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Fun for Under $50

Kids run on the trails at River Oaks Park. Courtesy photo.
Outdoor and indoor activities that are easy on the wallet

When the green light to be social has finally been given, we will all be ready to get out and find a little adventure. However, the green in our wallets might not be abundant. Good news — the greater Kalamazoo area is rich with things to do for $50 or less, and we’ve selected several to start with. And while COVID-19 restrictions may still be in effect for some activities, it’s still a handy list to have for future months. But make sure to check on the availability of these activities before you head out.

Outdoor fun

By far, the biggest bang you and your family can get for your buck is from buying a $25 annual vehicle pass from the Kalamazoo County Parks, which reopened May 6. The pass allows you entry to all five parks as often as you like for that one low fee. (And if you’re a senior 62 or over, it’s only $20.)

For lovers of the water, several of the parks offer lakes for swimming, fishing and kayaking and canoeing. River Oaks Park, in Galesburg, even boasts a splash pad. At various parks you can take in the fresh air while playing horseshoes, tennis, disc golf and more. When the restrictions are lifted, children can burn off energy at several playgrounds and so can your canine companions at designated dog parks. All the parks have miles of trails with plentiful views of nature.

The best part is, because the parks pass is an annual one, you can enjoy all that the parks have to offer year-round (think sledding, ice fishing, and cross-country skiing once the snow falls).

Each of the parks is unique, so visit the Kalamazoo County Parks website, at, to find the locations where you can enjoy your favorite activities.

For walking, hiking and bicycling, the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail offers 22 paved miles, with convenient parking, benches and picnic tables, and it’s all free to use. Challenge your family and other riding companions to one of the self-guided scavenger hunts available on the KRVT webpage, at, and you might even win a prize!

For three fun-filled days in August, assuming we can gather again, you can get blown away for free at the Kalamazoo Balloon Fest at Gull Meadow Farms, 8544 Gull Road. Beginning on Aug. 28, kids and adults will marvel at the hot-air balloons as they light up and take to the sky. The tentative schedule of activities can be found at That website says you can also stay up to date with launches on the festival’s Facebook page, at

Evening fun may be found in the form of free outdoor movies in Kalamazoo and Portage. The area offers two great cinematic choices: The Kalamazoo Summer Cinema, which moves from park to park around Kalamazoo, and Movies in the Park, immediately following the Portage’s family-friendly Friday at the Flats events at Celery Flats Interpretive Center and Historical Area, 7335 Garden Lane. Bring blankets and lawn chairs and sit back to watch free movies on giant screens under the stars. Pack your own snacks or purchase some from available food trucks and vendors while enjoying the free entertainment before the movie.

Times, location and movie titles are available at (for Kalamazoo Summer Cinema) and at in the Park).

Families with young children may be able to enjoy Wild Wednesdays at the Bird Sanctuary in the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, 12685 East C Ave., in Augusta. For the low price of admission — $3 for kids, $4 for seniors, $5 for other adults and free for kids 2 and younger — you can partake in an hour-long educational and fun program. Each Wednesday evening event features a different topic, such as dragonflies or moths. A full list of events may be found at .

Where there’s a body of water, which are plentiful in these parts, there is an opportunity to plop a worm and bobber in it and find a fish. In Michigan, kids 16 years old and younger do not need fishing licenses, and a license for Michigan residents 17 and older is $26 annually. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources makes it easy — you can apply and get your license online and its robust website provides guides for family-friendly fishing spots. Each year, they also have free fishing weekends when you don’t need a license to fish and they offer learn-to-fish programs. The first is tentatively set for June 13-14. Find all the fishing details you will need at

Indoor fun

For rainy days or just to get a break from the sun, the area has a long list of low-cost adventures.

For an out-of-this-world experience, the planetarium at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, 230 N. Rose St., typically offers a variety of shows five times a day, and admission is just $3 per person. Before or after the show, families can enjoy the rest of the museum at no cost. Keep in mind that you will likely have to use paid public parking. To see a show schedule, visit

A little farther north, up in Allegan County, an inexpensive movie experience awaits at M-89 Cinema, 392 Cross Oaks Drive, in Otsego, where first-run movies are shown with tickets starting at just $2.50. Share a popcorn bucket for $3 and refill it on most days for just 75 cents (free fills on Thursdays). Movie times and ticket purchase options can be found at

Retro fun

If you’re looking to recapture some of your youth or introduce your offspring to a little old-school fun, there are a couple of possible options to help you stroll, or roll, down Memory Lane.

Klassic Arcade has two locations in Gobles (206 S. State St. and 22711 M-40) to indulge in all-day unlimited play of classic arcade games like Pac-Man, Galaga and Tempest, as well as a variety of pinball machines, for just $7 per person. If you have been humbled by your kids’ gaming abilities, here’s your chance to show off your mad Ms. Pac-Man skills while challenging them to a game that you might just have a chance at winning. Check out the hours and the games available at each location at

Yet another chance to impress the young ones with your mad moves, while you shoot the duck or do the toe jam, is at Rollerworld, 7491 Stadium Drive, where kids 12 and under can skate for free. The program does have limitations, but never fear — Rollerworld has many great deals that families can take advantage of. Check out the specials and prices via their Facebook link: FBrollerworld.

Julie Smith

Julie is a Plainwell-based freelance writer.

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