10 Cheap Summer Vacation Destinations

Find your perfect hiking trail, beach escape or city getaway without bursting your budget.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Cheap Summer Vacation Destinations

Group of friends dancing together at a beach party.
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Start planning your trip to these budget-friendly summertime spots.

Planning a summer escape seems simple – until you factor in choosing a destination that fits all of your travel companions' needs, tastes and vacation styles. After pinpointing a region that appeals to the group, you must select a place that offers activities, accommodations and natural attractions catering to the interests of kids, outdoorsy types, crowd-averse pals, sun worshippers and the like. And then there's the matter of finding a spot that offers immersive and memorable vacation experiences, even on a tight budget. That's why we've tapped top travel experts to deliver a list of diverse and cost-effective summer vacation options. Whether you want adventure or relaxation, culture or history, a coastal retreat or an off-the-beaten-track getaway, there's an inexpensive locale for you to explore this summer.
A young woman walks up a narrow stair set winds down to a overlook of Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
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Yellowstone National Park

If you're traveling with a group of outdoor enthusiasts, it's hard to top the natural attractions, scenic hiking trails, ranger-led programs and wildlife-spotting opportunities available at Yellowstone. And with the upcoming National Park Service centennial fast approaching on Aug. 25, park visitors can take advantage of free admission from Aug. 25-28, says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. Even if you're planning to embrace the great outdoors earlier in the summer, weeklong admission to the park costs just $30 (if you're entering with a noncommercial vehicle; admission is $15 for visitors entering on foot or by bike). And Klee points out that "once you're inside, most attractions are 100 percent free." Besides myriad natural wonders, from Old Faithful geyser to Mammoth Hot Springs, there are also activities geared toward a variety of age groups and even evening campfire talks, Klee says. Plus, visitors can expect plenty of cheap lodging choices, from cabins to lodges to more than 2,000 first-come, first-served campsites. For example, the popular Lewis Lake Campground area, located just eight miles from the park's south entrance near Lewis River Canyon, offers nightly rates starting at $15.
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Start planning your trip to these budget-friendly summertime spots.

Planning a summer escape seems simple – until you factor in choosing a destination that fits all of your travel companions' needs, tastes and vacation styles. After pinpointing a region that appeals to the group, you must select a place that offers activities, accommodations and natural attractions catering to the interests of kids, outdoorsy types, crowd-averse pals, sun worshippers and the like. And then there's the matter of finding a spot that offers immersive and memorable vacation experiences, even on a tight budget. That's why we've tapped top travel experts to deliver a list of diverse and cost-effective summer vacation options. Whether you want adventure or relaxation, culture or history, a coastal retreat or an off-the-beaten-track getaway, there's an inexpensive locale for you to explore this summer.

Yellowstone National Park

If you're traveling with a group of outdoor enthusiasts, it's hard to top the natural attractions, scenic hiking trails, ranger-led programs and wildlife-spotting opportunities available at Yellowstone. And with the upcoming National Park Service centennial fast approaching on Aug. 25, park visitors can take advantage of free admission from Aug. 25-28, says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. Even if you're planning to embrace the great outdoors earlier in the summer, weeklong admission to the park costs just $30 (if you're entering with a noncommercial vehicle; admission is $15 for visitors entering on foot or by bike). And Klee points out that "once you're inside, most attractions are 100 percent free." Besides myriad natural wonders, from Old Faithful geyser to Mammoth Hot Springs, there are also activities geared toward a variety of age groups and even evening campfire talks, Klee says. Plus, visitors can expect plenty of cheap lodging choices, from cabins to lodges to more than 2,000 first-come, first-served campsites. For example, the popular Lewis Lake Campground area, located just eight miles from the park's south entrance near Lewis River Canyon, offers nightly rates starting at $15.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Along the East Coast, you'll find plenty of affordable summer escapes that are relatively inexpensive, says Clara Sedlak, senior special projects editor at Jetsetter.com. She points to Salt House Inn, a boutique property in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as a budget-friendly favorite. Nightly rates are currently listed at an average of $210 per night for a weeklong stay in June. Plus, goSeek lists hotels in Cape Cod for under $100 in June. And amid Cape Cod's quaint cottages and clam shacks, you'll also find affordable (and free) attractions, from picturesque bike trails to idyllic sands along the 40-mile-long National Seashore (admission is $3 from May to September). If you're itching for more activity, hit the scenic Cape Cod Rail Trail, which snakes through the lower Cape, or check out the rugged landscape and plentiful migratory seabirds and seals at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.

Porto, Portugal

For those yearning to get off the grid and explore a new coastal retreat this summer, Porto, perched on Portugal's scenic River Douro, is a compelling option. Lisbon's neighbor on the northern coast "has cemented its place on the global cultural map thanks to a crop of design-forward guesthouses, eye-catching art galleries and standout restaurants," Sedlak says. This summer, art aficionados can check out the Serralves Foundation's contemporary art museum while architecture enthusiasts take in striking views of the graceful Dom Luís I Bridge and wine lovers make their way to Vila Nova de Gaia, a neighborhood to the south that's known for it's top-notch wineries. Plus, you can tack on a trip to nearby Lisbon, and take in its rich cultural heritage and affordable sights, without paying a steep price tag. "Every year, we think Lisbon is going to blow up for leisure travel, and every year it stays decidedly, blissfully low-key. Go to Portugal and truly get away from it all," Klee says. Google currently lists round-trip flights from New York City airports to Porto starting at $799 in July and round-trip flights from San Francisco International Airport starting at $1,351 for the same time period.

Madrid

"The good news about travel this summer is that flight costs are down and the dollar is stronger than ever," Sedlak says. Beyond inexpensive spots like Lisbon, Athens and Dubrovnik, Croatia, there are plenty more destinations with reduced airfare, including Madrid, which the travel app Hopper predicts will be about 15 percent lower in 2016. Madrid also features a smattering of bargain-friendly and culture-rich attractions, from the free Retiro Park and El Rastro (a sprawling open-air flea market), to the must-see Prado Museum and the Palacio Real. If you're traveling with kids, make sure to check out the planetarium, which offers free admission and hands-on exhibits. And thanks to Madrid's cheap and simple-to-navigate metro system, it's easy to trim transportation costs. Google Flights currently lists round-trip flights from airports in the District of Columbia to Madrid starting at $792 in June and round-trip flights from Chicago airports starting at $1,008 for the same time period.

Palm Springs, California

The summer is an ideal time for budget-minded visitors to check out places like Palm Springs, California, with up to 50 to 75 percent in savings compared to winter's highs, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo.com. In fact, goSeek lists average nightly rates around $100 in Palm Springs in June. And Google Flights shows low-cost round-trip airfare from major hubs across the East Coast. For example, round-trip flights from New York City airports start at $408 in July and round-trip flights from Boston's Logan International Airport start at $330, making flights in the summertime a bargain. While temperatures tend to soar in the summer months, often reaching triple digits, if you don't mind the desert heat, you'll find fascinating indoor and outdoor attractions to pique your interest, from the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway to the nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

Scottsdale, Arizona

If you love the heat and striking desert scenery, the Valley of the Sun offers an excellent choice for frugal families, Klee says, pointing out that come summertime, the area's upscale hotels and resorts offer reduced pricing, and low-cost flights are aplenty. "It's also coming up as a world-class dining destination, and dinners out are still refreshingly inexpensive," Klee adds, emphasizing that Phoenix and Scottsdale offer many al fresco dining choices. And according to Klee, "Hotel rooms that will set you back $500-plus at the toniest resorts in town from October to April go for $120 a night on weeknights in the summer." Plus, when you a break from golfing or relaxing by the pool, there are many interesting indoor attractions catering to art-inclined visitors and luxury-seekers in nearby Phoenix, from the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum, which pays homage to Native American culture, to top-notch spas.

Big Sur, California

Big Sur's rugged natural beauty and scenic 90-mile coastline between Monterey Bay and San Simeon is known for its lavish accommodations (hat tip: the Post Ranch Inn), but according to Klee, there are plenty of affordable options, including campsites. And "the stunning natural beauty is best experienced sleeping under the stars anyway," he adds, emphasizing that campgrounds are plentiful, but your best bet is booking months in advance, since many campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis and tend to fill up quickly. Big Sur Campground and Cabins, for example, offers tent sites for $60 a night, along with access to a picnic and fire pit as well as a nearby bath house. "Glamping [high-end camping] has come to Big Sur as well, and prices for luxury tents run anywhere from $110-140 per night," Klee says, pointing to Fernwood Resort as an ideal choice. And getting to Big Sur is a breeze with round-trip flights from San Diego and Chicago airports to San Jose hovering at at around $250 on Alaska Airlines during the summer season, Klee adds.

Vancouver, British Columbia

"Canada might be one of the best travel values this summer," Saglie says, pointing to the favorable exchange rate and pleasant summertime weather conditions at world-renowned destinations such as Vancouver and Toronto. Currently, 1 U.S. dollar equates to about $1.4 Canadian dollars, allowing American visitors to find unbeatable deals on lodging, meals and activities. In Vancouver, a wealth of wallet-friendly cultural and outdoor attractions await discovery, from the Capilano Suspension Bridge to Stanley Island and Kitsilano "Kits" Beach. While the kids enjoy frolicking along the sand and checking out the sights and sounds of the vibrant Granville Island Public Market, adults will embrace the city's cosmopolitan allures, excellent shopping, museums and dining options. Best of all, getting to Vancouver is unlikely to bust your summer travel budget, with Google Flights currently listing round-trip flights from airports in the District of Columbia to Vancouver for as low as $424 in July and round-trip flights from Seattle hubs starting at $161 for the same month.

Cancun, Mexico

After the crush of college students that flock to Cancun over spring break, the area tends to slow down come summer, Klee says. And despite the high temperatures and humidity, the area's wealth of all-inclusive resorts, eco-friendly lodges and natural attractions to pick from make planning a trip easy and pain-free, he adds. For families, Sedlak highlights the Paradisus Cancun, an all-inclusive property as an ideal choice for broods. With its striking sea and lagoon views, spacious accommodations and versatile dining and bar choices, top-notch spa, nine-hole golf course and secluded atmosphere, the property makes for a memorable stay, she adds. Breaks from soaking up the sun and splendor can be spent admiring impressive archeological sites like Chichén Itzá or carving out a daytrip to laid-back (and budget-friendly) Tulum. Plus, round-trip flights from Dallas airports to Cancun average at around $360 with American Airlines and round-trip flights from Los Angeles to Cancun hover at around $500 with United Airlines, Klee says. 

Vietnam

If you've always wanted to experience Southeast Asia's charms, this is the year to cross Vietnam off your bucket list, Klee says. Beyond can’t-miss cities, such as Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, the "resort town of Nha Trang and provincially charming town of Hoi An to the north cannot be beat," Klee says, pointing out that you can easily navigate the country on a shoestring budget and the region is home to incredible cuisine, culture and lesser-known historical gems. And in Nha Trang, you'll find unspoiled sands and picturesque temples. Plus, in the summertime, during the rainy season, transportation and lodging prices are low, Klee adds. In terms of flights, "China Southern Air has flights out of SFO for just over $500 round trip," he says, adding that round-trip flights from LAX this summer are around $600, making it an especially affordable time to plan a trip. And Aaron Baker, public relations manager for Travelocity.com, points out that instead of visiting the same popular beach destinations, many travelers are seeking out unique travel experiences. In fact, a quarter of the U.S. population is classified as millennials who crave immersive travel experiences, Baker adds. Rather than hitting crowded beaches, millennials are visiting off-the-grid destinations and "traveling to be more like a traveler than a tourist," he says. And with Travelocity currently listing hotels in standout spots across Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City, for less than $100 a night in June, it's easy to travel well on a tight budget.
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