Best Cheap Summer Vacations
Thanks to balmy temperatures, long days and school recess, summer is a popular time to take a vacation. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most expensive times to travel, making it difficult to find a budget-friendly destination. To help you in your search, U.S. News considered affordability and traveler appeal to determine the best cheap summer vacations. Vote for your favorite destination below to help determine next year's ranking.
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Roaming buffaloes, majestic mountains and breathtaking geysers all populate Yellowstone's more than 2,220,000 acres of wilderness. Travelers searching for an affordable vacation that doesn't skimp on memorable moments will likely appreciate several cost-effective aspects of this national park. Entrance fees cost $35 per vehicle or $20 per person on foot for seven days, while campsites start at $15 per night. Once you've settled in, explore the park's incredible hiking trails, which wind from colorful thermal basins to large lakes.
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Bar Harbor, Maine, is basically a postcard that has found its way into the real world. Acadia National Park flanks the town on one side and Frenchman Bay on the other, so it has an abundance of options for both outdoor enthusiasts and water sports fans. Summer is the best time to visit because the weather is warm and dry. Plus, this season is when the town offers a variety of free activities, including outdoor movies at Agamont Park and tastings and tours of local breweries.
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Moab#3 in Best Cheap Summer Vacations
Moab, Utah, is unique in that it borders two of the state's national parks. Arches National Park (to the north) is where visitors can marvel at precarious looking sandstone monuments like the famous Delicate Arch. Meanwhile, Canyonlands National Park (which sits southwest of town) offers stunning views of Utah's expansive desert landscapes. In and around Moab, travelers will find an array of affordable accommodations, ranging from campgrounds to motels to vacation rentals. All of this makes Moab a budget-friendly destination for nature lovers.
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It doesn't get more affordable than camping, and this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a unique place to rough it. You'll have to contend with crowds along the South Rim, but the photo possibilities will be well worth the cramped quarters. Campsites are just $18 per night during the warmer months, while the entrance fee for vehicles is $35 and lasts seven days. Pack your own food to save even more.
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If you avoid the area's casinos, you'll find that Niagara Falls is an exceptionally affordable summer vacation destination. To save money, consider purchasing one of the area's bundled passes, which may include admission to activities like a guided Journey Behind the Falls tour and a Hornblower Niagara Cruises boat ride. Summer may be the peak season, but booking in advance helps cut costs. Plus, nothing beats basking in Niagara Falls' mist on 80-degree days.
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If you're seeking a serious dose of history, Williamsburg, Virginia, may be the right vacation spot for you. Step back in time at Colonial Williamsburg, visit the site of the first settlement at Jamestown and wander around the Yorktown Battlefield. Should you want to check out pricier attractions like Water Country USA and Busch Gardens, opt for a summer combo ticket that covers unlimited access to these locations and Colonial Williamsburg for seven days. Because of Williamsburg's location, East Coast-based travelers can easily reach all of these hot spots.
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Surfside Beach, SC#7 in Best Cheap Summer Vacations
Nicknamed "The Family Beach," Surfside Beach is a 2-mile strip on the South Carolina coast. Visitors can look forward to games, fishing and a summer concert series during the warmer months. Surfside also features an assortment of youth attractions designed with accessibility in mind. What's more, the city's free beaches and pier (which are easy to reach via a cheap summer shuttle) are exceptionally maintained, guaranteeing summer travelers a clean and safe getaway.
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If you can stand the scorching temps, Albuquerque, New Mexico, will reward you with a variety of travel deals in the summer. Immerse yourself in Native American culture at places like the historic Old Town district and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Then, take in incredible views from the Sandia Peak Tramway, the longest aerial tram in the United States. For the best rates, avoid visiting during one of the city's numerous summer festivals.
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The capital of Maryland, Annapolis is a great summer destination for history buffs. The city played a pivotal role in the Civil War and the War of 1812. Today, it's home to the United States Naval Academy, which houses a museum and beautiful grounds. When travelers are not learning about the city's storied past, they can go sailing on the Chesapeake Bay or enjoy a meal at one of the many seafood restaurants.
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This city on Florida's west coast offers an assortment of cheap summer activities and attractions to please every type of traveler. When you're not soaking up some sun on nearby beaches, spot local flora and fauna at places like Manatee Park and the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Or, indulge in a history lesson at the winter estates of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Since summer is a popular time to visit Fort Myers, reserve your accommodations months in advance to secure lower rates.
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Sitting on the Ontario-Quebec border, Ottawa serves as Canada's capital, as well as an excellent destination for culture enthusiasts. Visitors can explore historic geographic attractions, such as the Rideau Canal and the neo-Gothic structures of Parliament Hill. Instead of eating out, book a hotel room or vacation rental with a kitchen and plan on cooking your own meals using ingredients (and anything else you could want) purchased at the venerable ByWard Market.
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Like the Caribbean, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, sees the most visitors during the winter and spring, meaning you can snag cheaper flights and hotel rates if you plan a summer trip. The smaller crowds also guarantee that there will be more beachfront up for grabs, so you won't have to fight for a prime location. Plus, it's only roughly 30 miles north of Miami, so spending an afternoon on Miami Beach doesn't leave you stuck paying for an expensive Miami hotel.
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As a desert city in Arizona, Tucson feels especially warm during the summer, so it is imperative that you remember to bring a water bottle everywhere you go. This historic town does not disappoint its tourists, though, offering scenic drives, hiking trails, guided bike tours and more. When you need a break from the Arizona sun, head indoors to explore free or cheap attractions like Mission San Xavier del Bac and the Franklin Auto Museum.
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The typically expensive Boca Raton, Florida, sees its lowest hotel prices of the year come summertime. What's more, many of the city's resident snowbirds have flown the coop for the season, so crowds are virtually nonexistent. Plus, many of Boca's attractions – such as Mizner Park, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and Sugar Sand Park – are free to enjoy. Keep in mind that hurricane season runs from June through November, so booking nonrefundable rooms during late summer could come back to bite you.
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The Finger Lakes' abundance of affordable activities and attractions helps it stand out from similarly impressive bodies of water. Boating, fishing, swimming and water sports can be done on the area's namesake lakes, while hiking paths weave through the scenic spots between the lakes. Should visitors desire a break from the outdoors, they can head to air-conditioned museums like the George Eastman Museum and The Strong National Museum of Play. To keep trip costs down, visit the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance's website for coupons and vacation packages.