2018 CHEAP & FREE SUMMER FUN

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Well, we only have FIVE ONE full week of school left until “I’m boooooored.” Be ready with this year’s list of CHEAP AND FREE SUMMER FUN!

This is a 5th year re-post. I have updated as much as I can, and will continue to do so as schedules are released. So, here is the highly anticipated list of summer fun to exhaust your children (2018)!  If you see, think of, or know of any others, send me an email!   GET READY TO HAVE A GREAT (CHEAP) SUMMER!

AND – Check out our extensive list of Vacation Bible Schools HERE!

ALSO – we have a newly published list of TONS of things to do within driving distance! Check that out HERE!

FREE SUMMER TITLE

Go to the Lakefront. What is more relaxing than being near water? The kids can play on the playground equipment, you can take a walk along the lake, take a bike ride, and just get out of the house for a while.

Mand lakefront playground
Photo Credit – Nola.com

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WATER FUN!

St. Tammany has access to a few beaches. Fontainebleau State Park has a lovely beach area. Park entrance fee is just $2.

There is also White Sands Lake Day Beach – just $15 for 12 and up, $10 for 3-11 and under 3 is FREE! This is a local beach located in Washington Parish that offers swimming, beaches, cabanas and inflatable water toys. Super fun and close by! They open May 6 this year!

WhiteSandsLakeWhiteSandswaterpark whitesandscabanas

Splashpads are a great way to cool off and burn off some energy! There is a splashpad just up the street from the Lakefront at the Mandeville Trailhead that will certainly exhaust, ahem…entertain the kiddos. Remember to bring your sunscreen! ! Kids are invited to enjoy the refreshing splash of the aquatic fountains March-October 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Mandeville Splash Pad
Photo Credit – Barrett House

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Coquille Parks and Recreations Splashpad open Monday-Sunday beginning on May 1st!

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Bogue Chitto State Park Splash Pad – Water Playground – Louisiana State Parks’ water playgrounds operate Tuesdays through Sundays, April 1 through October 31, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; the facilities will be closed on Mondays for cleaning and maintenance. Please contact the park directly, to confirm that the playground is open or for additional information.  $3 per person; Free for Seniors (62 and older) and children age 3 and under

Pearl River Splash Pad – James Lavigne Playground located behind the Town Hall, 39460 Willis Alley. The water park is open daily from sun-up to sun-down beginning the week school is out.
Everyone is welcome to enjoy the splash!

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Other Splash Pads

Heritage Park – 1701 Bayou Lane (behind the old Slidell Train Station on the Front Street)  Open daily from 6am -10pm

Fontainbleu State Park – Louisiana State Parks’ water playgrounds operate Tuesdays through Sundays, April 1 through October 31, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; the facilities will be closed on Mondays for cleaning and maintenance. Please contact the park directly, to confirm that the playground is open or for additional information. Mandeville ($3 per person entrance fee to park)

Abita Springs – has a Splash Pad, too. It is located near the Museum (Main Street), behind Abita Middle. This water feature has quickly become the favorite way for local kids to cool off on hot summer days.  Dozens of water jets spray Abita water high in there at varying heights and intervals for the children (and some grown-ups too!) to play under.
Shade areas and benches surround the popular play spot. Open during regular park hours: dawn till dusk.

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Visit Camp Salmen Nature Park – take a hike on a trail, visit some of the restorations, or let the kids play on the fun equipment! If you are a budding photographer, there are many fabulous photo opps out there. So, grab your kids, the camera and go play!

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Here are some points of interest from their website:

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Camp Salmen Nature Park is one of a string of beautiful natural areas on the nature-blessed North Shore. Besides having amenities like picnic pavilions, historic structures, meeting places and scenic Bayou Liberty, the park has four miles of footpaths, bike trails and boardwalks for close-up observation of nature.

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Illuminating the property’s heritage is a 200-year-old French Creole-style building, which was probably built in the first decade of the 1800s and served as the major trading post in the Bayou Liberty region for over a century. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

salmen playground

All photos of Salmen Nature Park provided by my friend, Angela Roques (Queen of Pops).

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CONCERTS:

Sunset at the landing

Sunset at the Landing Concert Series – The Sunset at the Landing Concert Series is a free, outdoor concert held every third Friday from March to October on Covington’s former Columbia Street boat landing, now a permanent performance stage overlooking scenic Bogue Falaya River.

Concerts feature regional and touring artists performing jazz, bluegrass, folk, blues and more.

All are encouraged to bring refreshments and chairs or blankets for lawn seating. Some bench seating is also available.

The series is sponsored by St. Tammany Homestead, the City of Covington and the Covington Farmers Market.

For more information, including current performing artists, please visit www.sunsetatthelanding.org.
Location: Columbia Street Landing on the Bogue Falaya River
Transportation/Parking: Free off-street parking
Hours: 6-9 p.m.
Admission: Free

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Jazz’n the Vines – All shows are Saturday evenings from 6:30 to 9 pm with gates opening at 5 pm:

AMANDA SHAW & THE CUTE GUYS APRIL 21st, 2018

DEBBIE DAVIS AND JOSH PAXTON MAY 5TH, 2018

GAL HOLIDAY & THE HONKY TONK REVUE MAY 19TH, 2018

RODDIE ROMERO & THE HUB CITY ALLSTARS JUNE 2ND, 2018

NEW ORLEANS SWAMP DONKEYS JUNE 16TH, 2018

THE IGUANAS plus FIREWORKS!!  JUNE 30TH, 2018

All shows are Saturday evening from 6:30 to 9 pm at Pontchartrain Vineyards!

Ticket sales for each concert go on sale the week after the preceding concert! SEE THIS PAGE to buy tickets. 

All shows 6:30 to 9:00 pm.  Gates open at 5:00Admission: $10.00/person. Pay at the gate. Children 17 & under FREE.

Bring:  Flashlight, umbrella, lawn chair, picnic dinner. Please do not bring:  Outside  alcohol, pets, fire or BBQ pits, sky lanterns.

Pontchartrain Vineyards wines and food from various Local Vendors will be available for purchase.

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Columbia Street Block Party – Downtown Covington – held the LAST Friday of each month – See classic cars, hear music and stroll the streets of beautiful, historic downtown Covington.

Columbia Block Party

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Geocaching! This is a very recent discovery for my family, but my kids are hooked! Get out and go geocaching! Download the FREE app – Geocaching and get started. Basically, you use your phone to go on a real life treasure hunt! The app will only show you things that are very nearby, so don’t think that there aren’t “caches” in your area. Trust me! They’re out there! I live in VERY rural St. Tammany and we have at least 5 within 5 miles of us. They are ALL over Covington. We did several yesterday afternoon. So far, the only ones we have found are just to sign/date the log and then record that you did find it on the app. This lets subsequent cachers know that someone found this one recently. It’s very fun and the kids are loving it! Totally free and it gets you out of the house!

This was our first find last year – Note the location!! Don’t let the kids go alone! Some are in pretty precarious positions!1st geocache

And another last year in downtown Covington:

IMG_2422Now as you get a little more involved, there are caches with “treasures” in them. You are supposed to take what you find and leave something of the same approximate value. We haven’t gone that far yet. But, I would love to know if any of you have, what types of things do you find? What do you leave?

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GO FISH!!!

Sign

Go fishing at the St. Tammany Fishing Pier – plenty of shade under the Twin Span bridges! Clean bathrooms.

Pier Entrance fees are $3.00 for individuals 12 and older to fish from the pier; visitors 12 and older who do not wish to fish from the Pier will be charged $1.00; and children under 12 can enter for free. Everyone must have a fishing license.
Visitors under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Pier hours are as follows: Monday and Tuesday, CLOSED
Wednesday through Sunday, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Remember children under 12 are always free.

Location:
54001 E. Howze Beach Road near Slidell, LA MAP
(East side of I-10, exit 261 by the shore of Lake Pontchartrain)

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Louisiana’s Free Fishing Weekend Set  – 2nd Saturday and Sunday in June

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries invites Louisianans of all ages to fish for free the first weekend in June without a fishing license on any of the state’s public waters.

Louisiana offers miles of shoreline and a myriad of freshwater lakes, marsh, and bayous to take opportunity of during this annual event.

The Department hopes the weekend will introduce newcomers, visitors and people with rusty skills to one of Louisiana’s most popular sports.  If you already have a fishing license, consider taking a friend or family member who has never been fishing.

Anglers are allowed to fish on all public bodies of waters without a license, but all fishing regulations still apply.

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Bogue Chitto Youth Fishing Rodeo – JUNE 9, 2018

Calling all kids from ages four to twelve! Whether you’re new to fishing or an experienced angler, join us for the “24th Annual Bogue Chitto Youth Fishing Rodeo,” Saturday, June 10, 2017, at the Pearl River Turnaround Fishing Access Site.

For a per child rodeo registration fee of $25, which supports the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, children receive a fishing rod, worms, a t-shirt, and the whole family gets lunch. Prizes are given for children’s age categories, and for categories of fish, as well as overall biggest fish.

Click here to download a Fishing Event Registration Form

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LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES!!

Regal Summer ExpressSo very excited that this came to Covington a few summers ago! Regal theater in Covington (behind Target and Best Buy) offers $1 movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These are older family movies and there will be 2 each week.

Movies are at 10am each day as listed below. There is no discount at the concession stand to go along with this offer. Get there early – lots of summer camps attend and they fill up fast!  The schedule below is for Covington Regal and is subject to change.

NEW EXTENDED SCHEDULE THIS SUMMER:

LOOK HOW MANY WEEKS THIS RUNS!!! 

Week 1 Tue. Jun 5 to Wed. Jun 6  – HOP & Max
Week 2 Tue. Jun 12 to Wed. Jun 13 – The Iron Giant & Curious George
Week 3 Tue. Jun 19 to Wed. Jun 20 – Despicable Me & Ice Age: Collision Course
Week 4 Tue. Jun 26 to Wed. Jun 27 –  Storks & Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Week 5 Tue. Jul 3 to Wed. Jul 4 – Despicable Me 2 & How to Train Your Dragon 2
Week 6 Tue. Jul 10 to Wed. Jul 11 – The Lego Movie & Alvin and the Chipmunks
Week 7 Tue. Jul 17 to Wed. Jul 18 –  Sing & The Peanuts Movie
Week 8 Tue. Jul 24 to Wed. Jul 25 – The LEGO Ninjago Movie & Ferdinand
Week 9 Tue. Jul 31 to Wed. Aug 1 – The Secret Life of Pets & Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Week 10 Tue. Aug 7 to Wed. Aug 8 – The Lego Batman Movie  & Trolls
Week 11 Tue. Aug 14 to Wed. Aug 15 – Minions & The Boss Baby
Week 12 Tue. Aug 21 to Wed. Aug 22 – Paddington 2 & Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Week 13 Tue. Aug 28 to Wed. Aug 29 – Despicable Me 3 & Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Week 14 Tue. Sep 4 to Wed. Sep 5 – Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax & Kung Fu Panda 3

***EACH WEEK, BOTH MOVIES PLAY ON BOTH DAYS***

SUMMER KIDS FLICKS – SLIDELL This is a great thing to do on rainy days, or just to get out of the house. GET THERE EARLY, it fills up quickly. $4 gets you a seat, a box of popcorn and a drink. GREAT deal!

 

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2017 NEW ADDITION!!!! MOVIE TAVERN IN COVINGTON!!

TUESDAYS & WEDNESDAYS AT 10AM. TICKETS AVAILABLE AT THE BOX OFFICE ON THE DAY OF EACH SHOW!

Same schedule as Grand Kid’s Flicks

Full menu is also available. Great for daycares, summer camps and large groups. All movies rated G or PG. Box office opens at 9:30AM. Movie begins at 10AM.
To book a large group contact SpecialEvents@movietavern.com.

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FREE MOVIE NIGHTS IN SLIDELL – 2018 Schedule

Here is a Fun Summer activity…..and it’s FREE! Bring a blanket or bag chairs and relax outside with these classic films!

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Covington Louisiana Actors Playhouse Series – at Covington High Auditorium – This group puts on a few plays over the summer and are they are FABULOUS! We have seen several and can’t wait to catch more this year! Students are $8 and adults are $10. Introduce your kids to stories without a screen!  Schedule below:

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ROLLER SKATING!!!! 

Skaters Paradise in Slidell: (this is an older schedule. Call to verify before going. Will update asap.)

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Sun Town Hall – $5 per kid – Each FRIDAY Night

First SATURDAY of the month is to benefit Fire District 9 – 7 pm to 10 pm, for a fun night of skating! Only $5.00 per person. Concessions will be sold.

Also by Fire District 9 – YOUTH FIRE CAMP! Very affordable camp!!

St. Tammany Fire District 9 * Fire Camp – REGISTER HERE

 

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READ! READ! READ! 

That’s what all the teachers say to do over the summer to prevent your kids from forgetting or sliding back before the next grade!

Each year, the St. Tammany Parish Library Children’s Department hosts a Summer Reading Program for ages 0-11 years old. Registration usually begins in late May. Visit our library at www.sttammanylibrary.org to register.

This year’s program is: LIBRARIES ROCK!

 

Story Time at each Branch is FREE.  Get the details for your local branch HERE

There are also plenty of programs for the bigger kids and teens. Find the TEEN PAGE HERE.

Other Reading Programs:

Barnes & Noble – 

Kids Earn a Free Book!

Barnes-_-Noble Summer 16

Here is How

The Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program is here to help you on your way, encouraging you to read books of your own choosing and earn a FREE book, simply by following these three easy steps:

1. Read any eight books this summer and record them in your Summer Reading Journal (English or Español). Tell us which part of the book is your favorite, and why.
2. Bring your completed journal to a Barnes & Noble store between May 16th and September 5th, 2017. Find a Store
3. Choose your FREE reading adventure from the book list featured on the back of the journal.


Chuck E. Cheese

Each time your child reads for 2 weeks in a row, they will earn 10 FREE tokens at Chuck. E. Cheese! Head on over here to print the form. Valid through 12/31/16 at participating locations. Food purchase required for redemption. Limit 1 of any free token offer per child per day. **they actually have TONS of reward calendars for everything from reading to not picking your nose! HA!  See them all HERE!

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Home Improvement/Craft Workshops  

Home Depot – First Saturday of the month – FREE – CLICK HERE to register for these

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See the full list of FREE KIDS CLASSES at Pelican Park HERE. Calendars appear to be posted monthly.

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 Michael’s Camp Creativity:  Click here for more info –

STRIKE!!!!!

Kids Bowl Free

Kids Bowl Free in Hammond, Houma and Baton Rouge. Kids get up to 2 free games per day! See their page for more info and see THIS page for a list of Louisiana participating bowling alleys.

***If you have an activity that you would like me to add to this list, please either message me on Facebook or email to kari@northshoremama.com and put FREE SUMMER as the subject. It’s too much to keep up with by just comments here. Thanks for the kind words and I am thrilled that you all enjoy this list!

 

 

Are you saving up for Christmas 2018? A vacation? Swagbucks can help!

This post may contain sponsored or affiliate links.

One of the best things that I have been able to do the last few years, was to earn free gift cards that I then use to Christmas shop.

I do the VAST majority of my shopping on Amazon because of the amazing deals that I find. BUT! Above and beyond the great prices and free shipping….it’s even better than that when you have credits in your Amazon account and those smoking deals become SMOLDERING Freebies! This Christmas season, I cashed out over $800 in free gift cards using this program alone!

I know that many of my readers are on the Swagbucks bandwagon, but some new folks may not quite understand it. So, if you are new and don’t have a clue what a Swagbuck is, YOU NEED TO!

Here is a testimonial from a friend of my brother. She and I connected while he was fighting cancer this summer. She joined the blog and joined Swagbucks…..read her story….

I wanted to take a minute and thank you for sharing about swagbucks on your blog this summer, About 2 weeks after I joined my little brother was in a horrific wreck and in the hospital for 3 months in bad shape, having multiple surgeries daily. When I spent the night with him in the hospital I would take a thermos and do swagbucks on my tablet -all night to stay awake if he needed anything. The result of all that is all 3 grandbabies are getting very nice motorized riding toys for Christmas, both sons and daughter in laws got nice gift wrapped Omaha steak gift sets shipped to them and after last weeks blizzard I ordered a nice generator during amazon sales! I still have a couple hundred swagbucks for after christmas sales too. Thanks so much for sharing the info it not only earned some nice extras it also gave me something to work on at the hospital during a bad time and that helped me stay calm. THANKS!

That honestly brought tears to my eyes! I use it to pay for Christmas, but….WOW….that it gave her entire family Christmas all the while keeping her mind busy during a crisis was just amazing!

I talk about Swagbucks ALL the time….I have since I started using them in 2009. See, all you have to do is use them as your search engine and you will win SBs or SwagBucks from time to time. (Not every search, mind you!) You then cash these points out for gift cards from hundreds of top retailers like Amazon, Home Depot, CVS, JCP, many restaurants and much more! I save mine up and use them to pay for Christmas! Although, from time to time I will cash out a hundred or two dollars in PayPal cash when I am in a pinch! It’s great to know that this “Lagniappe Money” is there when I need it.

There are many ways to earn your bucks, but I mostly do the searches, codes and REFER-A-Friend, obviously!

Bigger gift cards are less points per dollar, but you can start off small, too!

Each month, you will be able to redeem 2,200 Swag Bucks for one $25 Gift Card OF YOUR CHOICE once a month. This gift card discount only excludes PayPal and Gas Cards. That’s a savings of $3 right there, and the incentive to save your bucks and cash out for a bigger payoff! (This is what I do for Christmas shopping!)

But, don’t be upset and think that you will never get to that point. You will!! But, if you -for whatever reason – prefer the smaller, quicker payouts, there is good news for you too!
They offer a new $3 Amazon Gift Card which is only 300 SB.

The $3 Amazon Gift Card allows you to redeem faster and get that quicker gratification! Most other retailers have $5 Gift Cards at 500 SB.

If you are not using this program, you should be! This is how I have paid for Christmas for the last several years. I save up my Swagbucks all year and cash them out around October or November for Christmas Shopping!  But you can use it to save for ANYTHING!

That’s it. It’s super easy, and Swagbucks is for real. I have used it myself for over 8 years now, and I’ve earned over $5000 in FREE GIFT CARDS! That helps take the sting out !

Want some extra boost for your budget this month? 

If you haven’t tried Swagbucks before, you can get a bonus $3 for signing up as my referral in March. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you’re probably doing online already, like searching, watching videos, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, or PayPal cash.

When you sign up through me, you can earn an additional $3 bonus! Here’s how:

1. Sign up using this link

2. Earn 300 SB total before 4/1/18. You’ll get a $3 (300 SB) bonus for it!

3. If you want even more bonuses, you’ll get a $10 (1000 SB rebate) bonus for making your first shop purchase! That’s in addition to the SB you earn for every dollar you spend.

Swagbucks has issued a challenge to me this month and I would love to sign up 40 new friends/referrals! So, if you would like to earn free gift cards, this is a great, free and TOTALLY legitimate way to do it, CLICK HERE and  you use my very own special code NORTHSHORE70 to get bonus points at sign-up!


MONSTER JAM is COMING!! MONSTER JAM is COMING!! #spon #giveaway

This post may contain sponsored or affiliate links.

 

I am a Feld Family Ambassador, and in exchange for my time and efforts in attending shows and reporting my opinion within this blog, as well as keeping you advised of the latest discount offers, Feld Entertainment has provided me with complimentary tickets to Feld shows and opportunities to attend private Feld pre-show events.  Even though I receive these benefits, I always give 100% my own opinion.***

So my kids love Monster Trucks. They got some for Christmas last year and ever since, any truck with big wheels, they decide to call Monster Trucks. Well I am SO EXCITED that we FINALLY get to go see the real ones next weekend at the Superdome!!

Want to know why YOU should take your kids to Monster Jam?? Read 5 Reasons Why here!

Be sure to head over to your nearby Ford Dealer and get FREE Pit Passes!! This will save you abut $10 per person!!

AND!!! Do you want to get the kids excited BEFORE the event?! Head to Chick-fil-A on Highway 190 in Covington on Jan 24 from 4-8 where you can see one of these trucks UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL!! Get the details for this event here

The Slidell Chick Fil A at Gause will have a truck at their location on January 25 from 4-8pm! Get info on THAT even HERE.

Here are some details about this year’s event…

Monster Jam will be performing at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday, January 27, 2018. Gates open at 5:30 PM, and opening ceremonies and racing start at 7 PM.

The event will feature 14 trucks and drivers vying to be the New Orleans champion, including: Grave Digger®; Soldier Fortune; El Toro Loco and many more. (Trucks/drivers subject to change without notice.)

Monster Jam® is adrenaline-charged family entertainment providing jaw-dropping displays and gravity-defying feats that promise to always leave fans entertained. Monster Jam events feature some of the most recognizable trucks in the world including Grave Digger®, Soldier Fortune, El Toro Loco® and many more. World-class drivers push these perfectly-engineered Monster Jam trucks to their limits in Freestyle, “2-Wheel Skills” and Racing competitions that will put families on the edge of their seats and leave them craving more of this unexpected, unscripted and unforgettable event!

The Monster Jam Pit Party, which will take place on Saturday, January 27, from 2:30 PM – 5:30 PM, provides unprecedented access to the Monster Jam trucks and drivers. This unique experience in the world of motorsports gives fans access to see the trucks up close, take pictures, meet the drivers and get their autographs.

New in 2018, the Pit Party Early Access Pass is available to every fan who purchases a ticket to the event. The pass provides early entry into the Pit Party from 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM and serves as the regular Pit Party pass from 2:30 PM – 5:30 PM. Monster Jam drivers will depart from the Pit Party at 5 PM. The Pit Party Early Access Pass must be accompanied by an event ticket, and quantities are limited.

Tickets and Pit Party Passes are available at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Box office in advance, online at www.ticketmaster.com, or charge by phone at 800-745-3000. Same day event ticket and pit pass required for entry to pit party. All seats reserved. Subject to facility fee, plus convenience and handling charges. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is located at 1500 Sugar Bowl Drive, New Orleans, LA 70112.

For more information on a Monster Jam, please log onto www.MonsterJam.com (click on “Tickets” and search for New Orleans) or follow us via our social channels below:

• Facebook: www.facebook.com/MonsterJam

• Twitter: www.twitter.com/MonsterJam

• Instagram: www.instagram.com/MonsterJamLive

• YouTube: www.youtube.com/MonsterJamLive 

 

Fill out the Rafflecopter below.

PLEASE READ THIS FIRST:

*Comments for this giveaway are to be left BELOW the rafflecopter HERE ON THIS BLOG POST, Not on Facebook.

*If you do not understand how to do the rafflecopter, watch this video. 

*If you can’t leave a blog comment (you will have to scroll down past the 230+ comments that are there), reboot your device and try again.

*If you do not have Twitter, no problem, but do not give yourself entries for Twitter follows or Tweets. If I can’t find you, you will not win.

*If you already follow any social media platform listed, simply click to get the entries and I will find you. You do not have to do anything else if you already do so.

*PLEASE NOTE – If you win on a task that you do not complete, you will be disqualified. Example: If you earn entries for leaving a blog post comment and do not leave that comment, you will not win. I do verify each entry prior to announcing a winner.

Now for the Giveaway!!! Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway

10 FREE things to do in the Smoky Mountains

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To be known for being such a tightwad and never paying full price, we sure do travel a lot! There are several reasons for that.

One – We bought a small package of time share points as a spontaneous, knee jerk reaction. While I don’t suggest doing that, if you REALLY want to, send me a message and I will tell you more about it. I am not going to recommend doing that because it wasn’t the best financial decision, but it is done and now we have learned how to make the best of it. It has made us travel with our kids more, we have given our parents trips and spent Thanksgiving week with my parents and brother. No regrets…AND, it’s almost paid off, so even better.

Two – I have learned how to get around having ridiculously expensive trips. I have blogged many of these tips over the past 7 years and will continue to do so.

Three – We have learned to love the great outdoors as much as we love any mouse or theme park. The difference is that the great outdoors don’t cost a thing!

I have been to the Smoky Mountains 6 times over the past couple of years using my time share points, so I don’t have to pay for a hotel. We cook in the room a good bit, so that helps. We also take full advantage of the things to do there that cost nothing. We have a fabulous time and hate to leave each trip. So, here are some things that I want to share with you to help do the same. (All photos below are mine, taken within the last 3 years)

FREE THINGS TO DO IN THE SMOKIES

1. Cades Cove

Cades Cove is an 11 mile, one way loop, that winds through a valley encircled by the Great Smoky Mountains. It is a fabulous place to see beautiful scenery, wildlife, history and just be at peace. There is no cell signal in there, so you only need your phone to take pictures.

There are hiking trails within the Cove, old homesteads that you can walk through as well as old cemeteries and fabulous spots for picnics. We have seen coyote, deer, turkey and the holy grail is to see bears! We haven’t been lucky enough to see them lately, but we are always watching for black spots as we drive through.

       

Cades Cove is about 24 miles out of Gatlinburg, but the winding road between mountains and streams makes the drive over an hour long. It’s a beautiful drive, but don’t think you will be there in 30 minutes. The Cove is open year round from sunrise to sunset, weather permitting. PLEASE NOTE – Cades Cove Loop Road is closed on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, from May through September, until 10 a.m. for those who want to walk or bicycle the loop.

 

2. Roaring Fork Motor Trail 

I call Roaring Fork “Cades Cove’s Little Cousin”. It’s another one-way driving loop. But it is IN Gatlinburg, is much shorter and is in the mountains rather than a valley. For this reason, it is often closed during winter months due to the higher elevations having icy roads and conditions.

Roaring Fork has several scenic outlooks where you can pull over and just take in the view. The last time we did see a bear, it was on Roaring Fork. We have also had deer walk right in front of us and often see large flocks of turkeys.

Note the old cabin in the upper left corner. Yet another historic homestead that you can explore. *Please don’t write your name on the walls in a Sharpie (sigh)*

There are cabins and homesteads and lots of trailheads along the motor trail, which means that there are hiking trails. But even if you don’t hike a trail, park the car, get out and walk around. We found a GORGEOUS little place that was less than a 3 minute walk from a parking lot. Even though I now know that it isn’t terribly unique, it was the first thing we found out exploring and we go back to “Mama’s favorite spot”, as my boys call it, every trip.

We pull over at roadside waterfalls for picnics, and climb up huge rocks to explore caves. It’s truly a fabulous little journey!

3. Place of 1,000 Drips

At the end of the Motor Trail, just before you get back into Gatlinburg, you will pass the Place of 1,000 Drips. I left my son in this pic rather than cropping him out so you could see how big this 30′ tall drippy spot is compared to his little 7 year old body. My older son and hubby climbed to the top and looked in the cave. **Bring a flashlight, it was too dark, so they didn’t go in.

You can park on the right side of the road and the falls are on the left. The amount of flow is determined by how much rain has recently fallen. It’s usually pretty low, hence the name. But it’s a great place to pull over, climb and take some cool photos!

4. Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin and Nature Trail

This is one of the first places to stop on the way to Roaring Fork. It is on the lower road that leads to the Motor Trail, but this part isn’t closed for weather as often.

While there are several of these type of things in the area, The Ogle Cabin one is close to town and easy to google to find it. The cabin was built in 1879 and in 1977, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Walk through the cabin and barn and imagine yourself as Laura Ingalls. Or at least, that’s what I do. ;)

I am in awe of the workmanship and think of how hard it must have been to create these buildings in that time.

When you have gotten your fill of the cabin and barn, there is a Nature Trail in the back that leads to a river. This is about a .5 mile path that leads you over rocks and downed trees. It is not a difficult trail, but you will have to climb over these things, so not super friendly for strollers or wheelchairs. It’s a great first hike for little kids, too!

At the river, you will find an old mill. Explore the structures, and walk out on the large rocks in the river. There are plenty places that you can stand on out in the water and just be at peace. I could literally do this ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY.

5. Sugarlands Visitor Center

Want to learn a bit more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Then you need to stop in the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Watch a 20 minute film about the park, check out an awesome gift shop/bookstore and talk to Park Rangers for all their expertise on the park. The Visitor Center opens at 8am every day except Christmas Day.  There is a 15 minute hike to the lovely Cataract Falls (see photo at bottom of post) directly behind the Center that is a stroller and wheelchair friendly path.

While at the Center, you can grab a log book to track all your hikes. You can get one for you as an individual or for the whole family. Collect stickers as you reach certain mileage thresholds, and then collect pins at some of the larger milestones. I think the books were $1 or so, but the stickers and pins are free.  We just earned our 25 mile pins on the last trip! We have logged close to 40 miles together as a family!

The Visitor Center offers Ranger led programs at different times of year. It is also a great place to stop for a potty break before heading into the wilderness! They have large restrooms in a separate building.

6. Bush’s Bean Factory

The Bush’s Bean Factory is about a 30 minute ride from Gatlinburg. Watch a very entertaining and informative film about the company, the Bush family and DUKE! Then, you can go on a scavenger hunt of sorts in the museum. Have your photo made with Duke (not the real one) at the end. You will complete your visit in an ADORABLE little gift shop with tons of trendy farmhouse items, as well as plenty of Bush’s products and memorabilia!

There is a cafe on site and the actual factory is across the street. You do not go into the factory, but the visit, film, photo opp and scavenger hunt are all totally free.

#6 1/2 -On the way back to town, you may want to take a detour to see the Historic Harrisburg Covered Bridge. It is just a couple of miles off the main road that you took to get to Bush’s. Then, take the backroads ride back into town through a countryside filled with lovely homes and stunning views.  It leads you right back into Pigeon Forge if you are headed that way.

The bridge was built in 1875 and restored in 1972. A federal grant allowed for complete restoration to as close to the original structure as possible and that work was completed in 2005.

7. Elkmont Campground

Elkmont Campground is located about 8 miles out of Gatlinburg. It is between Sugarlands Visitors Center and Townsend, in the vicinity of Laurel Falls trailhead. Look for the big sign on the left.

If you are into hiking, you may have heard of the Troll Bridge (pictured at top). It is located in the old Elkmont Campground, just off the Little River Trailhead. Even if you are not into hiking, you can easily check out this unique little spot. The bridge is less than a 3 minute walk, yet so many have trouble finding it. There are so many unique and interesting buildings and it is all free to check out!

This old abandoned campground was where the wealthy from Knoxville “Summered” back in the mid-1900’s. Some of the cabins are being torn down amidst lots of controversy and conflict over whether they are “historical landmarks” or dilapidated eyesores. But many of their chimneys still stand making for interesting photo opps!

In fact, about 2 minutes from the trailhead, look for THIS chimney with the concrete “benches” on your left….just after you pass it, there is an unmarked opening/semi-trail on the right. That leads you to the bridge. It is located between 2 old cabin sites.

These cabins were torn down as recently as 2017, but there are still some that I found in November and fell in love with. You can walk though the old cabins of an area called Daisytown.  I didn’t even really know about this area, but we stumbled upon it after locating the troll bridge.  I found these little jewels and they became the setting for our family photos and Christmas cards!

This is the Trentham Cabin and my favorite! The cobblestone skirting, the red windows, the old barn doors, the corner joints…… that chimney, though….

When I saw this one, it SCREAMED Christmas Card. I had planned ahead and brought a wreath and hanger and that little touch made the perfect backdrop for our cards this year. We only explored 3 minutes worth of Little River trail, found the troll bridge and then hung out in Daisytown in November, but we have plans to go back and see what else we can find!

 

8. Newfound Gap 

Drive over the Newfound Gap to see stunning views.  This winding road (you can see it the photo below) takes you up and over the mountains and back down into neighboring North Carolina. Cherokee is just over the mountains, but takes about an hour to get there. It’s a gorgeous drive and a fun one if you like that kind of thing.

When you get to the top, there are various places to pull over and take it all in. It is truly a breathtaking view from up there! If you do this in the winter, please be advised of a few things. You are taking 441 out of Gatlinburg for this ride. This seems to be one of the first roads to close in icy conditions. So, be sure to check on that before you begin your journey. You can  call 1 865-436-1200. #2, #2 for updates on the roads, or follow Smokies Road info on Twitter. 

Also, if it is a tolerable 40 degrees in Gatlinburg, it is likely to be a frigid and windy 20 up on top. We watched the temp drop 20 degrees as we reached the peak, and then climb that same 20 degrees as we came down into North Carolina. Be prepared for crazy cold, unforgiving wind and super fast photos because IT. IS. COLD up there, y’all!

9. Clingmans Dome

At 6,643 feet, this is the highest point in the Smokies! Located on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, you can climb the half mile, paved trail then walk up to the lookout. Don’t let the short distance fool you. This non-hike kicked my booty! It is rather steep and very high altitude…yeah, that’s what we will say…it was the altitude.

Once, you reach the tower entrance, you walk what we called the “LSU Stadium Ramp” up and around to the observatory. It was a bit easier to handle than the walk up there. Except when I found a spot of snow covered ice.

The tower was closed in mid-2017 for some renovations, but re-opened in November. Much to my husband’s delight, we were able to make it up there after all. We had been reading that it was closed and it suddenly re-opened. Nice surprise!

If the weather is right, you can see 100 miles and 7 states from the tower. Totally worth it, but MAN! That’s a tough walk. Stroller and wheelchair friendly, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to push anything up that hill! (See left below).  If you notice the stunning views in the lower right photo, just above my son’s head to the right…that white curve is the parking lot. It’s half a mile, and it’s paved, but what a doozy!!

10. GO HIKING!

I could number this one 10 – 10,000,000. Y’all…I wish that I had started doing this before I was in my 40s! I absolutely LOVE hiking in the Smokies! I have always wanted to get out and explore the rivers and such when I was there as a child, but we were always headed somewhere else. So, I told my husband that I wanted to do that a few years ago.

Once we started exploring, we realized that there was so much more to see than go-karts and theme parks. So, we started with some short trails and became completely addicted. It is so peaceful, albeit sometimes strenuous. There are no screens, except for pictures. You stumble upon all sorts of things along the way, and usually get some big payoff of a waterfall or stunning view at the end.

We have logged almost 20 miles as a family over the last few years of Mardi Gras weeks, and in November, we got the log book to track it all. The history, the nature, the beauty, the peace, the fresh air…..it is simply magnificent. I think about what trail we will conquer next ALL. THE. TIME.

I joined a Facebook group dedicated to Hiking the Smokies and seeing those photos in my newsfeed all the time keeps it in the forefront of my mind. It also shows me things that we need to find on our next journey. It was on that page that I learned about the Elkmont Campground, the troll bridge and all the adorable cabins there.

I use this blog as my bible for hiking. I love that is allows you to sort the list of trails by location, length, difficulty and alphabetical order. It also gives you specific distances of points of interest along the trails. I read this blog all the time.

(l) Abrams Falls (back of Cades Cove) Feb ’17  (r)Cataract Falls (behind Visitor Center) Feb ’16

These photos below are from the Alum Cave Trail in November 2017. It is my current favorite. At 4.4 miles round trip, there is ALWAYS something cool to see and the payoff at the cave is breathtaking. We only hike a couple of times a year, and have managed about 5-6 miles at a time. This hike took us less than 2 hours to reach the Cave. Then, we took our time coming back down and stopped to take lots of pictures. Less than 4 hours total. My absolute favorite to date.

Above left -Arch Rock is 1.3 miles in. The rock was hollowed by freezing and thawing over and over. Stairs lead you up and out the top of the rock. Above right – I love love love all the little bridges along these trails.

Lower – taken at Alum Cave. The views up there are ridiculous.

Have I missed anything? What are some of your favorite FREE things to do while vacationing in the Smokies?

 

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FREE 8×10 PRINT IS BACK! Ends Tonight!

This post may contain sponsored or affiliate links.

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