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7 Family-Friendly Spring Trips You Can Afford
Discover enticing vacation ideas for the whole clan.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee offers educational, ranger-led programming for kids and colorful wildflowers for nature enthusiasts. (Getty Images)
With winter in full swing, chances are you and the gang are clamoring for a break. And while spring may seem far off, there's no better time to plan ahead. In just a few weeks, landscapes will erupt with brilliant floral displays, beckoning you to explore striking backdrops at top national parks or hit the road on a classic American road trip. Postage stamp-sized towns with plenty of culture and history will lure you to check out tucked-away attractions. And family-friendly festivals and events will entice you to embark on a nearby or far-flung adventure. Best of all, the short but sweet season will mark a brief window to enjoy reduced rates, few crowds and mild temperatures before the peak summer season.
To help you jump-start your trip-planning, U.S. News got the inside scoop from seasoned travelers to bring you seven affordable and fun spring vacation ideas well-suited for a variety of ages, interests and needs.
Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park(Getty Images)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
With educational, ranger-led programming for kids and the opportunity to capture colorful wildflowers in their full glory, spring marks an enticing time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, says Clem Bason, CEO of hotel-booking site GoSeek.com. The annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (April 11 to 15) includes guided nature walks and art lessons, among other activities. For the best accommodation rates, stay in Gatlinburg or Sevierville, Bason says. "Prices start at $65 a night for two-star hotels and can go as high as $150 for a four-star [from April 15 to 22]," he says. There are also a variety of budget-friendly cabin rentals and vacation-rental options, he adds, pointing to Smoky Mountain Dreams & Resort Rentals and Cabins of the Smoky Mountains as reputable options.
Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida(Getty Images)
If the kids are yearning for a little Disney magic, complete with character greetings and mouse ears, there's good news: "The springtime does offer fewer crowds than the summer," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. While you'll still have to pay a steep price for premium rides, there are ways to trim costs, he adds. "If you're committed to [Orlando's] Magic Kingdom, you can keep costs lower by booking a simple motel room and dining outside the parks. Downtown Disney offers casual dining for budget travelers, and there are fast-food options around the park as well," he explains. You can also trim costs at the Happiest Place on Earth by planning a trip at an off-peak time when kids are in school and snagging discounts and ticket promotions with MouseSavers.com, Bason adds.
Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain(Getty Images)
Barcelona may be best known for its impressive architecture, laid-back ambiance, mild climate and excellent cuisine, but it's also a great destination for bargain-hunters. According to an air travel analysis conducted by Expedia, average airfares have decreased by around 15 percent year over year to top cities across Europe, says Maureen Thon, a spokeswoman for Expedia. Average airfare to Barcelona is around $680, she explains, making it an ideal place to escape next season. Best of all, Barcelona offers plenty of free and inexpensive kid-friendly allures, from the bustling Boqueria Market to the fanciful Park Güell to the Tibidabo amusement park.
The Narrows, Zion National Park(Getty Images)
Zion National Park, Utah
With its jaw-dropping rock formations and landscapes, 120 miles of hiking trails and diverse flora and fauna, Zion offers a winning combination for active families looking to bond in the great outdoors. For a challenge, you and your clan can check out The Narrows for striking views of the surrounding canyon walls. While iconic, the arduous trek may not be safest to tackle with the little ones in tow, Bason cautions. Check the weather forecast and consult the National Park Service's website for the latest advisories. He suggests staying in nearby Springdale or St. George, Utah. "Springdale is more expensive since it's on the doorstep of the park. Prices start at $150 a night [from April 15 to 22]," he explains. Meanwhile, St. George offers affordable lodging options, with nightly stays at three-star hotels starting at $65 during the same time frame, he adds.
Las Vegas(Getty Images)
Sin City may not be the first place you think of for a family getaway, but "keep an open mind," Klee says. You can secure cheap airfare to Las Vegas come spring, plus you'll have access to all-you-can-eat buffet choices for picky eaters, world-class restaurants for grown-ups, sprawling pool complexes and kid-friendly entertainment like Cirque du Soleil, he explains. Best of all, Las Vegas offers an ideal springboard for exploring nearby outdoor attractions and parks, including Death Valley National Park in California and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Four-star hotels in Las Vegas are available starting at around $50 a night from April 15 to 22, he says.
Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.(iStockphoto)
Washington, District of Columbia
At the end of March, the District's marbled monuments are flanked by beautiful cherry blossoms. But taking in the scenery along the Tidal Basin isn't the only reason to plan a trip to the nation's capital. He points to the District as an ideal history-packed and kid-friendly locale to visit this spring, with free iconic attractions such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Even better, the public transit system is convenient and easy to use, allowing you to cut transportation costs. Plus, visitors can enjoy a variety of cost-effective accommodation options, he adds. Best of all, "airfare deals are easy to score since there are three airports to consider," he explains, emphasizing that more options and increased competition is good for your wallet.
Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park(Getty Images)
Grand Canyon, Arizona
It's hard to imagine a more memorable and exhilarating family trip than hiking, rafting, camping and sleeping beneath the stars at the Grand Canyon. You and the kids can take in striking rock formations, raft on the Colorado River and tag along free guided tours and programs with a park ranger. What's more, admiring the park's legendary backdrops can be done on a shoestring budget. If you don't want to plan a camping trip, consider staying away from the park grounds to secure the best rates. "I always suggest that folks stay in Flagstaff [Arizona] and commute over to the Canyon," Bason says. In family-friendly Flagstaff, he says you can find four-star hotels for around $100 a night from April 15 to 22.
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