Nowadays, it seems like there is a holiday for everything, so why not celebrate one of the most important parts of our communities? The parks! National Hop-A-Park Day is approaching, so we are covering a little history of the park system, how to celebrate the holiday, and fun ways you can get out and enjoy park activities on any day of the year.
If you’re not utilizing the beautiful public spaces around the world, you’re missing out. Take the list below and plan a day outside to hang out with your friends or family or even spend a little solo time enjoying the fresh air.
Awesome Activities Just About Anywhere
Whether you’re heading to the local park or looking for activities to do close to home, you can find creative ideas in our Adventures From Scratch books. Each version is full of 50+ hidden challenges, tear-out cards, journal prompts, and more that will have you exploring, discovering, and connecting with your loved ones. Grab your copy, and try out a task today!
A Brief History of Parks
Hundreds of years ago, the only parks you would find were English deer parks which were used by the aristocracy for hunting purposes. Commoners weren’t allowed to enjoy these spaces. It wasn’t until 1634 that the first public park was introduced in Boston. Boston Common is a 50-acre park right in the city center of Boston.
During the industrial revolution, it became more and more important for cities to include public spaces with trees, plants, and grass for residents to enjoy. By the 1800s, more and more cities were planning parks and setting space aside. The town center was becoming less relevant as the population grew and communication methods became more modern and could reach more people.
Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872 which started a movement to protect more land across the United States and throughout the world. Now, you can visit 63 national parks and hundreds of other federally run sites. In addition to those national parks, you can find thousands of local parks that are managed by groups around the country.
What is Hop-A-Park Day?
Each year, on the first Saturday of July, there is a holiday called Hop-A-Park Day. It’s really just a great excuse to get out and spend some time exploring a new park or one of your favorites. The date always falls right around the 4th of July and with summer in full swing, it encourages people to get outside and celebrate the parks.
This is a great opportunity to connect with your neighbors and your community. Host your own event or check to see if there are already some on the schedule. We’ve got a whole list of ways you can celebrate and spend the day in a park near you.
How to Find New Parks
It’s likely that you have a favorite neighborhood park in your area already, but if you’re searching for something new, you’re in luck. There are tons of resources that can help you find the best spots to try out this summer with a variety of park activities and locations. Let’s start with a few things that will make your search easier and more successful.
What to Consider When Looking for a Park
Most cities and state park systems have websites that include all the basic information. For example, you might need to know what the accessibility of the park is like for anyone with a wheelchair or mobility challenges or if you are pushing strollers or carts.
Another common question is about whether or not a park is dog-friendly. Not every park allows you to bring your four-legged friends (especially national parks) so it’s good to check in advance whenever you can so you aren’t disappointed when you arrive.
Once you take care of the FAQs and general information, you can also check websites and maps to get an idea of what kinds of outdoor activities are available at the park. Are you looking for tennis courts, a swimming pool, a boat launch, or just some public grills? Having a basic idea of what the park has available can help any visitor plan out their day and know what supplies they should bring along.
Neighborhood Parks and Playgrounds
The most accessible parks are going to be spots in youcr own neighborhood or city. These are usually fairly small but can be packed with some great amenities. People with young children probably know where to find the best playgrounds, but if you haven’t explored your neighborhood parks in recent years, this is a perfect excuse.
Google maps is a simple and free tool to search for the parks in your area. Check for any green space and then zoom in to see what the internet says. You can read reviews from other visitors and see photos.
If you are someone with small children, take a quick survey of your friends with children. See which playgrounds and parks they like the best and you might find a hidden gem that you haven’t tried yet.
Some cities and towns are lucky enough to have nature centers that are available for the public to visit. These spots highlight and educate about the local ecosystems and unique plants and wildlife in the area. Most of the centers have trails and paths that you can take to explore areas of the park. These aren’t always free, but you can find out if there’s an admission fee or specific hours of operation on their website.
State Parks and Campgrounds
Each state has its own system of parks, forests, and campgrounds that it manages. Some states offer annual passes to enjoy the parks for one price, others require a fee each day that you want to visit a park, and a few states (like Missouri, for example) keep the parks free for everyone to enjoy.
These parks are usually larger and offer more unique features like specific natural attractions. Most state parks are located outside of major city limits, so you might have to drive a little further to reach them, but there’s usually more than enough at each park to keep you busy all day long.
Camping is accessible in many state parks as well. If you don’t have all the camping equipment, check for options to rent small basic cabins or yurts to still get the experience. The park system wants to keep things as kid-friendly and beginner-friendly as possible, and park employees are helpful whenever you have questions.
National Parks and Forests
The most famous parks in the country are usually part of the National Park Service. This organization manages 63 parks and hundreds more National Historic Sites and Monuments. Like many of the state parks, you do have to pay an admission, but you can get an annual pass that can save a lot of money if you plan to visit more than one park in a year.
Each of the National Parks is unique, but you can usually find some history, incredibly well-maintained trails, scenic drives, and some lodging options. There’s no doubt that our National Park System is home to the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery in the United States.
15 Park Activities to Try
Once you’ve plotted your location for outdoor fun, you can start planning the park activities you want to try. Some require a few supplies or instructions and others are simple and you don’t need a thing. We’ve included a little bit of everything on this list to help you start brainstorming.
1. Set up a scavenger hunt!
Scavenger hunts are a fun way to bring a little adventure and exploration to your park day. You can put together a DIY hunt and include wildlife or plants that your group needs to locate. You can also utilize a scavenger hunt service, like ScavengerHunt.com, to find activities in the area you want to explore.
Participating in a challenge like this will allow individuals to take in more of their surroundings and look at things that they might have missed otherwise. Plus, you’ll get some fun pictures and memories.
2. Look for volunteer opportunities.
Many parks are run by bare-bones staff. In an effort to keep admission fees low and affordable for all, parks rely on the kindness of volunteers. Helping out in a park for a day is a great way to see more of the area and give back to your community. The activities are usually pretty basic. They may ask volunteers to pick up trash or help clear a trail. Many of the volunteer opportunities are kid-friendly as well, so you can get the whole family involved.
3. Pack a picnic lunch or grill some BBQ.
One of the simplest ways to enjoy a local park is to pack some snacks and drinks and have a picnic. You can either utilize picnic tables and shelters that are available at the park, or you can bring some chairs and a blanket and set up your own space. Either way, it’s so nice to dine casually outside.
Check in advance to see if the spot you’re heading to has grills or BBQ pits to use. If those are available, you can bring some meat or veggies to throw on the grill. If it’s a busy weekend, you may have to arrive early to claim those spots, but it’s a great place to invite a group and hang out for the day.
4. Play in the water!
Parks often include some sort of water feature, especially those that are larger. If there’s a lake or pond, you could take the opportunity to go boating while you’re there. Some parks offer kayak rentals or paddleboats so you can get out on the water. With wetlands or parks with docks, many people like to go fishing and see what they can catch.
Some parks have beach access or pools that the public can use. For hot summer days, those are nice to explore and have the option to splash around and cool off in the water. Not all parks have lifeguards on staff, so make sure that everyone in your group is aware of the safety rules.
5. Try horseback riding.
For a little extra adventure and some animal interaction, you can look and see which parks offer horseback riding. This is usually harder to find than a park with a lake or a playground, but they are available. Hitting the trails on horseback will definitely give you a different perspective than going on foot.
Horseback riding isn’t as simple as just hopping on the back of a horse. If you are new to the sport, you’ll want to make sure you have a guide that can answer any questions and make sure you know how to safely mount a horse. They will take you through the safety precautions and make sure you feel comfortable guiding the animal. You can head out with a small group and have the guide show you the ropes (literally).
Make sure you pack the camera because this is an experience that you will want to capture and share with your friends later.
6. Check special events calendars.
Park rangers work in the National Parks and offer a huge variety of programming for visitors. If you are visiting a park, check the calendar to see what activities and events are happening in the park. Social media is one easy way to stay in the know on these offerings. It can be anything from stargazing to learning about edible plants to guided hikes and nature walks.
These are available at other parks as well, but it might be a little trickier to track down calendars. If you know you are visiting a certain park, you can contact the park office in advance to see what is on the calendar for your dates. Even some city parks, like Central Park in New York City, offer some free activities and events for anyone to participate in.
You might even be lucky enough to catch a free concert or performance. There are some areas where street performers put on shows or nationally recognized bands perform for free on a stage. The options are endless, so check with the parks in your area to see what their event calendar looks like.
7. Hike the trails.
Hiking is one of the most popular ways to get out and explore parks of all shapes and sizes. You may think of hiking as something that requires a giant backpack, hiking poles, and special boots, but in reality, hiking can be done anywhere in nature by people of all fitness levels.
When you arrive at the park, check the map and see what kind of trails wind through the area. Most parks have at least one path that connects areas. You can take advantage of these trails and get closer to nature.
If you want to try something a little longer or more challenging, you can check apps like AllTrails which give information on trail difficulty, elevation, and distance. Make sure to pack snacks, water, and a map to help you get back to the starting point.
8. Watch for birds or other wildlife.
Parks are great for nature lovers. Many people take up bird watching as a hobby and enjoy watching the trees and skies for various species of birds. If you want to try it out (or maybe you’ve been doing it in your backyard for years), head to the park and check with a ranger to find out what birds you should be watching for.
Wildlife can be common in the parks as well. You can spot anything from small rodents and squirrels to larger mammals like deer, bears, or even moose. Enjoy taking the time to witness these creatures in their natural habitat. For large mammal spotting, it’s always better to go early in the morning or closer to sundown because that’s feeding time when they are more likely to be active.
9. Search for treasure with geocaching!
Geocaching is a hobby that has gained popularity in recent years as technology has made it more accessible for more people. You can download a free app that will pull up your location on a map. It shows you a bunch of small icons on the map and each one represents a hidden item. These range from small plastic tubes to decorated boxes. People hide these items and plug in the coordinates.
The goal is to find it without drawing too much attention to yourself. Add your name to the paper or log that is hidden with the item and log that you’ve found it in the app. Sometimes there are items that you can take with you and hide at a new location and others that require you to complete a challenge instead of locating a specific item.
Geocaching is like a worldwide treasure hunt and almost every country has at least a few participants that are hiding and seeking these tiny treasures. Check the app to see how many are located in the park near you to get started.
10. Test your archery skills.
Have you ever watched a movie where the hero is using a bow and arrow and found yourself wishing you could try that? Many local parks offer archery equipment and a safe place to try your hand at the sport.
Some parks have classes and special events where an expert will walk you through everything and others might be a little more rugged with just the equipment and some hay bales. If you’re bringing small children or have safety concerns, see if you can find a park with a little more structure around this activity.
11. Explore historic sites.
History happens everywhere. Many parks have fascinating stories that are featured on plaques and information panels. These places must be protected and continue to share the stories with generations to come.
If you are planning to visit a park, check the map and see if there are any historic homes or sites. Visitor’s Centers are great resources to learn more things about the story about the park and the area surrounding the park. National Parks have curated exhibits that offer a great education for people about wildlife, plants, and important events that have happened at this location.
12. Ride on bike trails.
Mountain biking is a great outdoor activity and can be done in so many parks! Some hiking trails allow bikes on the same route, and some parks even have dedicated bike trails.
If you don’t feel comfortable heading off-road and on hills with the bike, there are many paved roads and paths through parks that are perfect for a leisure bike ride. Some parks and cities have bikes that are easy to rent and cruise around on if you don’t have your own. Just make sure to grab your own helmet.
13. Toss a frisbee.
Lawn games and backyard favorites can easily be set up at a public park instead. If you are planning on meeting a group of friends to grill out or just hang out in nature for the day, bring along some games. Frisbee is super easy and takes up almost zero space in your car. Some parks have frisbee golf courses (also known as frolfing), but if that isn’t an option, you just need a large grassy area where you can throw the frisbee to each other.
This toy is especially popular with four-legged friends, so bring your pup along to chase the frisbee if you don’t have any family members that want to play with you.
14. Reach new heights rock climbing.
For a little adventure, try outdoor rock climbing or bouldering. There are great rock walls for every level, so make sure you are with someone that knows what they are doing so you can participate in this sport safely and learn the proper techniques. Many local climbing gyms offer programs for outdoor climbing if you want to give it a try.
Rock climbing can be very dangerous, but as long as you’re working with a professional guide, you’ll be able to enjoy the thrilling adventure of hanging from the side of a giant rock wall and using your strength and strategic mind to get yourself up.
If you have small children, climbing around and playing on boulders on the ground can be so much fun. Many waterfront spaces have rocks that are fun to skip across the water and others that are fun to balance on. Rocks are just a part of nature, but they can provide hours of entertainment.
15. Plan out your winter activities.
Visiting a park in the summertime allows you to enjoy the sunshine and warm air while playing games and enjoying the activities that the park puts on. But the winter months also have a ton of fun activities to offer. Use your summer visits to scout options to get the family outside when the weather takes a turn and the snow starts falling.
Cross-country skiing is one fun way to explore the hiking trails year-round. Parks often allow skiers to use the same paths through the woods in the wintertime. If you don’t have your own cross country skis yet, you can rent them or purchase them from a sporting goods store.
Ice skating is another great winter activity. Check with the ranger and see if there are any rinks within the park during the winter months. Many city parks use giant hoses to flood flat areas and create rinks.
Finally, you should always be on the hunt for the best sledding hills. You want to find spots with fewer trees (it’s hard to avoid those when flying down the hill). You might unlock a secret location that you can enjoy when the first big snowfall happens. Sleds are very inexpensive and provide fun and exercise for the whole family.
Scope out those locations and, when winter hits and you’re feeling a little cooped up and stir-crazy, you’ll know where to go. Fresh air is crucial to your mental health year-round, so don’t count out these incredible spots when it’s cold out.
Why Parks Are Essential
The park system is an important part of any community. As humans, we need these green spaces for multiple reasons. Here are a few of the main reasons why we recommend getting out and enjoying a park near you and supporting these organizations in any way that you can.
Place to Unplug
Americans spend more time in front of screens today than ever before, which makes it even more important to find activities and things to do that don’t require a computer, phone, or television. Being outside allows you to play and get some fresh air without being hunched over a device. Give your eyes and brain a rest and take a walk in nature and look at other living things that are right in front of you. It’s an instant mood booster.
Ability to Gather with Others
Parks stemmed from community squares which were vital to society hundreds of years ago. Now, we get our news and information from the internet, but parks are still used to bring people together. Whether you’re setting up playdates at the playground so your kids can play with others or you’re attending a graduation party or birthday celebration at the picnic shelters, you’re taking advantage of the park as a gathering place.
Parks are popular spots for meet-ups with new friends, date nights, and casual picnics with your closest friends. Especially in large cities, like New York City, people don’t have lots of space at home to have people over, so the park offers a great space for parties and events.
Introduction of Nature to the City
As we mentioned in the history section, cities started to transform during the industrial revolution. As blocks and blocks of factories and warehouses popped up, community leaders saw an immediate need to balance that out with green space. City planners today use Standards for Outdoor Recreational Areas that estimate a city of 12,000 acres should have 1,500 acres of parks. These standards help ensure people will have access to parks.
You can even find lists that showcase which cities have the most park space per capita. When people are looking at possible places to move, it’s a common search term because you want to make sure there is space to walk and get outside.
Protect Local Plants and Animals
Parks offer homes for local flora and fauna. Birds, insects, and small mammals require greenery to eat and survive. Parks give refuge to those creatures who would otherwise be homeless in a big city. Most large mammals avoid areas with a large population of humans, but you’ll spot tons of small creatures in the park.
Marine life is similar. Parks with lakes, rivers, and streams provide a protected space with shorelines that are clear of industrial buildings and other spots that might impact the water quality and cleanliness.
Education is an important part of the park system. Most parks offer some types of free education for the people who visit. In some places, you’ll see just simple plaques identifying trees or plant species to help you know what you’re looking at. Other parks have extensive visitor centers with multiple exhibits covering history, geology, biology, and more. Rangers are filled with information that only comes from people who spend a ton of time exploring and learning about the parks. You can always learn something new at a park.
Provides Place for Leisure
And the best part of the park system is the number of leisure activities you can partake in at the park. We’ve listed a bunch of ideas for your next trip to the park, but there are still dozens more that we didn’t get to today. There’s no wrong way to enjoy the park (as long as you’re not damaging the space.)
Get out and celebrate hop-a-park day this year!
Celebrate and support your local park system and take a minute this year to be grateful for the green space in your neighborhood. If you want to see more of it, get involved with your city council and have your voice heard.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are so many park activities you can try this summer! Rock climbing, boating, archery, and mountain biking are some of the more adventurous options. You can also utilize public grills and picnic shelters for cookouts and BBQs.
For exciting park activities and other fun suggestions for the family, pick up a copy of Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition. This book is filled with clever ideas you can scratch off and explore together!
Each year, Hop-A-Park Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of July. This holiday gives us the perfect excuse to get out and try fun park activities, explore our surroundings, and connect with the community.