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Twenty cheap, fun family activities to do over the summer

Looking for summer activities that won't blow the bank? Here are 20 ideas for having a blast with the family, from making ice cream and hiking to camping and biking.

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    Sabine Steck, left, with her children Simone, Ethan, and husband Larry Tift, ride their bikes at Lake Murray near their home in San Diego, California. Biking is one of the many low-cost activities that families can do together during the summer.
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No money to spend on summer fun? No problem. There are plenty of frugal things you can do to have the best summer ever — some of which are right out your back door. Check out this bucket list for some ideas. And feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Hike a Trail

Head to a county, state, or national park and hike a trail for the day. Most parks have inexpensive or free parking. You can find a path before you head out and choose the length and difficulty. Just remember to bring water, fuel, and wear layers for comfort.

2. Pack a Picnic

Have dinner outdoors tonight at a park down the street (or in your own backyard). You don't need any special ingredients to make a great meal to eat al fresco. Bring that bottle of wine you've been saving and some candles to set the mood. (See also: From $5 to $30+, Date Ideas for Every Budget)

Recommended: Top 20 cities to save on hotels this summer

3. Visit a Local Festival

There are numerous festivals around our relatively small area throughout the summer. The best part? Most of them have a bunch of free or cheap stuff to do. Think of all the great food and fun you could enjoy at a Strawberry Fest, Greek Fest, or Italian Fest. Just find out when they're happening and go.

4. Go Camping

If renting a hotel room isn't in the budget, try camping when you reach your next destination. Most campgrounds, like KOA, offer a variety of lodging options from tent sites to cabins. Pack your own food for even more savings.

5. Take a Road Trip

When I hear "road trip," I often think of driving all the way across the country. But if you don't have the time or cash, you can still enjoy the experience on a smaller scale. Choose a destination just a few hours away and stop at points along the route to stretch your legs, sample cuisine, and see the sights.

6. Try Geocaching

Sort of like hiking mixed with a treasure hunt, geocaching can take you to some pretty beautiful places. With two million spots worldwide, there's likely one near you now. Just arm yourself with a GPS-enabled device (a smartphone will do), hike the coordinates, and find the cache. I just discovered one down the street!

7. Host a Yard Sale

Try making some money for your summer activities. You might be surprised how much your old junk can earn you. Don't know where to start? Follow these nine easy steps for the best garage sale ever. Remember: Presentation is everything. (See also: 6 Old Things in Your House That Have Serious Re-Sale Value)

8. Park at a Drive-In

Search for drive-in theaters in your area. Don't see anything near your home? Consider renting or borrowing a projector and showing a movie in your backyard. You can shoot it onto a white sheet or tarp and use computer speakers for audio.

9. Ride a Bike

Dust off your bike and take a ride around the neighborhood. Who knows, you might even find a new exercise you like for those particularly hot days. If you haven't hopped on your bike in a few years, be sure to check the tires, chains, and brakes. A tune-up is cheap and definitely the safe way to go.

10. Enjoy a Stay-Cation

Can't afford a fancy vacation this summer? No worries. Cash in some of your well-earned days off and stay home. You can give yourself a DIY spa treatment, take in a matinee, or just lounge on your back patio. Time away from work is refreshing no matter how you spend it.

11. Seek Out Fireworks

July 4th isn't the only time you'll see a brilliant lights show during the summer. Check your local calendar to discover other fireworks displays at festivals, baseball games, or other events. Then pack your blanket, lay back, and enjoy.

12. Organize a Potluck BBQ

If you'd like to have friends over but are worried about the cost, try organizing a potluck barbecue where everyone brings a dish to pass. Planning a theme can help guests narrow their menu choices. Otherwise, just make sure you supply the plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery. (See also: Throw an Awesome Potluck With These 6 Easy Tricks)

13. Swim the Neighborhood

Many cities and towns across the country have community pools with low entry prices. Our neighborhood pool is even free for children under the age of five. Be sure to call ahead to check for season rates/passes if you'd like to go often.

14. Make Ice Cream

One of my favorite summer activities is getting ice cream at the shop down the street. It can get expensive night after night, so we've started making our own. You don't always need a fancy ice cream maker either. (Related: The Sweet 16: Delicious and Healthy Frozen Yogurt and Ice Cream Recipes)

15. Have a Water Fight

Whether you're with family or friends, a hot day calls for water guns, balloons, sprinklers, and more. Slip into your bathing suit and get outdoors to splash around. You can even pick up one of those kid pools for your children for less than $10.

16. Enjoy a Game Night

Expand on this idea and make a backyard obstacle course or try some crazy outdoor games. Messy Twister is particularly popular, where you fill in the dots on a Twister mat with colored shaving cream. Corn hole, ladder golf, and KanJam are also popular ideas.

17. Visit a Farmers Market

Click over to the USDA Farmers Market Directory to find a growers market near you. Local, in-season produce isn't only better for you, it's also cheaper. You can get some ingredients to make a meal, meet new people in your area, and enjoy some free entertainment.

18. Or a U-Pick Farm

I love finding nearby U-pick farms and getting barrels of strawberries, blueberries, and other delicious fruits and veggies. Just like with the farmers markets, this produce is usually cheaper than you'd find at the store. You can even pick in bulk and freeze, can, or otherwise preserve for off-season enjoyment.

19. Watch a Sunrise or Sunset

When the weather is nice, try getting up early to watch the sun rise above your hometown. It's not the kind of experience you might seek in the cold winter months, but it's definitely worth the loss of sleep. If you just need your shut-eye, soak in a gorgeous sunset instead. (For timing, type "When is sunrise/sunset?" into Google.)

20. Create an Album

Snap photos of all your summer adventures and make an album — whether digital or physical — to remember them. I'm trying to take one photo per day this year. You can make a book for less than $10 if you choose the right options. Or join a site like Flickr for free to create a digital archive of all the stuff you did.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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