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8 best low cost US vacation destinations
Nothing feels more like summer than hitting the road for your annual vacation.
But when the price of admission alone can cost a family of 4 as much as $1,400, it’s tempting to ditch Disney World in favor of something a little more budget-friendly.
No matter what commercials tell you, it’s possible to have an incredible vacation that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg - and we can show you how.
Here are the 8 best low-cost vacation destinations throughout the U.S. - and how you can have fun once you get there.
Roughin’ It: Great National Parks
Our national park system offers some of the most beautiful vacation destinations, bar none. Once you factor in travel costs, spending time in the parks and in nearby cities costs relatively little.
At Yosemite National Park, in pristine Northern California, you can view national treasures like the Great Sequoias and Yosemite Falls, explore trails on horseback, and even camp overnight.
Camp permits cost as little as $26 per night, while nearby hotels run between $150-$180 per night during high-traffic summer months.
“Like so many other American tourist destinations, crowds are the biggest obstacles to an enjoyable Yosemite vacation – at least 4 million people visit each year,” explain the editors of U.S. News & World Report.
“But if you go at the right time (and start your day a little earlier than usual), Mother Nature's wonders will reveal themselves to you in a miraculous and serene way.”
Make it kid-friendly: Take your family on a hiking, rock climbing, or horseback riding adventure. Little ones can also enroll in the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program.
With more than 3,000 miles of breathtaking hiking trails and mountain vistas to explore, Yellowstone’s hot springs, geysers, and wildlife will keep your camera clicking.
Join more than 4 million visitors who watch Old Faithful erupt each year, explore the park in your hiking boots, or take in one of the many hot springs.
Like Yosemite, Yellowstone offers a relatively low entry fee to the park, as well as camping permits for about $21 per night.
Need more ideas? Check out the park’s list of suggestions for visiting on the cheap.
Make it kid-friendly: Because of the geologic importance of Yellowstone’s many geysers, the park has plenty of science education programs for your future Baby Einstein.
Get Your Thrill On: Budget-Friendly Amusement Parks
3. Cedar Point
When you think of summertime fun, you probably don’t think of...Ohio. But you should!
Located right on Lake Erie in Sandusky, OH, Cedar Point is one of the best - and cheapest - amusement parks in the U.S.
“From the 310-high hill on the wicked fast Millennium Force, a coaster made of steel, to the Maverick, with its famous 95-degree angle turn, you and your friends or family will be thrilled by all the exceptional rides here,” write the editors of Hipmunk’s travel blog.
A two-day pass to the park will cost a family of four about $300, while accommodations in nearby Sandusky or Cleveland run about $80 to $150 per night during the summer months.
Make it kid-friendly: In addition to the park’s kid-friendly rides, check out their Dinosaurs Alive! Experience for little ones.
4. Six Flags Great America
Want all the thrills and chills of a major amusement park without the cost? Six Flags Great America, located in Gurnee, IL, is the perfect alternative to a costly trip to Tampa.
According to the Illinois Office of Tourism, Six Flags Great America has plenty to offer, “with 15 heart-pounding roller coasters, a free water park with over 30 heart pounding water slides, spectacular shows and parades, family rides and big pint-sized fun for the kids with children's areas, and over 35 rides for the little ones.”
Although tickets to Six Flags will cost a family of 4 about $500 for two days, you’ll save money on accommodations and food in Gurnee and nearby Chicago. Hotels cost between $65 and $135 per night.
Make it kid-friendly: Take advantage of the free water park to let your kiddos cool off in the summer heat.
Culture Galore: Cities That Won’t Break the Bank
5. Washington, D.C.
Booking your accommodations in Washington, D.C. will eat up most of your budget. But once you get to the city, you can enjoy free admission to numerous museums and monuments.
Family-friendly favorites like the Smithsonian Museum, the National Zoo, and the Lincoln Memorial are all free and open to the public. And, of course, there’s plenty to take in on foot, from the Washington Monument to the White House.
One of the best times to travel to D.C. is in late spring - in time to catch the cherry blossoms - although you can still nab deals for the summer if you plan ahead.
Make it kid-friendly: Check out this list of perennial favorites, including the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum.
6. Chicago, IL
“Always one of America's most exciting cities, Chicago really comes alive in summer, when residents can finally shed all those layers and get out and enjoy their town,” advises Susie Poppick at Time.
Plus, Midwestern prices are easy on the wallet.
Expect hotel rates to be around $200 per night if you’re right downtown, although you can find deals closer to $160 if you’re a savvy shopper.
Plenty of Chicago’s museums and attractions, like Millennium Park, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Navy Pier, are free, while others, like the world-famous Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, take suggested donations.
What’s more, that famous Midwestern charm just makes Chicago a wonderful family destination. Not only are native Chicagoans friendly, there’s no shortage of things to do or good food to eat.
Make it kid-friendly: Take a riverboat tour of the city’s architecture or hang out with robots at the Museum of Science and Industry.
Summer Sights & Sounds: Save Money Down South
7. Nashville, TN
The birthplace of country music has never been more fun - or less expensive - to visit.
From the Grand Ol’ Opry to more BBQ joints than you can possibly handle, Nashville has plenty to offer families looking to kick back and have a good time.
“During the daytime, get heady on harmonies at the Johnny Cash Museum — where you can see the singer's handwritten lyrics and Martin guitar ($15 entry) — and the Country Music Hall of Fame, which just underwent a $100 million expansion,” suggests Poppick.
Once you arrive, hotel rooms generally cost about $100 per night, especially if you want to stay right downtown. Here are eight great suggestions from USA Today.
Make it kid-friendly: Nashville Zoo has one of the world’s coolest playgrounds, according to Travel & Leisure, and you can’t go wrong with taking in a play at the Nashville Children’s Theatre.
8. Charleston, SC
“As you walk the gas lamp-lit streets at night, past horse-drawn carriages and the antebellum architecture, you just might think you've traveled back in time,” write the editors of U.S. News & World Report of Charleston.
With its old-world charm, Charleston has plenty to offer - especially for your family’s resident history buff. They’ll be sure to get a kick out of visiting Fort Sumter, a key battle location in the Civil War, and the renowned Charleston City Market in the flesh.
If you’d rather kick back and sample local cuisine, then you’re in the right place. From gorgeous seafood to traditional Southern fare, Charleston’s food scene is worth every penny.
Schedule your visit for late May or early September to beat the heat - and score better deals on downtown hotels or B&Bs.
Make it kid-friendly: Take in the sun at the Isle of Palms, one of the many islands off the coast of Charleston, visit the South Carolina Aquarium, or feel heroic at the Fire Truck Museum.
No matter what your destination winds up being this summer, there’s always a way to vacation on a budget and enjoy your time in the sun.
With a little bit of planning - and a willingness to pitch a tent instead of book a hotel room - you can discover some of the best and most beautiful destinations in the U.S. on the cheap.
Images: Pexels, Pexels, Pexels
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