Balling on a budget: A guide for enjoying the outdoors for cheap

There is an outdoor activity for most everyone. Whether you prefer the powdery slopes of your nearest ski resort or simply putting the dirt beneath your boots on a pleasant hike, wanting to experience nature is a common denominator across the national population and beyond. 

However, it can often be tricky to manage to get outside when you are struggling to pay your bills and eating ramen noodles every night. Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy what the outdoors has to offer without depleting your bank account entirely. From participating in low-budget activities to utilizing all the resources at your disposal, here is your guide to enjoying the outdoors on a budget. 


Free and low-budget activities

Much of what the outdoors offers simply requires you to show up. Perhaps the most popular of these is hiking. As long as you have boots, water and dress properly, you can experience just about any trail in any wilderness—treating you to amazing locations you would otherwise never see. Investing in high-quality boots will carry you a long way, making your wilderness excursions much cheaper in the long run. 

The Bureau of Land Management manages hundreds of millions of acres of public wildland across the nation, much of which can be camped on freely through what is known as “dispersed camping.” Nearly 42% of Utah land is managed by the BLM, meaning there is an abundance of this free, wild camping so long as you adhere to the rules and regulations of the land

For those wanting to enjoy the outdoors in a particularly social-setting, consider having bonfires, swimming or stargazing which can often be enjoyed in conjunction with each other. However, make sure to check fire restrictions before lighting anything and be mindful of your wood gathering habits.


Utilize alternate transportation options

While often not considered, one of the largest expenses on outdoor excursions is the cost of getting there. Driving up, down and around canyons can eat up your gas  and start to hurt the wallet.

However, there are ways to diminish this blow or avoid it entirely. Carpooling is a great way to split up fuel costs and helps the environment as a bonus. One might also consider taking shuttles for long rides such as those to ski-resorts. When possible, riding a bike can double as a fun activity and your transportation. 


Take advantage of free entry and annual passes

Those inclined to visit national parks, some of the outdoors’ most sought-after destinations, should be informed about their options for cheap or free entry. The National Park Service offers free entry systemwide on five occasions annually such as Veterans Day. When attending on these busy days, be sure to arrive early to avoid crowds and congestion.

There are also several options for annual passes that may be worth your money if you plan on visiting parks several times. Anyone is eligible for the $80 pass, the equivalent of about three visits, but there are discounted and free options for seniors, military members, volunteers, 4th-graders and persons suffering from permanent disabilities. 


Join clubs and organizations

A fantastic opportunity to enjoy the outdoors while making friends can come from clubs and organizations. Southern Utah University sponsors several of these such as SUU Outdoors and the Women of the Outdoors Club.

SUU Outdoors offers a variety of adventure trips each semester, providing both free and relatively inexpensive experiences. When registered for these trips, all the necessary gear will be available to you at no cost along with travel and food on certain trips.  

Socializing at public areas such as the climbing wall in the J.L. Sorenson Physical Education Building can also be a great way to meet like-minded individuals willing to get outside with you and split the costs.

Article and photos by: Jared Clawson