The Best FREE (and almost free) Activities in Columbia

the best free or almost free activities in columbia

Splash Pads

Columbia’s got 13 splash pads, all of them free (call the rec department to be sure they’re turned on). They range from bare bones at Heathwood Park to pretty awesome at Drew Park. Take a lunch, some sand toys if the park’s got sand, and make a day of it. Not downtown? Lexington’s Corley Street Park has an awesome free splash pad. For a few dollars, Saluda Shoals has a water-park caliber splash pad, an adjacent playground, and bathrooms (park admission $5 a car, $3 per child for splash pad). Check our our comprehensive list of splash pads, spray pools, mist pads and water parks in Columbia and the surrounding areas.

Saluda Shoals

Speaking of Saluda Shoals, $5 admission gets you unlimited time in their small, but air-conditioned nature center (small kids will get about an hour out of the tree fort), plus access to their hiking trails and the Saluda River. Because the water comes from the bottom of Lake Murray – and the dam’s only a mile upstream – Saluda Shoals tends to be the coolest place in the Columbia area. The shaded hiking trails mean you won’t roast, even in hot weather, and the river’s always there for a quick dip (no lifeguards, swim or wade at your own risk). Watch for poison ivy.


Beach at Lake Murray

Too hot to hike? Head up to the beach at Lake Murray. A large sandy beach leads to a roped-off swimming area. There are picnic shelters and tables, plus bathrooms. Entry is only $3 a car, but if you leave, you’ll have to pay it again.

Cayce Riverwalk

Nothing beats mucking around in the water. Cayce’s Riverwalk offers 2.5 miles of trails, with plenty of river access for wading – as long as the water level’s low to normal. One of the best spots, just south of the Blossom Street bridge, has a small rocky beach and plenty of shallow water, though you’ll have to walk there from one of the parking lots. Watch for poison ivy – it’s bad this year – and the usual Southern river hazards (snakes and the occasional gator: yes, they are there, and yes, I have seen them). If you can manage to make it in the early morning, look for otters under the Gervais Street bridge and northward up the Saluda.

river2Lowe’s and Home Depot

Both of these stores have free kids workshops occasionally on the weekend. I have yet to do this, but it sounds super fun. What a great activity to do INDOORS!!

  • Lowe’s upcoming schedule can be found here.
  • Home Depot offers the workshops the first Saturday of every month from 9-12. Click here for more info.

Fireflies Baseball

Take me out to the ballgame! It’s the priciest thing on the list, between $5 – $12 a ticket, but the Columbia Fireflies are a summer must. Each game features something fun, fireworks,  a chance to meet the players, and great views from any seat. There’s kids play area with bounce houses for those who need a break from the action (but still allows a perfect view of the game), and, of course, plenty of food available in the concourse. Make sure you bring some cash for these extras. Check the schedule for game dates and times.

EdVenture (Discounted Admission)

Want to try out EdVenture without the admittedly high (but worth it!) admission price? Families who receive SNAP, WIC or Medicaid benefits receive $2 admission per person. (Must present proof of assistance i.e SNAP/Medicaid card or WIC Voucher).


Local Library

And remember: if you need the air conditioning and kid-friendly hangout time, the Richland Library and Lexington County Library are there for you. On any given day, at least one branch – and likely more – have a storytime or other event for your child. Sign up for the summer reading challenge while you’re at it. If you can’t make storytime, the Richland Library downtown branch always has tables and games set up in their super kid-friendly Children’s Library.