20 Cheap Travel Destinations Across America For Fun-Filled Vacations
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91% of Americans are looking to practice better personal finance habits. So when it comes time for a vacation, don’t drain all your savings, or even worse, go into credit card debt. With over 19,000 cities in America, there are many fantastic places for a vacation outside of expensive towns like Waikiki, San Diego, Washington D.C., or Chicago. Here are 20 Cheap Travel Destinations across American to inspire your next fun-filled and budget-friendly vacation.
1. Florida’s Jacksonville
As the locals call it, Jax is located in the northeastern part of the state, making it a road-trip option for those in the southeastern United States. Whether you’re an explorer, historian, beach, or salt-life lover, Jacksonville has 22 miles of beach (the most of any city in the state!), an extensive park system, fishing, museums, and even a craft beer scene.
There are accommodation options for various budgets with 18,000 hotel rooms across chain hotels, inns, and bed & breakfasts. Also, you don’t have to spend a lot to discover Jacksonville’s beauty, vibrant arts, and culinary scene. Bike along the Baldwin Trail, a lush, shaded path, before making your way over to Jacksonville Beach, a popular seaside destination where swimming and sandcastles await on its white-sand beaches.
Stop by the Jacksonville Farmers Market, one of the oldest markets in Florida, where seafood, fresh produce, and local delights line the streets. Afterward, walk The Riverwalk, take a scenic stroll along the St. Johns River before dropping into the Riverside Arts Market, a weekly arts festival free to visitors that features live entertainment. Finally, make sure you check out the city’s many fish camps (casual, inexpensive waterside fish restaurants) and try Mayport shrimp, chowder, and other authentic Florida seafood.
2. Florida’s Ocala
If you’ve ever dreamt of sleeping under the stars, add Ocala in Marion County, Florida, to your bucket list! Full of picturesque campgrounds, R.V. parks, charming cabins, and other budget-friendly accommodations, it’s one of many cheap travel destinations that might not be on your radar.
Ocala has so many free things for visitors to do! Stroll through Tuscawilla Art Park in the historic Art District, and enjoy the sculptures throughout nature. Then take yourself on a historical tour of the area, walk around the Ocala Historic Downtown Square or explore the Fort King National Historic landmark. After working up a sweat, kids can cool down at Lily’s Splash Pad or Citizens Circle Splash Pad. Finally, wrap up your trip by attending one of the many local events hosted by the Ocala Recreation and Parks Service, such as monthly outdoor movie screenings and line dancing events at the community center.
While pricey amusement park tickets could bust most vacation budgets, it may be surprising that Orlando actually belongs on a list of cheap travel destinations. With almost 500 hotels in the city, there are many travel deals to be had and tons of free activities. That’s why USA Today ranked Orlando the #1 Most Affordable Vacation Destination Among Top U.S. Cities.
You can get your Disney, LEGO, or Universal Studios fix for free at Disney Springs, Disney Boardwalk, or Universal City Walk, all chock full of tourist attractions. Nature lovers can explore The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve and downtown’s 43-acre Lake Eola Park with no admission fees. Or enjoy free admission to The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, or CityArts.
4. Idaho’s Twin Falls
Known as The City of Waterfalls, Twin Falls has over 30 of them, including The Niagra Falls of the West, Shoshone Falls, which is even taller than its New York counterpart. While you could spend your entire trip swimming, hiking, boating, or relaxing in Shoshone Falls Park for less than $10 admission, this affordable destination has a long list of free hiking and outdoor sites. For thrill-seekers, activities are reasonably priced, such as renting Snake River kayaks for as little as $15.
According to Idaho Tourism, hotel rates on average are $120 a night, with options even under $100 a night. With lava fields, summer fairs, historical sites, and cowboy culture, there’s something for almost everyone in Twin Falls.
5. Iowa’s Council Bluffs
Perfect for those looking for cheap travel destinations for a family vacation, visitors call Council Bluffs a pleasant surprise. Located on the east bank of the Missouri River, across from the city of Omaha, Nebraska, it’s a great alternative in the region. With 25 hotel options in Council Bluffs alone, there are accommodation options for a range of budgets as well as free and inexpensive things to do.
If you’ve always wanted to stand in two places at once, take a stroll over the beloved Bob Kerrey Pedestrian bridge connecting Council Bluffs to Omaha. Train-lovers will enjoy the free-of-charge Union Pacific Railroad museum featuring 150 years of history and interactive exhibits. Or enjoy budget-friendly family vacation classics like disc golf, mini-golf, bowling, indoor go-karts, public art, and bike trails.
6.Iowa’s Mason City
Architectural lovers and fans of Frank Lloyd Wright will enjoy a getaway to Mason City, one of America’s relatively unknown cheap travel destinations. Select nights are available for $150 at the Historic Park Inn Hotel, the last remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the world.
Another Wright-designed property, the Stockman House, is also open for tours for only $10 a person. Or enjoy a self-guided walking tour through The Rock Crest & Rock Glen neighborhood, showcasing the largest group of Prairie School-designed homes on a unified site.
The Berkshires in western Massachusetts include part of Vermont’s Green Mountains and over 30 towns. Nature lovers, or those looking to escape the hustle or bustle of Boston, or New York City, will fall in love with all the region offers. See why it’s been named one of The 12 Last Great Places by The Nature Conservancy. While the region has luxury resorts and high-end hotels, it is also one of the Northeast’s cheap travel destinations with a wide range of accommodation options.
Besides a nature-lovers paradise, it’s also known as a mecca for the visual and performing arts. Between the MassMoca, Tanglewood Music Center (the Summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Barrington Stage Company, and the longest-running dance festival, Jacob’s Pillow, there’s so much to see!
You can save money for performance tickets by booking a condo resort stay on Tripbeat by Wyndham, starting at $210 for an entire week. Take your pick of resorts in South Lee, Lenox, Hancock, and Great Barrington. With a fully equipped kitchen, you can cook some of your vacation meals yourself to afford even more concert tickets.
8. Missouri’s Branson
Branson is not only the #1 best value in U.S. travel according to Trivago but is described as the Orlando of the Midwest for its Disney World meets Nashville vibe. Drawing vacationers for over a century to its stunning scenery, outdoor activities, warm people, and a wide range of things to do, it’s not a surprise that 9 million people a year visit Branson.
With 16,500 guest rooms across resorts, brand-name hotel chains, independent inns, cabins, condos, timeshares, and vacation homes, you can find accommodations for your budget. Like other cheap travel destinations on this list, cities with tons of hotel rooms often have great deals available.
While Branson does have over 100 live shows that could empty your wallet, it also offers tons of free things to do. Explore historic downtown Branson on the hop-on-hop-off trolley, check out Branson Landings’ hourly water spectacular show, take in Ozark Mountain views at scenic overlooks, or explore all that Table Rock Lake State Park and Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area have to offer.
9. Missouri’s St. Louis
Home to the iconic Gateway Arch, St. Louis boasts an abundance of free fun and reasonably priced accommodations perfect for those looking for cheap travel destinations in cities. With more than 40,000 hotel rooms ranging from $54 to $248, the average hotel room price in St. Louis is a wallet-friendly $93.
Explore the Gateway Arch National Park and its surrounding grounds or explore the recently renovated Museum at the Gateway Arch, a free hands-on experience. Then, spend the day at Forest Park, where visitors can stop by the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, or the Saint Louis Science Center. Visitors can stroll through the Laumeier Sculpture Park, one of the country’s first and largest sculpture parks. Every single one of these St. Louis attractions is free, with no admission charge.
10. Nevada’s Las Vegas
With super affordable hotel accommodations, all-you-can-eat buffets, and local casual restaurants, plus a long list of free activities, Vegas is another one of the urban cheap travel destinations on this list.
With over 150,000 rooms in town, there are always travel deals available. With many large resort casinos not relying on room rentals to make money, you can find hotel rates at fantastic resorts for under $100 a night.
Fill your day in the Entertainment Capital of the World touring attractions without paying for admission. Whether it’s seeing Chihuly’s stunning blown glass sculptures, touring a botanical garden, or catching the infamous water fountain show, it’s all available free of charge at the Bellagio Hotel. At night head to historic Fremont Street to watch the pedestrian area studded with more than 14 million lights come alive and check out one of the city’s free concerts with acts like Three Doors Down and Plain White T’s.
11. New York’s Catskills
A go-to escape for centuries, there’s always been magic in a back-to-nature Catskills vacation. Less than 2 hours from New York City and about 3 hours from Boston, you’ll feel away, even if you’re close to home. See for yourself why it’s a Lonely Planet Top 10 region in America.
Long gone are the resorts depicted in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as millennial entrepreneurs, hoteliers, and restaurateurs from New York and other cities help modernize the region once again. From hotel chains, cabins, small inns, and hotels, there are many budget-friendly options in the region, such as Jesse’s Harvest House Restaurant and Lodge. Opened by former staff at the best restaurant in the country, Michelin-rated Blue Stone at Stone Barns, you can stay in a room for around $125 a night and enjoy a delicious, elevated meal for a fraction of the price.
From month-long free Octoberfest Festivals to hiking infamous Kaaterskill Falls to exploring small towns like Tannersville, NY, and their no-cost Mountain Top Arboretum, there’s so much to do. Art lovers can step into the infamous Hudson River School of Art by visiting the exact public locations of their paintings from 200 years ago. Three of the Art Trail locations are in North/South Lake, a 1,000-acre state park named “America’s First Wilderness” with so many activities you could spend a weekend there alone.
12. North Carolina’s Fayetteville
Known as America’s Hometown for decades, it’s not just one of the most accessible cities on the East Coast (located halfway between New York City and Miami), but its low cost of living translates into a great vacation on a budget.
In Fayetteville, there’s something for everyone. It’s home to two regional parks, more than 1,000 acres of recreation space, trails, lakes, and a new minor league ballpark with affordable tickets. Chock full of historical sites like The Airborne & Special Operations Museum, The Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum, and The African American Heritage Trail, all of which have free admission.
13. Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Country
Tucked into the rolling hills of south-central Oklahoma, Chickasaw Country is a low-budget destination that provides a high-quality outdoor experience. In addition to an abundance of picturesque campgrounds and R.V. parks, the area boasts a wide array of charming boutique accommodations for a serene, romantic getaway.
Couples can stay at Cedar & Stone, Pecan Valley Inn, or Acorn Vacation Homes, with hotel rates under $200 a night on average. The Arbuckle Mountain Range provides not only stunning vistas but plenty of free or low-cost outdoor adventures to keep visitors busy. Hike, bike, or run through the endless miles of trails found in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area to catch glimpses of nearby natural wonders, including the Lake of the Arbuckles, Turner Falls, and Veteran’s Lake.
14. Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County
Located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster County is a great value destination and within driving distance from Pittsburgh, New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and Virginia. There’s a wide range of lodging options with many motels, hotels, farm stays, country bed and breakfasts, and house rentals in the $100 to $150 a night range. Cheeky couples can stay in one of the many accommodations in the town Intercourse, PA.
There really are enough things to do in Lancaster to keep busy for months. For starters, learn about the Amish way of life at Kitchen Kettle Village or Lancaster Central Market, the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers market. Bike ride along the 14-mile Northwest Lancaster County River Trail or explore Lancaster County Central Park. After you’ve worked up an appetite, go out to dinner at one of the many Pennsylvania Dutch all-you-can-eat reasonably priced smorgasbords like the family favorite Good ‘N Plenty.
15. Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains
For more than 50 years, the Poconos Mountains welcomed honeymooners to their famous heart-shaped tubs. But its proximity to major metro areas, endless natural beauty, year-round activities, and wide range of accommodations lands it on this list of cheap travel destinations for families or group trips as well.
The large region offers a range of budget-friendly accommodations from camping, glamping, inns, resorts, and vacation rental deals. You can rent a cabin at Promised Land State Park for about $40 a night or score condo resort rental deals for as low as $87 on Tripbeat.
Featuring many national, state, and local parks, bring a picnic lunch and explore Lehigh Gorge State Park, Prompton State Park, Promised Land State Park, or Tobyhanna State Park, to name a few!
16. South Dakota’s Hot Springs
Escape to this small town that offers so much! Located in the Southern Black Hills, take in all the landscape offers from the historical Mammoth Archaeological Site, Angostura Reservoir State Recreation Area, and Wind Cave National Park.
There are options for every budget with a wide range of chain hotels, R.V. sites, KOA cabins, small inns, and bed and breakfasts. Couples will love to get away and relax in the mineral health spas and can enjoy adult-only budget-friendly accommodations like Bluebird Mesa Cabins that offers glamping, teepee, and cabin rentals at affordable prices.
17. South Dakota’s Yankton
Both outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs will enjoy the small town of Yankton. Located along the Missouri River, take your pick of water recreation activities, fishing, or exploring the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, one of the state park system’s most popular parks. Located on the northern shore of the 31,400-acre Lewis and Clark Lake, it features over 20 budget-friendly activities.
The downtown is bursting with history, budget-friendly dining, and breweries and offers a range of accommodations giving South Dakota at least two cheap travel destinations for you to consider.
18. Tennesee’s Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains ranks among the Top 10 Most Affordable Travel Spots by Lonely Planet, only one of two American cities to make the list. Home to not only the most visited National Park in America but the family favorite Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge towns, it’s one of the most popular cheap travel destinations on this list.
Smoky Mountains National Park not only contains some of the tallest mountains in North America, including Clingmans Dome, Mount Guyot, and Mount LeConte, but all of its 500,000 acres can be explored free of charge! The region is also home to the iconic amusement park Dollywood, a TripAdvisor Best Amusement Park in the World, and Budget Travel’s Best Value Theme Park. Meaning you can make thrilling family memories even on a budget.
19. Tennessee’s Chattanooga
One of the most popular cheap travel destinations for families in the Southeast, it’s been named by Lonely Planet as one of the Best Destinations in the U.S and a New York Times Top 45 Places to Go in the World. While outdoor enthusiasts have been coming here for decades, a recent urban revitalization has drawn a growing number of people to this city tucked between mountains along the stunning Tennessee River.
There are accommodations to meet a wide range of budgets from hip modern hostels, cabins, romantic bed and breakfasts, chain hotels, and even railroad sleeper cars. Explore the city on a bike, pedaling over the longest pedestrian bridge in the world to reach Coolidge Park, or hike the stunning mountains at Point Park or Coker Creek Falls.
20. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley
Even in high-cost of living areas, you don’t need to go far to find cheap travel destinations! If you’re one of the 6 million people who live in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg for a weekend getaway or fun-filled family vacation. About 75 miles from D.C., the Shenandoah Valley features a national park, caverns, history, water parks, music, art festivals, wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
Go on a day-long road trip along the 105-mile Skyline Drive to marvel at the Blue Ridge Mountains and its vistas. Next, explore the Shenandoah National Park’s 500 miles of hiking trails or 200,000 acres of protected lands for $30 a car. Then, retire back to a wide range of chain hotels, cabins, campsites, or resorts like Massanutten, the Mid-Atlantic’s Premier Four Season Resort Destination, where you can score condo rental travel deals from a timeshare owner for as low as $100 a night.
These 20 Cheap Travel Destinations will be waiting to welcome you on your next road trip, couples getaway, family vacation, or honeymoon! You don’t need a lot of money to make memories. There’s no need to blow your hard-earned savings to explore our beautiful country. Instead, you can save money by visiting off the beaten path towns, booking resort deals, or filling your days with inexpensive and free activities!
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.
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