10 Cheap Family Summer Vacations


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Summer is prime time for a family getaway. If you're concerned about costs, now's the moment to start planning a fun summer vacation that fits your budget. Whether your family enjoys the great outdoors or prefers the air-conditioned indoors, we've got you covered with a list of 10 cheap summer family vacations.


National parks are the way to go if you crave cheap sightseeing, and Yosemite arguably offers some of the best scenery of any. Seven-day admission with a car costs $30 (all occupants included) or $15 a person (over age 15) by any other means of transportation (e.g., foot or horseback). Yosemite is nearly as large as Rhode Island and boasts 800 miles of trails that accommodate the rugged outdoorsman as well as the leisurely walker. With more than 100 lakes, multiple waterfalls, mountains, and a few beaches, there is something for every family member. Spend a night camping in a tent or cabin for as little as $12 a day. If hotels are more your style, visit the park's website to search for nearby lodging.


With 14 million visitors a year, Myrtle Beach is undoubtedly a popular vacation destination. Family outings are also budget-friendly. Brookgreen Garden offers beautiful landscapes and a zoo with tickets priced at $15 for adults and $7 for ages 4 to 12. Hotels such as Atlantic Paradise and Ocean Plaza cost little more than $60 a night and camping at Huntington Beach State Park starts at $21 a night for a site with electricity and water (Wi-Fi is free). The park is also home to the historic castle Atalaya ($2 a person, ages 6 and up).


Summer is the perfect time to visit the nation's capital. In addition to year-round free entrance to historical monuments and museums, including the 19 that constitute the Smithsonian Institution (the National Zoo is one), summer offers free outdoor movies and concerts. There are also free nightly performances at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. To stick with the cheap summer family vacation theme, pass on the downtown hotels, where rates are high, and opt for those on the periphery. Use the Metro to get around and save money on lodging and parking.


History busts out all over in Boston. Take a self-guided tour of the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail; with 16 stops, including Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere's house, and the Old North Church, everyone in the family should find at least one point of interest. Many museums and landmarks, such as the Commonwealth Museum and the U.S.S. Constitution, are free. Some sites do charge, so purchase a Go Boston Card, which provides access to 53 attractions, museums, and tours for free or at a discounted rate. (Prices vary by the number of days covered, starting at $53 for one day for adults and $37 for one day for ages 3 to 12.) Had enough of history? Listen to the Landmark Orchestra play for free on Wednesday nights at the Hatch Memorial Shell or sail on the Boston Harbor.


Vancouver is home to Stanley Park, the largest urban park in North America, and one that offers five miles of waterfront views. Youngsters will be highly entertained -- and you'll get a breather -- by visiting Granville Island Kid's Market and Waterpark, a free two-story indoor park and outdoor water park. Crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge over the Capilano River and a deep canyon will cost you, but the expense is worth it. You'll arrive at a park that features guided nature tours, the Kids' Rainforest Explorer program, and Treetops Adventure, a series of footbridges that let you walk among the tops of old-growth trees in a thriving coastal forest. Admission costs $31.95 for adults, $19.95 for ages 13-16, and $12 for ages 6-12.


The first national park in the world, Yellowstone National Park is known for Old Faithful, a geyser that shoots water jets more than 150 feet high. But there are plenty of other sights to be seen and adventures to be had. Go horseback riding, view diverse wildlife, or visit the naturally formed multicolor pools at Fountain Paint Pots. Camping fees start at $15 a night or check out the Old Faithful Inn, which offers rooms starting at $58 a night.


With weekly fees for a family of four starting at $3,235, Medomak Family Camp might not seem like a cheap summer family vacation. But don't dismiss it out of hand. Fees are all-inclusive, which means daily gourmet meals in the mess hall, lodging, and activities like kayaking, sailing, yoga, and archery. There is a day camp for children and parents are welcome to participate or relax on their own. Nearby local attractions include a lighthouse, state parks, and museums.


A trip to the Black Hills is the perfect summer vacation for the family that bikes together. Aside from the six national parks in the vicinity, there are 100-plus miles of bike trails as well as eye-popping views through the car window as you drive along the highways and byways. You can also explore two national forests, two national grasslands areas, and four state parks. Learn the history of the Wild West by visiting Mount Rushmore, Wounded Knee, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse, Devil's Tower (in bordering Wyoming), and the towns of Sturgis and Deadwood. Rooms at area hotels go for about $100 a night.


The Outer Banks may be a popular location for staging costly movie scenes, but you don't have to spend a fortune to relax here. Several Outer Banks' towns offer cheap and exciting experiences for the entire family. Carova Beach and Corolla Beach are home to wild horses and ponies and free to visit, but generally accessible only with a four-wheel drive vehicle; tour guides offer individual and group tours for around $40 a person. Take a slow ride up or down the North Carolina coast on one of the state's ferries. Tolls vary depending on the boarding port, with some free and others starting as low as $1 for pedestrians and $15 for four-wheeled vehicles. For beach towns, lodging is cheap on the Outer Banks, with rates in mid-July starting at about $120 a night.


The oldest state park in the country, Niagara Falls State Park boasts five main attractions, including the Cave of the Winds Trip and Aquarium of Niagara, and access to all comes with a Discovery Pass ($38 for adults, $31 for ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under). Save some money by visiting just one attraction, like the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, which costs $3 for adults and $2 for children; a group ticket to the Niagara Gorge Adventure Hike is $30 for five to 30 people. If you really want to skimp, there are plenty of other activities and breathtaking scenes to enjoy at no cost. On the New York side of the falls, lodging starts at around $100 a night. Bring passports if you plan to cross the border into Canada.