Nature. Fresh air. Exercise. Relaxation. Socialization. Outdoor parks offer something for everyone. Parks provide a great boost to one’s physical and mental health – from better breathing and improved sleep to reduced symptoms of depression and increased interest in physical activities. They also create opportunities to meet people, encourage a sense of community and provoke a greater appreciation for our Earth’s precious resources.
Fortunately, parks are plentiful in the U.S. According to a 2022 report by NRPA, nearly 75% of residents live within walking distance of a local park, playground, or recreation space. Chances are, there are a few parks near you that are just waiting for you to visit.
This summer, plan an excursion to your local park and start making new memories while happily remembering past experiences. Whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between, here are six park activities you can enjoy that are bound to bring a smile to your face and enliven your spirit:
Have a picnic
Parks and picnics go hand in hand! Plan a large meal with burgers, hot dogs, and all the fixings or make it a small affair with a picnic basket of sandwiches and other handheld treats. Large or small, picnics bring people together to share food, experiences, and fun. Many parks offer designated picnic areas complete with picnic tables and shaded pavilions, BBQ grills, trash receptacles, and restroom facilities.
When we were kids, picnicking was a bit primitive. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watermelon were the go-to food and picnic ants were always the annoying pests trying to crash the party. Now, picnicking is easier and more convenient, enabling people to serve delectable feasts – from grilled chicken breasts and kebabs to build-your-own taco bars – with salads, sides, and desserts to impress even the pickiest of eaters.
In the olden days, some opted to bring their own chairs and blankets while others took a chance and used the basic two-by-four wood tables that were usually weather-worn, splintered, and unstable. And, undoubtedly, when someone on the end stood up from the bench, the person on the other end usually fell off! Fortunately, modern picnic seating is now sturdy, comfortable, and practical. In addition to reinforced wood materials, today’s outdoor picnic tables are made with recycled plastic, fiberglass, aluminum, concrete, and thermoplastic-coated steel to stand up to the elements and accommodate all shapes, sizes, and abilities.
Next time you plan a picnic, make a checklist of all the supplies you may need. If you’re grilling, take food handling tools, charcoal, lighter fluid, and matches. Bring plenty of utensils, napkins, plates, bowls, cups, serving dishes, and a bottle opener. Don’t forget plastic containers and bags to store food and large trash bags for easy cleanup. Finally, pack a supply of hand wipes, insect repellent, and sunscreen, as well as umbrellas or a canopy to protect people from the sun and potential rain. Preparation makes all the difference!
A great place to picnic is at De Leon Springs State Park in Florida. Set on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, De Leon Springs State Park is also home to Spring Garden Lake which remains at a constant 72 degrees year-round. The spring is the winter home for Florida’s manatee and is a wonderful place for visitors to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and paddling. Also at the park is the historic Old Sugar Mill Pancake House, a unique restaurant set in a 100-year-old replica of the original 1830s sugar mill where guests can cook their own pancakes at their table. Their picnic area is a spacious and comfortable place to spend time with friends and family. Shaded by large live oaks, the area offers multiple picnic tables, pavilions, and grills, making it ideal for both large and small groups. This park is one of Florida’s jewels that everyone should visit at least once.
Exercise with your pet
Walking your dog offers your furry friends mental stimulation, builds their confidence, and provides both you and your pet cardiovascular exercise. Wear a fitness tracker and give yourself a goal to walk a certain number of steps, a specific distance, or a set length of time to get your heart pumping and burn calories. Follow your leash laws and keep your pet close to keep them and others safe. Some pet-friendly parks offer pet stations with bags and receptacles for waste but, as a precaution, carry extra bags with you and make sure you bring plenty of water so you and your best friend stay hydrated.
Designated dog parks are also popping up in many areas around the country. What started as simple fenced-off areas for dogs to run, have now evolved into doggie “entertainment” spots with splash pads, turf grass, and agility course equipment such as ramps and tunnels. BrewHound Dog Park + Bar in Neptune, Florida, has all the amenities dogs could want, along with creature comforts for their owners, including a covered porch with seating and a range of refreshments. Whether you opt for a pet-friendly walking trail or an energetic dog park, exercising and spending time with your pet will make their day and you’ll feel good, too.
Get your game on
Parks are the perfect place to play sports and games. With soft grass at your feet and no walls to obstruct your play, a park setting makes gameplay, even more, fun and carefree. For decades, children have enjoyed playing tag, throwing a frisbee, and tossing a football around outside without the worry of breaking a vase or making a mess in the house. For the most part, park games are harmless, entertaining activities; the exception being the original lawn darts called Jarts – the now-banned, sharp-pointed lawn darts game that was quite the craze until parents realized just how dangerous they were! Park games aren’t just for kids, though. Today there are unlimited outdoor game activities that people of all ages can play at a park – from cornhole and ladder toss games to bocce ball and disc golf. These games bridge the age gap to enable grandchildren and grandparents to spend time together and help parents and their grown children reconnect.
Put together a park outing and encourage everyone to bring a game, or find a park that has outdoor games already on site. Cypress Point Park in Tampa, Florida, is an activity-centric park located on the bay that features a modern playground, walking trails, a sand volleyball court, and an 18-hole disc golf course. It also has picnic pavilions and access to the beach where you can rent stand-up paddleboards. This park offers a fun-filled day of friendly competition, exercise, and camaraderie.
Ride your bicycle
Enjoy your time outside at a faster pace by taking advantage of the bicycle trails that wind through parks. Many parks feature smooth, paved paths that both pedestrians and bicyclists can enjoy. And if your town is particularly bicycle-friendly, it may also have additional features like bike racks, benches along the trails, and bike maintenance stations with various tools, a tire gauge, and a pump to fill bicycle tires.
Bicycling has been a national pastime since the 1800s, giving people the chance to travel farther and faster while taking in the sights. Since we were little kids we yearned to be on a bicycle, starting with a three-wheel Big Wheel that we used to race with friends down our driveway. Then we went on to the traditional two-wheeled bicycle with training wheels. As fast as we could to get those trainers off, we moved on to the three- and five-speed bikes with banana seats (if we were lucky). As we got older, bicycles also evolved and we went from 10-speed bikes to more nimble mountain bikes and hybrids. But now, as age starts taking its toll on us physically, some of us older folks don’t feel we have the stamina or agility to continue riding. Bicycle companies have solved that problem by designing bikes with three wheels and even electric bikes that do the pedaling for us. Necessity truly is the mother of invention!
When you head out on the bicycle trails on whatever mode of transportation you choose, be sure to wear a helmet and bright or reflective clothing to stay safe and be seen. If bicycling with others, form a single file line when approaching pedestrians or other bicyclists. Before you head out, see if your park system offers a printed map of their trails so you can plan your route. Florida’s city of Palm Coast is a bicyclists’ delight, offering more than 15 trails covering 177 miles. Their Waterfront Park Loop is a scenic route that begins at Waterfront Park and heads north along the Intracoastal Waterway. In addition to beautiful water views where you can spot manatees, dolphins, and other marine life, the park offers a water fountain, bicycle maintenance station, and benches along the pathways.
Explore a new playground
A park playground is the quintessential gathering place for children. Who doesn’t love the sights and sounds of kids laughing, playing, and interacting with one another? And as parents watch their children having fun, memories often resurface of their times as a child at the playground. Slides, swing sets, and seesaws were playground staples back in the day, along with sandboxes for the little ones. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s and 70s probably experienced the exciting rush of swinging so high on a swing set that the posts jumped out of the ground. It was crazy fun. Fortunately, today’s swing sets and other playground equipment are much more stable and safer, not to mention more sophisticated and extravagant. Park playground systems give kids opportunities to climb, tunnel, swing, slide, jump, traverse bridges, and more, fostering imaginative, high-energy play. Many parks also incorporate shade elements into their playground design like sunshades, canopies, and strategically placed shade trees to protect kids from the sun.
If you want to put a smile on your child’s face, take them to a new or different playground and let them explore. Fort Mellon Park in Sanford, Florida, is a hot spot for families, offering activities for all ages. Located on Lake Monroe, Fort Mellon Park boasts amazing water views, plenty of green space, a fitness trail, basketball courts, an enormous splash pad, and a huge playground area with equipment and activities designed for ages two through 12. From forts and slides to tunnels and spring riders, children can climb, tumble, jump, and swing safely on a soft surface. This park encourages families to make a day of it by offering plenty of picnic tables, BBQ grills, and restroom facilities. They also have eight pavilions available to rent that accommodate large groups of up to 100. Children grow up so fast but, fortunately, a playground brings out the kid in everyone. Visit one today!
Enjoy some downtime
We know parks are great places to be active and socialize, but they are also wonderful spots to simply relax. Escape to a park to enjoy a low-key activity that fits your mood. Bring your earbuds and hum to your favorite tunes or listen to an enlightening podcast. If you’re a reader, find a quiet area with a park bench and dig into a good book. Or, wind down with low-impact activities such as trying tai chi or flying a kite. Both are expressive and freeing, and both can be done alone or with others.
Mead Botanical Garden, spread over 47 acres in Winter Park, Florida, is a naturalists’ delight. The quiet setting is home to a lake, ponds, and an assortment of plants and flowers to delight the senses. Birds, butterflies, and wildlife also inhabit this beautiful property and regularly make an appearance for visitors. In addition to numerous paths and trails, the Mead Botanical Garden has picnic pavilions, an outdoor stage for musical and theatrical productions, and several educational buildings. To further bring people and nature together, they also host weekly yoga and tai chi classes that help balance the mind, body, and soul. Namaste!
There you have it. There are an abundance of things to do at a park and plenty of parks in which to visit. It’s up to you to get out and enjoy all that they have to offer while making memories of your own. Here at Picnic Furniture, we’ve been helping people create great memories for 20 years with our expansive line of quality commercial outdoor furniture, equipment, and accessories. Family-owned and operated, we stand behind the quality and craftsmanship of all our products, which are proudly made in the USA. You may have noticed that all the parks we featured in this article are located in Florida. Picnic Furniture hails from sunny Florida, home to hundreds of beautiful parks and preserves, so we wanted to share a few of them with our readers. We live in paradise and invite you to visit our great state to see all it has to offer!