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!
Table of Contents
- 30 Best Cheap Family Vacations
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- Denver, Colorado
- Niagara Falls, New York, and Ontario
- Custer State Park, South Dakota
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- Colorado Small Towns
- Gulf Shores, Alabama
- Southern California
- Washington DC
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- New York City, New York
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Crystal River, Florida
- Branson, Missouri
- Door County, Wisconsin
- South Padre Island, Texas
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
- Williamsburg, Virginia
- Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
- The Adirondacks, New York
- Playa del Carmen, Mexico
- Holland, Michigan
- Outer Banks, North Carolina
- Victoria, British Columbia
- St Louis, Missouri
- Olympic Peninsula, Washington
- Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- FAQs About Affordable Family Vacations
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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.
📍 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.
Family-friendly activities abound in the Mile High City, many of which are low cost.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
Civil rights history and lighthearted fun co-exist in this southern city.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
Frolic on the beach and enjoy inexpensive outdoor activities in sunny California.
📍 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!
History comes to life with a visit to the nation’s capital.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
A historic city with lots of green spaces and kids’ activities.
📍 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.
📍 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.
Affordable theme parks, lake fun, and lots of music.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
Bring history to life or spend a day at an exhilarating theme park.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
Colorful homes and flowers abound in this Dutch-inspired town.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
📍 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.
Explore a small town in the Great Smoky Mountains.
📍 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.
📍 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 Booking.com 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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