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Easy, cheap ways to get outside this summer

You don't need a lot of fancy equipment to have a good time outside.

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Hanan Samatar hikes on a trail at Sibley State Park.
Hanan Samatar hikes on a trail at Sibley State Park on Sunday, June 16, 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

There are plenty of factors that keep people inside on nice days — the biggest barriers being work and health issues. But hurdles that are more easily overcome include not being able to afford activities and a lack of accessible spaces — for children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Here are some resources to help you find more accessible spaces and activities on the cheap!

Keep it simple

Students play a game of football
Students play a game of football on July 16, 2019, in Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis.
Simone Cazares | MPR News

“Not much is needed to enjoy a day outdoors: A pair of comfortable tennis shoes and athletic clothes suffice,” said Randolph Briley, special assistant to the commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources who recently shared some outdoor tips with MPR News.

That’s all you’ll need if you’re looking for a nice walk down a trail, or some playtime at your local park. Check out your city’s official website, most will have a page dedicated to local parks and recreation opportunities — including park finders and a calendar of community activities (often free!)

The DNR has a locator for state trails and parks. You can filter for accessibility and whether or not they are considered kid-friendly — shorter, and more frequent restroom opportunities. The DNR also has a trail start-up guide which includes a category for trails described as “kid-friendliest.”

When it comes to state parks, accessibility varies. For people who have trouble walking, a visual impairment or who require the use of a wheelchair, there are a options available. According to the DNR’s website, special arrangements can sometimes be made if you call the park you plan to visit ahead of time. A full list of the accessible spaces and programs the DNR offers can be found on their “Accessible outdoors” site.

Explore Minnesota — the tourist information center for the state — also has an online database for places, activities and events that prioritize the needs of people with disabilities.

Learn something new

MinnAqua Intern Gabby Travers, right, helps Ishmael Diriye remove a fish.
MinnAqua Intern Gabby Travers, right, helps Ishmael Diriye remove the fish he caught from his hook. Diriye caught the first fish of the day during the DNR's I Can Fish! program July 27, 2018.
Sara Porter | MPR News

If you’re looking for an activity that’s a little more hands-on than a walk or ride through the park, here are a few places to find free or cheap educational events. Have fun outside while learning something new with the whole family:

Like with checking for parks and trails, going to your community’s official website will often yield free events and activities. MPR News also keeps an updated calendar of events through our Outside in MN app.

Get thrifty with your gear

state park canoe
Canoeists paddle across Lake Itasca in Itasca State Park.
Luke Taylor for MPR News 2014

If you’re joining in on a community or nature center event, chances are gear is included in the price of admission. But if you’re looking to venture off on your own here are a few ways to gear up and not break the bank.

If it’s your first time trying a certain activity, renting is the way to go — no sense spending a lot of money before you’re sure you enjoy the hobby. Prices can vary dramatically depending on where you go, but you can find some free and cheaper options around the state.

Many state parks offer kits geared toward getting you started on geocaching, fishing, birding and other kid-friendly activities. They are on a first come, first served basis, so it’s best to call the park before you head out. Click here for a full list of parks that carry kits.

The Center for Outdoor Adventure at the University of Minnesota also offers gear rentals at fairly low prices throughout the summer.

There are also several programs around the state that help connect people in need with free bicycles, including Free Bikes 4 KidzCycles for Change and Full Cycle.

But if you’d rather buy your own to keep, try going used.

Online marketplaces — like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace — can be a good way to find folks in your area looking to sell their used gear at low prices. Just make sure to check the gear carefully and go with a friend before you buy and pick up your items.

If you’re looking for a more traditional shopping experience, you’re in luck.

“It’s no longer just individuals selling their unwanted gear,” Briley with the DNR said, “many companies are also ‘recycling’ and selling gently used returned gear at significant discounts.”

Here are just a few stores and services that specialize in selling gently used outdoor gear:

Looking for more resources and inspiration? Check out our full outdoors coverage here and download our Outside in MN app for more stories, events and weather updates to help you make the most of this summer.