20 Cheap Family Vacation Ideas For Under 800$

The family on a budget can have an affordable vacation at historic sites, national parks, theme parks, and small towns across America.

ALABAMA

(1) Florence

This northwestern Alabama town has The Children's Museum of the Shoals with hands-on education exhibits about the Tennessee Valley. The authentic 42 foot high Florence Indian Mound is surrounded by displays from 10,000 years of Native American history. The home of blues musician W. C. Handy (1873-1958) has his instruments and other personal items on display. The W. C. Handy Music Festival is held annually the first week in August. Go to the observation deck at Wilson Dam, one of the largest single-lift locks in the world, for a great Tennessee River view. Nearby Joe Wheeler State Park have a lodge, cabins, and campground. Pontoon boats, fishing boats, and paddle boats can be rented here. This is a great fishing area that's home to many national tournaments.

ARIZONA

(2) Grand Canyon National Park

Part of the scenic southwest is Grand Canyon National Park, which attracts 4 million visitors each year. Because of these crowds, it is necessary to make reservations for overnight accommodations, campsites, backcountry permits, or mule trips well in advance. If lodging is not available within the park, check for what you need in the nearby towns of Williams, Flagstaff, and Sedona. If you're planning a day trip, arrive early to get a parking spot. The South Rim is open year round and the North Rim stays open mid-May through mid-October, weather permitting. At the South Rim, park your vehicle and board the Village shuttle bus to Canyon View Information Plaza. Get a copy of The Guide, the park's newspaper, to find out about visitor facilities and special programs. If you have children ages 4 to 14, get a copy of the Junior Ranger Magazine. If kids complete requirements for their age group during their visit, they'll receive a badge, certificate, and patch. Check out the interpretive exhibits as you head outdoors to enjoy your visit.

ARKANSAS

(3) DeGray Lake Resort State Park, Bismarck

This 13,800 acre park offers outdoor recreation plus resort-style amenities. For water fun, enjoy the beaches, fishing, snorkeling, or the full service marina with boat rentals. Join park interpreters for guided hikes or a variety of nature programs. Enjoy a PGA championship rated golf course, tennis and basketball courts, and bike rentals. The lodge has rooms with great scenic views plus a swimming pool, fitness center, business center, restaurant, hot tub, and meeting rooms often used for family reunions. Campgrounds are also available.

CALIFORNIA

(4) Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia

In the 1850s this was one of the largest California gold mine towns with a population of 6,000. Visiting it today is like stepping back into the old west. Meet costumed interpreters as you wander authentic streets and tour restored buildings at the actual site of gold mining from the 1850s to the 1870s. Try your hand at gold panning, tour a gold mine, take a stage coach ride or saddle up a horse, eat at a G-rated saloon, enjoy live musicals in the evening, and spend the night in a restored century old hotel. Special programs take place year round.

FLORIDA

(5) Billie Swamp Safari, Clewiston

This 2,200 acre wildlife park is located on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. This attraction has twice been voted #1 guided tour in the state by readers of Florida Living Magazine. Hour long tours are offered several times each day aboard customized swamp buggies which offer an elevated view of the wetlands. Be on the lookout for deer, water buffalo, bison, wild hogs, hawks, eagles, and maybe a Florida panther. Other activities include a 20 minute airboat ride, nature hikes, a Herpetarium, and Ah Tah Thi Ki Seminole Museum. The Swamp Water Café offers traditional American food plus special items such as gator tail nuggets and Indian fry bread with honey. Overnight accommodations include campgrounds and lodging in replica chickee huts. There is a separate charge for everything, even the campfire stores of Seminole legends, so plan your agenda ahead.

(6) Pensacola

Enjoy 52 miles of beaches in this area of northwestern Florida. There's free admission to the National Museum of Naval Aviation, one of the three largest aviation museums in America. See over 170 vintage aircraft used by the Navy for the past 100 years. Look for special programs for children at the Gulf Island National Seashore.

INDIANA

(7) Holiday World, Santa Claus

The town of Santa Claus is home to an affordably priced theme park called Holiday World. Amusement Park Magazine consistently ranks this park #1 for cleanliness and friendliness. Management has been in the same family since it first opened as Santa Claus Land in 1946. Preschoolers can enjoy rides at Rudolph's Reindeer Ranch while parents and older kids enjoy more daring rides such as Raven and Legend wooden roller coasters. Holiday World admission also includes Splashin' Safari Water Park. Younger children can play in Crocodile Isles which has 2 pools with a connecting slide. Older family members can cool off on ten racing slides with a 5 story drop or Zoombabwe, the world's largest enclosed water slide. A special feature of the park is including unlimited free soft drinks and free sunscreen with the price of admission.

KENTUCKY

(8) Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington

There's a lot to do at this 1,000 acre park that's home to over 200 horses. A covered wagon pulled by a team of draft horses is a great way to take the farm tour and view the horse show facilities. Don't miss the Parade of Breeds which displays some of the park's 40 breeds every half hour, weather permitting. The American Saddle Horse Museum has interactive displays and life-size models of the only breed of horse that is native to Kentucky plus frequent special exhibits. All activities except carriage rides, horseback riding, and pony rides are included with the price of admission. The park also hosts a variety of equestrian events. During the Christmas season The Southern Lights Holiday Festival dazzles guests with 3 miles of spectacular holiday lights. There is a campground on site.

MISSOURI

(9) St. Louis

Missouri's capitol city is home to The Gateway Arch - Jefferson National Expansion Museum, a National Park beneath the 630 foot tall arch. Tour the Museum of Westward Expansion, view a movie about the monument or Lewis and Clark, or ride to the top of the arch. Purina Farms has live pets, displays, hands-on activities, and animal demonstrations and, best of all, no admission charge. The 1,371 acre Forest Park is home to an art museum and zoo with free admission and many free exhibits. Other free attractions in St. Louis include Anheuser Busch Brewery Tours which include the Clydesdales stables, and Grant's Farm on the Busch family estate which has a petting zoo and tram ride.



NORTH CAROLINA

(10) Blue Ridge Outing Co., Whittier

Since 1988 Blue Ridge Outing Company has offered rafting trips for families with children as young as 4. Travel magazines consistently give it high marks for value and safety. Their Ultimate Whitewater Rafting Trip for Younger Kids (under 11) even comes with a money-back guarantee if everyone in your family doesn't have a great time. Other rides that are more challenging are available for adults and older children. Allow 3.5 hours for each ride; 2.5 hours will be on the water. Extend your visit by renting Ducky Solo, an inflatable kayak great for active teens or parent and younger child.

NORTH DAKOTA

(11) Bismarck

North Dakota's 19 story state capitol building is known as the skyscraper of the plains because it's 241 feet 8 inches tall. Free guided tours, which include an 18th floor observation deck, are available daily in summer. Explore the 132 acre park around the capitol. Here you'll find statues, memorials, hiking trails, and the North Dakota Heritage Center with displays of Plains Indians artifacts plus military and agricultural exhibits. Talk to the animals at the Dakota Zoo, or learn about trains at the North Dakota State Railroad Museum.Weather permitting, take a Missouri River Cruise aboard the 150 passenger Lewis and Clark Riverboat.

OHIO

(12) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland

Let the kids enjoy the music their grandparents and parents did! Built in 1986, this glass and steel pyramid has a view of Lake Erie. It is the place to put on headphones and hear rock classics, see personal memorabilia from rock stars, and learn about the Hall of Famers. It's within walking distance of many downtown Cleveland hotels.

(13) Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Dayton

Four sites make up this park which honors Dayton natives Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Wright Cycle Company Complex shows the early days of the Wright Brothers' aviation career. Huffman Prairie Flying Field is home to a replica 1905 hangar where the Wrights made 50 flights. A 1908 Wright Flyer III, the only airplane to be designated a National Historic Landmark, can be seen at the Wright Brothers Aviation Complex. The Dunbar House explains the life and career of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

OREGON

(14) Newport

Located on Highway 101 along Oregon's coast, this community of 10,000 offers a chance to enjoy the beach, picnic, hike trails and fish at Yachina Bay State Park. Take a tour and decide for yourself if the Old Yachima Bay Lighthouse is haunted! Visit four indoor galleries at the Oregon Coast Aquarium where you'll see 50,000 animals ranging from seals to tropical fish to sea birds. And save time to enjoy a fresh seafood meal as Newport is known worldwide for its great fishing. Contact the City of Newport online for a free Newport Passport with discounts and special offers for attractions and a variety of other local businesses.

PENNSYLVANIA

(15) Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg

This was the site of the largest Civil War battle, the Battle of Gettysburg, which was July 1-3, 1863. Union troops successfully turned back the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee's Army. Over 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured making it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The Park has nearly 6,000 acres with 30 miles of roads and over 1,400 monuments, markers and memorials, making it one of the world's largest collections of outdoor sculpture. The Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg contains more than 7,000 interments including over 3,500 from the Civil War. It is also the site of President Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address, which he delivered during the dedication ceremonies in November, 1863. The Visitors Center offers free maps for an 18 mile driving tour or a 1 mile self guided walking tour through the battlefield. Before beginning a tour it is helpful to view the electric map which explains the importance of this battle.

(16) York

York County promotes itself as the factory tour capital of the world. Harley-Davidson Motor Company offers free factory tours showing their assembly line, but children under 12 are not allowed. Martin's Potato Chips and Lutz Snacks give free tours showing how a raw potato becomes a crunchy chip. Snyder's of Hanover, a pretzel bakery since 1909, and Revonah Pretzels have free factory tours. Suquehanna Glass, makers of stemware and crystal gift items since 1910, offers free glass hand cutting demonstrations. The free Pflatzgraff Co. tour shows the production of dishes from clay making to forming to firing to decorating to packing. Children on this tour must be at least 6 years old. A 2 hour free tour at Glatfelter shows the paper making process from tree to finished paper. Children on this tour must be at least 12 years old. There is a moderate charge to visit Hope Acres Dairy Farm, one of only ten farms in the United States that uses a robotic milking operation. Hours of tours and the need for reservations vary, so contact the site or the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau for details before you go.

SOUTH DAKOTA

(17) Black Hills and Badlands

The granite faces of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington rise 5,500 feet at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Learn about the sculptor at the Information Center and Lincoln Borglum Museum. Badlands National Park has 160 square miles with no structures to mar its natural beauty. Begun in 1948, Crazy Horse Memorial is a work in progress. The fascinating story of the world's largest sculpture is told at the Crazy Horse Orientation and Communication Center. This region of western South Dakota is home to over forty commercially owned family attractions, most of which relate to western, animal, and Native American themes.

TEXAS

(18) Waco

Known as the "Gateway to Texas History," Waco is home to The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. Check out displays relating to guns and gunslingers, cowboys, Western art, Native American artifacts, and western movie memorabilia. The Dr Pepper Museum features a collection of advertisement memorabilia, full cases of old sodas, an authentic soda fountain, a 1920s vending machine, an old delivery truck, and an old fashioned soda parlor. The Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village recreate a typical Texas river village in the 1890s. Admission to 416 acre Cameron Park is free. Enjoy picnicking, hiking, and Park Ranger programs to learn about the rocks, fossils, trees, and animals in this area. There is a nominal charge for canoe rentals or boat rides on the Brazos River and for admission to the award winning Cameron Park Zoo where animals are in their natural habitats.

(19) VERMONT

When the snow falls, think snowshoeing in Vermont. No special skills are needed; just strap on the lightweight, durable snow shoes and walk. The whole family will be rewarded with great exercise and spectacular scenery. Snow shoes can be rented at cross country ski centers, ski resorts, sports stores, and inns throughout the state. Several top brands are made in Vermont and sold at many regional sports stores and shoe stores. Contact the Vermont Outdoor Guide Assn. or the Vermont Dept. of Marketing & Tourism for recommended routes. These organizations can also give details about group walks where you can socialize with other families while snowshoeing.

(20) YOUR OWN BACK YARD

Check your local newspaper or television station for free or low cost events in your own town or neighboring communities. These can include annual festivals, state or county fairs, holiday events, library programs, state or local park programs, high school sports, or fine arts performances at colleges and universities.

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