Our Guide to Free and Low-Cost Family Fun
Summer is underway and you may find yourself with some days (or weeks) to fill. Not to worry, we’ve done the legwork for you and have found an abundance of activities to keep the kids busy—all while barely making a dent in the wallet.
The Great Outdoors
Head up to the cool mountains and take advantage of fantastic outdoor recreation. Park free at the Santa Fe Ski Area and check out the wildflowers and various mountain streams. Or park at the Norski Area and take a short jaunt down the trail just right of the parking area, which stays shaded and has a number of stream crossings. The Rio en Medio trail just north of Santa Fe takes you to a waterfall in about one mile (limited parking). In Albuquerque, a good option in the Sandias is the Tree Spring trail since it begins at 8,500 feet and is mostly shady; and Villaneuva State Park near Ribera, NM offers canyon trails along high sandstone bluffs on the banks of the Pecos River (day use $5). And a bike ride along the Paseo del Bosque offers hours of fun.
Good sources for hiking trail exploration include:
Another not-to-be-missed opportunity is to take advantage of the Every Kid in a Park federal program that lets every fourth grader get a year-long pass to all national parks. So visits to Chaco Canyon, Bandelier, Pecos Monument, Carlsbad—are all free for fourth graders, any accompanying kids up to 16, and three adults. Kids who just finished fourth grade can still get a pass to use through Aug. 31, 2017. Kids who are entering fourth grade in the fall can get their pass starting Sept. 1. Check out info here.
Getting wet is an ideal way to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Head north to Abiquiu Lake and enjoy fantastic rock formations and views of the Cerro Pedernal (no fee for day use). Cochiti Recreation Area’s swim beach (day use $5) is nice but bring along shade, or visit the more rustic Tetilla Peak Recreation on the east side of the lake (no day use fee). Info for either of these lakes is available here. Storrie Lake (day use $5) in Las Vegas is a small but nice lake located quite close to town.
Everybody in the Pool
The classic way to cool off in summer is also one of the least expensive. Check out the links below to find out where to take a dip close to your home. Some fees are as little as a quarter for the little ones. Imagine that!
With seven outdoor pools in Albuquerque, you’ve got a selection of ways to keep ‘em cooled off.
Albuquerque Public Pools
Haynes Community Center Pool
There’s nothing better than escaping to the movies (and avoiding the summer heat).
The Regal Movies Summer Movie Express program promises a great selection of G or PG rated movies for only $1 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m. Some highlights include The Secret Life of Pets, Sing, and LEGO Batman. Participating theaters are Regal Santa Fe Stadium 14, Regal Winrock Stadium 16, UA Cottonwood Stadium 16, and UA High Ridge 8. See the schedule
Free Family Film Series at Violet Crown Cinema—Santa Fe
Every Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. through Aug. 16.
Violet Crown Santa Fe
Cineflix in Ilfeld—Las Vegas
New Mexico Highlands University offers free movies to the public. Beauty and the Beast and LEGO Batman are some of the family highlights.
Cineflix in Ilfeld Las Vegas
A number of free outdoor movie series make a summertime picnic dinner a special treat. Bring blankets, folding chairs, and picnic baskets.
Railyard Park Movie Series – Santa Fe
Highlights include Best in Show, La La Land, and Kubo and the Two Strings.
More info at railyardsantafe.com .
Movies Under the Stars – Rio Rancho
Movies on the roster include Fantastic Beasts and Pete’s Dragon.
Movies Under the Stars
Movies in the Park—Bernalillo
Summer series runs through Aug. 26. Highlights include Sing, Zootopia, and Moana.
Movies in the Park
The Sound of Music
There’s no better way to enjoy a summer eve than with family and friends, enjoying the sounds of talented musical artists.
Amazing free entertainment throughout the city.
Albuquerque Concert Band
Summer Music in the Park—Rio Rancho
Sundays nights at 6:30 p.m. at Haynes Park—musical musical styles including jazz, big band, folk, pop, soft rock, barbershop, and symphonic pops.
Summer Music in the Park
Santa Fe Summer Music in the Railyard
State ECU is delighted to sponsor of a wonderful, eight-week program of free music at the Santa Fe Railyard.
Summer Music in the Railyard
Santa Fe Bandstand – On the Plaza, all summer long (south side shows added at SWAN Park). State ECU has reserved a space to co-sponsor a concert along with its Keep it Co-Op! partners on August 16, more details to come soon.
Santa Fe Bandstand
Music on the Hill at St. John’s College– always a great time on the athletic field.
Music on the Hill
Libraries and More
The days when libraries were just a place to check out a book or work on a school project are long gone. Today, libraries offer a creative outlet that extends far beyond the book experience with a full roster of activities such as craft projects, free family movies, and more. We found a great telescope lending program at the Vista Grande Public Library in Eldorado, just outside Santa Fe. And the Public Library Albuquerque Bernalillo County has LEGO clubs at several branches open to anyone interested; participating libraries including North Valley and Juan Tabo. Go here for info;. Check out your local library to see a range of free fun!
Read Books, Win Prizes
Here’s a great way to encourage your kids to keep up the good work over the summer. Let them know about The 5th Annual New Mexico True Summer Reading Challenge—where kids read 12 books and write a short essay about why they love New Mexico. Prizes include a four-pack to the NM State Fair, a chance to be a junior zookeeper for the day, and a trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Get started on your reading challenge.
Want to check out some great museums and historical sites for free? There’s a way to do that. Most New Mexico public libraries lend out Museum Discovery Passes (weekly basis) that allow free admission (up to 6 people) to 15 state museums and history sites. Go learn about dinosaurs at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, be amazed and delighted by the Girard Collection of 10,000 colorful objects at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, or follow in the footsteps of ancestors of the present-day people of Jemez (Walatowa) Pueblo at The Jemez Historic site. Find out full details at newmexicoculture.org .
The Free Family Sundays program at the Museum of New Mexico is another way to access great museums for free. Kids 16 and under are always free at all institutions within the Museum of New Mexico.
Albuquerque Balloon Museum
Free admission on Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the first Friday of the month.
Depending on the maturity level of your kiddos, visiting art galleries can be an excellent way to pass some time—and outdoor sculpture gardens are usually a good bet for all. In Santa Fe, head up Canyon Road for a day of art appreciation. The sculpture garden outside Wiford Galley (403 Canyon Rd.) has a fun installation of wind sculptures. Also, don’t miss out on the amazing outdoor sculpture experience at Shidoni Foundry and Galleries in Tesuque, NM (which sadly is on the market). Having a picnic here is welcome; keep an eye out for the peacocks that live behind the Glass Blowing building, and dip your feet in the cool creak at the very back of the property.
A Free Lunch!
No child will go hungry this summer due to the federally-funded Free Summer Lunches (SFSP) program that runs through August 11 (lunch will not be served on Tuesday, July 4). Children up to the age of 18 years old will be able to obtain a free lunch with no registration or eligibility requirements. Just show up to one of the lunch locations and your child will be provided lunch on a first-come, first-served basis. With literally hundreds of sites around New Mexico for free lunches, chances are there is a location near you. summerfoodnm.org
We hope this wrap up of free and low-cost activities minimizes the age-old refrain “I’m bored”–with creative and educational ideas to keep them entertained all summer long. Did we miss anything terrific? Let us know down in the comments section below and we will help spread the word.