By the time you add transportation, accommodations, and meals, the best family vacation spots in the United States can get quite expensive. And if you have a large family, need to travel with kids, or rely on restaurants for your meals, even modest family vacation ideas can become financially overwhelming. But when you make a good plan and stick to it, a cheap family vacation isn’t just doable – it can actually be some of the best vacation you’ll ever have.
With the right mix of free activities, advance planning, and strategic frugality, a cheap family vacation doesn’t necessarily mean a boring family vacation. Here are this year’s top budget family vacation destinations that deliver the best bang for your buck.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
South Dakota’s first and largest state park, Custer State Park, is a 71,000-acre wildlife preserve known for its free-roaming bison herd and jeep safaris with buffaloes. Built for road trips, it offers a number of scenic drives where you can admire the Black Hills scenery and other wildlife such as bison, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and prairie dogs. .
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The park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop is a prime viewing route for the wildlife that lives among its pine-covered hills and rolling meadows. Another way to spot the animals is to take a 2-hour jeep tour for a buffalo safari to not only see the wildlife up close, but also learn about the animals and the history of the park from a guide. .
Other activities include camping, hiking, swimming in the park’s five lakes, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and shows at the Black Hills Playhouse.
Custer State Park is located just east of the town of Custer and it’s not far from other budget family vacation spots like Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Cheap family vacations are no more entirely American than the caves, cars, and pure Americana in the lush green hills of Kentucky cave country. Just 90 minutes north of Nashville, the small town of Bowling Green is the closest tourist hub to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest known cave system and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. . (Mammoth Cave is about 40 miles northeast of Bowling Green.)
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There is no charge to enter Mammoth Cave National Park, and surface activities (nature walks and hikes) are also free. However, you will need a ticket for a scheduled visit to enter the cave itself and it is recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance. Cave tours range from $ 11 to $ 35 and last from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours.
Bangor and the Maine Highlands, Maine
The great outdoors is just a family trip for Northeastern families. The Maine Highlands region, which includes Moosehead Lake, Baxter State Park, Mount Katahdin and the town of Bangor, is teeming with natural beauty and wildlife.
Even Bangor Town has miles of biking and hiking trails inside the Bangor Town Forest and the Orono Bog Boardwalk is a mile-long nature walk through the campus bog. the University of Maine.
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Just an hour from Bangor is Acadia National Park, New England’s only national park and a relatively inexpensive family vacation destination with plenty of beaches, islands, and scenic drives for walks and trips. carriage.
How can you go wrong with an entire city dedicated to chocolate? At this Pennsylvania town’s 115-year-old amusement park, Hersheypark, you’ll find more than 70 rides, including 15 roller coasters, an outdoor water park, and a family-friendly campground. There’s also a brand new chocolate-themed dining establishment, the Chocolatier Restaurant, with fantastic theme park views and a menu with a fun chocolate twist.
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And the best part? Admission to Hersheypark not only costs less than Disney, it also goes beyond. Ticket holders are entitled to a preview of the amusement park the day before their scheduled visit.
Other Hershey’s attractions include Hershey Gardens, Hershey Story, ZooAmerica, and Hershey’s Chocolate World, where chocolate tours are always free.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Located on a barrier island at the southern tip of Alabama, the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area is 32 miles of waterfront along the Gulf of Mexico. The inland areas beyond the dunes are marked by pine forests, lakes, rivers, bayous and coves filled with wildlife.
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With nearly 6,500 acres of protected land, 28 miles of paved and improved trails, and 3½ miles of waterfront, Gulf State Park is one of those state parks that feels like it could easily be a national park instead. The park received an injection of $ 85 million due to the BP oil spill in 2010 and has dramatically improved its facilities with this investment. Its Gulf Coast Ecotourism and Sustainability Center is a world-class center of experiential learning and ecotourism.
The nation’s capital is an affordable family destination, as many of the most popular sites are free. Families with a passion for history should visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Air and Space Museum, the Library of Congress, or Ford’s Theater.
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Nature lovers will enjoy the National Zoo, Kenilworth Park and Water Gardens, the Potomac River and Rock Creek Park. Of course, there are always free tours just by checking out all the landmarks and memorials between the United States Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.
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