the museum here.

Camp Creativity at Michaels: This activity costs $5 per person or $12 for 3 sessions. A fun way to add creativity to your summer!

Kids Bowl Free: Registered kids can receive two free games of bowling every day all summer long. Go to and find the nearest bowling alley that participates!

Summer Movie Express (Regal Galleria Mall, Poughkeepsie): Family fun movies on Tuesday and Wednesdays for only $1 per ticket.

New York State Museum (Albany): For a suggested donation of only $10 per family, explore exciting exhibitions like the Adirondack Wilderness, The World Trade Center and the Native Peoples of New York. Make sure to check out the toddler-friendly Discovery Place and free carousel! Read our full review of the New York State Museum here.

Outdoor Activities

Parks: There are so many amazing parks to play and picnic at in the Hudson Valley. Our top favorites are Bowdoin Park (Wappinger Falls), Millbrook Tribune Gardens (Millbrook), Wee Play Tot Park (Beacon) and Fun Forest (Hyde Park). Bowdoin also has a splash pad so bring your swim suits!

Farms: Hurds Family Farm (Modena) is our favorite for playing because they have a free farm playground that wouldn’t be complete without hay and a tractor. Greig Farm in Red Hook is our favorite for picking fruit. For only a few dollars, it’s a really fun experience. Browse the directory for more pick-your-own farms around the Hudson Valley.

Free Festivals: Searching for local events online has led us to many fun festivals. One of our favorites has been the Family Fun Festival in Hyde Park. It’s held at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Mansion and had many free activities for kids including a one ring circus. Check the Free Events calendar for upcoming fun (and free) happenings.

Story Hour on the Farm (Woodstock): Long-Year Farm offers Story Hour every Tuesday for $5/child.

Go to the Beach: Minus the salt water, your family can have the beach experience for an easy $12 per car or less. Local beaches to check out include Belleayre Beach (Highmount), Kingston Point, Lake Taghkanic (Ancram), North-South Lake (Haines Falls), Saugerties Village Beach, Wilcox Memorial State Beach (Stanfordville), Fahnestock State Park (Carmel), Lake Minnewaska (Kerhonkson), Lake Welch Beach (Stony Point) and Warwick Town Beach.

Go for a walk or hike: Some easy trails for kids include the Walkway Over the Hudson (Poughkeepsie/Highland), Dover Plains Church (across the street from Dover Plains Elementary School), Poet’s Walk (Red Hook), Saugerties Lighthouse, Kingston Rotary Park, the Rosendale Trestle and any of the rail trails.

Join Hike it BabyHike it Baby is a parent-run organization focused on getting families out into nature together. Meet up with local families for hikes, nature walks or outdoor play. A $10 membership gets you access for an entire year. Read more about Hike it Baby and how to get involved.

Trail Tales Storytime (Mount Tremper): On Thursdays at the Catskill Interpretive Center children can enjoy stories, songs and hands-on nature activities on a different theme. FREE.

Naturalist’s Passport Program (Kingston): Hands-on, interactive, outdoor nature programs on Thursdays at several locations in Kingston. FREE.

Stick to Local Farms Sticker Adventure (Ulster County): Collect unique stickers as your family visits various farms around Ulster County and adds them to the special “Stick to Local Farms” map. Win a prize after visiting 10 farms.

Free Outdoor Concerts: A perfect way to end a summer day – kids can run and play while parents enjoy the tunes. Evenings filled with live music can be found at parks throughout the summer including Hyde Park, Catskill, Pawling, Germantown, Poughkeepsie, Middletown and more.

Free Outdoor Movies: Several towns offer free outdoor movies on select weekends during the summer including Poughkeepsie, Saugerties, Middletown and Kingston.

HITS on the Hudson (Saugerties): World-class equestrian show jumping competitions. Free for spectators Wednesday – Saturday. Admission on Sundays is $5/adult, free for children under 12.

Trevor Zoo (Millbrook): Only $6 per adult and $4 per child to experience the only zoo in the country on a high school campus. Make sure to stop by Millbrook Tribute Gardens & Playground before you leave town!

I’m sure there are many other activities that are out there but here are some ideas to get you started.  Summer in the Hudson Valley is truly beautiful.  Enjoy!

How does your family have summer fun on a budget?

Lauren Rossman

Lauren Rossman is a social worker turned stay-at-home mom. She moved to Poughkeepsie from Arizona in 2015 when her husband became the pastor of a new local church. She enjoys exploring the Hudson Valley, finding mom connections, and since moving here has become a big fan of New York Pizza!

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