Best Cheap Family Vacations
Finding a destination that has multigenerational appeal and dining and hotel options that can accommodate groups can be difficult. Finding a vacation spot that won't destroy your wallet can be even tougher. Based on traveler feedback, editor analysis and factors like sights and accessibility, U.S. News compiled a list of the best cheap family vacations. You won't have to break the bank to take the kids on a memorable trip this year. Use these rankings to start planning your next trip, and vote for your favorite affordable family vacation destinations below. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
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Yellowstone's geysers are sure to inspire young children and teenagers, while geothermic wonders like Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs will captivate visitors of all ages. Families can also participate in free ranger programs like the Mud Volcano Ramble and the Hot Springs Terraces Walk. The entrance fees to this national park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are reasonable, but hotel rates are highest during the peak summer season. However, campsites are relatively cheap, so travelers won't have to worry about shelling out a pretty penny for a room if they bring their own tent or recreational vehicle.
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Yosemite's numerous hiking trails, rushing waterfalls and towering sequoia trees are just a few reasons why this California national park appeals to families looking for a fun, outdoorsy vacation. Summer is the busiest season, but if you plan a trip here in May or September, you'll still get great weather and won't have to deal with as many crowds. Camping is affordable, albeit popular, so you'll want to make your campground reservation months in advance. Consider visiting during a road trip that also includes stops at nearby Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.
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The North Carolina coast's uncrowded beaches – which are free to visit – are its main draw, but families visiting the Outer Banks will also find historical sites, such as the Wright Brothers National Memorial. (Passes to the memorial are free for children younger than 16 and $10 for adults.) Meanwhile, budding pirates can get their faces painted, dress up like buccaneers and hit the high seas with Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks. After an active day, families can stroll along Duck's boardwalk or go ghost crabbing. To save on lodging, book rooms or vacation rentals a few months in advance.
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One of the most awe-inspiring sights in the world is also one of the most affordable. For some of the Grand Canyon's most coveted views, hike the Bright Angel Trail or the Rim Trail. While the variety of trails keeps the Arizona park accessible to all travelers, be sure to research each trail's difficulty before embarking. Also keep in mind that affordable eateries are limited in the area, so for more options, head about 80 miles southeast to Flagstaff. Just be sure to reserve hotels and campsites months in advance; the park sees hordes of tourists every spring and summer.
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Full of free museums, iconic monuments, outdoor spaces and distinct neighborhoods to explore, Washington offers something for every type of family. Checking out the city's Smithsonian-affiliated attractions (especially the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute) and popular sights like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Tidal Basin are a must. For affordable eats, grab lunch at a food truck. Plus, families can explore the city by renting a bike or taking the Metro. Spring and fall are the best times to visit thanks to comfortable temps and manageable crowds.
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The beach's calm water and ample room to sprawl out make this coastal South Carolina city a hit with adults and kids. With free beach access and excellent conditions, Myrtle Beach is a family vacation paradise. Other family-friendly attractions here include amusement and water parks, mini-golf courses and an aquarium. Plus, the more than 350-acre Broadway at the Beach entertainment and shopping center hosts complimentary concerts throughout summer. Sports enthusiasts will also love taking in a baseball game at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark.
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Travel to this city to catch a glimpse of its famous waterfalls. The region offers reasonably priced hotels and attractions, plus a favorable exchange rate makes visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls even more cost-effective for families. Travelers who arrive in late spring or early fall will discover thinned crowds, lower room rates and excellent weather. The area also features plenty of superb hiking options for families who love the outdoors, including the Dufferin Islands and the Niagara Glen.
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Parents and kids can enjoy an abundance of free and low-cost attractions during a San Diego vacation. Visit Balboa Park (where the world-famous San Diego Zoo is located), get a hands-on view of history at the USS Midway Museum or pick one of the city's many beaches to play in the sand. When you're not sightseeing or soaking up some sun, wander around bustling Liberty Public Market or watch passing boats at Seaport Village. Book your hotel, resort or vacation rental a few months in advance to secure the best rates.
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Boasting everything from optimal fishing spots to sprawling beaches, Destin is a budget-friendly vacation spot ideal for family bonding. Besides hanging on the beach, splashing in the water and building sandcastles, adults and children can take a fishing or boat tour. Vacationers will also want to spend some time strolling along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, which offers various dining venues and excellent people-watching opportunities. What's more, lodging options in this vacation destination are much more affordable than other popular Florida beach towns.
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The Adirondacks region of New York beckons to families who love to spend time together outdoors. In winter, families can enjoy skiing, snowshoeing and dog-sledding, while summer offers opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing and whitewater rafting. If your family is interested in Olympic history, purchase the Olympic Sites Passport for discounted access to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and the area's sports complexes, plus reduced rates for numerous activities. Stay outside of popular towns like Lake Placid to save money on lodging.
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For most of the year, South Padre Island, Texas, appeals to families with its array of affordable kid-friendly activities. Children can swim at the beaches, touch critters at the Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center and watch turtle feedings at Sea Turtle, Inc. The surrounding area is also ideal for bird-watching and spotting alligators, so have the kids grab their binoculars and head to the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary. But remember, spring breakers arrive in droves every March.
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Vancouver offers a wealth of affordable amenities made for families, from museums to beaches to parks. Located just north of the U.S.-Canada border in British Columbia, this bustling city is home to must-visit attractions like 1,000-acre Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park's Bloedel Conservatory. Plus, Vancouver features several family-friendly shores, including bustling Kitsilano Beach and quiet Spanish Banks Beach. Keep in mind, though, that Vancouver is a huge city, so travelers will want to prioritize which neighborhoods and attractions to see before they arrive.
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Denver features free art festivals, concerts, museums, walking tours and more, making it an easy, cheap getaway for families. You'll also find ample affordable eateries dishing out everything from Italian food to classic American fare. The city's parks make for great spots to relax or go for a stroll, while the Denver Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals and kid-friendly amenities like a carousel, a 4D theater and a train that snakes through the complex. Travel here in the shoulder seasons of spring or fall for the best room rates.
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It's easy to unwind on this South Carolina barrier island. Parents eager to practice their swings at a golf course can book packages through local resorts, and the wide, clean beaches don't cost a thing to enjoy. Families with aspiring naturalists will appreciate Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge's animal-filled trails, which are free to explore on foot and by bike. Meanwhile, those who want to enjoy some free, fun evening entertainment can head to Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina to listen to live music or attend an annual event.
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Located off of the coast of Maine on Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park boasts more than 47,000 acres for adventurous families to explore. Acadia offers all of the classic activities you'd expect to find at a national park (think: hiking, swimming, rock climbing and fishing), plus numerous pursuits geared toward children, such as ranger-led boat cruises and hands-on nature exhibits. What's more, Acadia's 27-mile driving loop makes the park easy to access, and entrance fees are relatively cheap. Though you won't find traditional lodging in the park, several budget-friendly campgrounds are available on-site.
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Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park is best visited during the warmer months when most facilities are open and daytime averages hover between the 60s and 80s. You and your loved ones can go swimming in or kayaking on bodies of water like String, Jenny and Leigh lakes. Additionally, you can trek various hiking trails and enjoy scenic drives on roads that wind through the park. If your family prefers cold-weather activities, arrive after it snows to go skiing or snowshoeing. Regardless of when you choose to visit, you'll find that the park's modest entrance fee covers your entire car.
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Families who want to spend their next vacation outdoors should travel about 70 miles south of Denver to Colorado Springs. In this smaller Colorado city, visitors will enjoy easy access to a variety of natural wonders, including the Garden of the Gods, a stunning collection of sandstone formations that's free to explore. Pikes Peak also looms within driving distance, though hiking this impressive mountain is quite arduous, so groups with younger travelers will likely want to drive to the famous summit.
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Nature lovers young and old will find plenty to do in Asheville, North Carolina. Trails jut from the edges of Asheville into the Blue Ridge Mountains, providing fantastic panoramas as they cross valleys, forests and rivers. Plus, the North Carolina Arboretum offers a beautiful (and affordable) glimpse at blooming flowers in spring, while the free Blue Ridge Parkway provides an up-close look at gorgeous fall foliage come autumn. When families need a break from immersing themselves in nature, they can get a dose of history while trekking the Asheville Urban Trail or wander around the eclectic River Arts District.
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A day in this Texas city doesn't officially begin without a breakfast taco; Austin's affordable Tex-Mex specialty varies enough to please the pickiest of eaters. After breakfast, Austin's diversity becomes even more apparent. Travelers can head to Zilker Metropolitan Park to cool off in Barton Springs Pool or ride the kid-approved Zilker Zephyr miniature train. Or, groups can choose to spend a few hours exploring the Thinkery's interactive children's exhibits. No visit would be complete without watching roughly 1.5 million bats fly away from the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset.
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Philadelphia's abundance of historical attractions makes it an excellent spot to bring children who are studying U.S. history or enjoy watching the "National Treasure" movies. Can't-miss attractions here include the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, both of which require complimentary tickets that are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Plus, Philly is home to phenomenal food, especially in bustling food halls like Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market. On a warm, sunny day, take your food to go to enjoy in a public area, such as John F. Kennedy Plaza (home of the LOVE statue) or Rittenhouse Square.
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