The Southwest, United States, is known for its hot climate and rich history, but it should also be known for its many fun things to do, many of which are free. Here are some of the best free things to do with kids in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma.
Fun Things to Do in Texas for Free
Cathedral of Junk
4422 Lareina Dr, Austin.
The Cathedral of Junk can be found in the backyard of a small house on a suburban street on the south side of Austin. Although its appearance can be jarring, the collection blends in with its surrounding neighborhood.
Vince Hannemann began building the Cathedral in 1988, and been adding to it ever since. He says his cathedral consists of more than 60 tons of junk.
Surfboards, tires, CD players, troll dolls, old Barbies, bowling balls, motorcycles, glass bottles and telephones are only some of the “junk” you’ll find holding up the homemade structure. It is the manifestation of the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
You can see the Cathedral of Junk for free by appointment only. The phone number to call is: 512-299-7413.
Bayou Bend Gardens
6003 Memorial Dr, Houston.
In 1925, Ima, Will and Mike Hogg selected 14 acres of natural woodlands for their home in the Houston neighborhood of River Oaks. Ima Hogg began planning the gardens before construction began on their home in 1927.
The gardens feature elaborate landscaping that were meant for entertaining guests. The multitude of flowers, shrubs and trees take quite a bit of maintenance and in 1961, Ms. Hogg invited River Oaks Garden Club to supervise the gardens permanently. Since then, volunteers of the Garden Club have worked to preserve the 20th century garden.
You can experience Houston’s natural landscape in the surrounding Woodland Ravines, which are meant to preserve the native trees and plants of the area. The ravines feature walking trails and a suspension bridge over Bayou Bend.
Admission is free for kids age 9 and under; $5 for ages 10 and up. Tours of the home are available for an additional fee. However, on Bayou Family Days admission is free for everyone.
Find out about even more free fun things to do in Texas.
Fun Things to Do New Mexico for Free
The Dale Ball Trail System
Various locations, Santa Fe.
Only a few minutes from downtown Santa Fe, you’ll find the Dale Ball Trail System, a 22-mile network of hiking trails in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Featuring views of the surrounding wilderness and the city skyline, these interconnecting trails can be hiked or biked by beginners and experts, which can be a great way to get kids interested in hiking.
For a quick, nearly two-mile hike, and a great view, the city of Santa Fe’s website suggests starting at junction nine. You can park the car at the lot on Hyde Park Road, start at junction nine, proceed to eight then six, five, ten and seven. Return the same way back to junction nine.
Maps detailing the numbered sign system, found at each trail junction, make the trail easy to navigate.
The Visitors Center is open Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
3225 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad.
Explore more than 119 known caves and meet some batty new friends at Carlsbad Caverns.
At this national park you can take a self-guided tour through the Big Room chamber of the cavern, a hike down the 750-foot trail of the Natural Entrance, a walk through the Chihuahuan Desert or relax at a natural spring in the hidden oasis of Rattlesnake Springs.
Every summer Carlsbad Caverns hosts Dawn of the Bats, an all-day event to celebrate the lives of the park’s bats. Starting at 5 a.m., the day includes bat-themed activities, games and demonstrations as well as watching thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats fly out of the cave in their nightly search for food.
If your family visits the park when this event is not scheduled, don’t worry. The nightly Bat-Flight Program features an educational talk by a park ranger about the bats before watching them take flight in the night. Times vary based on sunset times, call (575)785-3012 to verify the time.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park has several fee-free days throughout the year, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Kids 15 and under are always free and adult tickets are $10.
Find out about even more free fun things to do in New Mexico.
Free Things to Do in Arizona
Native American Dance Performances
7500 E. Doubletree Ranch Road, Scottsdale.
Every Friday at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort’s Fountain Court, you can enjoy free Native American dancing performances at 5 p.m.
Watch as Native American Dancers share the culture of their tribes through dance, song and costume. Dancers from the Navajo, Apache and other tribes, show off their moves and colorful costumes with different forms of cultural dances.
The performances include hoop dancing, known as the “dance of life,” and interpretive dances, in which dancers depict various plants and animals.
Parking is free and you can watch the 30 minute show without ordering anything from the lounge.
Navajo Nation Zoological & Botanical Park
34 AZ-264, St Michaels.
The Navajo Nation Zoological & Botanical Park is the only tribal-owned zoo in the country. There you can see native animals to the Navajo Nation, as a part of the zoo’s dedication to exhibit animals and plants important to the history and culture of the Navajo people.
The Navajo Zoo has more than 100 animals representing more than50 species. Some of the zoo’s residents include Bighorn Sheep, Mexican Grey Wolves and Great-Horned Owls, among others.
Zoo admission is free and it is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Find out about even more free fun things to do in Arizona.
Free Things to Do in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Railway Museum
3400 NE Grand Blvd,Oklahoma City.
The Oklahoma Railway Museum collects, conserves and interprets artifacts and structures that reflect the heritage of Oklahoma’s railroad and street rail transportation in the 19th and 20th centuries.
There you can ride a train, for an extra fee, and see a variety of locomotives, passenger cars, cabooses and freight cars. At certain times of the year, you might even catch a glimpse of a full-sized Thomas the Tank Engine.
In addition to the once-operating trains at the museum, there is a model train exhibit.
The museum is open on Thursdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Route 66 Park
9901 N.W. 23rd St., Oklahoma City.
Nestled on the west side of Lake Overholser, this park is adjacent to a stretch of the original Route 66 highway.
Route 66 Park features a watchtower, an amphitheatre, a skate court and its own walkable version of the historic highway. The 148-acre park also features three ponds with wetland boardwalks, bridges and interpretive signage, as well as approximately one mile of walking trails.
If you visit the Route 66 Park you will find Oklahoma City’s biggest playground and the Cyrus Avery Observation Tower as well.
The park is open daily from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and is free to the public.
Find out about even more free fun things to do in Oklahoma.
This post was created by Alexandra Olsen, a college student intern for TravelingMom.com. Her love of travel began at a very young age–traveling with her family to little beach towns growing up in Brazil. Alexandra also has her own personal travel blog,Trail Mix, which she started while spending a summer studying abroad in Norway.