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Cheap family vacations in the U.S. for 2024

Find the ideal family trip to create incredible memories without breaking the bank this year

Written by
Clara Hogan
Written by
Scott Snowden
Sarah Medina

Pulling off an enjoyable family vacation on a budget is an Olympic feat—there's the researching, the planning, the booking, the packing, the traveling, and the wrangling. So much wrangling. While trips with children, especially young ones, can be a lot of work, they can be worth it for the quality time and memories. There's something special about being away from the daily grind, connecting as a family and watching kids explore a new place. 

A key component of a family trip is picking a place that won't break the bank. To help make planning for 2024 easier on you, we've rounded up 18 of our favorite budget-friendly destination ideas that are both kid and wallet-friendly.

If your brood is outdoorsy, you'll be happy to see plenty of national parks on the list, including iconic spots like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. But if you aren't interested in centering a trip around outdoor adventures, we have you covered with plenty of urban centers and under-the-radar locales alike. From the free museums of Washington, D.C., to laid-back vibes of Asheville, North Carolina to the mouthwatering cheap eats of Portland, Oregon—take your pick from this list and rest assured your money will go a long way.

Fun cheap family vacation in the U.S.

1. 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 Henderson Beach State Park, which offers quiet and secluded beach access with a hiking route through the sand dunes. 

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 economy is supported by local businesses.

Hunter Mountain is an all-year-round destination. During the summer, there are paths to hike, trails to mountain 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 accommodations are 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.


3. Kings Canyon National Park, CA

Want to really impress your kids? Head to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in California, 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 US), 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.

4. 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—or if camping is not your thing, book a room at a local hotel.


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 Canyon, opt for the North Rim, less crowded and has no-fuss, first-come-first-served campsites. More experienced hikers can switchback steeply down to the river, a mile below the rim, where secluded campsites reward the effort.

6. Washington, D.C.

The nation's capital is a perfect spot for a family vacation—not only are there plenty of activities that bring history to life for kids in Washington, D.C., but a large percentage of them are completely free. Visiting the National Mall, monuments, or other historic buildings such as the Library of Congress won't cost you a penny. On top of that, all of the 17 Smithsonian museums are free to enter—from the National Museum of Natural History to the National Zoo. Stop by the American History Museum to see Dorthoy's ruby red slippers, the National Archives Museum to see the original Constitution or the National Air & Space Museum to see the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world. 


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 allow for spending without worrying about added charges.

8. Asheville, NC

For families who love the great outdoors and great food, Asheville in North Carolina 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 Renoir and others. 


9. Portland, OR

The eccentric city of Portland is ultra-kid-friendly, with plenty of affordable and free activities to keep little ones entertained during any season. Explore the bounty of nature in this section of Oregon: hike through Forest Park (featuring 50 different trails), get up close to waterfalls (don't miss Wahkeena Falls in the Columbia River Gorge) and visit the famous International Rose Test Garden. Nearly every section of the city features well-manicured parks and playgrounds for kids to get their energy out, plus plenty of cheap eats to fuel their adventures. Another great way to get a sense of Portland's artistic culture without breaking the bank is to head to First Thursdays, where you can enjoy local artwork, food and drink vendors, and more. 

10. Williamsburg, VA

If your squad’s favorite subject in school is history—or riding roller coasters—then make the trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. 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 2023). Check out the area’s package deals like the Kids Play Free Package, which includes your choice of hotel (from selected partners) and free admission to multiple parks to save some cash. 


11. 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 its 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.

12. 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.


13. Moab, UT

If you're an outdoorsy crew with an affection for national parks, look no further than Moab, Utah for your next family vacation. With its proximity to two national parks—Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park—plus several majestic state parks, your days will be packed hiking, rafting, boating, and ATVing through the red rocks. Another perk: the area has a lot of campsite options or affordable cabins to rent. 

14. 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.



15. Myrtle Beach, SC

Though the sand at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 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 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 just underwent a renovation and boasts its own lazy river and water park-like pool. Better yet, visit on weekdays for better rates, and save some extra dough. 

16. 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. Take note that reservation and permit procedures are often changing. Be sure to check out the site for more details before you make travel plans.


17. Old Orchard Beach, ME

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 (open seasonally), with 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.

18. 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 require 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 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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