Three pairs of legs against a mountain backdrop one of these cheap family vacation ideas

30 Cheap Family Vacations (That Are Actually Fun)

I’m a traveling mom of four and with that many kids, you can bet I’ve planned plenty of cheap family vacations! 

This guide features dozens of destinations across the United States, as well as a few affordable spots abroad. I share ideas for every interest, from outdoor adventures to urban entertainment—plus a few low-cost gems that you won’t find anywhere else! 

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30 Best Cheap Family Vacations

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia 

This serene area is the closest national park to D.C. but feels worlds away.

Scenic view at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
See why Shenandoah tops our list of the best US national parks!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Shenandoah National Park Hotels on Booking

Travel Lemming recently used data to rank all the US national parks. Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park came out #1, largely because it is easy to access and relatively affordable to visit.

If you live in one of the bustling East Coast cities, it’s easy to escape for a few days outdoors in Shenandoah. Those hiking with kids will be delighted by the easier trails and many waterfalls. You can also horseback ride, rock climb, fish, and watch for wildlife.

Denver, Colorado

Family-friendly activities abound in the Mile High City, many of which are low cost.

The Capitol Building of Denver from the outside
You can tour the Capitol Building for free!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Denver Hotels on Booking

Denver is strategically situated in the center of the US, which is why Denver International Airport is the third-busiest in the country. All those flights mean that its usually pretty easy to find a cheap flight to Denver.

You’ll also find lots of free things to do in Denver! Tour the Capitol Building, visit Red Rocks Amphitheatre, or check out a historic candy factory. Other cheap ideas include museums, mountain hikes, and water activities. Many of these activities have a low price tag as well.

Niagara Falls, New York, and Ontario  

Breathtaking falls and fascinating Underground Railroad history.

Laura's husband with their kids and the Niagara Falls on the background
My family at Niagara Falls, a cheap family vacation

📍 Google Maps | Best Places to Stay in Niagara Falls | 👉 Browse Niagara Falls Hotels on Booking

Niagara Falls is one of the best sets of waterfalls in New York—and in all of North America. You’ll want to view the falls from both the US and Canadian sides of the border (the Canadian side has better views!). 

You’ll also want to spend time at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. You’ll learn the daring history of the enslaved people who escaped to Canada, and the stories of those who helped along the way. You may also want to spend time at Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the country. 

🚗 Money-Saving Tip: My family visited Niagara Falls as part of an epic family road trip. Road trips are a great way to keep costs down, especially if you’re traveling with a big family! 

Custer State Park, South Dakota 

Bison roam the plains while families swim, fish, hike, and more.

A bison roaming around Custer State Park
Look for bison at Custer State Park!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Custer State Park Area Hotels on Booking

Custer State Park is one of the best things to do in the USA this summer! It’s near Mount Rushmore and there are five lakes where you can swim. Kids will love watching the bison roam, and don’t miss the Needles Highway and other scenic drives through this South Dakota park. 

Atlanta, Georgia 

Civil rights history and lighthearted fun co-exist in this southern city.

View inside the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park displays signs from the Civil Rights Movement (photo: EWY Media / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Atlanta Hotels on Booking

Give your kids a sense of the Civil Rights Movement at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta. You can also visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and the home where MLK was born. 

Afterward, take a stroll on the BeltLine to see public art and city views. Kids can meet Kermit at the Center for Puppetry Arts. They can also sample drinks from around the world at the World of Coca-Cola museum. 

Acadia National Park, Maine 

Amazing ocean views, fun family hikes, and tasty lobster rolls.

View of the Bass Harbor Head Light Station in Acadia National Park
Lighthouses and rocky cliffs mean beautiful views at this park

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Acadia Area Hotels on Booking

Acadia is one of the best family vacation ideas, as you’ll find activities for all ages. Explore tidepools, swim in the ocean, and listen to the waves crash at Thunder Hole. There are lots of places for kayaking and canoeing and family-friendly hikes as well. 

👉 Pro Tip: Get the America the Beautiful Pass if you’ll be visiting several national parks this year. It gets you into all national parks and more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Entrance fees vary, though it usually pays for itself with 3-4 national park visits. 

Colorado Small Towns

Beat the Colorado crowds (and prices!) by visiting some of the state’s hidden gems.

Scenic view from the town of Crested Butte in Colorado
Crested Butte is one of several Colorado towns that make a great family destination

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Crested Butte Hotels on Booking

Visit some of Colorado’s small towns for mountain living and friendly people. You’ll find all this without the prices that come from bigger resort areas! 

Crested Butte is a beautiful mountain town with hiking, paddleboarding, and skiing. Pagosa Springs has hot springs, rafting, and outdoor activities. And Estes Park is a great base camp for a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Family-friendly beach town with lots of water activities.

Aerial view of the Gulf State Park in Alabama
Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama is a beautiful spot for nature-lovers

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Gulf Shores Hotels on Booking

Pack your beach essentials and play on Alabama’s famous white sand coast in Gulf Shores. Families can fish, paddleboard, or just splash in the warm ocean waters. Try a dolphin cruise if you want to splurge one day. You can also learn local history at historic Fort Morgan.

Southern California

Frolic on the beach and enjoy inexpensive outdoor activities in sunny California.

View from the Santa Monica Beach during sunset
Southern California beaches are an inexpensive place to spend a day!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Los Angeles Hotels on Booking

Southern California isn’t known for being cheap, but you can save money if you know where to look! Griffith Observatory is free, although you may pay for parking. There are hiking trails and a free Travel Town Train museum within Griffith Park. Beaches are another cheap family option. 

Want to head to amusement and water parks like Disneyland and Raging Waters? Research them online ahead of time. Disneyland has surge pricing, so visit on a cheaper day. Raging Waters offers discounts if you buy tickets online ahead of time. 

👉 Pro Tip: Check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles to plan your Southern California vacation! 

Washington DC 

History comes to life with a visit to the nation’s capital.

The Lincoln Memorial from afar during sunset
The Lincoln Memorial is one of several can’t-miss sights in DC

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Washington, D.C. Hotels on Booking

Bring school lessons to life with a trip to the United States’ capital. Check out the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, some of the best things to do in Washington DC. See the White House and talk about our government. And visit areas like the National Mall, which are historically important and also very beautiful!

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona 

A multicolored southwestern canyon you have to see to believe.

Travel Lemming writer, Betty with her family at the Grand Canyon National Park
Travel Lemming writer Betty Hurd and her family at the Grand Canyon

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Grand Canyon Hotels on Booking

The Grand Canyon is one of the best places to visit in Arizona. And you don’t have to hike to the bottom to appreciate its majesty! 

Walk or bike parts of the Rim Trail to see the canyon from different vantage points. Visit the Yavapai Museum of Geology to learn more about the formation of the canyon. Also, it’s free to become a Junior Ranger at almost all of the national parks. 

📚 Related Reading: Grand Canyon Packing List (25 Things You Should Bring)

New York City, New York

Lots of family-friendly activities—including some inexpensive ones.

The author's daughter running in Central Park
One of my children running off steam in Central Park!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse New York City Hotels on Booking

Like southern California, New York City is notoriously expensive! You can see the city on a budget, however. Central Park is always free, and our kids love the Dairy and the Children’s District areas of the park. Walk along the High Line for great views of the city. Pop by to visit the New York Public Library with its famous marble lions.

Many museums in New York City also have either free or reduced admission days. Some relatively inexpensive New York City tours may also be worth the money if you’re uncomfortable navigating the city on your own. 

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

A family-friendly beach town with lots of water fun, plus activities like mini-golf.

Colorful sky over Myrtle Beach during sunset
Myrtle Beach is full of fun activities including an observation wheel

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Myrtle Beach Hotels on Booking

Spend an inexpensive day exploring the beach and splashing in the waves at Myrtle Beach. You can also take the kids to the Wonderworks Science Center and Brookgreen Gardens. Huntington Beach State Park is a great place to learn more about nature in the area. 

Boston, Massachusetts

A historic city with lots of green spaces and kids’ activities.

View of tourists on a swan boat in Boston
Swan boats are one of many family-friendly activities in Boston (photo: NoyanYalcin / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Boston Hotels on Booking

Boston is another city that makes your kids’ history books come to life! Visit the Old North Church where the lanterns signaling a British invasion were hung. Take the Freedom Trail to spot lots of sites that were important to the American Revolution. 

Head to Boston’s Public Garden to see the duckling sculpture based on Make Way For Ducklings. Take a swan boat ride on the lake while you’re there. 

The drive to Salem is under an hour, an interesting destination for older kids. You can spend a day learning about the Salem witch trials, and about the sailors, pirates, and others who passed through town. 

Crystal River, Florida

Swim with sea cows in Florida’s warm waters.

A manatees swimming with a man at the Crystal River
Swim with manatees in this unique spot!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Crystal River Hotels on Booking

Manatees love the warm water in Crystal River, and you can even swim with these gentle “sea cows.” It’s one of the best things to do in Florida

Don’t want to get quite that close? Manatee viewing tours and sunset cruises are surprisingly affordable. You can also see manatees in the underwater observatory at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. 

Branson, Missouri 

Affordable theme parks, lake fun, and lots of music.

View at the Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in Branson
Nearby Dogwood Canyon is a private nature reserve that’s a great spot to explore (photo: Randy Sprague / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Branson Hotels on Booking

Branson consistently tops lists of the best family vacation spots! Spend a day boating on and swimming in Table Rock Lake. Explore the beauty at nearby Dogwood Canyon. 

Scream on the mining-themed amusement park rides at Silver Dollar City. Take in one of the many shows constantly playing in town. Most attractions in Branson do cost, but they’re more affordable than other theme parks and shows. 

Door County, Wisconsin

Outdoor activities along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Small waves hitting the rocky coastline in Door County
Enjoy the lake in this laid-back Wisconsin area

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Door County Hotels on Booking

Spend your days at the lake while in Door County, Wisconsin. This area is along the shoreline of Lake Michigan and is a great spot for cheap family vacations. You can swim and hike at Cave Point County Park with its beautiful stone formations. Boat to a nearby island. Take a scenic drive, or just relax on the beach for a day. 

South Padre Island, Texas 

Lots of water fun, plus the perfect sand for sand castle-making.

View of a shoreline at the South Padre Island

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse South Padre Island Hotels on Booking

Bike, horseback ride, and swim in the surf at South Padre Island. But the island is also known as a great spot for sandcastle-making. You can even take a sandcastle-making class if you want to splurge. Or, for cheap family vacations, grab a sand pail and simply experiment on your own. 

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Bison and volcanic activity make this a truly unique US treasure.

View of the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs is a can’t-miss Yellowstone sight

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Yellowstone Hotels on Booking

You’ll find evidence of volcanic activity all over this national park. Visit Old Faithful to watch the famous geyser. Walk the boardwalks above the Mammoth Hot Springs. Or take a scenic drive through the park. You’ll find breathtaking mountain vistas, sparking lakes, and majestic bison roaming the park. 

Williamsburg, Virginia

Bring history to life or spend a day at an exhilarating theme park.

Members of Fifes and Drums performing in Colonial Williamsburg
Listen to drums and fifes as you walk the historic streets (photo: Bob Pool / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Williamsburg Hotels on Booking

Step back in time at the living history museum in Colonial Williamsburg. Give kids an idea of how time-consuming it was to cook a meal, make tools by hand, and sew clothes in the time before many things were automated. You can even join a workshop to learn to do a few of these things yourself. 

Looking for a more modern experience? Head to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for a day of thrilling roller coasters and rides! 

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Colorful streets and historical buildings are part of the oldest city in the US.

View of cars parked on a colorful street in Old San Juan
Stroll the colorful streets of Old San Juan (photo: PQK / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Old San Juan Hotels on Booking

Visit a US territory with a unique history and gorgeous views. In Old San Juan, be sure to spend time at the 400-year-old El Morro and the nearby landmarks that make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the gorgeous San Juan Cathedral. And, of course, leave plenty of time to experience the beaches in the area as well. 

The Adirondacks, New York 

Swim and hike in summer and toboggan in winter in this upstate New York vacation destination.

Overlooking view of Lake George
Lake George is a popular spot in the Adirondacks

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Adirondack Area Hotels on Booking

Vacation in this beautiful outdoor playground year-round! The Adirondacks are a great spot for cheap family vacations in summer. There are plenty of hiking trails, plus opportunities for boating, swimming, and other inexpensive outdoor activities. In winter, you can toboggan, ski, and ice skate. You can also visit Fort Ticonderoga to learn more about the history of the area. 

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Amazing beaches and lots of ways to explore aquatic life.

People enjoying their day on a cenote in Playa del Carmen
Cool off in a cenote on a sweltering day!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Playa del Carmen Hotels on Booking

Active families will love exploring Playa del Carmen! Snorkel in cenotes, explore tidepools along the beach, or take a pirate cruise. The Croco Cun Zoo is a little pricey for adults, but is free for kids 5 and under. You’ll also find plenty of inexpensive food and hotel options in the area. 

Holland, Michigan

Colorful homes and flowers abound in this Dutch-inspired town.

Colorful flowers and a windmill in Holland, Michigan
You’ll see flowers of all kinds—including plenty of tulips!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Holland Hotels on Booking

Can’t make it to Europe? No worries. This Michigan town will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the land of tulips and windmills. Windmill Island Gardens is a great place to see both of those things! You can also enjoy playing along the shores of Lake Michigan and admiring the architecture while on a local shopping trip. 

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Enjoy the beach and explore the history of flight.

Colorful sky over the Currituck Beach lighthouse during sunset
The Currituck Beach lighthouse is a picturesque spot to visit

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Outer Banks Hotels on Booking

Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and learn about their very first flight experiments in the area. See the living history site at Island Farm. Learn more about area seafaring history at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum. And, of course, spend a few days enjoying the beaches along the Outer Banks, one of the best places to visit in North Carolina.

Victoria, British Columbia

A quaint, historic city full of great ocean views and amazing gardens.

Parliament Building in Victoria with lights at night
Be sure to walk by the Parliament Building when it’s all lit up!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Victoria Hotels on Booking

Victoria, B.C. is an easy vacation destination to reach from the United States and is full of outdoor adventures and interesting sites. Don’t miss The Butchart Gardens and its acres of gorgeous flowers. 

The Royal BC Museum is a great place to learn about area history, and you can view beautiful totem poles in Thunderbird Park. Be sure to stroll by the Parliament Building at night to see the lights and save time for the B.C. beaches. 

📚 Bookmark This: British Columbia Road Trip [Epic 7 Day Itinerary + 2023 Map]

St Louis, Missouri

Iconic landmarks, historic riverboats, and thrilling theme parks.

Colorful sky over the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri
The Gateway Arch is one of several great St. Louis family destinations

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Saint Louis Hotels on Booking

Head to the Gateway Arch to spend a day learning about this landmark. You can take a tram to the top and visit the museum at the bottom as well. Take a riverboat cruise along the Mississippi River. There are also several amusement parks including RYZE Adventure Park and Six Flags St. Louis. 

Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Explore a rainforest, visit beautiful beaches, and hit up a national park.

View logs at the Olympic Peninsula in Washington
There are plenty of beaches to stroll along the peninsula

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Olympic Peninsula Hotels on Booking

The Olympic Peninsula is across the Puget Sound from Seattle and includes Olympic National Park. You can head to the Hoh Rain Forest, which is home to countless trees, mosses, ferns, and other green living things. Explore tide pools along the beaches in the area. Head to Sequim for lots of lavender and be sure to try some local seafood. 

Gatlinburg, Tennessee 

Explore a small town in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Aerial view of the Gatlinburg town in Tennessee
This charming town is full of family activities

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Gatlinburg Hotels on Booking

Gatlinburg makes a great base camp for exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a cheap family vacation. You can also walk the Skybridge or take an aerial tram for beautiful views of the Great Smoky Mountains. 

New Orleans, Louisiana

Music and fun in The Big Easy.

Overlooking view at New Orleans at night
Historical sites and great music make New Orleans a great family place to visit

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse New Orleans Hotels on Booking

New Orleans is known as a great place for grown-ups, but it’s a winner for cheap family vacations as well! There are tons of things to do, including the Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium. Both are great spots to visit with kids. 

You can also stroll the French Quarter and pop into Cafe du Monde—one of the best New Orleans restaurants—for some tasty beignets. Storyland in City Park has tiny houses, animals, and storybook characters for kids to play near. You can also learn about the floats of Mardi Gras with a tour of Mardi Gras World. 

FAQs About Affordable Family Vacations

How can I vacation with my family for cheap?

You can vacation with your family for cheap by researching deals well before your trip. Look for the discount or deal section on websites like and check websites like Expedia for low airfare and rental car rates. Discover Cars is also a great site for cheaper rental cars. 

You can also plan cheap family vacations by traveling during the off-season. Finally, try to pick spots that aren’t too trendy. Hidden gems will be less expensive and less crowded.

How do I plan a large family vacation?

Prepare early if you want to plan a large family vacation. You may find that staying in a vacation rental is cheaper than booking hotel rooms for a large number of people. You can also plan cheap family vacations by preparing some meals at your vacation rental. Be sure to work out meal plans and itineraries ahead of time, and note that communication is key. 

How much should I save for a family trip?

You should save about $1,200 per person for a week-long family trip. Of course, there are ways to take cheaper family vacations. Road trips are often much less expensive than trips where you need to book flights and rent a car. Camping trips are another less expensive way to see the country! 

What is the smartest way to pay for a vacation?

The smartest way to pay for a vacation is with credit cards, which are more secure than debit cards. Credit cards can also help you rack up miles and other rewards—and you can travel for free with credit card points!

You do want to be careful with credit cards, however. Make sure you can pay them off so that your vacation doesn’t end up putting you in debt.


Hopefully, this article has given you lots of ideas for cheap family vacations! Be sure to check out my list of family travel tips for even more advice on traveling with your family.

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