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- Vacation Ideas for Cheap Family Vacations in the USA
- Thousand Islands Region, Upper New York State
- Niagara Falls, New York (and Canada)
- Washington, D.C.
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Hampton, Virginia
- Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown & Yorktown, Virginia
- Luray, Virginia
- Cheap Family Vacations in Florida
- Sarasota, Florida
- Montgomery, Alabama
- Tupelo, Mississippi
- Johnson City, Tennessee
- Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Affordable Family Road Trips in Texas
- Austin, Texas
- Beaumont, Texas
- Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Branson, Missouri
- St. Louis, Missouri
- Hamilton County, Indiana
- Winterset, Iowa
- Lake McConaughy, Nebraska
- Cheyenne, Wyoming
- Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Colorado Cheap Family Vacations
- Colorado Road Trip - National Parks
- Denver, Colorado
- Golden, Colorado
- Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Grand Lake, Colorado
- Cheap Family Vacations in New Mexico
- Taos, New Mexico
- Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Utah National Park Road Trip
- Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory
- California Cheap Family Vacations
- Bass Lake, California
- Ventura, California
- Catalina Island, California
- Disneyland California
- Hawaii Family Vacation
Whether you’re searching for staycations, weekend getaways, road trips or short flight adventures, here are the top affordable family vacation destinations to explore in the USA. From east to west, north to south, cheap family vacations can be great vacations IF you choose the right fit for your family.
Vacation Ideas for Cheap Family Vacations in the USA
While many families are looking for staycations, others have their eyes on getaways outside the city limits, or into bordering states. Still, others are gearing up to (finally!) putting wings to their vacation by booking a flight.
No matter where your family lies on the vacation needle, most are still looking for ways to save money with cheap family vacations.
Quick tips for affordable family vacations include:
- Check-in to a hotel room that includes breakfast and discounts for extended stays. Hotels such as Holiday Inn Express, Motel 6, Best Western and Days End are good choices.
- Consider all-inclusive resorts.
- I’ve also had great luck with vacation rentals with VRBO and Airbnb. These are perfect accommodations for family vacations as it allows kids to have their own space, and includes full kitchens to save money by preparing some meals at home.
From Washington DC to California, Texas to Wisconsin and destinations in between, follow along as our TravelingMom (TMOM) writers offer their ideas for cheap family vacations in the USA.
Thousand Islands Region, Upper New York State
TMOM Yvonne Jasinski recommends the Thousand Islands Region in upper New York State on the border with Canada. She says it has all you need for a great down-to-earth vacation.
Miles of shoreline, scenic islands, fantastic swimming, boating, fishing and camping can satisfy any outdoor lover. Families with children especially appreciate the area for its endless entertainment provided by nature!
There are no lines, no checkpoints and no out-of-this-world prices. Just show up and enjoy old fashion family fun.
Niagara Falls, New York (and Canada)
A visit to iconic Niagara Falls could be a dream family vacation, and one people often forget since it’s tucked away so far up north. TMOM writer Melody Pittman says that Niagara is a really affordable destination and has plenty of things to do.
Located in New York State, Niagara Falls is known for the vast Niagara Falls, which straddle the Canadian border.
In Niagara Falls State Park, the Observation Tower, at Prospect Point, juts out over Niagara Gorge for a view of all 3 waterfalls. Trails from the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center lead to other viewpoints.
The Aquarium of Niagara is home to Humboldt penguins, seals and sea lions.
And if you feel like a more international adventure, cross the Canadian border for the Maid of the Mist, the most popular Niagara attraction, and with 600,000 gallons of water falling every second, it is easy to see why. Three waterfalls are also in sight aboard the tour.
Cave of the Winds is another park that is a do-not-miss.
Be sure to have a meal at Anchor Bar, home of chicken wings, and the best ones I’ve ever tasted.
And if you’re looking to splurge just a little, consider a family-fun stay (including waterslides!) at the Great Wolf Lodge Niagara Falls.
TMOM Sarah Ricks recommends exploring Washington DC by heading to an affordable DC neighborhood. Make Dupont Circle your home base with plenty to enjoy within walking distance.
Things to do near Dupont Circle include tons of restaurants, cafes and shops. Plus, it is a short walk to the Washington D.C. museums.
Read Sarah’s tips of things to do near Dupont Circle including where to stay.
And this recommendation comes from me! One of Maryland’s largest cities, Baltimore is colorful and diverse. The city is known for its scenic and always busy harbor. Explore its quirky, distinct neighborhoods; and unique museums — and amazing seafood.
From Fort McHenry to the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, you and your kids (and grandkids) can learn something and have fun too by visiting the city’s must-see historical sites.
We at TravelingMom feel it’s important to recognize and learn our history in the United States, but most importantly learn from it.
TMOM writer Dee Dean recommends a visit to the Virginia town of Hampton, where 400 years of history is at every turn.
This is where the first documented African slaves arrived in 1619, beginning the more than two centuries of legalized African slavery in the United States.
While the above is important to learn, families can also explore and experience positive advancements in our history. This is also where, in 1868, the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University, opened its doors and educated newly freed southern slaves, and later Native Americans.
Be sure to include a stop at the Emancipation Oak, the site of the first southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown & Yorktown, Virginia
Three more Virginia towns filled with Americana history are recommended by writer Sarah Ricks. Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown are where she traveled with her teens. Families learn from the area’s Revolutionary War and 17th-century historic sites, with museum exhibits.
Take time to cool off at Yorktown Beach. Or head to the perfect retreat for teens, the nearby Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA.
Explore the Shenandoah Valley and National Park from the gorgeous small town of Luray (pronounced Loo-Ray), Virginia, another one of our recommended cheap family vacations.
This adorable town, recommended by TravelingMom writer Melody Pittman, has a plethora of outdoor adventures (kayaking, tubing, etc.) and the Luray Caverns, one of the most accessible caves in the country.
Don’t miss the Dukes of Hazzard nod at Cooter’s Garage, excellent for memorabilia, ice cream and loads of family fun.
The pastel-colored cottages at the Mimslyn Inn are perfect for space and comfort, and even offer kitchenettes.
Cheap Family Vacations in Florida
The Sunshine State may be synonymous with Walt Disney World. While Disney is lots of fun, it’s not always easy on the family budget. Consider exploring Orlando with these free things to do and this 2-day itinerary for an Orlando family vacation.
However, there is so much more to explore in Florida outside of Disney — and you’ll discover memorable and cheap family vacations when you do.
Read below for our list of Florida destinations that are affordable and fun — and your family will love:
- Florida State Parks for Families
- Navarre, Florida
- 21 Ideas for a Fabulous Florida Vacation for Families
- Best Florida Beaches for Families
- 10 Fun Florida Road Trip Ideas for Families
- Jupiter, Florida with Family
Sarasota, Florida, is the place to find great food and great fun on a family vacation, says TMOM Maria Smith. From kayaking to big cats to circus history and, of course, the beach, there are plenty of affordable things to do in Sarasota with kids.
If you are looking to explore Florida beyond the Orlando theme parks, Sarasota is definitely a city to put on your list.
We love Montgomery, says TMOM Nasreen Stump. She went on a press trip and have taken the kids back multiple times. Hotels in the downtown area are affordable and if you’re good with walking, you can get to a lot from them. The food scene is really great.
There are tons of opportunities to teach about slavery and ongoing issues in the US in an immersive way. Montgomery is extremely clear in their historical signage and tells the story of the slave trade in a way that doesn’t gloss over it, although little kids might find the Legacy Museum too intense. The attached bookstore/cafe is a great start for younger kids to explore black history.
Families will love the number of free things to do in Montgomery, including museums.
For those wanting to explore more of this state, read about these 20+ unique places to visit in Alabama.
One of my road trips several years back included a stop in Tupelo, Mississippi, historically famous as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. This small northeastern Mississippi town is an affordable and perfect long weekend family escape. Tupelo shares similarities with its two nearby cities, Memphis and Nashville with its musical scene, culinary adventures, history and southern charm.
Family activities in Tupelo include a free Elvis Self-guided Bike or Driving Tour to visit some of Elvis’ favorite hangouts, including Johnnie’s Drive In, Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum, multiple statues and Tupelo Hardware (where Elvis bought his first guitar).
Pack up the kids and a picnic for a road trip along the Natchez Trace Scenic Byway, from Nashville to Tupelo, and download these 29 best road trip songs. I actually road my motorcycle on this four-hour drive, stopping at several historical Civil War points and enjoying one of the most scenic drives in the country.
Six miles south of Tupelo and surrounding Lake Lee, visit the Tombigbee State Park and enjoy the great outdoors with activities including canoeing, fishing, nature trails and more. Inexpensive cabin rentals are available in the park.
Johnson City, Tennessee
Families will love the price point and scenery offered in Johnson City, TN, says TravelingMom writer Melody Pittman. This Eastern Tennessee gem has one of the coolest pump bikes and mountain bike trails (Tannery Knobs) in the country, perfect for extreme cyclists, too.
There is a game store downtown that entices families to sit for a spell and unplug to enjoy a competitive game option.
While you are there, have a look at the colorful murals, eat delicious food and satisfy your sweet tooth with goodies from Cakebuds, which you may know from the Food Network. The Carnegie Hotel will pamper y’all.
Originally from this southeastern Tennessee city, TMOM Terri Marshall offers up these 7 reasons to add Chattanooga to your family’s travel plans.
Situated along the banks of the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is a Tennessee treasure. It’s not too big, not too small—Chattanooga is just right. And this lovely southern city truly offers something for everyone.
Whether you’re looking for art, food, family fun, history or adventure—Chattanooga delivers, from Rock City, history, art, adventures and the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo.
Affordable Family Road Trips in Texas
From the Guadalupe Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, Texas offers diverse experiences from tip to tip. With more than 268,000 square miles of wide-open spaces, metropolitan cities and rural charm, there is a little Texas for everyone.
It could easily take you two days to drive from Beaumont to El Paso, so we’ve put together this list of top Texas road trips for families that are within a day’s drive from Houston.
Not starting from Houston? That’s OK. Many of these trips are within an easy driving distance from Dallas, Austin or San Antonio. Texans are proud of their vast state, and with good reason! The Lone Star State is a stellar place to visit.
Writer Sarah Ricks loves visiting Austin, Texas where families can soak up Texas history, listen to live music and enjoy casual barbecue, tasty tapas and one blowout restaurant meal. The lively downtown in Austin has lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors.
From walking or biking along the waterfront to frisbee in Zilker Park, to views from the public library rooftop terrace, it is easy to enjoy the fresh air.
Spend a day exploring sculpture gardens and historic homes, add a ziplining adventure through the Hill Country or give the kids a hands-on experience at a number of STEM museums.
And a visit to Austin isn’t complete without at least one food truck experience.
Beaumont, Texas, you ask? Why yes, and there are so many experiences (and many free) to make your next Beaumont, Texas, family vacation memorable. Located on the border of Louisiana, but most definitely all about Texas, its location gives this city a dash of the Cajun culture infused with its Lone Star State big attitude.
Think brisket and crawfish, Gulf waters with mysterious bayous, sweeping pine and cedar trees with lowland plains and fields. And kids can even hold a gator at Gator Country.
And then there’s the Big Thicket National Preserve and one of its most popular waterways, the Neches River.
Highly recommended by TMOM writer Cathy Bennett Kopf is Tulsa, Oklahoma. She suggests including Tulsa as a stop on a nostalgic, and affordable, Route 66 road trip.
The big attraction for families with kids is the city’s Gathering Place – a massive riverfront park that is FREE. The Adventure Playground covers 5 acres!
Branson is a rare gem, says TravelingMom writer Heidi Gollub, and a top affordable family vacation. This beautiful Missouri town is surrounded by natural beauty and jam-packed with fun things to do with kids.
You’ll be tempted to sit and drink in the Ozark Mountain scenery. But the many Branson amusement parks, thrill rides, golf courses, water parks and live shows will get you moving!
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri, is TravelingMom editor Cindy Richards’ favorite city for families. She says it’s super affordable with lots of free things to do.
Plus, Cindy says the City Museum is, without a doubt, the coolest children’s museum she’s ever seen.
Hamilton County, Indiana
Situated in the heart of the Midwest, just 30 minutes north of Indianapolis and a three-hour drive from Chicago, is Hamilton County, Indiana. This area consists of a cluster of iconic communities including Noblesville, Fishers, Carmel and Westfield.
From miles of bike trails to interactive train rides, Hamilton County is a family-friendly and affordable family vacation destination with a number of attractions worth the drive.
Start with the interactive living history museum, Conner Prairie. Then take a scenic bike ride along Monon Trail, a former railroad line and now a 25-mile bike route passing through charming local towns. All aboard the Nickel Plate Express, offering a 12-mile stretch of interactive and scenic train excursions.
Finally take your adventure outside to Strawtown Koteewi Park, a 750-acre park on the White River with options for boating, canoe launching, fishing, kayaking, nature trails, archery range, treetop trail courses and more.
Historic cedar-covered bridges inspiring a love story and the movie, Bridges of Madison County. Birthplace of Hollywood legend John Wayne with a museum, statue, and trail. Storybook downtown. Good ol’ fashioned Iowa home cooking (and oh the pies!). This and more awaits you in this affordable family-friendly town, and these are only a few of the reasons why you should visit Winterset, Iowa.
Just 30 minutes southwest of Des Moines, discover a real Americana small town, Winterset, with BIG things to do.
Explore Winterset’s historic downtown town square with quaint shops, galleries, restaurants, Iowa Quilt Museum and local businesses. Shop at the local variety store, Ben Franklin, with its unique souvenirs and toys.
Lake McConaughy, Nebraska
For generations, families have flocked to the white sand beaches of Lake McConaughy, but “Lake Mac” also has outdoor adventures, scenic diversity and a whole lot of family fun.
Read more about our family adventures at Lake Mac.
Since moving to Denver over 30 years ago, I’ve road tripped my way 100 miles north to Cheyenne, Wyoming at least once every summer.
Looking for a true western experience that is affordable and fun for the entire family? Pack your cowboy boots and hat and bring your little buckaroos. Point your vacation radar to Wyoming and its rich wild west history.
From a bison ranch to gunslingers to its high-energy rodeo along with its outdoor activities, read all about the 9 fun things to do with kids in Cheyenne.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Located 80 minutes from Chicago and 45 minutes from Milwaukee in the heart of Wisconsin, Lake Geneva is the perfect place for your family vacation.
Lake Geneva is a beautiful and peaceful town surrounding a portion of Geneva Lake, the second deepest lake in Wisconsin. Chicago’s elite summer here; the lakeside skyline is filled with historic mansions. But Lake Geneva isn’t just for the rich and famous.
Families from all over the world plan their vacations here, and although the lake is perhaps the biggest draw, with water activities including canoeing, rafting, swimming, Lake Geneva also offers plenty of other fun things to do with your family, such as hikes, great food and Yerkes Observatory, home to the biggest refracting telescope in the world.
There are a couple of resorts in NW Michigan that my family loved, says TMOM writer Jamie Sotonoff Bartosch. Her kids STILL talk about how fun it was to flip upside down on the ziplines at Boyne Mountain Resort. It also has an indoor water park which comes in handy for bad weather days.
Jamie’s kids are also big fans of Crystal Mountain Resort, another all-in-one resort. They have a fun alpine slide (more for younger kids than teens) and an outdoor laser tag area in the summer. The sunsets are EPIC.
Madison, Wisconsin, is one of TMOM writers Nasreen Stump’s favorite cities in the summer. The university town clears out a bit so downtown hotels are priced well. She’s a fan of the Doubletree next to Nitty Gritty (the best-fried cheese curds) and the Hilton Monona (can be pricy if it’s a wedding weekend).
It’s a great spot to combine free museums and a free zoo with some adult-oriented but kid-friendly activities like the New Glarus brewery.
Colorado Cheap Family Vacations
You know I couldn’t write an article without including my home state of Colorado, right? A western U.S. state, Colorado offers four seasons of fun with its diverse landscape of arid desert, river canyons and those snow-covered Rocky Mountains.
With so much to see and do, I’ll highlight some of my favorite cheap family vacations in Colorado.
Colorado Road Trip – National Parks
Perched a mile above sea level, Denver, Colorado’s capital and largest city, features a vibrant downtown area.
Think you know Denver? Read these top 10 things you didn’t know about the Mile High City.
I’d also suggest booking a room at the Gaylord.
If you’re looking for Colorado small-town charm, look no farther than Golden. Located in the foothills about 20 minutes west of downtown Denver, Golden welcomes families with a wide range of activities from hiking, biking, tubing, cultural attractions, museums and Old West history. You can even rent a bike for 2 hours — absolutely free! — and ride the path along Clear Creek.
Read these 7 family friendly things to do in Golden.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Living in Colorado, we have exceptional travel experiences within walking distance or a short road trip.
From its amazing zoo to riding the rails, Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region is a frequent destination for our multigenerational family travel because it offers so much to see and do — and it is a 90-minute road trip from Denver.
Things to do in Colorado Springs include horseback riding in the Garden of the Gods and then exploring or hiking in this free park and visiting the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and so much more.
Grand Lake, Colorado
A Colorado family vacation solidly covers all ages with fun things to do for everyone. That’s why Grand Lake and Grand County top the list of favorite Colorado destinations.
As a four-season destination just two hours from Denver, Grand Lake offers year-round scenic hikes, affordable winter sports, family-friendly restaurants and places to hang out together as a family – and, yes, even grandparents love it. Got your attention?
Stay at the beautiful and pet-friendly Grand Lake Lodge or affordable accommodations at the nearby YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch.
Cheap Family Vacations in New Mexico
Get started exploring this great state with these must-see things in New Mexico on a Southwest road trip.
Taos, New Mexico
Families are invited to experience Taos, New Mexico, an affordable four-season family vacation destination with the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Enjoy 300 + days of sunshine, fewer crowds and more year-round fun and family-friendly attractions in Taos.
Whether you’re road tripping with the family (like we did) or flying into the nearby Albuquerque airport, one visit to Taos will make you plan your next. After several visits to this cool New Mexico town, read my suggestions of the 7 best things to do in Taos, NM with kids.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
TMOM Liana Carlson Moore says that Santa Fe is affordable for her family, in part because it’s a road trip away. She can also find affordable hotels or VRBO rentals.
New Mexican food and margaritas are amazing and also affordable as long as you avoid touristy places.
Even the coolest art installation around, Meow Wolf, is affordable.
Plus there’s plenty of free hiking, amazing history at Bandelier National Monument, and a wonderful farmers market.
Utah National Park Road Trip
TMOM writer Catherine Parker is all in for a Utah National Park road trip. She says that you can fly into Las Vegas and rent a car if you only have one week and visit 5 national parks with not too much driving.
Buy a National Park pass for $80 and that gets the whole vehicle into 5 really good national parks–like Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP and Arches NP.
Along the way, you can also see Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Utah offers a lot of options in lodging including camping, renting an RV, glamping and traditional lodging.
Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory
The family fun starts in Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory. Located just outside of Portland, this region is loaded with outdoor adventures, from hiking its forested wilderness with alpine lakes and rushing rivers to tasting the Willamette Valley’s renowned wines. With my multigenerational family of 8 (kids ages 2 – 15 years), the Territory overflowed our family bucket list!
We visited the Marquam Hill Ranch, Rosse Posse Elk including a petting zoo and rented our first pontoon boat at the Get & Go Promontory Marina.
We started with the perfect accommodations: a secluded vacation rental with Mt. Hood Vacation Rentals. Our rented lodge was located on five private acres – with our back deck providing a scenic view of Mt. Hood’s perpetually snowy peak.
California Cheap Family Vacations
California offers so much, says TMOM Taty Pradilla! With these unique California destinations, families can definitively take advantage of nature, history, magic and movie destinations to make memories to last a lifetime!
Our TMOM writer, Mimi Slawoff offers these California vacation ideas for families and road trips from SoCal to NorCal.
Bass Lake, California
Nestled among cedars and pines at 3,415-feet elevation, Bass Lake is a charming getaway in California’s Sierra National Forest, says our writer Mimi. For outdoorsy families – and those traveling with pets, Bass Lake and nearby Yosemite are affordable getaways with fun things to do for all ages. With a variety of outdoor adventures, water sports, boat rentals, and accommodations, Bass Lake has a lot to offer people who visit Yosemite Madera County.
In addition, it’s only 17 miles to the south entrance to Yosemite National Park, a top destination in the United States. With such close proximity to Yosemite, Bass Lake is also an ideal home base for exploring the park.
When visitors plan a California family vacation, they usually think of L.A. and San Diego (which are fabulous says TMOM Mimi).
But have you visited Ventura (which borders L.A.)? This underrated beach town with gorgeous, uncrowded beaches, a marina and the nearby Channel Islands (even many CA locals haven’t visited these incredible islands).
Catalina Island, California
Also, from TMOM Mimi, enjoy an affordable island getaway in L.A.! Catalina Island (within L.A. County) is just a 22-mile boat ride from the city.
With a Mediterranean climate, beachfront hotels and calm water for swimming and snorkeling, it feels worlds away from SoCal.
The seaside community of Carlsbad in San Diego county offers visitors fresh ocean air, plenty of dining options and lots of family-friendly outdoor entertainment.
Read more of TMOM Julie Bigboy’s things to do in Carlsbad.
San Diego, California
With its temperate climate year-round, San Diego is a beautiful place to explore outdoors, and you can make this destination a cheap vacation. From the beaches to the mountains (and all the spots in between!), these are the top 33 things to do outside in San Diego with kids.
Looking for the best family-friendly San Diego beaches? This TMOM is also a native and frequent beach-goer, with all the local tips for your day on the sand. So grab your sunscreen and check out this West coast guide to the best beaches in San Diego.
On every family’s travel bucket list is Disneyland, and while this might not be considered a cheap family vacation, there are ways to save money.
Book early and save money with multi-day Disneyland tickets. Consider vacation rentals with VRBO and/or Airbnb with full kitchens versus booking a hotel room and spending more money on meals. Travel on non-peak days by avoiding the weekends.
Since many TMOMs have written about their Disneyland experiences, I’ll bullet their great advice and articles below:
- Disneyland Reopening 2021: What You Need to Know
- Disneyland Crowds: 15 Insider Tips to Beat the Rush
- Best Hotels Close to Disneyland
- Disneyland Tips for First Time Visitors
- Everything You Need to Know about California Adventure at Disneyland
Hawaii Family Vacation
Another family travel bucket list is Hawaii, and again while this destination might not be considered “affordable,” our recent multigenerational Big Island Hawaii vacation wasn’t as expensive as it could’ve been.
Our home-away-from-home was a rented four-bedroom vacation home through VRBO that gave each of our two grandkids, my daughter and her hubby, and my husband and me our own bedrooms. The shared space included a living room, large kitchen and dining area — and the best was the outdoor space including a pool. While not an oceanfront view, we did have a view of the ocean from our pool.
We strategically choose a location close to the town of Kona, Costco, grocery stores, restaurants and shopping. To save more money, we planned all breakfasts at home, most of our evening meals and packed several picnics when we road tripped to explore the island outside of Kona.
We booked an amazing sunset dinner cruise, which included dolphin and whale sightings (saving $10 each by booking online), swam at a state park nearby (for free!), added a luau and splurged occasionally on meals out.
Seriously, our Big Island Hawaii vacation is still our favorite vacation spot and some of the best family memories to date. Of course, Papa claims the best part was challenging the grandkids to board games in the evening. He’s self-claiming the family Monopoly champion title (although that’s up for debate).
With all these choices of destinations, what ones made your list of cheap family vacations? Or did we miss your favorite? Share with us in the comments below.