101 Free and Fit (ish) family days out in and around Epping Forest

Fit School, Epping: Pre and Post Natal Pilates and Fitness. Epping Forest and Essex family days out.

So you have your little darlings and you want to get out but there’s more to life (and fun with kids) than theme parks and traffic jams (not to mention cost to consider). A few years ago we asked our Facebook Community for some top tips on days out (or mornings) with children in the area. We came up with lots of ideas. Most include how to find a cup of tea (or when to bring your own).

They’re tried and tested but we’d love more. So if you know of a hidden gem do share in the comments.

Picnic on Swaines Green Meadow

Turn right if you’re facing Epping Primary School, then bear left and walk through the woods to pop out on the Swaines Green field / recreation ground (which is to the left of Epping Primary from the road. You can even get active on the wooden fitness equipment there.

*2019 Update* there’s now a charity in place to help develop Epping playgrounds, with Swaines Green recreation ground top of the agenda. Karen is a charity Trustee so there’ll be more information on this later in the year.

Explore Lea Valley Park

“We often go to Lea Valley Park on Sunday. Our family splits into cycling or pottering on the balance bike. The rafting at the White Water centre is fun to watch afterwards and there is also a good sandpit / beach area during the summer.”

If you want to stay longer and splash a little cash you can try Kayaking or Stand Up Paddle boarding from £7.50, children 8 and over. There’s also now a beach area and inflatables enough to keep you busy for an hour or two. You can also hire the summer beach area.

The cafés at the White Water Centre are great and have live entertainment throughout the summer.

Here’s another way to spend the day at Fisher’s Green: Park for free at Fisher’s Green car park* (turn in to Lea Valley Park Farms, then fork left), which has public toilets. Walk to White Water Centre and have a  picnic lunch at one of the tables on the terrace upstairs. Walk back via slightly different route. There are lots of birds, dragonflies, butterflies and flowers to spot and lots of bridges. Use Google maps to work out which path to take next.

You can also take a couple of hours to go round the 70 acre lake which can include some bird-watching in the hides and hop over to Cheshunt Lock on the way. The paths are bike, scooter and wheelchair friendly plus there’s a lovely picnic area near the car park.

*Please note: Since the time of writing parking charges have been introduced but are still under review.

Take a ramble to Connaught Water

Park here: <turn up road to High Beech off the roundabout by the Thai pub and swing a left to a little side road with parking at the end>, then walk/cycle to the waters/pond/lake and then up the hill to the cafe for reward .

Take on the Boulder Park at Fairlop Waters

Kids love to climb and you can go round the lake. There is an obstacle every few hundred meters.

“We recently went to Fairlop for a summer kids’ party. The free outdoor play area is great for a picnic and play (kids age 3-10 in our opinion) but there is a long winded parking payment system so leave an extra 5 minutes.”

Visit Great Notley Country Park

Great Notley park is a haven for families with plenty of playgrounds and well thought out tracks for little cyclists or little legs on scooters. 

Visit Hylands Park near Chelmsford

Hylands Park (home of the 3 foot festival) has a fantastic adventure playground as well as lots of space to run around. If you’re travelling from Epping you could pop in to Writtle’s Tiptree Tea Rooms for scones or lunch on the way home.

Be beach happy at Frinton-On-Sea

If you leave early doors it takes around 1 hour, 20 minutes to get there. Head for the seafront and park for FREE right by the beach. Frinton has glorious, unspoilt sand, perfect for playing and paddling and green lawns at the top of the cliffs for football (or whatever). Just take plenty of 20p pieces for the public loos (which are pristine). The fish and chip shop is (oddly enough) at the other end of the High Street to the beach but delicious and two small cod and chips fed a family of four- bargain!

“If you visit at low tide, the sea leaves small, shallow pools. Perfect for younger children.”

Dig in the Grange Farm Sand Pit

Visit Grange Farm, Chigwell for the sandpit and play area and there’s a small “wildlife” walk across the road too. All free. Toilets are on site but there’s no cafe so bring a picnic.

Bounce around at Jump Evolution in Romford

Not outdoorsy or free but a good rainy day option: 

“Jump Evolution in Romford is BR. ILL. IANT. Clean, well managed, huge, loads of different types of trampolining options from balance beams to monkey bars to trapeze swings, dodgeball and basketball areas as well as plain old jumping. The cafe on site is okay and it is on an industrial estate so you’ll have to plan food/snacks accordingly. It was about £6 for an hour of boucing per person I think plus obligatory socks. Kids LOVED it. The waiver and safety briefing video are both terrifying though.”

Splash around at Maldon

The splash park is awesome although a bit of a drive. There’s plenty of parking in the council carpark even on a sunny day (we visited on a 37 degree day last July).

There are also boats if you fancied a tour around the estuary.

“After our recent visit I’d recommend heading for the sandpit before the splash park. This way you don’t have to insert sandy, sticky (ice lollies) kids into a hot car. There are plenty of cruise boats if you fancy making a day of it.”

Explore King George Fields in Brentwood

There are playgrounds and lots of green space and for small additional charges – crazy golf and two splash pools (in season). There’s free parking, a cafe, ice cream truck and snack shop on site. Picnics welcome.

Take the train to the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green

A great day out and free (except for the tube trip to Bethnal Green). Visit the Childhood Museum, 5 mins walk from tube, free and fascinating. Then walk onto Victoria Park (around 20 mins) and they have fantastic splash pools and a great play area with different apparatus. It’s a good day out, just take a picnic.

Visit the Discover Centre in Stratford

If you want to see the exhibit, there’s a reasonable ticket price but some parts of the centre are free. There’s a fantastic play area and café, a buggy park, an outdoor play area and a lovely book shop with a great variety of authors from around the world.

Spend the day at The Olympic Park, Stratford

From the free water park to the kids’ playgrounds the Olympic Park is a brilliant day out and perfect if you have friends who live in or around London. Stick near the Aquatics Centre for the water park and playground (it’s easy to book the Aquatics Centre too and there are lots of summer events). Head further north to the Velopark for Tumbling Bay play area which is perfect for younger kids and those who like water play. There’s also a café and toilets next to Tumbling Bay.

Or try the RAF Museum

For a short trip around the North Cicrcular, The RAF Museum is also free. I’s great for a rainy day

Climb trees and watch planes at Hatfield Forest

Hatfield Forest is lovely, just by Stansted airport. There’s lots to explore and plenty of planes from the airport. Parking isn’t cheap (free for National Trust members) but it’s worth it for a vast green area to explore that’s well looked after. Head for the carpark right at the back where the decent café is.

Go wild at Cedars Park, Theobalds Grove

A great little find, slightly further afield is Cedars Park. There’s a tiger, an elephant and a camel (all wooden) for kids to climb on. Take chalk and scribble on the blackboard. Run up the mound and spiral down again and chase each other in the maze. The café is great and toilets are close by too. Perfect for little legs on scooters.

Check out the Gibberd Garden in Harlow

If you’re in Harlow there’s also Pet’s Corner, which has a lovely café next door and a short walk or scoot away is the recently refurbished Harlow Town Park. There are lots of events on during the summer months including a kids active day in July.

Spend a day in Cambridge

“…from Downing College in Cambridge to Grantchester along the River Cam, stopping for a picnic along the way.

“Set off about 11am, arrived at The Orchard Tea Room (made famous by Rupert Brooke) about 2pm. Had obligatory tea and cake, then I got a taxi back to Downing (£10) to fetch car.

“Walk from Cambridge to Grantchester was just under 4km, so you could walk back if you’ve got the time / older kids. The Tea Room is lovely – big orchard with tables and deckchairs, well worth a visit but does get busy.”

Leave the car behind for a half day walk through Epping Forest

For a local walk, head through the forest from Forest Side to Theydon, pop over the road to the park and duck pond, then get tube home again. Or do it the other way. Tube it to Theydon then walk back and pop into the Forest Gate Inn for an orange juice before heading home.

Or start at Forest Side, head towards Theydon, but cross road and take old driveway to Copped Hall front gates. Go through footpath gate to left of car gate, walk up estate road to Copped Hall and continue out of back entrance to estate, across cricket ground and back to Forest Side – 7.5km (but no cuppa’ to be had along the way).

Hunt for the Gruffalo (or Stick man) at Thorndon Park, Brentwood

The Gruffalo Trail in Brentwood (CM13 3RZ for sat nav)  makes for a fab morning or afternoon. There’s an enclosed picnic area with sandpits, toilet facilities and a cafe (for that all important cuppa). The car park machines only currently take old pound coins BUT do take cards. It’s around £3 to park and you’ll need 50p if you want to get the trail map. 

Go native at Parndon Wood Nature Reserve

The nature reserve occasionally has events showcasing different wildlife species. Plus there’s a 50p crafting and a coffee shop/toilets on site. Take a picnic and hire a bug hunting or pond dipping kit. Free parking.


Visit St Albans

St Albans is a fantastic place to meet if you have friends on the other side of the city. The Verulaneum park is pretty, with lots of space for little legs to run around.

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