12 Outdoor Games You'll Want to Play All Summer Long
These backyard activities like croquet, bocce, badminton, and horseshoes will ensure an afternoon of fun in the sun.
After spending much of 2020 and 2021 away from our loves ones, being able to gather with family and friends is a welcomed treat. And if you're planning a get-together this summer, you definitely want to do it right. Organizing a few different backyard games ensures the entire family—both attendees young and old—have something to do all day long. To that end, we're sharing a variety of backyard games and activities to keep your family busy whenever weather permits.
No matter where you live, having a backyard means you have endless options for fun. While Martha live's full-time on her farm in Westchester County, New York and concentrates her efforts on maintaining healthy, green fields for the horses and donkeys and for occasional visiting livestock to graze on daily, she has kept certain areas of her property open and groomed for the express purpose of providing courts for some of her favorite lawn games, like badminton and croquet. Of course, each game has official rules and regulation-size playing areas, and you can be a gentle amateur or an aggressive, competitive player in any of these sports. All that really matters is that one gets outside, picks up a racket or a ball or a mallet and enjoys nature and friendship at its best.
Our founder explained that almost every suburban and country house had a patch of grass large enough for the family to put up a net and play a game of badminton during her upbringing. Plus, when she was growing up, many of her friends had a horseshoe court or a croquet lawn. Several even had the perfect spot-level and rectangular for a game of bocce. In addition to these Martha-approved favorites, we have plenty other backyard games you can create yourself. Customize classic yard games with a fresh paint job, and everyone will want to step right up. Cornhole and ring toss are two that will draw an all-ages crowd.
Ahead, find even more backyard games the whole family will enjoy all summer.
This classic game fits in perfectly for any occasion, whether you're hosting a refined garden party or a more laidback barbecue. The first team to maneuver their set of balls through the course (running all wickets and hitting both stakes) wins.
Shop Now: Vera for Anthropologie Picnic Travel Croquet Set, $34.95, anthropologie.com.
DIY stripes give basic cornhole boards and beanbags carnival-esque charm. Start with a plain, unpainted set. We used junior-size boards; they're much lighter than the four-foot regulation-size ones but don't diminish the fun. Paint them white and let them dry. Mask off stripes using two-inch painters' tape (or one-inch, for a narrower pattern). Paint the stripes blue and let dry, then remove the tape. If you plan to leave your boards outdoors, brush on a protective oil to keep them from getting weathered. Paint the canvas bags to coordinate, using the same technique. Paint on contrasting patterns to designate beanbags for two teams.
Shop Now: CornholeBoardsDOTus DIY Junior-size Cornhole Boards with Bags, 15" by 30", $39, cornholeboardsdotus.etsy.com; FrogTape Green Medium-Strength Painters' Tape, 0.94", $7 for 60 yd., and 1.88", $15 for 60 yd., acehardware.com; The Real Milk Paint Co. Milk Paint, in Faded Denim and Parchment, from $17 for 16 oz., realmilkpaint.com; The Real Milk Paint Co. Outdoor Defense Oil, from $21 for 16 oz., realmilkpaint.com.
A marbled finish turns empty wine or water bottles into a sleek set for ring toss. Squeeze dollops of two different colors of acrylic paint, thinned out with a little water, into a clear glass wine bottle. Roll the bottle around, swirling the paint, until the interior is fully covered in a marbled pattern; let dry. Paint plain wooden rings to match; let dry. To help the bottles stand up during games, funnel a little sand inside to weigh them down.
Shop Now: Martha Stewart Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic Craft Paint, in Watermelon and Wild Salmon, from $6 for 2 oz., amazon.com; North Mountain Supply W5 Flint Glass Bordeaux Wine Bottles, 750 ml, $22 for 12, amazon.com; Penta Angel Unfinished Natural Solid-Wood Rings, 80 mm, $9 for 10, amazon.com.
Just like lawn bowling, bocce requires a mix of skill and chance. Your family and friends will enjoy a day of fun under the sun playing this easy game. However, it will still require some essentials. In a game set, you will need eight large balls (in two colors) and one small pallino, or "jack," the target ball. From here, every team will toss the pallino or jack and every player will inch their way closer to the pallino, all while making sure their bocce balls stay in the court.
Shop Now: Pottery Barn Outdoor Bocce, $249, potterybarn.com.
Tin Can Toss Game
Come one, come all! Round up a group of friends and spend some time creating this fun game before actually playing it. Go above and beyond to customize the tin cans to your party theme: These cans can be decoupaged with patterned paper of your choice. As for the finished result? Alongside your loved ones, you will step right up to this retro carnival-inspired game in which cans are stacked and knocked down with a ball.
This pastime is as old as the Olympics. To play, you'll need two three-foot iron stakes and four steel horseshoes. The playing field is typically anchored by the two stakes that stand several feet apart with a pitchers box is marked around each stake. In a two-person game, players start at the same stake aiming to hit the stake with the shoe. Tip: How do you toss a horseshoe? For a flip, hold the middle, second from top. For a one-and-a-quarter and a one-and-three-quarter, the grip is along one shank; the names refer to the number of turns in the air before landing.
Shop Now: Franklin Sports Horseshoe Set, $39.99, target.com.
Leave bulky gear at home and hit the beach with a compact, portable game board fashioned from a place mat. Use fabric ink and a vinyl eraser or a simple stencil to create designs: tic-tac-toe on one side, checkers on the other. Gather stones or shells for game pieces—no worrying that one will get lost in the sand—and let the good times roll.
A simple round of badminton will get everyone excited to head outdoors. It's a family-friendly alternative to tennis that even young kids can get involved in. The rules are even easier to follow. Each player will need to hit the badminton ball to the other side of the court. This ball, also known as the "shuttle," can't hit the net, opposing players, or go out of bounds. The team with the most points will win the game.
Shop Now: Baden Champions Series Badminton Set, $100, dickssportinggoods.com.
Ombré Tumbling Tower Game
You know this one from your own childhood: Stack them high and remove a block, being careful to avoid their tumbling collapse. In this tower of wooden blocks, each one is painted with a pop of color.
You can build this fun lawn game in the days leading up to your outdoor celebration. Invite a few guests to play as everyone takes turns removing a block from the bottom or middle of the tower using only one hand. Whoever causes the tower to fall loses.
Sponge Ball Drop
What could be better on a hot, scorching day? Split into two teams and knockout every player on the opposing team by throwing and hitting them with—not hard-hitting dodge balls, but—soft, water-soaked sponge balls. Make a set of your own kitchen sponges, drench them in water, and get ready to get wet. These DIY toys can last way longer than water balloons, and they're much softer than regular sports balls you'd find elsewhere—you can even make them the day of the event by cutting new sponges directly out of the box.
Get in the football season by playing a gentler version of the game that kids (and adults) of all ages can enjoy! If you don't have the flag football belts at home, you can make similar simply by adding Velcro to your fabric belt and to the backs of homemade fabric flags. Each team should have an identifiable color. Set up the yard like a small football field, grab a foam football and have a fun competitive game to celebrate the beginning of fall!
Who doesn't love to swing? The object of this obstacle course is to get a good running start and keep knees high in order to clear the inflatable wading pool. Several big knots tied in the rope's end make it easy to grab. Plus, you can even get to swinging with this fun tire addition to your rope. Begin by drilling a 3/8-inch hole through the limb of a tree. Attach an eyebolt with a washer and locknut. Loop the rope around the tire; then tie a knot. Loop the other end around the quick link, adjusting the length as necessary (a tire should hang high enough so feet won't drag, but it should be low enough so kids can stop themselves); cut off any excess rope. Lastly secure the knot and fasten to the eyebolt, and you will be ready to hop on.