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The best cheap family vacations in the U.S.

The whole crew will love these cheap family vacations this year and so will your wallet

Written by
Scott Snowden
&
Shoshi Parks
Contributors
Tolly Wright
&
Sarah Medina
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You might think splitting the atom was a challenge, or landing a man on the moon and returning them safely to Earth presented a test...and if this is the case, then clearly you've never attempted to organize a family holiday. 

As you level up in logistical planning you will of course benefit from some worthwhile ideas  and we’ve got plenty of suggestions for the best cheap family vacations in the US to take this year. The kids will eventually tire themselves out, you will have explored somewhere new and your bank account will thank you.

These family vacation spots offer entertainment for everyone, and it’s no surprise that the great outdoors is one of out top choices with a reasonable price tag. National parks, outdoor adventures, and camping are all options for reconnecting with nature, plus there's something to be said for a vacation where the kids can burn off a ton of energy with minimal parental intervention. But if you prefer travel that's a little less focused on the natural world, we've still got plenty of options: quiet beach towns in Maine, mountain getaways in Colorado, living history parks in Virginia, and dude ranches in Texas.

From whitewater rafting to seaside amusements parks, these family-friendly trips will take you from coast to coast while stretching your dollar as far as it can go. But however you choose to travel with the fam in the US, you'll treasure the memories long after you've paid off that pesky credit card—here are some of our favorite ideas for the best cheap family vacations in the US in 2022.

RECOMMENDED: the best places to visit in the U.S. every month of 2022

Best cheap family vacation in the US

Yellowstone, WY
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Yellowstone, WY

No other place on earth is like Yellowstone National Park. The massive, natural sanctuary (3,471 square miles of greenery) mesmerizes all visitors with its mountains, canyons, geysers, and subalpine forests (don’t be surprised if you spot buffalo, too).

With challenging hikes into the backcountry as well as handicap-accessible wooden boardwalks, the wonders of Yellowstone are for everyone. Bring a tent and get here early to take advantage of the affordable campgrounds (seven of which are first-come, first-served and five require reservations) with fire pits for flame-grilled meals.

Hunter Mountain, NY
Photograph: Courtesy Hunter Mountain

2. Hunter Mountain, NY

If you've never properly explored upstate New York, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's not much more than a big farm where pets go when they're very old. And while that's probably still partly true, there is so much more to explore, especially around the Catskills mountains and the town of Hunter

Located at the foot of Hunter Mountain, the town looks like it's been forgotten by time, with lots of local shops mostly still with their colonial-style outdoor aesthetic. There are very few, if any, rubber-stamp brands here, the enconmy is supported by local businesses. 

Hunter Mountain is an all-year-round destination. During the summer, there are paths to hike, trails to moutain bike along, nearby streams to play in and so much open space, it boggles the mind. During the winter, the natural beauty of the area is covered in a thick, soft white blanket and it's only one of a few locations on the east coast that offers really good skiing and snowboarding runs. 

Rentals and Airbnb accomodation is available, but none beat the Hunter Mountain Sanctuary. Rest your aching legs in the evening, sitting outside on a big, wooden patio, with a glass of your favorite wine and as the sun sets, gaze upon those very same slopes you were carving up only a short time ago.

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Durango, CO
Photograph: Courtesy DSNGRR/Yvonne Lashmett

3. Durango, CO

Durango and its nearby mountains and mesas are a thrill in any season. In warmer months, you'll find everything from epic hiking to white water rafting, plus one of the most spectacular train rides in the country: the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (if you visit during snow season, it’s one of the best winter train rides in the country). 

Mesa Verde National Park and it's incredible cliff dwellings are just a short drive away, and you can camp for free nearby or check out the railroad's hotel packages for discounts on overnights in the charming former mining town. In winter months, Purgatory Ski Resort is less expensive and less crowded than Colorado competitors like Aspen, but with equally majestic slopes.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CA

Want to really impress your kids? Head to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks where they can stand among giants (giant sequoia groves, that is) and meet General Grant (the second largest tree in the world).

The parks also boast 240 caves, a scenic segment of the Sierra Nevada mountain range (including the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S.), parts of the Kings River and San Joaquin River, and the towering Moro Rock formation. Because of how isolated it is, Sequoia National Park also has some of the darkest skies in the country, making it one of the best places to stargaze for amateur astrologers alike.

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Grand Canyon, AZ
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Grand Canyon, AZ

It’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and for good reason: The Grand Canyon is a sight like no other. The kiddos might complain when you get out of Wi-Fi range, but they’ll remember hiking these trails forever. For an overnight at the Grand Canyonopt for the North Rim, which is less crowded and has no-fuss, first-come-first-served campsites. More experiened hikers can switchback steeply down to the river, a mile below the rim, where secluded campsites reward the effort.

Destin, FL
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Destin, FL

Seek fun in the sun in Destin, Florida, known for its fishing spots, sprawling white sand beaches and being conveniently less expensive than other popular destinations in the state.

Family-friendly activities include boating, snorkeling, parasailing or just strolling along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk. Use the money you saved to indulge in a sunset cruise on a glass-bottom boat or a high-speed racer. And don't miss the Henderson Beach State Park, which offers a quiet and secluded beach access with a hiking route through the sand dunes. 

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Oak Hill, WV
Photograph: Courtesy Ace Adventure Center

7. Oak Hill, WV

Located on 1,500 wooded acres adjacent to New River Gorge National Park, the ACE Adventure Resort is a one-stop shop for all of West Virginia's outdoor possibilities. ACE offers white water rafting trips on the New and Gauley Rivers, zip line tours with views of the Gorge, rock climbing, mountain biking and lake adventures. And any family on a budget will appreciate the multi-day, all-inclusive package deals that allows for spending without worrying about added charges.

Asheville, NC
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Asheville, NC

For families who love the great outdoors and great food, Asheville is for you. Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains and seeing the beautiful waterfalls at the Pisgah National Forest are free and, in town, you’ll find lots of family fun ideas like minor league baseball during the summer season. Feel like splurging? The beautiful gardens and grounds of the Biltmore Estate are well worth the price of admission. Inside the historic mansion you'll find works by the likes of Renoir and more. 

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Bandera, TX
Photograph: Courtesy Flying L Ranch

9. Bandera, TX

Giddy-up to the Flying L, a genuine dude ranch outside of San Antonio, for some Western-themed fun. Whether you’re dying to try horseback riding or just hoping to relax in a resort where kids can entertain themselves, this ranch has you covered. There are plenty of fun outdoor activities for the whole family including creekside fishing, horseshoes, 18-hole putt putt and a full golf course, plus courts for basketball, tennis, volleyball, and even pickleball.

 

Outer Banks, NC
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10. Outer Banks, NC

The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, separating the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean. The beautiful, breezy coastline incorporates open-sea beaches, state parks and shipwreck diving sites, making them a popular holiday destination. The area positively drips in history: Roanoke Island was the site of England’s first settlement in the New World; aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight at Kill Devil Hills and the pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle at Ocracoke.

But this archipelago, often referred to as just OBX, isn't just an Aladdin's cave for history aficionados, it also offers fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving or even just wildlife watching. It's a definite must-see if you're exploring the eastern seaboard.

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Yosemite, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock/f11photo

11. Yosemite, CA

Yosemite is not just one of California's most awe-inspiring landscapes, it's one of the most impressive examples of natural beauty in the world. Nearly 1,200 square miles of God's gorgeousness includes waterfalls, thousand-year-old sequoia trees and some of the most daunting rock formations in the U.S.

Despite the sheer enormity of this national park, most tourists flock to an 8-sq-mile area of Yosemite Valley where the park's most well-known landmarks are located, including the Half Dome rock formation and infamous, monolithic El Capitan, along with enjoyable hiking trails through the natural monuments.

However, take note, a new permit system is in place here in an effort to deal with concerns over Yosemite Valley’s rising traffic problem. From May 20 to Sept. 30, 2022, everyone visiting Yosemite from 6am to 4pm will need to make an online reservation. The NPS will make 70% of reservations for all dates available on Recreation.gov from March 23, 2022. Each reservation lets the visitor in for three consecutive days.

Myrtle Beach, SC
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Myrtle Beach, SC

Though the sand at Myrtle Beach can get crowded, you’re sure to find a spot for your umbrella (six feet away from everyone else). Just wander along the Grand Strand—a 60-mile stretch of white sand beaches that runs from the North Carolina border south to Georgetown with Myrtle Beach at the center. If sand isn't your thing, book a room at the Sea Mist Oceanfront Resort, which boasts its own lazy river and water park-like pool. Better yet, visit on weekdays for better rates, and save some extra dough. 

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The quaint, peaceful beauty of Maine is on full display at historic Old Orchard Beach—a vacation destination for over 170 years. Here, your family will find gentle waves perfect for swimming, fishing, sailing, kayaking, and top-notch whale watching. In the summer, treat your kids to Palace Playland, New England’s only beachfront amusement park, where there’s over a dozen rides and an arcade. Keen to pinch some more pennies? Plan ahead, pitch a tent, and save some money by camping on the beach.

Niagara Falls, NY
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Niagara Falls, NY

Everyone on Earth has heard of Niagara Falls and most are probably at least vaguely aware of its history, but nothing will quite prepare you for the moment you first see the 188ft drop in person and hear the roar of water pouring over the precipice at nearly 70mph. There are plenty of things to do here, many are free, but most will result in the use of a credit card or cash.

Parking availability isn't too bad, but it's not exactly cheap and sadly, in recent years the site of outstanding natural awesomeness has taken of a turn towards a somewhat commercialized Vegas look and feel. But in all fairness, if you're not too far away and have never visited, it's worth appreciating the mighty force of Mother Nature, even if it's just once.

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Williamsburg, VA
Photograph: Shutterstock

15. Williamsburg, VA

If your squad’s favorite subject in school is history – or riding roller coasters – then make the trip to Williamsburg. Families can explore Historic Williamsburg (a Colonial-era living-history museum complete with horse-drawn carriages) and then seek thrills at Busch Gardens, where you'll find coasters, animals, and more. If it's summer vacation, add on a visit to Water Country USA (the season opens May 2022). Check out the area’s package deals like the 'Kids Play Free Package' that includes your choice of hotel (from selected partners) and free admission to multiple parks to save some cash. 

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