While many family-oriented vacation spots can put a considerable strain on any budget, others barely leave a pinch. Our country has dozens of destinations that offer reasonably priced lodgings, plenty of free activities, and are less than a one-day drive from most major U.S. cities. Here are seven such places that will let you and the family make memories that will last a lifetime, without breaking the bank.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Located as a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge and its neighboring town of Gatlinburg offer one of the country’s best vacation experiences for families. You and the family will have easy access to hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and some fantastic scenery, with no admission charge top the park. Thanks to Pigeon Forge rental cabins, your lodging won’t set you back, either. Rental cabins offer the perfect blend of modern convenience and rustic charm. Most cabins have fireplaces, large decks with hot tubs, fully equipped kitchens, and an arcade room. Some larger cabins even come with a home theater. Most cabins feature WiFi, multiple TVs, and gorgeous views of the Smoky Mountains.
While Washington D.C. has a reputation as one of our nation’s most expensive cities to live in, it also lays claim to being one of our nation’s most inexpensive places to visit. Many attractions in our capital are free or charge only a small fee. The National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the National Zoo — all part of the Smithsonian – charge no admission. Then, of course, our national monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the beautiful World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument are all within walking distance of each other and open to the public. Several tour companies operate reasonably priced hop-on-hop-off trolleys that stop at all the major attractions throughout the area, as well.
A wide variety of things to do makes Williamsburg, Virginia, an excellent family destination. Along with some of our nation’s major historical attractions – Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown – Williamsburg is also home to Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. While a day at the amusement park will set you back a bit, there are also plenty of things to do that won’t cost you anything. Give your wallet the day off and the kids a day of sand and surf at nearby Virginia Beach, for example. Colonial Williamsburg and many of its attractions are also open to the public at no charge.
Yellowstone National Park
Pristine lakes, multicolored hot springs, expansive forests, and of course, Old Faithful, make Yellowstone National Park an outdoor lover’s dream vacation. While accommodations run high during the summer, Yellowstone has 11 reasonably priced campgrounds sprinkled throughout its 2.2 million acres. If you and the family prefer a solid roof over your heads, significant discounts can be had on park lodgings during the off-peak seasons.
Along with the spectacular falls themselves, the Niagara Falls area has a variety of family-friendly and low-cost activities that make it easy to have a great time on a tight budget. Niagara Falls State Park offers up close and personal views of the falls, and charges no admission. A pay-one-price Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass includes unlimited access to several park attractions including the Maid of the Mist boat tours, the Niagara Adventure Theater, the Aquarium of Niagara, the Cave of the Winds, and Bridal Veil Falls.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon offers some of the best “bang for the buck” when it comes to a family vacation. You will need to purchase a pass on the way into the park but, after that, most of the popular activities are included. The Park Rangers, for example, lead several free tours daily. The 26-mile East Rim Drive (a.k.a. The Desert View Drive) offers breathtaking views from the comfort of your vehicle. Grand Canyon Village has several budget-friendly restaurants, lots of places to picnic, and of course, incredible canyon views. Grand Canyon Village also has several budget accommodations that won’t break the bank, and are worth every penny. Plan ahead, however, as these lodgings get booked well in advance.
About halfway between Destin and Panama City Beach, Florida sits a hidden gem called Seaside. Its teal green waters, sugar-white beaches, and charming town center won Seaside the title of “the Best Beach on Earth for Families,” by Travel and Leisure magazine. Seaside’s beautiful downtown is a great place for an evening stroll, to catch a movie, or have dinner. Seaside has plenty of family friendly restaurants that serve up everything from hot dogs to seafood. Leave the car at home, as the beach, downtown, and the fabulous Seaside vacation rentals are all within walking distance of each other. You might also recognize Seaside as the backdrop for the popular Jim Carey film “The Truman Show.”