15 Free Things to Do with Kids throughout Connecticut this Summer

We officially moved to the Nutmeg State back in 2002 and have enjoyed exploring dozens of its 169 cities and towns, many of which border New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the Long Island Sound. We’re working on an updated master list of all the places we’ve visited and all of our travel tips for later in the summer, but this index, this list, and this list are good places to start. You might also like our City Guides featuring Mystic and Coastal Connecticut. As summer nears and temps rise, we wanted to share 15 FREE things to do this summer (really, all year, but summer offers some additional perks and better hours) and a few bonus spots we’re hoping to check out ourselves this summer.

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City Guide: Sag Harbor, New York

The village of Sag Harbor, located on the northern part of the South Fork of Long Island, is typically home to under 3,000 year round residents but swells during peak summer months, as the area is a popular vacation spot. Considered part of “The Hamptons” (which includes the towns and villages of Westhampton, South Hampton, Sagaponack, Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Amagansett, and Montauk), the area is under two hours from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan (or a short ferry ride from Fairfield County, Connecticut). Sag Harbor became a US port of entry in 1789 with a growing population involved in servicing whalers and West Indian trade ships. and became a thriving whaling industry in the 1800s. There are many historic homes, museums, outdoor recreational areas, and dining and retail options throughout Sag Harbor and the surrounding towns that the whole family will enjoy.

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10 Greats Spots for Walking in Newport, Rhode Island

Known as “the City by the Sea”, Newport, Rhode Island, is also known for its Gilded Age mansions that were the “summer cottages” of business tycoons of the early 1900s. Today, visitors can tour many of the mansions, learn about the rich history of the area in local museums, and sample a wide variety of cuisine with hundreds of shopping and dinning options. My family is fortunate to live within a day trip’s drive and we often visit Newport for the day and for long weekends. You can read our City Guide from a couple of years ago (we’ll be updating it soon) and our post featuring holiday fun in Newport.

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10 Ways to Have Fun at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, VT

The Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, Vermont is a 47 acre complex that includes indoor and outdoor exhibits, the Forest Canopy Walk, three hiking trails, a Meadow Walk, a Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation, adventure playscape, and plenty of classrooms and exhibition spaces. Opened in 1972, the programs featured at VINS focus on conservation, preservation, and rehabilitation of wildlife. The center is the perfect, family friendly way to explore nature and learn about the local wildlife.

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National Park Guide: Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Badlands National Park, located in Interior South Dakota, is the location of the world’s largest fossil beds. The 244,000 acre park is home to sedimentary rock layers deposited over 70 million years ago, as well as mixed grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and ferrets live. There are over 60 species of grass throughout the prairies inside the park. Named by the early French trappers and the Lakota Native American tribe that founded the area, the Badlands are known for extremes: extreme weather, extreme vastness of the plains, and extreme fossil beds. Learn more about the formation of the Badlands Buttes here.

Badlands became a National Monument in 1939 and then a National Park in 1978; the southern half of the park is located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and is co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Over one million people visit Badlands National Park each year.

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National Park Guide: Arches National Park in Utah

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, one of the most popular National Parks in America with two million visitors each year, is home to over 2,000 cataloged arches formed by erosion and weathering over the past 65 million years. Learn more about how the arches were formed here. Today, the park covers over 76, 000 acres and, in addition to the arches, is home to almost 500 species of plants, almost 200 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles, and 6 species of fish (yes- fish!)

We visited in June of 2021, during the still on going COVID pandemic, and there were some restrictions, mainly with the Visitor’s Center and programs. We highly recommend visiting early in the morning (being inside the park by 6am early), spending the morning hiking, and then leaving the park for lunch and a rest during peak afternoon sun. Later afternoon and evening will provide cooler temperatures and smaller crowds. Be careful to stay away from cactus and yucca plants, both of which are prevalent throughout the park. Both plants have sharp tips that can poke and easily puncture skin.

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