Budget Friendly Fun

Grab Whatcha Got and Let’s GO!

That’s our tagline. It’s also our philosophy. You don’t have to have lots of money or fancy equipment to thoroughly enjoy life. Here’s some tips for some budget friendly fun activity ideas.

 I bet you can gather the things you already have at your disposal and have a wonderful day!

Budget friendly fun photo share

For this post, I’ll concentrate on outdoor activities that are free or budget friendly. We strongly encourage staying within your budget, but that does not mean all drudgery and sacrifice. A great deal of my fondest memories have been spending time with people I love and just being. Plan an activity that doesn’t include screens and does include real face time with those who are special to you.  We all know moving your body, getting out in nature, and being fully present in what you are doing are good for us on so many levels. These things reset our minds and bodies and lead to lower stress and just plain enjoyment of life.

 ** OK, I do mention some Apps, but take em or leave em.

Hiking

Remember you just need some decent shoes/boots, a water bottle, and a carefree spirit. Do a little or a lot, but get out there. You will be amazed at the things you see – animal tracks, mushrooms, lovely trees, snow frosted branches in the winter and lush greenery in the summer. You can find hiking trails simply by googling hiking in your area. There are local park options and also state park options. We often turn our hikes into mini road trips, perhaps stopping at an attraction or bakery.

Read up on how difficult the trail is. Start slow and flat. If you enjoy your experience, that will make you want to do it some more. If you take on something too difficult you may not want to do it again. We like to go very early and enjoy the sun coming up on the trail and then finding a mom and pop bakery or deli once the hike is over midmorning. Or pack a sandwich and some granola bars and enjoy a bite to eat while we rest and soak up nature’s beauty.

Meet Ups

You can use meet ups 2 ways. 1. Look for actual meet ups with people you have something in common with. You could search all sorts of activities – anything from hiking, biking, walking to meeting with GENEXers, Single, divorced Dads, pet owners who want to walk…. The groups go on and on.  2. You could look at meet up activities for ideas. You don’t necessarily have to attend the meet up, but see what people are doing. This could include indoor or outdoor activities, of course. Often these events focus on budget friendly fun activity ideas

We belong to a group (which does involve a paid membership) that is called InterNations. It is a group of people from all over the world looking to get together and have what I call “an international friendship club.” We meet new and interesting people, of varying ages from many parts of the world.

Festivals and Gatherings

Sponsored by a city, county, or business – these are often free or very budget friendly. Remember, you can go and have a great time just getting off the sofa and doing something new. We recently attended the Hudson, Wisconsin – Hot Air Affair. Here is a list of things we did for free. Sampled and voted on a Hot Dish (casserole) contest, watched a chain saw ice sculpting competition, watched some crazy races called “Smoosh boarding” – where 4 people all together strap on a specialized pair of skis and race another team. We saw a Dress your Pet competition and saw the creative ways people dressed up their pets.

For a whopping $5 we bought a kite and flew it. I never thought of flying a kite in the winter in the Midwest.

Relaxing with a kite

The main event was watching the hot air balloons take off. You could talk to the balloon pilots and get up close to see all the workings. The launch was quite emotional because we were not sure if weather conditions would allow for take off. When they did leave the ground, the crowd cheered and I found myself getting a little teary.

Balloons at the Hudson, Wisconsin Hot Air Affair 2020

Local Parks

Pack a little picnic, gather up any sports equipment you may have and call some friends or take a gaggle of kids. You can play games, do a scavenger hunt, perhaps have a bon fire, even take your $5 kite out for another go. If you play an instrument, you can play guitar around a fire or take a yoga mat and do some yoga in the park.

Many of our local parks offer movies outdoors and music in the park nights. I can’t tell you how many times we have walked around the little lake at our favorite park and listened to everything from Mozart to Teddy Bear Band to Swing, Jazz,…. You name it, you can probably find a specific night for that.

Birding

This one can involve a little planning. We have easy access to the Mississippi River which is a migratory path. You can check out peak times when certain birds are migrating, plop yourself on a ridge or near a woods and see how many species of birds you can spot.

Bald eagle at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota
Bald eagle at the National Eagle Center

There are Apps that can help you identify birds or just relax and see what you see.

Water activity time

– swimming, playing on a beach, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, paddle boating… Pack some things for a water day! Some of these activities would involve renting a canoe or other equipment, but if your budget allows it, it could be a great adventure.

Volunteer Activities

These activities will not only get you out moving and grooving, it will give you an opportunity to help out. You could rake, shovel, paint, mow for the elderly. You could volunteer to clean a section of highway, stream, or park. You could chaperone kids on a nature walk. There are many many walks and runs for a given cause. Those often involve an entry fee, but you usually get a T-shirt out of the deal and help support and bring awareness to a cause. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to support a cause, or to do any of these activities.

Let any stigma you have about your perceived physical limitations go and focus on having fun and supporting a worthy cause. I guarantee you will be appreciated for your efforts.

Sunrises and Sunsets

Don’t forget about those golden minutes of when the sun either rises or sets. Be sure to find a clearing or a hill that offers great views. Keep in mind the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so pick spots that offer the proper vantage point. Being near water or high on a ridge can be dramatic and romantic.

a sunset is always a good idea for budget friendly fun
Any random sunset will do

You could add on a little star gazing after the sunset if you wait for it to get dark enough. A little road trip away from any city light pollution will make you think you can reach out and touch the stars.  There are also Apps which you point the phone at the sky and it will show/tell you the constellation you are looking at. Kiss your partner or kids every time you see a shooting star!

Ways to find things to do

Google things like Budget Friendly Activities in my area. Local libraries are a wealth of information and often have fliers of things to do. Meet ups mentioned above. Facebook events. Local newspapers. Budget friendly fun activity ideas can be found for anywhere and anytime.

First Section of the SHT

The sun….shined in the backdrop through the leafless, but dense, birch trees and pines for the duration of our visit.

Our fourth trip on the Superior Hiking Trail was an easier one. Lisa and I had relearned how to hike without destroying ourselves. We had also learned to pace ourselves over the first couple of miles so we wouldn’t have to limp along, exhausted, for the last few. We were feeling so good about our successes; we even decided to take the dogs with us again. This trip would be a very short and flat section that they could handle without trouble. It was the first section of the SHT.

The week before I had run across an article describing how, several years ago, the SHT had been lengthened to include sections south of the city of Two Harbors all the way to the Wisconsin Border. Our eventual goal is to hike the entirety of the thing. We figured we had better go get the first section done before they decide to add more! This goal is going to take several years. If they add more later, then we can at least say we’ve completed the whole trail….. as it was in 2019. The decision to complete any additional length can be made later if needed.

It was the last weekend in October. The first snow on the trail had already fallen and melted. There had been very little precipitation in the past week. The trail should be dry, and the hiking should be easy. As is becoming normal, we loaded up our gear before the sun came up and headed north.

The first section of the SHT has no trailhead at the beginning. Unless a person is thru hiking from Wisconsin, they would have to park at the nearest parking area, hike to the start of the trail and return on the same path. It’s a mere 1.8 miles from the parking area to the start. This is what we chose to do.

Very different from the more northerly sections that we had previously completed, the southern most part of the trail, at least the very start, is relatively flat and free of the rocky portions that we had encountered in the north. Mostly, it is comprised of compacted soil which made for easy travel.

On the hike out from the car to the true start, we walked in amazement at the scenery before us, and the dogs, strangely, were behaving themselves very well on their leashes. Perhaps they too were remembering the last time we took them along, and learning to pace themselves as well?

The sun was low in the sky as is normal for this time of year. It shined in the backdrop through the leafless, but dense, birch trees and pines for the duration of our visit. The temperature would not reach 40F this day and the crisp air made for excellent hiking weather. I couldn’t help but wonder if the ground-cover plants knew that winter was coming. They would be smothered by snow for the next several months. I wondered if they knew the snow a couple of weeks ago was just a precursor to what was soon to happen. I wondered if they were even concerned about it. Maybe the coming season was a welcome rest to them. A chance to relax before having to fight for sunlight and water again next summer. Perhaps, I suppose. Or they are just plants. I don’t have those answers.

Ready for more hiking action!

Lisa and I sang silly songs and made poor quality jokes between frequent stops to admire the small streams that would cross our path from time to time. After only an hour, we had reached the start of the SHT. We didn’t expect to reach it that quickly and spent a few minutes trying to figure out if this was really it. We thought the starting place would be something more than what it was. Looking back, I’m grateful that it was just a simple sign in the woods. No banners or ribbons, no starting line, just a sign and a fallen, rotting log that we used as a bench to sit on for a few minutes to enjoy our trail sandwiches before heading back to the car. The dogs were not interested in eating except for the treats we brought for each of them and a sip of water.

The beginning of the trail from the First Section of the SHT
The start of the trail

We saw no one on the trail that morning. I know the rules about keeping dogs on leashes. I broke the rules. On the way back to the car, I let the dogs off their leash and let them run and enjoy themselves. Lisa and I were both concerned that they would run off after a squirrel or something worse, but we had seen no wildlife on the way out, and our fears were never realized. After a few short bursts of running ahead and beside and behind and around us, they calmed down and followed us nicely along the path. I was happy for them that they had the chance to run around for a few minutes. I cannot imagine being amid nature’s beauty and not having the ability to explore a little.

Upon returning to the car, the dogs were eager to jump in and rest their tired legs. Another section of the journey complete, we headed home.

More to come…..

Please share your trail stories with us! We love to read about your experiences!

Lisa at the border

Our First Encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail

The SHT is a beautiful trail! We had trouble realizing that as we complained about having too much weight to carry in the form of camping gear and dog food.

Lisa and I had been searching for something to do together for quite some time. We both have interests of our own, but rarely do they cross paths. I’ve enjoyed more physical sports as my pastimes; things like skiing, hockey, rock climbing, and the like. She is more of a yoga, meditation, exercise type of person. Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail would start to change that fact.

Last spring, we were on a weekend road trip to see a friend in northern Wisconsin. On our way home, we took a different route than normal and drove past a sign pointing to a Superior Hiking Trail parking area.

“We should try hiking a part of that.” I said.

“Walking. Yeah, we’re probably skilled enough to do that.” She answered.

We set a weekend aside in June of 2019 with the intention of covering approximately 10 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) over two days. The SHT is a wonderful trail that primarily follows the north shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota.

Little did we know what we had started!

Setting the Stage

Now, I’ve hiked and climbed mountains in the past. Lisa, along with her daughters, has hiked 220 miles of El Camino De Santiago in Spain. The last time that either of us has been backpacking with 50 pounds on our backs, however, was about 20 years ago. We forgot about that part.

Not only did we expect to cover a lot of ground in two days, but we thought that bringing our two dogs along would be fun as well. One is a ten-year-old boxer who spends most of his days curled up on the couch under a blanket. The other is an over-weight beagle mix with very little tolerance for other dogs.

See where this is headed?

We parked our car, unloaded a massive amount of camping gear, leashed the dogs, and caught the Superior Hiking Shuttle (superiorhikingshuttle.com) which took us to the trailhead where we were to begin our journey. Five minutes later we were hiking… sort of.

On-the-Trail Education

Within minutes we had discovered several things: we’ve brought too much stuff, we should have started with an easier section, we should not have brought the dogs, it’s really hot out, we should have not decided to use this as an opportunity to quit smoking cigarettes, basically we had no idea what we were doing.

This hiking thing seemed doomed to fail before the first hour had passed.

The SHT is a beautiful trail! We had trouble realizing that as we complained about having too much weight to carry in the form of camping gear and dog food.

Our boxer was well behaved but felt the need to stop and relieve his bladder on nearly every single tree and plant that he could reach on his leash. The beagle pulled as hard as he could without hurting himself until we started meeting other dogs on the trail, at which times he would bark and lunge at them in full-on attack mode. He never got a hold of another dog but holding him back was a challenge.

After about 3 miles our feet and shoulders were aching, and we needed to stop and rest. I placed a bowl of water out for the dogs. The beagle collapsed, exhausted, into the bowl.

We were not going to make it to the 6-mile point where the nearest camping spot was located.

After a long rest, we reluctantly got back to moving along the trail. We were no longer hiking, we were simply staggering forward, attempting to reach the next trailhead which happened to be near the main road, where we could make some, much needed, decisions.

Another mile and a half and we found ourselves on the bank of the Temperance River. I lead the dogs out into the water to cool off. Another 1/3 of a mile and we made it to the road. Our weekend adventure was over after 6 hours.

I was lucky enough to stumble across somebody who, after hearing of our plight, offered to give me a ride back to my car. I happily accepted, got the car, went back to pick up Lisa and what remained of the dogs, and we headed home.

It turned out to be something other than the amazing success story we had assumed it was going to be.

Reassess and Set Our Goal

So, there’s the backstory. It’s not exactly our proudest moment. Both of us were humbled by the events of that day. The dogs are no worse for the wear and we’ve learned since to be better caretakers for them.

Despite the difficulties of that day, we had found something truly wonderful. A simple trail, just a couple hours’ drive from us, where we could go to unwind from the tensions of the real world, where we could spend quality time together, where we could physically and mentally test ourselves, and where we could learn together.

First, we decided that we would eventually hike the entire distance of the Trail. Not all at once, not even more that a tiny bit at a time. We are not as young as we once were. We needed a plan. We needed a very forgiving, easy plan. I purchased a set of trail maps from the Superior Hiking Trail Association and spent quite a bit of time soaking up information from their website, superiorhiking.org.

Second, we determined how much time we thought it should take us to complete the Trail. Then doubled our estimate. This is going to take more than several years to accomplish.

Then, we made a plan. The dogs would stay home. One is too old, and the other is not built for long distance walking. We would only hike one section at a time, which ranges from just a couple of miles to several miles. We would not be doing any thru hiking which eliminates the need to carry heavy food and camping gear. We would start slowly on easy sections, work our way up to the harder ones, and we would get started immediately. One trip a month sounded good to us.

Baby Steps on the Superior Hiking Trail

Immediately didn’t happen. Life gets in the way sometimes. The next time we got to the Trail was three months later. We left our home in the Twin Cities at 4 am. Caught the shuttle 4 hours later and were ready to hike a 5-mile section minutes later.

It was wonderful! The weather was rainy and chilly and generally lousy. Lisa and I spent the next few hours hiking, talking about the fun things in life, singing ‘80s tunes together, and falling in love with each other all over again.

Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail brought us past this beaver lodge
Beaver pond on the SHT

This time was much easier than the last time and will forever serve as the day we solidified our determination to hike every inch of every mile of this amazing north woods wonder.

We drove home that afternoon, tired and sore, but smiling all the way!

We were simply learning to walk in the woods. Together.

Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail was followed by this sight on a trip in September
September leaves on the SHT

Learning to Hike the Superior Hiking Trail

Autumn was in full swing, with a foreshadowing of winter, a few weeks later when we set out to tackle another section. About an inch of snow greeted us as we departed the shuttle at the trailhead once again. The leaves that hadn’t fallen yet were a brilliant shade of gold and the cloud-muffled sunshine filtered through to create a warm feeling despite the cold air.

After having completed two sections of the trail in the previous 3 months, for a total of less than 10 miles, we weren’t exactly experts yet. But we were learning. Our packs had become significantly lighter. By now we had purchased proper footwear and were just starting to learn to pace ourselves. About a mile and a half an hour was turning out to be the average that we could rely on.  

Lisa had made sandwiches for us to enjoy halfway through this day’s hike, which we treated ourselves to on the crest of an exposed rock outcropping. Wind and sleet soon compelled us to move along. She didn’t know at the time that the sandwich ritual would become a thing.

Again, we drove home smiling.

First snow of the season on the SHT
Gold leaves in October on the SHT

Stay Tuned

That’s the story of how Lisa and I began our journey on the SHT. We’ve taken two more trips there between then and now. We’ve had two more trail sandwiches each. It is now early December and we have one more trip scheduled before the end of the year.

More to come….

In the meantime, please share your trail stories with us on our Stories page. We’d love to read about your experiences on this, or any other trail!

Late October snow on the SHT