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Budget family friendly destinations in US

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Almost everyone I know is itching to get back out and travel once it is safe to do so. Although I can’t wait to travel overseas again, right now domestic travel seems to be the safest bet. I’ve teamed up with some fantastic family travel bloggers to create a list of the best budget family friendly destinations in the US for you to plan future travel!

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Photo credit: Smart Mouse Travel

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of best kept secrets of the Midwest. Located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio this free national park has over 125 miles of hiking trails and over 100 miles of biking trails with varying difficulty. 

Beginner hikers can take an easy stroll along Beaver Marsh boardwalk to see birds, fish, and turtles.

If waterfalls intrigue you, hike the stunning Brandywine Falls boardwalk. This short hike rewards visitors with a beautiful 60-foot waterfall visible from two viewing platforms. 

More adventurous hikers will enjoy Ledges Trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This rocky, forested trail was a hit with our family because of the challenging terrain and sweeping sunset views from Ledges Overlook.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique, because just minutes away from trails there are delicious independent restaurants and specialty coffee shops.

Easy access to good but inexpensive food, lodging, and free access to everything Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers makes this a great budget family destination.

As a fun bonus, the house from A Christmas Story is only a half-hour away. Tour Ralphie’s house and admire props from the movie in a building across the street with this inexpensive experience.

Oklahoma City

Photo credit: Fly by the Seat of our Pants

Oklahoma City is the perfect frugal, family-friendly vacation spot for spring break with kids.  You will create lifelong memories and exciting adventures. 

For your first stop, head to Scissortail Park.  Walk across the bridge with the famous scissortail bird sculpture.  In the summer, don’t forget the suits for the splash pad!

Your kids will love the tall slide, rock climbing, sand play, and unique playground features here. And you will love that it is enclosed and has a security guard! 

The Myriad Botanical Gardens is a free park with cool plants and trees to explore.  If you want to pay a small fee, you can enter Crystal Bridge. Crystal Bridge is a giant indoor greenhouse that includes plants from the desert to the rainforest and everything in between. 

Another free stop is Outdoor Symbolic Memorial for the lives lost in the Oklahoma City bombing.  Unlike a park, this is a quiet and solemn spot with symbolism and hope built-in. 

If you have a train lover, the free Railroad Museum is the perfect stop. Wander through the Plaza District and enjoy the local art murals on the plaza walls.  Grab dessert at Roxy’s Ice Cream or Pie Junkie. 

If your budget allows, you could try these exciting attractions: 

The OKC Science Museum is one of the best in the nation.  You’ll enjoy all-day fun and interactive education for all ages. 

Museum of Osteology (skeletons and bones) is fascinating with a fun scavenger hunt to complete.

Don’t be misled, the Oklahoma History Center is anything but boring history! It is full of hands-on, interactive play for kids as you learn about the past in OKC. 

The OKC zoo is a great stop for kids and adults.  The guided tour train makes it fun and easy to see everything. 

National Cowboy Museum is opening a kid-friendly play section and is worth a stop if you love the American history of cowboys and Indians. 

Your family will love eating pizza at Hideaways or the local Bricktown Brewery. 

You will not run out of exciting things to do in OKC!  Find more kid-friendly fun and details for OKC with kids. You will love bringing the family to Oklahoma City! 

Moab

Photo credit: Photo Jeepers

One of the best budget friendly places to enjoy outdoor adventures is Moab, Utah.

Moab is the perfect home base location for exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The cost to enter the parks is minimal, especially if you’ll do multi-day visits. The kids will enjoy the visitors centers, museums and becoming a Junior Ranger!

There are even more free outdoor activities to do in Moab once you’re done visiting the parks. There are family-friendly hiking trails where you can see dinosaur prints and bones! What kid, or adult, wouldn’t want to see that!?

Drive along Highway 279 that follows the Colorado River. Here you can watch rock climbers scale the sheer cliff walls. There are must-see roadside petroglyphs to see on this road as well as Jughandle Arch. And there’s a short hike at the Poison Spider trailhead to see dinosaur prints in the rocks!

The Moab area is well known for its dark skies. All three national parks are designated as International Dark Sky Parks. Be sure to plan an evening where you drive away from the city a bit and look up! 

After a full day of outdoor fun, you’ll find restaurants offering a variety of food in Moab. There are two fast-food options, but for a good all-around place to eat for families, we recommend Moab Diner.

You will need a car to explore Moab so it’s a perfect road trip destination! If outdoor adventure is your idea of a fun family trip, then Moab, Utah is the place to go!

Chicago

Photo credit: The Travel Sisters

Chicago is a great family friendly budget destination. Many of the city’s top attractions are free and it is easy to eat and get around on a budget.

One of the best and free places to visit in Chicago with kids is Millennium Park where you can find The Bean (the famous mirrored sculpture). Everyone will enjoy taking photos in front of The Bean while kids will also love splashing around Crown Fountain in the summer.

Located close to Millennium Park are Grant Park (home to Buckingham Fountain) and Maggie Daley Park (a large park with separate play areas for children of various ages).  

Other free family friendly attractions include Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, Garfield Park Conservatory, the Chicago Riverwalk and the city’s many beaches.

Chicago is full of restaurants for every budget so it is not hard to find a low cost meal. Fortunately most places that serve deep dish pizza and Chicago style hot dogs (the two dishes Chicago is most famous for) are not very pricey.

Families can travel around Chicago cheaply by using the city’s public transportation system (bus and train) which also connects the city’s major airports.  

For more active families, downtown Chicago (where most tourist attractions are located) is very walkable and there is also a bike sharing program.

Washington DC

Photo credit: Family Trip Guides

Washington DC is a wonderful and affordable destination for families. DC is not all politics and history but also free world-class museums, beautiful nature spots, and vibrant neighborhoods!

3 Free Can’t-Miss Activities in DC: First, check out one or more of the 18 different Smithsonian museums and galleries. All are free and many are on the National Mall.

Insider tip: one of the coolest Smithsonians for kids is actually the National Postal Museum which has real trains, stagecoaches, 18-wheel truck and more to climb all over!

Second, check out The Wharf in Southeast DC for beautiful views, cheap eats like Shake Shack, and fun free activities like dock swings. Finally, explore Rock Creek Park in the middle of the city for free on foot or by bike share for a small fee.

Washington DC has many great hotels at all price points including ones with kitchenettes where you can save on your budget by cooking some meals at your hotel.

No need to fear high priced restaurants though, DC has a ton of delicious cheap eats including local brands, pizza, and Mediterranean Cava. You must also try some Ethiopian and Afghan food as they have the largest populations in DC outside of their countries.

There is tons to explore and learn in the capital city! 

Grand Teton National Park

Photo credit: Parks Collecting

Grand Teton National Park is a great family destination. 

If you are happy to camp, there are several amazing campsites in the park that are not expensive.  Most of them are on or near Jenny and Jackson lakes, with amazing views of the mountains. 

Grand Teton has just implemented a reservation system for all their campgrounds, so you no longer have to get their really early in the morning to get a space.

Another affordable option is to rent an Airbnb in Jackson Hole for the duration of your stay.  You can save money on overpriced restaurants in the park by getting groceries in Jackson and self-catering.

You will need a vehicle to get around, and if you are able to drive there, you will save even more money. 

Many of the activities are free.  There is amazing hiking in the park, and there are trails for all levels of experience and fitness.  Some easy hikes include the Jenny Lake Loop trail and the short trail to Hidden Falls.  A longer hike that older kids will love is the jaw-dropping Cascade Canyon. 

You can take in most of the viewpoints in Grand Teton National Park along the 42-mile scenic loop drive.  Don’t miss Schwabacher landing, Oxbow Bend, Signal Mountain and Snake River Overlook for the best views. 

You should also visit the Mormon Barns, for amazing views and to learn about some of the history in this area.  All of these activities are free.

West Palm Beach

Photo credit: The How To Guru

How is it possible to enjoy a budget-friendly trip to one of the wealthiest beach towns in the world? You simply have to know where to go!

A weekend trip to West Palm Beach Florida is the perfect South Florida getaway with its public parks, outdoor fun, and numerous water activities.

There are almost too many activities to mention about Okeeheelee Park. Families can enjoy water sports, horses, ball fields, golf, and nature trails at this enormous public park with a lake.

Grassy Waters Nature Preserve is a hidden gem for those who want to get away from it all. It’s a favorite of locals for its well-maintained hiking trails through a cypress swamp of nature.

The famous saying goes around the area that “if you haven’t been to Worth Avenue, you haven’t been to West Palm Beach.” Don’t leave without experiencing the luxurious boutiques at Florida’s “Rodeo Drive.”

The Nature & Welcome at MacArthur State Park is a fabulous way to get kids involved in the natural ecosystems around them. Visitors can enjoy a sea turtle tank, manatee exhibits, and “underwater dolphin” experiences as well.

Municipal Beach is free but requires a parking fee. Be stunned by the stunning view of the this beach and clock tower.

Enjoy a cheerful 50s vibe for a budget-friendly breakfast or lunch at Nick’s Diner.

Hoffman’s Chocolate Factory is the perfect iconic sweet shop that’s worth the stop for its premium ingredients and century-old chocolate-making traditions!

Salt Lake City, Utah

Photo credit: One More Step Travels

Utahns are known for having large families, which makes Salt Lake City a prime vacation spot for families. Salt Lake City and surrounding areas offer hundreds of budget-friendly and family-friendly attractions—and not just for locals!

The mountains that line the Salt Lake Valley are stunning and so much fun to explore. Donut Falls, White Pine Trail, and Stewart Falls are each great hikes for families that require no parking or entrance fees.

Outdoorsy families will also love rafting the mild Provo River, exploring ski resorts (year-round) and playing on one of the many lakes in the area.

There are dozens of interactive museums and attractions in Salt Lake City, as well. Some family favorites include Clark Planetarium, Hogle Zoo, Lagoon Amusement Park, and Thanksgiving Point’s Museum of Natural Curiosity.

Where to eat:

  • Leatherby’s has a great family-friendly environment with giant servings of ice cream and cheap food.
  • Apollo Burger and Crown Burger are two long-time Utah institutions famous for their rival pastrami burgers.
  • Café Rio is a delicious Utah Mexican chain serving oversized burritos, taco salads, and free cheese quesadillas for kids.

If your family is planning to stay in the city their entire trip, traveling by UTA (Utah’s public metro, train, and bus system) is super easy—and cheaper than renting a car!

From the airport, hop on the metro to Downtown Salt Lake City or get on the FrontRunner to travel to outer regions.

Rochester, NY

Photo credit: Five for the Road

New York state is a great place for a budget friendly vacation with kids. Most often you think of New York City for a trip, but if you head to the west you will find Rochester, NY. Rochester, NY is located in the Finger Lakes region of NY State.

Rochester is home to The Strong Museum of Play, one of the best children’s museums in the country, Corning Museum of Glass, and Letchworth State Park, known as the Grand Canyon of the East.

Accommodations in Rochester are budget friendly and it is easy to get around with a car. Food and entertainment in Rochester are affordable for families too.  

Rochester is also centrally located making a day trip to Buffalo and Niagara Falls an easy addition to your budget vacation. You can also travel to Watkins Glen State Park to hike the gorge trail and view over 19 waterfalls.

Western New York is an all-seasons destination with winter, spring, summer, and fall. Fall is an ideal time to visit because of the fall foliage throughout the area.

Winter months will bring sledding and snowshoeing or visit in the summer for outdoor festivals and concerts. We love Rochester for a budget friendly vacation in New York State. 

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is a great place to visit with kids, and one of the best budget family friendly destinations in the US.

While Miami and other areas of South Florida can be pricey, staying closer to the Florida Everglades is actually quite reasonable. Look for hotels listed as ‘Miami Dade’ or Homestead instead, as these will be outside of the city and a less expensive option.

If you plan to visit more than a couple of National Parks in one year, then the America the Beautiful Annual Pass is a great investment. Check to see if there are any discounts available to you; there are usually special rates for veterans, seniors, and even children in certain grades.

You could easily spend a few days exploring Everglades National Park, with multiple visitors centers across the 1.5 million acre park. Our favorite was Shark Valley Visitor Center where you can take a tram ride, rent bikes, walk various trails and boardwalks, and pick up souvenirs.

If you don’t want the additional expense of renting bikes, then you can always bring your own! I bought my kids’ scooters and they had a great time zipping around on them hunting for alligators!

Outside of the park, dining is inexpensive in the area as long as you stay away from Miami city center. Stop by Robert is Here, a locally famous fruit stand for the best milkshakes and smoothies you’ll ever have!

Kids snorkel tips
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