10 Budget-Friendly Family Summer Vacation Ideas

Yes, you can plan a summer vacation that will wow your kids without breaking the bank.

Photo By: VisitUvaldeCounty.com

Photo By: Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

Pittsburgh

Known as "Kidsburgh" thanks to all the family-oriented activities in the area, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is an affordable and fun pick for families. Book tickets to popular attractions, like the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, on the VisitPittsburgh website to save up to 50 percent. Take a free guided tour of the Allegheny Observatory and explore Bicycle Heaven, the world’s largest bicycle store and museum. Don’t leave Pittsburgh without taking a ride on the Duquesne Incline for one of the best cityscape views in the country.

Texas Hill Country River Region

It may get hot in Texas during the summer, but that makes a relaxing float along the crystal-clear Frio River in the Texas Hill Country River Region that much better. As the river merges with Buffalo Creek, take a selfie in your tube as you pass the largest tree in Texas. Kids will love exploring miles of scenic trails at Garner State Park. Sign up for a Frio Bat Flight Tour and prepare to be awed as 10 million bats emerge from Frio Cave just before sunset.

Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota is a great pick for outdoor-loving families thanks to kid-friendly (and free) favorites like the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, home to more than 40 outdoor works of art, including Spoonbridge and Cherry. Stay for 18 holes at the artist-inspired mini golf course. Cross the bridge into St. Paul to spend the day at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory to visit with polar bears, giraffes, reindeer and sea lions. Rent bikes from any one of 200+ Nice Ride public bike share stations to explore one of the most bike-friendly cities in America.

Florida's Nature Coast

Orlando and Miami may get the lion’s share of attention in Florida, but kids will love Florida’s Nature Coast on the lesser-explored Gulf Coast side of the Sunshine State. There you’ll find manatees, waterfalls, mermaids, even a hippo named Lu at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Three Sisters Springs on the Crystal River serves as a manatee refuge in the winter months but is a popular spot for paddling, swimming and kayaking in the summer. At Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a magical twice-daily mermaid show will delight every member of the family.

Albuquerque

From volcanic rocks and petroglyphs to shrubby bushes and mountains, Albuquerque, New Mexico was made to be explored by children. Start by spending the day at the ABQ BioPark. Save with discounted combo tickets, which include the zoo, aquarium and botanic garden, as well as unlimited rides on the narrow-gauge trains at the park. Join a free walking tour to learn about historic Old Town Albuquerque before popping in the American International Rattlesnake Museum. A hike along the Mesa Point Trail at Petroglyph National Monument is a must-do.

Niagara Falls

Get ready to cross off a bucket list item with a family getaway to Niagara Falls. Start by purchasing a Niagara USA Discovery Pass, a multi-attraction pass that allows access to five popular attractions, including Maid of the Mist and the Aquarium of Niagara, for one discounted price. Take the trolley around Niagara Falls State Park in New York or hike around to experience the falls from different vantage points. Take the kids to the Niagara Power Vista, a free attraction with loads of hands-on STEM-related activities, even a 4-D movie.

Gatlinburg

As the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tennessee has a lot to offer families, from hiking and whitewater rafting to exploring a whopping seven Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which consistently ranks among the top aquariums in the country. Kids will love flying through the trees at Anakeesta, a brand new on-mountain experience that includes a canopy walk, zip lines and a mountain coaster. Inside the national park, pick up a Junior Ranger activity booklet so the kids can earn a badge.

Wisconsin Dells

Dubbed the "Water Park Capital of the World," Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin is the place to go for kids who like to splish, splash, slide and float at water parks. With nearly two dozen water parks, the only question is, which one to visit first? Noah’s Ark is the largest water park in the area (and the country) with two huge wave pools, multiple water slides and four water play areas. Purchase a multi-attraction Passport to Savings card to save on area attractions, including Noah’s Ark and Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf. Popular Devil’s Lake State Park is a short drive from Wisconsin Dells.

St. Louis

Like free family attractions? St. Louis, Missouri has plenty of them, including the St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis Zoo and Purina Farms, a mecca for pet lovers thanks to daily dog agility shows, an animal barn and interactive pet exhibits. Plan to spend at least a half-day at the ever-popular City Museum, which boasts a 10-story spiral slide, a massive ball pit and a 30-foot rooftop Ferris Wheel. As a bonus, look for the grand re-opening of the Jefferson Memorial Expansion Museum and the new grounds of the Gateway Arch in early-July.

Caribbean

Hurricanes Irma and Maria may have hit the Caribbean last fall, but many of the islands are open for business. Some islands, like the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, were virtually untouched and there are bargains to be had, particularly in the summer months. For example, the Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach sits right on one of the most well-known beaches in the world and offers rooms as low as $200 per night. It’s easy to get around the island, too. The bus is just $2.50 per ride and makes stops at popular attractions, like Rum Point.

Shop This Look