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), it’s possible to come up with a creative idea that doesn’t require flying around the world or spending a ton of cash. Here are 20 cheap family vacations for your next trip with the whole squad.
Getting there: 30 minutes from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
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.
Getting there: 43 minutes from Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport
You don’t have to fly to Africa to experience giraffes in the wild. Safari West Animal Park, in Sonoma Valley, California, is home to 800 wild animals, which roam across a wildlife preserve. You can take a tour of the preserve in a Jeep or stay overnight in one of the thirty tents, that feature a private viewing deck, en-suite bathroom, polished hardwood floors, and because it’s camping, all the wildlife sounds of the Sonoma Serengeti.
Getting there: 12 minutes from Harrisburg International Airport
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. Hotel deals are easy to find, too, making it fun for both the kids and your wallet.
Getting there: 2 hours and 30 minutes from Norfolk International Airport
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.
Getting there: 28 minutes from Southwest Florida International Airport
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.
Getting there: 10 minutes from Myrtle Beach International Airport
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.
Getting there: 27 minutes Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport
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.
Getting there: 14 minutes from Niagara International Airport
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. Leaving the States can make it feel like a serious vacation but crossing the border by car leaves the hassle of airports behind. There’s a lot to see in this vivacious city, and it’s a good option for families who want to leave the country-ish.
Getting there: 1 hour and 24 minutes from Nashville International Airport
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, Colorado
Getting there: Fly into Denver International Airport
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. For some fast-paced fun, head over to Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park which houses over 50 rides. The young kiddos can join in on the fun as well since the park has plenty of family rides and a 10-acre swimming area with slippery slides, crashing waves and lazy rivers.
Getting there: 17 minutes from Grand Canyon National Park Airport
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.
Getting there: Fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
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.
Getting there: 2 hours and 22 minutes from JFK International Airport
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.
Getting there: 56 minutes from Springfield-Branson National Airport
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.
Getting there: 39 minutes from Brownsville Airport
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.
Getting there: 15 minutes away from Jack Edwards National Airport
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 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.
Getting there: 2 hours and 36 minutes from Baltimore International Airport
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.
Getting there: 20 minutes from Bar Harbor Airport
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.
Getting there: 1 hour and 11 minutes from McGhee-Tyson Airport
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.
Getting there: 58 minutes from Southwest Florida International Airport
Sanibel Island is one of those destinations where you can certainly have your cake and eat it too. As in: if you’re looking for a quiet afternoon without the kids, you can drop them off at Sanibel Sea School for the afternoon, where they’ll partake in fun and hands-on activities geared toward teaching them about marine conservation. Another alternative is to drop them at the National Shell Museum where they can take a class on the giant Pacific octopus or conchs. In the meantime, you can enjoy a relaxed day at one of the white sand beaches, go on a day sail or grab some delicious eats and drinks at one of the islands noted restaurants. Consider visiting off-season for the best deals.