Top 15 Parks and Recreation Event Ideas

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Parks and recreation events provide communities with shared memories that bring people together. Whether it's an outdoor movie night, athletic competition, cultural festival, neighborhood barbecue, or any group activity, such activities have the power to strengthen communal bonds and improve the quality of life for everyone. Sometimes, it can be difficult to organize a large gathering. With our decades of experience helping parks and recreation departments across the United States throw amazing events, we have the best tips and tricks for you to host the ultimate party.

Unique Event Ideas for Your Parks and Rec Program to Try

Nothing turns local neighbors into friends faster than shared moments of community engagement. New programs and events are a great way to drum up interest in your parks and recreation organization. They also increase much-needed revenue that can then flow back into your community. But sometimes it’s hard to come up with an activity that hasn’t been done a million times before. What you need are some innovative parks and recreation ideas that are sure to turn heads.

If you need to infuse your parks and rec organization with a little creative inspiration, here are some unique recreation programs and public event ideas for locals of all ages.

1. Canoeing Under the Stars

Many neighborhoods and towns feature rivers, streams and lakes that offer incredible canoeing and kayaking opportunities. For a fun twist, why not host a canoeing under the stars event. Participants will love gliding over the water with only the stars as their navigation system. They’ll also gain an appreciation for your community’s natural resources as they refocus and unwind from the stress of everyday responsibilities.

Leaders of the canoe tour can point out constellations, tell short stories about how they were discovered and explain their meaning. Myths and stories about the sky above your attendees will spark intrigue and mystery as they debate what they believe and form their own opinions. When they’re not talking about the stars, your party can relax in the tranquil silence of the nature around them.

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2. Outdoor Fitness

From beach workouts to outdoor yoga, outdoor fitness classes allow your community members to have fun, get a good workout and enjoy the beautiful weather. Even if your community doesn’t have access to the beach, a lovely park or a patch of grass will do the trick. You can combine a variety of different exercises so that this event can appeal to all fitness levels.

If you have beach access, you can offer swimming lessons to younger children and water aerobics for those capable of holding their own in the water. You can also provide intense workouts of swimming, running and strength training for athletes and marathon participants to hone their bodies and bond with other athletes.

3. Outdoor Movie in the Park

Everyone loves the magic of the movies. But more and more nowadays, enjoying a film is a solitary event. Whether it’s streaming the latest blockbuster on your phone or picking up a rental at the box outside the grocery store, you can watch a movie without ever seeing another real human being. In the 1950s, movies were a community event, and nothing exemplified that more than the Drive-In movie theater.

Make the movies a social event by hosting an outdoor movie night at a local park. These family-friendly gatherings are a wonderful opportunity to get together, socialize and enjoy a great film. You can make your park a movie theater every Friday night or only on holiday weekends to gather friends and families. These events pair well with so many others you can host in your park and can make great themes for festivals and parties.

4. Art-Inspired Playspace

Playspaces don’t have to be just for kids. Your parks and rec organization can create a place that becomes a destination spot for all ages and abilities. Interactive art installations bring a feeling of whimsy into your community. They invite everyone to gather, take pictures and have fun. The more tactile, the better.

As children run around and marvel at the sights, parents can meet other guardians and bond over their shared experiences with their curious little ones. Artists of every age can find inspiration for their work and find an open space to draw, doodle or paint as they soak in the blend of colors and watch how others appreciate art.

5. Splash Pads

There’s a reason splash pad popularity is booming. These fun water experiences offer a smart and exciting alternative to costly community pools. As the jets and sprays shoot water in a combination of choreographed movements and intensity, young and old alike play and cool off during hot summer days. Splash pads can exist as stand-alone elements or be integrated into existing pool areas or playgrounds.

Additionally, as children make new friends and splash around, they can further develop their mental and sensory growth. Parents and guardians can watch as their child tries new things and meet other parents who have their own growing children.

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6. Concert in the Park

Listening to music while enjoying the open air of the great outdoors is a great way to get people to connect. Hosting a concert in the park can gather community members for a night of dancing, singing and fun. You could choose to find a big celebrity or well-known band to perform or ask the local community to sign up for a spot and show off their talents. Your concert could last a few hours, or you could make an entire evening of it and advertise a family picnic in the park with ice cream before the show.

7. Park Scavenger Hunt

Fun parks and recreation programming can encourage the community to learn more about their environment and change how they interact with it. You can use this event to get people thinking about nature by asking them to take pictures of specific plants and animals for their hunt.

To encourage more camaraderie, you could ask smaller teams to join together. Invite a father-daughter duo to join a mother and son or encourage two teenagers to meet with two more. They’ll work together to find their objects and have some fun with new people along the way. Additionally, you could invite everyone to a firework display or cookout once the scavenger hunt is complete so people can discuss what they found or learned with others.

8. Farmers Market

Managing a farmers market is a fantastic way to gather friends and family and promote healthy habits by offering fresh food that serves as ingredients for healthy meals. You could hold this event one time or make it a monthly or weekly occurrence. Farmers markets are on the rise, so if you have the space and volunteers to host one weekly, you should consider doing so.

If you’re gathering food from local farmers, you could create a volunteer sign-up online or through various organizations. People who already volunteer for similar organizations may enjoy the opportunity to help out even more and recommend volunteering to their friends and family. You could also encourage families to slice their famous desserts or make a large batch of canned jam to sell at the market and have them host their own stands. As neighbors discuss recipes and their favorite meals, they’ll make new friends and gain plenty of insight into healthy eating habits.

9. Craft Fair

Recreation programming ideas that bring people together with a common interest is an excellent way to spark conversations. Like a farmers market, a craft fair is a perfect place for people to show their work and meet with others to discuss their craft strategies. These are wonderful spaces for people to find new inspiration and marvel at the skills of their neighbors and friends.

A craft fair can be many individual booths where makers sell their trinkets or a large space where children and adults alike can watch as someone creates wood carvings, practices blacksmithing or paints a gorgeous painting right in front of them. Of course, your craft show could also combine the two. While some may want to sell homemade scrunchies, natural soap bars or handcrafted signs for homes, visitors might love watching as a blacksmith bends metal to make tools or furniture.

10. Outdoor Hobby Lessons

Encouraging people to stay outside and love the outdoors can be simple and easy. Many people are interested in an outdoor hobby but aren’t sure how to get started. You could consider offering public instruction about the topics your community is interested in. Sending out a few surveys will tell you what topics people want to know more about, and you can plan your lessons accordingly.

Parks and rec event ideas that connect your community to nature include:

  • Hiking: Offer some class sessions outside about taking care of hiking gear, how to hike safely, what equipment hikers need, when it’s safe to hike alone and how to choose a hiking trail. If your park has hiking trails, your public lessons will be an excellent place for the community to learn valuable skills. Throughout the season, offer a group hiking trip where people can test their skills and ability.
  • Swimming: If you’re close to a lake, ocean, pond or pool, swimming is an essential skill everyone should know. You could offer water instruction in whatever body of water you have access to and encourage people to cool off from the hot summer sun while they learn to swim.
  • Gardening: Many people have thought about starting their own garden and improving their eating habits, but they often don’t know how to get started or don’t think they have the time to care for it. Teaching your community to grow their own food and connect with their backyard can give them the encouragement they need to start their garden.
  • Games: Encouraging children and adults to find a fun outdoor hobby is as simple as teaching them a new game. Disc golf is a great outdoor game for families and friends, but it’s not incredibly common. It has very simple rules and is very fun to play, so a quick lesson and a short game with one hoop could be all it takes to get kids and adults playing for the rest of the day.
  • Fishing: Fish fanatics may jump at the opportunity to learn more about the local water life in their lakes, ponds and ocean. Instructors could offer classes for new or beginner fishers and discuss the best times of the day to go out on the water, where to find bait, what equipment to bring and what kind of fish to catch or release. Additionally, you could host fishing tournaments for your local fishers to test their abilities.

11. Game Competitions

You can encourage families to make new friends by hosting some friendly competitions. You could invite neighbors to band together to create a football team and have a weekend of games where people from all over the community can join in the fun. You could also host tournaments throughout the weekend. Corn hole is a great game to make a bracket for. This encourages people to stick around to watch other games and talk with the people playing beside them.

If you decide to host some sports competitions, you should consider offering some food as well. You could use grills on the park property to make burgers and hot dogs and provide some side dishes and chips to munch on. While winning teams wait to play their next opponent, they may want to chow down and talk with new friends over a great burger. For added fun, consider adding a jumbotron screen to show scores and standings.

12. Fall Festival

A festival is fun for all ages, and fall is one of the best times to host festivals because people get excited to drink apple cider, look for pumpkins to carve and seek out decorations for their homes. The weather is also usually pretty comfortable. During the day, people can bask in the sunshine, but as the night carries on, they may bundle up with scarves and jackets to stay warm.

You could theme your festival to encourage Halloween lovers to show up for the party or keep it neutral and appeal to your entire community. As part of your festivities, you could host a pie-eating contest and offer face painting and balloon animal stands for kids. Consider adding a bounce house or inflatable obstacle course and encouraging community members to make their favorite stews and chilis to sell. You could also have a hayride, host a fall-themed movie night or host a movie festival in your park for a full day of fun.

13. Earth Day or Arbor Day Celebration

There’s no better way to spend Earth Day or Arbor Day than appreciating nature. Earth Day is every year on April 22. National Arbor Day is the last Friday in April. However, many states recognize Arbor Day earlier or later, whenever it’s the best time for planting trees in the local climate. Find out when your state Arbor Day is to coordinate your event.

You could focus on sustainability and healthy lifestyles for an Earth Day event. Invite local businesses to demonstrate their eco-friendly products or services. Partner with other organizations to provide recycling collection, especially for items that are often more difficult to recycle, like e-waste. You could also organize a clean-up of your parks, trails or waterways as a volunteer opportunity.

If you want to celebrate Arbor Day, consider including a seedling giveaway or raffle off a sapling. Be sure to include care instructions with any trees you give away. You could set up interactive stations for people to learn about the role trees have in their ecosystems in general and about specific trees you have growing in your park.

14. Animal Shelter Fundraiser

Partner with a local animal shelter to host a run or walk, adoption event or pet-themed movie night to raise funds for the shelter. Whether you pair shelter dogs with people running or walking in the race or encourage people to bring their own pets to the event, collaborating with an animal shelter can expand the audience for your parks and rec programs and the shelter. In addition to raising funds for the shelter, consider asking event participants to bring the most-needed items to donate to the shelter. People love playing with dogs and feeling like they’re making a difference in their communities.

15. Winter Wonderland

Cold weather or even snow is no reason to stop holding events in your parks and recreation areas. If the winter weather in your area is generally mild, you can have your event outdoors. Locations with more severe weather can still host a winter event in an indoor recreation space.

Whether your event is inside or out, you could create a holiday village and set up booths for vendors. Invite local businesses to sell decorations, ornaments, gifts and various cold-weather treats, such as cocoa, hot cider and s’mores. Consider holding a gingerbread house display and contest, a meeting with Santa or a light parade. You could even host a holiday movie night or a whole winter movie festival during the season.

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