Saturday, January 3, 2015

10 Cheap Family Summer Vacations

Summer is prime time for a family get-away. 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.

1. Yosemite National Park, California.

National parks are the way to go if you crave cheap sightseeing, and Yosemite arguably offers some of the best scenery of any national park. Admission is unlimited and good for seven days. 

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. If you want to rough it, spend a night camping in a tent or cabin. If hotels are more your style, the Wawona Hotel is an option. If you miss the city, San Francisco is close enough for a day trip.

2. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Myrtle Beach is a major family attraction (14 million visitors each year) and a plausible choice for a cheap summer vacation. Hotels such as the Atlantic Paradise and the Ocean Plaza cost little more than $60 a night. Family outings aren't expensive either. 

The Brookgreen Garden offers beautiful landscapes and a zoo. Don't miss the chance to go miniature golfing -- Myrtle Beach is known as "the miniature golf capital of the world" -- or visit Huntington Beach State Park. Huntington Beach State Park is also home to the historic castle Atalaya.

3. Washington, D.C.

Summer is the perfect time to visit our 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.

4. Boston, Massachusetts.

Take a self-guided tour of Boston's 2.5-mile 
reedom 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 a fee, so purchase a Go Boston Card, which provides access to 53 attractions, museums, and tours for free or at a discounted rate. 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. If you want to escape the city, a day trip to Cape Cod can be refreshing.

5. Vancouver, Canada.

Vancouver is home to Stanley Park, the largest urban park in North America. Unlike landlocked New York's Central Park, Stanley Park 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.

6. Yellowstone National Park.

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. If camping isn't your thing, check out the Old Faithful Inn, which offers rooms starting at $58 a night.

7. Medomak Family Camp, Maine.

With weekly fees for a family that start at $3,165, 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, archery; massages, however, cost extra.

8. The Black Hills, South Dakota.

A trip to the Black Hills is the perfect summer vacation for the family that bikes together. Other than 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.

9. Outer Banks, North Carolina.

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. Take a slow ride up or down the North Carolina coast on one of the state's ferries, which accommodate cars, vehicles with trailers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Ferry 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. Afterwards, enjoy fresh, local seafood at one of the Outer Banks's family-friendly restaurants or fresh donuts at the popular Duck Donuts in Duck. For beach towns lodging is cheap, with rates in mid-July starting at about $120/night.

10. Niagara Falls, New York.

Niagara Falls, NY is home to 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. You can shave the price of your family summer vacation by exploring only one attraction, like the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, 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 that can be yours at no cost. On the New York side of the falls, lodging starts at around $100/night. Bring your passports if you plan to cross the border into Canada.


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