I’ve learned to value two things when it comes to planning family vacations: time and money. Kids are only kids once. The time when they’re young is precious and the best way to use it is to make the most of our experiences.
We want to provide the greatest vacations possible, but we too often associate the word “vacation” with “expensive.” To get the best experiences for your money, you have to know where to go. Time and research have taught me that sometimes the best place is the one that breaks the obvious vacation mold of Disneyland or a cruise.
By choosing less-known destinations, you can get more for your money. You’ll also deal with fewer crowds and have a more unique experience. The national parks and forests are among the best places to have this kind of experience.
These budget-friendly destinations combine enjoyable experiences with affordability. Here are some top picks for this year’s family trip.
The Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee are home to beautiful valleys, streams, waterfalls, and of course the mountains. Picturesque views can be savored by hiking, horseback riding, biking, or riding the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
Two nearby cities, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, are home to unique attractions, such as Ripley’s Aquarium—the top aquarium in the U.S., WonderWorks—an upside-down building filled with sights and activities, and The Tomb Adventure—a pyramid-themed building that challenges you to solve problems in order to escape from Pharaoh’s tomb.
Whatever piques your interest, you can find it here.
Utah may boast of having the “greatest snow on earth,” but it also has some of the greatest hiking on the planet. In Southern Utah you’ll find the rich, red soils of Zion National Park.
This park is renowned for its slot canyons, plateaus, and the emerald green Virgin River. From beginner to expert level, the numerous hiking trails are sure to meet your family’s inclinations.
It’s also less than an hour’s drive to St. George. There you will find the popular Tuacahn Amphitheater, which features live performances of top musical productions, as well as all of the amenities a good-sized city has to offer.
This national forest in Idaho features just about every outdoor activity you can think of within its 2 million acres: fishing, hiking, camping, and biking, just to name a few.
Just outside the forest boundary sits Payette Lake, an expansive body of beautiful, clean glacial water. With sandy beaches and mountainous views in the distance, Payette Lake attracts visitors for sunbathing, swimming, boating, and camping.
The nearby small town of McCall offers an array of attractions such as river rafting and golfing. Winter sporting activities like skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowboarding are popular at the appropriate time of year.
If you feel especially adventurous, you may want to stay in Burgdorf, a small, nearby ghost town that has a large natural hot spring.
Check out one of these national sites this year. Priceless memories can come from affordable experiences. Good luck planning your trip!