Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
The United States is home to a wide range of vacation spots that offer ample activities at reasonable prices. U.S. News, with the help of expert opinions and user votes, ranked the best cheap vacations in the U.S. Use this list to help pick your next affordable domestic destination, and don't forget to vote for your choice getaway below to help shape next year's list. (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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It doesn't get more affordable than camping, and the views from the North Rim of Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park are priceless. After trekking the trails that weave through this 277-mile-long park and exploring the Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mesa, the only in-park cave that doesn't require a permit to enter, peruse the shops in Grand Canyon Village. The Grand Canyon's entrance fee covers many of the park's activities, but you can save even more by visiting on one of the National Park Service's free entrance days.
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A favorite destination for hikers, Glacier National Park borders Canada from the northern edge of Montana. After paying the entrance fee, you can hike, swim and climb to your heart's content. Also take advantage of the park's free ranger-led activities, including daylong hikes and stargazing at the Logan Pass, and save time for a drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are nature centers and small parks to rest in after you've exhausted yourself.
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With nearly 1 million acres to explore, Olympic National Park in northwest Washington state offers visitors panoramic views of glacier-capped mountains and temperate rainforests. Popular activities include fishing, exploring tide pools, hiking and stargazing. Travelers may even get the chance to spot wild animals like elk, black bears, bald eagles and several species of whales while making their way through the park. For the warmest weather and mostly sunny conditions, visit between July and August.
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When travelers think of Florida, their minds often drift to Orlando's theme parks or upscale Miami Beach, but they'd be remiss to overlook the country's oldest city. St. Augustine is packed with historical landmarks, including Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the Old Jail and St. George Street. Plus, downtown St. Augustine sits 5 miles northwest of St. Augustine Beach, an almost 4-mile-long shoreline with a splash pad and a fishing pier.
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Sequoia National Park's varied terrain is home to all kinds of wildlife, including bobcats, gray foxes, bears and several bird species. This park in central California is best known for its giant sequoia groves, and you're guaranteed to see hundreds of the massive namesake trees when you drive through the park. Though you'll need to pay a fee to enter the park and enjoy a guided tour of the lauded Crystal Cave, you can make the most of your money by taking extra time to hike or signing up for a free ranger-led program.
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It's all about the outdoors in this Tennessee town. Situated just outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg shines in fall when the leaves change colors. Plus, the town offers a variety of free places to go fishing, biking, bird-watching and hiking, making it a great vacation spot for budget-conscious families and groups. If the weather isn't ideal for outdoor activities, take in the views from the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway or spend the day watching Appalachian crafts being made in the galleries and shops that comprise the Great Smoky Mountains Arts & Crafts Loop.
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Sitting on the border of the Colorado Rockies and the Great Plains, Colorado Springs is easily accessible from all around the country. Once you arrive in this Colorado town, you can enjoy its bevy of free attractions. Picnic between the red rocks that make up the Garden of the Gods, hike or bike through North Cheyenne Cañon Park or enjoy a scenic drive along one of the area's roads. After spending your days in the wilderness, take a free self-guided stroll around town to see its street art.
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Nags Head#8 in Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
Spending time in the sun is the main reason to make the trip to Nags Head, part of the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. The beach town's towering sand dunes in Jockey's Ridge State Park and great fishing spots in the surrounding Gulf Stream waters attract travelers with varying interests. When visitors are not lounging on the sand, they can explore Nags Head lighthouses or look for birds, sea turtles and more at nearby Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Fall and spring are the best seasons to visit thanks to fewer crowds and lower prices for accommodations.
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Portland, Oregon, is home to countless craft breweries and boutique shops, but this Pacific Northwest destination also boasts many budget-friendly activities to keep you from breaking the bank. Powell's City of Books is free to peruse, while the nearly 5-acre International Rose Test Garden offers free tours at 1 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. What's more, Portland features a walkable downtown neighborhood that hosts free outdoor concerts in its parks and a farmers market every summer.
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Athens, GA#10 in Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
In Athens, Georgia, you'll find a wealth of free attractions, including historic homes and parks that are prime for picnicking. A visit to the University of Georgia's campus is also in order, as this is where you'll find the Georgia Museum of Art and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which are two more things to do that won't cost you a dime. With your savings, you can take a daytrip to Atlanta, which sits a little more than 70 miles west of Athens.
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This Virginia town is both affordable and educational. Williamsburg and the adjacent towns of Jamestown and Yorktown make up the Greater Williamsburg Area, which features more than 400 years of valued American history. Step back in time at Colonial Williamsburg, then head to the Williamsburg Premium Outlets for a discounted shopping spree. Visit in fall or spring to avoid uncomfortable temperatures and summer crowds. However, if you do decide to visit in summer, plan to take advantage of the free outdoor concerts in nearby Yorktown.
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Home to the legendary Alamo and River Walk, San Antonio is continuously buzzing with things to do. On a sunny day, visitors can enjoy a relaxing picnic in Brackenridge Park or a leisurely stroll around the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. If you want to beat the heat by exploring Natural Bridge Caverns or splashing around Six Flags Fiesta Texas' water park, purchase a Go San Antonio pass to save money on your entrance fees to these and other attractions.
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Gettysburg is best known for its three-day battle in 1863 and former President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. As such, the small Pennsylvania town appeals to history buffs and families eager to learn about the blood, sweat and tears that once blanketed the battlefield. But Gettysburg offers more than just historical attractions. Visitors can check out farmers markets, sign up for a ghost tour or browse the boutiques and art galleries lining downtown's main thoroughfare.
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The 11 lakes that comprise the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York are an outdoor enthusiast's playground. Must-do activities that won't break the bank include fishing at Skaneateles Lake and hiking past Watkins Glen State Park's 19 waterfalls. Visitors can also learn about Harriet Tubman's life at the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park or tour the beautiful Cornell University campus. Money saved can be spent at the region's famous wineries.
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Augusta, ME#15 in Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
Augusta, Maine's capital, has all of the charm you'd expect from a historic New England town. You can take a stroll through downtown to admire its Victorian architecture before swinging by Waterfront Park to walk along the Kennebec River Rail Trail. If you'd rather spend your time indoors, stop by the Maine State House for a free tour or visit the Maine State Museum, which charges less than $5 per person to explore. If you're visiting in summer or early fall, you can tour the Fort Western Living History Museum for a modest fee.
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With average hotel prices hovering around $150 per night or less, an inexpensive trip to Salt Lake City is possible year-round. Save money on activities by participating in free events (think: concerts and block parties) in Temple Square. Or, stick to free attractions like Liberty Park, the Salt Lake Temple and the Family History Library. If you're itching to get outside during the warmer months, take a daytrip to nearby Antelope Island State Park to hike, spot bison or relax on its sandy shores.
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Visit Albuquerque, New Mexico, for one of its many events, such as the unique Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta or the free monthly ARTScrawl gallery tours. The city also features a number of interesting museums like the American International Rattlesnake Museum and the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum, which offers free admission on Sunday mornings and the first Friday of every month. If you can stand the heat, you'll find even deeper discounts if you visit Albuquerque in summer.
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Newport, OR#18 in Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
This coastal Oregon town features a bevy of free activities for all kinds of travelers. Art lovers will relish a visit to the Newport Visual Arts Center, which hosts rotating exhibits. Outdoorsy folks will enjoy surfing at Agate Beach and hiking the mile-long loop at Mike Miller Park. And budget-conscious travelers will appreciate the approximately $150-per-night hotel rates. With your savings, splurge on a cruise of the surrounding water for a chance to spot gray whales, sea lions and other local marine life.
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Beaufort#19 in Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
If you're looking for laid-back Southern charm, search no further than Beaufort, South Carolina. Not only will you find a quaint downtown filled with shops and eateries, but you'll also discover hundreds of sea islands surrounding it, many of which have their own unique things to do. Stop by Hunting Island State Park, where you'll have access to miles of beaches, hiking trails and a lighthouse (for a modest fee). Climb the lighthouse's 167 steps to enjoy panoramic views of the area.
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Whether you're searching for a beach with top-notch conditions for Jet Skiing and surfing, a more secluded spot for lounging or a place that's ideal for deep-sea fishing, Myrtle Beach offers something for everyone. After spending the day enjoying this South Carolina city's family-friendly sands, check out Broadway at the Beach, an outdoor entertainment area with shops, eateries and live entertainment venues. Visit in summer to take advantage of seasonal, free activities like outdoor concerts and nightly family-friendly entertainment.
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