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Four free (or nearly free) family getaways

Looking for ways to stretch your family vacation dollar just a little further? Here’s the scoop on four area day trips that are big on fun, easy on the budget, and that have proven to be perennial favourites with my family over the years.

Imagine being able to take your kids to a fully accredited zoo complete with water splash pad and playground—and not having to spend a dime to do so.

I know. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. The Riverview Park and Zoo is completely subsidized by the citizens of Peterborough. If you’re absolutely determined to drop a few dollars while you’re at the park, you can splurge on treats at the snack bar or take your kids for a ride on the uber-popular miniature train ($2 per person, with children under age two riding for free). Other than that, plan to give your wallet a much-deserved break. Even parking is free. Visit the Riverview Park and Zoo website for full details on hours, location, and park features.

What’s better than taking your kids to a park for free?

Taking them to two parks for free, of course! The two parks in question—Beavermead Park and GreenUP Ecology Park—are sandwiched side-by-side in the eastern part of Peterborough. Beavermead Park is home to a beach, a playground, hiking trails and an on-site campground (with camping fees ranging from $42 to $51 per night); while GreenUP Ecology Park (which was created to showcase sustainable gardening practices) features interactive exhibits and hands-on displays, including the much-loved children’s garden. Think of it as the park lover’s double-header—and a bargain-friendly double-header, to boot. (You can enjoy the two parks for free during the day. You’ll only have to reach for your wallet if you decide to stay overnight.)

How much fun can you have for $12? Plenty, if you stop to consider that $12 will buy you and your family a full day of fun at the highly popular

Warsaw Caves Conservation Area & Campground. In addition to exploring the park’s seven underground caves, which were formed during the last ice age, you can round out your day of adventure by hiking, canoeing, or otherwise exploring the great outdoors. If you can’t bear the thought of heading home after having so much fun, turn your day trip into an overnight adventure for just $42 per night. For more about park features—including camping information and downloads galore—visit the park website.

Looking for a quiet spot for a family picnic or hike?

This almost forgotten treasure, on the outskirts of Peterborough, could be just what you’re looking for—and the price is right (just $11.25 for a daily vehicle permit or $1 to $2 per person, if you choose to walk in). The hiking trails are ideal for families with young children: the terrain is reasonably stroller-friendly (although you’ll want to tote along a jogging stroller with a fairly sturdy frame) and the trails are short enough to be challenging but not overly daunting for preschoolers who are new to the world of hiking. Find out more by visiting the park website.

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