23 Cheap Family Vacations You Haven’t Thought of Before
Planning a great family holiday can feel like a challenge, especially if you are working within a specific budget. Instead of doing the same old thing (or just giving up and going to Disney World again, which, let's be honest, is anything but cheap), it’s possible to come up with a creative idea that doesn’t require flying around the world or spending a ton of cash.
We scoured the map looking for the best cheap family vacations across the country, where you can find accommodations for $200/night or less (for a family of four), plus a bevy of free and inexpensive things to do. From camping in Yellowstone to small, charming Southern towns, here are 23 cheap family vacations for your next trip with the whole squad.
17 of the Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the U.S.
1. Yellowstone National Park, WY
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Why We Recommend It: Legendary national park, varied outdoor activities for all ages and abilities, close proximity to Grand Teton National Park
Free Things to Do: Old Faithful Geyser, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
Getting there: 30 minutes from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
Where to Stay: Mountain Family Cabin (from $109/night, sleeps 7); Cozy Yellowstone River Cabin (from $200/night, sleeps 8); West Yellowstone Condo (from $180/night, sleeps 6)
Why leave the country when we’ve got one of the most majestic places in the world right here? Take the kiddos for adventures at Yellowstone National Park—we’re talking watching wildlife in Lamar Valley, visiting the Midway Geyser Basin (aka the largest hot spring in the U.S.) and spending the day splashing around at Yellowstone Lake. You can get a seven-day private vehicle pass for $35.
2. San Diego, CA
Why We Love It: Museums, beaches, gardens and great eats can all be found in this coastal SoCal town
Free Things to Do: Sunsets on La Jolla cove, Gaslamp Quarter, Mission Bay Park, Mission Beach Boardwalk
Getting there: San Diego International Airport
Where to Stay: San Diego Bungalow (from $117/night, sleeps 4); Lemon Grove Home (from $88/night, sleeps 9); Tropical Paradise Home (from $155/night, sleeps 6)
Drive south from Los Angeles and you’ll hit San Diego, a sunny enclave on the coast filled with activities kids and adults will love. You can birdwatch at the Tijuana Estuary or let the little ones run through Balboa Park while you admire the Spanish Colonia Revival architecture and gardens. Need a nighttime activity? The San Diego Astronomy Association hosts monthly stargazing events. Check out the murals at Chicano Park and don't forget to to experience one of the city's famed, otherworldly sunsets.
3. Hershey, PA
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Why We Love It: Dive into a world of chocolate with an amusement park, museums and other Hershey attractions
Free Things to Do: Chocolate Tour, horse racing, Swatara Creek
Getting there: 20 minutes from Harrisburg International Airport
Where to Stay: Sunny Hershey Abode (from $145/night, sleeps 6); House in the Heart of Hershey (from $175/night, sleeps 9); Hershey Historical Home (from $192/night, sleeps 8)
Known as the “Sweetest Place on Earth,” Hershey is a great family destination for those who want to experience a theme park without the sky-high prices. The town is home to Hersheypark and ZooAmerica, as well as The Hershey Story Museum and Hershey Gardens. Need to burn off all that sugar? Swatara Creek and the Hershey Medical Center Trail are great place for outdoor activities, including 10 trails for hiking, biking, walking and kayaking.
4. Outer Banks, NC
Why We Love It: Endless ocean views, serene ambience, lots of outdoor activities
Free Things to Do: Bodie Lighthouse, National Scenic Byway, see the Corolla Wild Horses
Getting there: 2 hours and 30 minutes from Norfolk International Airport
Where to Stay: Dolphin View Beach House (from $145/night, sleeps 8); Oceanfront Condo (from $99/night, sleeps 6); Home in Nags Head (from $119/night, sleeps 6)
Sea salt air and uncrowded makes the Outer Banks an ideal spot for a relatively serene family vacation. You can spend the day sprawled out and getting a healthy dose of vitamin D (just don’t forget to pack sunscreen) at Rodanthe, Nags Head or Waves beaches. For some fun and adventure with the kiddos, you can opt for climbing the Currituck Beach Lighthouse or the Bodie Island Lighthouse or spend the day taking historic monuments at Wright Brothers National Memorial and Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site and Museum.
5. Fort Myers, FL
Why We Love It: Laid-back, colorful town, easy beach and water access
Free Things to Do: Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Fort Myers River District, Bunche Beach
Getting there: 30 minutes from Southwest Florida International Airport
Where to Stay: Charming Cape Coral Home (from $121/night, sleeps 6); Cape Coral Canal Home (from $175/night, sleeps 8); Fort Myers Home (from $149/night, sleeps 6)
Nothing screams rest and relaxation quite like the white sand beaches of Fort Myers. That means there’s plenty of opportunity for tons of water-based activities—deep-sea fishing, kayaking and jet skiing with the family. You can also ditch the kids and spend the day golfing or catch a sunset cruise for just you and your beau.
6. Myrtle Beach, SC
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Why We Love It: 60 miles of beaches, stand-out golf courses, boardwalk, iconic amusement park
Free Things to Do: Broadway at the Beach, Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, South Carolina Hall of Fame, Conway Riverwalk
Getting there: 10 minutes from Myrtle Beach International Airport
Where to Stay: Myrtle Beach Condo (from $115/night, sleeps 8); Grand Cayman Oceanfront Suite (from $83/night, sleeps 8); Maisons sur Mer Condo (from $62/night, sleeps 6)
Between the amusement and water parks, mini-golf courses and an aquarium, you’ll find so many activities to do in Myrtle Beach, a week’s vacation won’t seem like its enough. After a fun-filled day spent at tourist hot spots like Alligator Adventure or Blackbeard's Pirate Cruise you can either ramp up the energy and head over to the Carolina Opry for an entertaining variety show, or go slow by taking a leisurely stroll with your brood on the beach. If you’re simply not sure what you’re in the mood for at any given time, head over to Broadway at the Beach—a 350-acre entertainment and shopping center—where you’re guaranteed to find something that tickles your fancy.
7. Williamsburg, VA
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Why We Love It: Part of "Historical Triangle" with Jamestown and Yorktown, living history museum
Free Things to Do: Hiking in York River State Park, Yorktown Trolley, York County Historical Museum, Williamsburg Botanical Garden
Getting there: 27 minutes Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport
Where to Stay: Historical Williamsburg Condo (from $87/night, sleeps 6); Resort Apartment (from $107/night, sleeps 6); Cozy Single Family Home (from $128/night, sleeps 6)
Busy the mini-me’s (and yourself) with wild rides at Busch Gardens or a day filled with historic reenactments at Colonial Williamsburg. For some family bonding time, you can also sail the York River, ride horses, hike or bike through the 30 miles of trails York River State Park offers. The options are plenty.
8. Niagara Falls, NY
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Why We Love It: Iconic, massive waterfall and vibrant city with many outdoor activities and attractions
Free Things to Do: Drive Niagara Parkway, Niagara River Recreation Trail, Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens
Getting there: 14 minutes from Niagara International Airport
Where to Stay: Riverway Village Charmer (from $86/night, sleeps 8); Home with River Views (from $85/night, sleeps 11); Grand Island Townhome (from $156/night, sleeps 4)
Those on the East Coast can easily pack up the car and head north to Niagara Falls, where they’ll find a vibrant city filled with museums and parks and of course, the Niagara Falls themselves. There’s a lot to see in this vivacious city, from the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens to the history museum and endless beautiful drives that all can enjoy.
9. Bowling Green, KY
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Why We Love It: Great for car enthusiasts, small-town charm, historical attractions
Free Things to Do: Fountain Square Park, Lost River Cave, Hobson Grove Park
Getting there: 1 hour and 25 minutes from Nashville International Airport
Where to Stay: Modern Chic Apartment (from $98/night, sleeps 8); Cozy Duplex (from $110/night, sleeps 6); Grey Getaway (from $119/night, sleeps 6)
For families with children currently bewildered by cars, trucks and the like, Bowling Green maybe the unexpected destination where your kids will have the time of their lives. The city is the only place in the U.S. that manufactures Corvettes, and a trip to the General Motors GM Bowling Green Assembly Plant allows visitors to see the step-by-step production of the sleek sports car. The Corvette Museum also includes one-of-a-kind prototypes, that were designed but never manufactured, among other cool Corvette relics.
10. Denver, CO
Why We Love It: Perfect mix of outdoor adventure, art, history and culture year-round
Free Things to Do: Golden Triangle Creative District, Colorado State Capital, United States Mint, Denver Central Library
Getting there: Fly into Denver International Airport
Where to Stay: Denver Family Home (from $127/night, sleeps 6); Spacious Denver Guest Unit (from $111/night, sleeps 9 guests); Bright 2-Bedroom Escape (from $111/night)
While Denver may be a popular hotspot for winter vacationing, it’s not a shabby destination for some summertime family fun. You can spend the day watching elephants swim, orangutans swing and lions roar at the Denver Zoo. You can also explore fossils and dinosaurs, ponder the mysteries of space at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, which is right next door.
11. Grand Canyon Village, AZ
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Why We Love It: Make this iconic trip even less expensive by camping
Free Things to Do: Yavapai Point, cycle on Hermit Road, South Rim Trail
Getting there: 15 minutes from Grand Canyon National Park Airport
Where to Stay: Cozy South Rim Home (from $74/night, sleeps 4); Grand Canyon Countryside Lodge (from $170/night, sleeps 10); Williams Apartment (from $74/night, sleeps 4)
Fair warning: A trip to Grand Canyon Village—which houses the widely popular Bright Angel Trail—will not be the quietest vacay to go on. However, looking at the vast wonder that is the Grand Canyon itself will be well worth it. Located at the South Rim, the buzzy town is chock full of things to do with the kids. You can hike and set up a picnic at Shoshone Point (the trail is only a mile long), head over to the Yavapai Geology Museum where kids can touch a 3D large topographic relief model of the area and if you plan for a trip in June, you can even join in on one of the Grand Canyon’s Annual Start Party where you spend the night stargazing.
12. Washington D.C.
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Why We Love It: World-class museums, historical sites and cultural attractions
Free Things to Do: Smithsonian museums, National Mall, Library of Congress, National Archives, Georgetown, Museum of Natural History
Getting there: Fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Where to Stay: Gorgeous Townhouse (from $102/night, sleeps 8); Capitol Hill Apartment (from $165/night, sleeps 4); Shaw Neighborhood Condo (from $108/night, sleeps 5)
The main draw of Washington, D.C. is the National Mall, where all the museums offer free entry to visitors. Most of the national monuments are also free to explore, and the National Zoo welcomes guests for no charge every day of the year. Just make sure you reserve passes in advance for everyone, including infant children.
13. Catskill Mountains, NY
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Why We Love It: Tranquil refuge from bustling NYC, easy drive from the city for a family weekend getaway
Free Things to Do: Slide Mountain, Dutchman's Landing, Pratt Rock, Hudson-Athens Lighthouse
Getting there: 2 hours and 22 minutes from JFK International Airport
Where to Stay: Modern Townhouse (from $188/night, sleeps 6); Lakeside Round House (from $148/night, sleeps 4); Tannersville Mountain Retreat (from $194/night, sleeps 7)
Another destination mostly popular for its cold-weather festivities, the Catskills can be equally amusing during the summertime. While you won’t be able to go skiing or anything like that, you can still get your adrenaline pumping at Hunter Mountain's New York Zipline Adventure Tour where you can fly through the air on the longest, fastest and highest zipline canopy tour in North America. You can also get up close and personal with the tigers, bears, alligators, camels, ostriches and farm animals housed at Bailiwick Ranch and Animal Park. And for some truly vacation-appropriate eats, head over to Mama's Boy Burgers where you can fill up on grass-fed black angus beef burgers and top it off with your choice of 26 flavors of frozen custard and yogurt or Jane’s homemade ice cream.
14. Branson, MO
Why We Love It: Diverse entertainment acts in historic theaters, amusement park and outdoor, kid-friendly activities
Free Things to Do: Grand Village, Historic Downtown, hiking in the Ozarks, Branson Landing
Getting there: One hour from Springfield-Branson National Airport
Where to Stay: Boho Gated Condo (from $84/night, sleeps 7); Loft Condo (from $100/night, sleeps 8); Branson Home (from $95/night, sleeps 9)
Don’t let the drama of Netflix’s Ozark dissuade you from exploring this lovely city. It is filled with tons of options for things to do with the kids. Silver Dollar City is a rousing amusement park, popular with both locals and visitors. Not only can you find thrilling rides and entertainment, but the park has a 19th century vibe to it and offers an array of shops selling souvenirs and homemade candies. Also included on your itinerary should be a trip to the Titanic Museum—where there’s tons of hands-on exhibits and hordes of Titanic artifacts—Promised Land Zoo, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not located in the Branson Theater District.
15. South Padre Island, TX
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Why We Love It: Resort town with calm waters and plenty of wildlife
Free Things to Do: Bird watch at the World Birding Center, Laguna Madre Nature Trail, Andy Bowie Park, Whaling Wall, Palmito Ranch Battlefield
Getting there: 40 minutes from Brownsville Airport
Where to Stay: Luxurious Ground Condo (from $170/night, sleeps 10); Island Treasure Townhouse (from $152/night, sleeps 12); Aquarius Condo (from $150/night, sleeps 6)
If your kids are hardcore animal lovers, a trip to this little island off the southern coast of Texas is the perfect pick. The island is packed with plenty of venues to interact with animals they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with. Sea Turtle Inc., for example, is an educational yet fun-filled facility actively engaged in rescuing sea turtles. Equally thrilling is the SPI Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary where the fam can observe the birds, butterflies and natural wildlife. Maybe just try to avoid March and April when spring breakers take over like wildfire.
16. Orange Beach, AL
Why We Love It: 32 miles of white sand beaches, championship golf, nature trails, excellent cuisine
Free Things to Do: Gulf State Park, Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum, The Coastal Arts Center
Getting there: 15 minutes away from Jack Edwards National Airport
Where to Stay: Beachfront Condo (from $175/night, sleeps 6); The Sandy Hideaway (from $144/night, sleeps 13); Top-Floor Condo with Gulf Views (from $189/night, sleeps 6)
Orange City may be small (population is currently at 6,607), but this tiny town packs a punch. Known as a water sports hub, it’s no wonder this is hands-down one of the best destinations for a beach vacation. You can partake in regular ole’ water activities such as fishing, paddle boarding, parasailing. But if you really want to dial up the fun factor, you can also book a once in a lifetime dolphin or pirate cruise.
17. Ocean City, MD
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Why We Love It: Resort town with theme-park attractions, wildlife and miles of beaches
Free Things to Do: Ocean City Boardwalk, Movies on the Beach, Assateague Island
Getting there: 2 hours and 36 minutes from Baltimore International Airport
Where to Stay: Oceanfront Condo (from $93/night, sleeps 6); Edgewater Escape (from $107/night, sleeps 4); Beach Paradise Townhouse (from $69/night, sleeps 12)
A beach vacation doesn’t have to include a five-star resort. Ocean City, Maryland, is a great place to experience the best of the shore, from a lively boardwalk to seaside vacation rentals, and it also offers access to Assateague Island National Park, where the wild ponies run free. (How much will your horse-obsessed 6-year-old love that?) Spend a day on the vibrant boardwalk where you can hit up Marty’s Playland—a video arcade built in the 1940s—as well as The Kite Loft, where you can get the rundown on everything you didn’t think you needed to know about flying kites, which is to say, a lot.
18. Bar Harbor, ME
Why We Love It: Peaceful coastal New England town, gateway to Acadia National Park
Free Things to Do: Shore Path, Bar Island, downtown Bar Harbor
Getting there: 20 minutes from Bar Harbor Airport; 4.5 hours from Boston Logan International Airport
Where to Stay: Sunset Studio (from $65/night, sleeps 4); Bar Harbor Condo (from $60/night, sleeps 4); Talley Cottage (from $150/night, sleeps 5)
Acadia National Park is popular for a reason—its rocky and rugged coastal landscape, wildlife on land and sea and the highest point on the United States’ East Coast, Cadillac Mountain—but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Hop on one of Lulu Lobster’s Boat Tours where you can spend two hours learning all about lobster fishing and even catch some yourself. You can also book one of Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company’s magnificent for a chance to possibly spot some whales off the Gulf of Maine.
19. Gatlinburg, TN
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Why We Love It: Charming town at the base of the Smoky Mountains, beautiful views, nature activities, arts, history and culture scene
Free Things to Do: Gatlinburg Parkway, Little Pigeon River, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg Tunes and Tales
Getting there: 1 hour and 10 minutes from Knoxville McGhee-Tyson Airport
Where to Stay: Pigeon Forge Cabin (from $143/night, sleeps 7 guests); Smokies Log Cabin (from $158/night, sleeps 10); Sevierville Cabin (from $117/night, sleeps 10)
This resort town is a coveted hotspot because of the fact that it’s a gateway to the roughly 520,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can hike the Clingmans Dome, which is only a mile long and leads to a watchtower you can climb, overseeing the entire national park. You also have the option to either drive or hike to three waterfalls in the park—Mingo Falls, Abrams Falls as well as Grotto Falls, if your squad is not yet able to hike long distances. Just be sure to head there early as the fall tends to get crowded.
20. Milwaukee, WI
Why We Love It: Lively city on the shores of Lake Michigan with an impressive food scene, museums and history
Free Things to Do: Riverwalk, Lake Michigan, Milwaukee Public Market, Lakeshore State Park, Old World 3rd Street, Milwaukee Central Library
Getting there: Milwaukee General Mitchell International Airport
Where to Stay: The Little Gray House (from $176/night, sleeps 9); Cozy Modern Guest Cottage (from $79/night, sleeps 5); Brewery District Home (from $69/night, sleeps 4)
Milwaukee is a vibrant Midwestern city overflowing with art, culture and food. Here, beer and cheese flow in equal measures, thanks to the city's German roots. Take the whole family to sample fare at establishments such as The Bavarian Bierhaus or Café Bavaria. There is also a plethora of farm-to-table restaurants serving up the best the seasons have to offer. With a whopping 17 museums located downtown, everyone in the family will find something to discover, but we think the kids will be especially entertained by the Milwaukee Public Museum. Keep a sharp eye out for murals by local artist David Mark Zimmerman, whose creations appear in the most unlikely places. Want to get moving? Kayak in the Milwaukee River, play at the beaches of Lake Michigan and stroll the historic Mitchell Street Neighborhood.
21. Atlanta, GA
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Why We Love It: Southern charm gets an international spin
Free Things to Do: BeltLine, Arabia Mountain, Atlanta Monetary Museum, Centennial Olympic Park, Georgia Governor's Mansion
Getting there: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Where to Stay: Hapeville Home (from $120/night, sleeps 8); Modern Atlanta Home (from $101/night, sleeps 6); Adair Park Home (from $85/night, sleeps 4)
Atlanta may be sweet like a Georgia peach, but beneath the Southern skin is a thriving multi-cultural identity that makes it a captivating destination for the whole family. Let the kids run down their energy on the 22-mile BeltLine, a pathway with trails and parks that weave between Atlanta's neighborhoods, filled with art installations and city views. Arabia Mountain is an easy drive if you want an outdoor excursion, featuring farmland, trails, lakes and a nature preserve. Be sure to also hit the Buford Highway, renown for its worlds of cuisine, from Korean barbecue to tacos and bubble tea. In town the kids will get a kick out of meeting Kermit the Frog at the Center for Puppetry Arts, which is free if you check the museum pass out at the library. Other can't-miss activities? The Coca-Cola Museum and Trap Music Museum, which dives into the world of hip-hop.
22. Glacier National Park, MT
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Why We Love It: Over 700 miles of hiking trails, water activities and access to Whitefish
Free Things to Do: Hidden Lake, Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass, Huckleberry Lookout
Getting there: 1.5 hours from Glacier Park International Airport
Where to Stay: Cow Creek Cabin (from $185/night, sleeps 6); Martin City Log Home (from $97/night, sleeps 8); Kalispell Log Farmhouse (from $124/night, sleeps 7)
Whether you're all keen to see the breathtaking vistas of the Continental Divide or want to test your athleticism with a vertical five-mile hike to Huckleberry Lookout, Glacier National Park is a family-friendly destination that everyone can enjoy. The entrance fee is just $35 per vehicle ($25 in the winter) for a vehicle, and you can camp in the park for a nominal fee. If you're driving in, a free shuttle runs through the park, making it easy to hit the sites without worrying about your car. Whitefish is nearby, with all the charm and amenities you'd expect from a resort town.
23. Oklahoma City, OK
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Why We Love It: Cowboy culture meets fine art and outdoor fun
Free Things to Do: Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, drive Route 66, Keystone Ancient Forest, Conoco Museum, Oklahoma State Capital
Getting there: 20 minutes from Will Rogers World Airport
Where to Stay: The Village Home (from $100/night, sleeps 8); Modern Oklahoma City Home (from $82/night, sleeps 6); Oklahoma City Cottage (from $97/night, sleeps 6)
Oklahoma City is proof you don't need a pile of cash to have a good time. With so many free things to do, you'd be surprised. Budding artists and art appreciators will enjoy the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, which houses 16,000 artworks, including some by Vincent van Gogh and Georgia O'Keeffe. At the Conoco Museum, your family can learn about the city's past as an oil town. Need a little old-fashioned adventure? Cruise the famed Route 66 highway itself. At the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, the kids can spend hours searching for hourglass selenite crystals, and if you want a really big thrill, check out Robbers Cave. The former outlaws hideaway now offers rappelling, mountain biking and swimming.
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