15 Cheapest Destinations to Visit in the U.S.
Are you in the market for an exciting trip that won’t drain your bank account? Consider cities across the U.S. that offer charm on the cheap.
Using expert opinions and user votes, U.S. News & World Report ranked the best value vacations in the country. All the destinations are relatively affordable to get to and stay in, and many offer access to scenic nature at minimal or no cost.
We're sharing the 15 cheapest spots here — along with the costs associated with visiting them.
15. Finger Lakes, New York
Eleven lakes in Central New York make up the Finger Lakes region. With so many great lakes, it isn't surprising that the area made the U.S. News list for its outdoor offerings. State parks local to the Finger Lakes include Taughannock Falls and Watkins Glen, which touts an impressive 19 waterfalls.
Water sports, fishing and boating are natural options for vacation activities. But visitors can also spend their vacation sipping beverages at 35 wineries, cideries and breweries along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Most have just a minimal fee ($2-5) that’s waived with the purchase of a bottle.
Use the money you’ve saved to gain a new perspective on the area by booking a motorless glider plane on Harris Hill. A tow plane will take you 4,000 feet up in the air before you glide above the Chemung Valley.
Finger Lakes by the Numbers
*All costs sourced from Kayak.
For flights, we looked at the cheapest rate from the nearest airport for round-trip airfare, for a one-week trip six months out. For accommodations, we looked at the per-night cost for a hotel stay for a trip six months out, arranged from cheapest to most expensive.
14. Albuquerque, New Mexico
New Mexico's largest city has historic and modern offerings for guests, and none of them will break the bank. While Old Town Albuquerque dates back to 1706 and includes adobe structures, museums and shops selling handcrafted goods from indigenous groups, downtown Albuquerque offers up hip shops and restaurants catering to a contemporary clientele.
The Sandia Peak Tramway offers stunning views of the city and the Sandia Mountains. Don’t want to pony up the $25 for a round trip? Walk or bike the 16 miles of the Paseo del Bosque Trail that traces the Rio Grande River.
For a unique experience, visit the American International Rattlesnake Museum (yes, that’s right, a museum dedicated to rattlesnakes). Or travel to Albuquerque in October to participate in the iconic Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Albuquerque by the Numbers
13. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
In 1863, during the height of the Civil War, the battle fought in Gettysburg turned the tide for Union forces and inspired Lincoln to give his iconic Gettysburg Address. For even casual U.S. history buffs, there’s no better place to visit.
Today, the battlefield where that seminal event took place is part of the expanded Gettysburg National Military Park, where you can check out artifacts in the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center and explore the Gettysburg National Cemetery to see the memorial that marks where Lincoln gave his history-making address. As is the case throughout Gettysburg, most of the park and visitor exhibits are free (though you should check with the park service for fees on your group's planned activities).
Outside the history park, you can explore the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing, Mister Ed's Elephant Museum, and Historic Round Barn and Farm Market — all for free or mere pocket change.Bus tours and ghost tours cost a bit more, but not so much that you'll regret the purchase.
Gettysburg by the Numbers
12. San Antonio, Texas
Sure, San Antonio is famous for The Alamo, but there is plenty more to see in this south-central Texas charmer. For an additional dose of history, you can hop on a rented bike and travel down the 15-mile Mission Reach Trail that highlights San Antonio's Missions, which collectively comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site and national historic park. Visitor activities and ranger-led programs are free.
Get your nature fix on the cheap at the Japanese Tea Garden (free), San Antonio Botanical Garden ($12), Government Canyon State Natural Area ($6) or San Pedro Springs Park (free).
Then, of course, there’s the River Walk, with its waterfront cafes and shops touting Tex-Mex flair. Stop along the way for a reasonably priced margarita to sip on while you people-watch. Another great spot for margarita-sipping (or coffee-sipping) is Yanaguana Garden, an art-filled park and playground that caters to visitors of all ages.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, SeaWorld and Six Flags are mega-parks that can keep families entertained for hours on end. Or you can take a ghost tour through this city that’s been around since 1718.
San Antonio by the Numbers
11. Portland, Oregon
“Keep Portland weird” isn't just a catchy motto; it’s a call to action for travelers seeking an extraordinary vacation that’s also surprisingly affordable.
At Forest Park, spooky ruins dating back to the 1930s play host to hikers and nighttime partiers. In the heart of the city, Mill Ends Park is billed as the smallest park in the world (it’s two square feet!). And in the Mississippi neighborhood, houses-turned-quirky bars serve up reasonably priced local brews.
Portland can also cater to more conventional interests, like browsing books (at the massive Powell's Books), gorging on donuts (Is Blue Star or Voodoo better? You decide), smelling flowers (at the gorgeous downtown rose garden) and sampling ice cream (at the nationally renowned Salt & Straw).
Plus, Portland is home to and near countless gorgeous nature spots that are free to visit, including Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls and the Oneonta Gorge.
Portland by the Numbers
10. Athens, Georgia
Of course, to get to Athens by plane, you'll probably want to fly into Atlanta, about an hour's drive from this college town. Home to the University of Georgia, you'll see Bulldogs fans everywhere you visit.
Because students are the primary residents, you'll also find a variety of free attractions, including the Georgia Museum of Art and State Botanical Garden of Georgia. You can also explore historic homes and gorgeous parks that won't cost you a penny.
Athens by the Numbers
9. Williamsburg, Virginia
Dive into the history of the country in Williamsburg, which forms the Historic Triangle with Jamestown and Yorktown. It's pretty famous for Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum that, while not particularly cheap (it’s $45 for adults), offers decent bang for the buck. In the streets, shops and workshops, you'll find actors dressed in period costumes depicting typical Colonial life.
Hop on the Schooner Alliance for a few hours to get the feel of old sailing ships. You'll cruise down the York River and pass the battlefield where the country won its independence. Then head over to historic Jamestown for more living museums, exhibits and monuments.
For some modern fun, consider visiting Busch Gardens, Water Country USA or the Williamsburg Indoor Sports Center.
Williamsburg by the Numbers
8. Nags Head, North Carolina
If you need a deeply relaxing but affordable beach vacation, head to Nags Head on North Carolina's Outer Banks. If napping in the sun while the sound of waves lulls you to sleep sounds too slow, don't fret. Nags Head has plenty of activities for adventurers, too, including paddleboarding, parasailing and hang gliding.
Walk, hike and run the trails at Jockey's Ridge State Park, which covers 426 acres and has the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern United States. The circa-1872 Bodie Island Lighthouse is a beauty, while Jennette's Pier stretches 1,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and is filled with charming mom-and-pop shops.
Nags Head by the Numbers
7. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs sits at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains and caters to outdoor enthusiasts at every turn.
Garden of the Gods is filled with towering red-rock formations, while the 12,115-foot Pikes Peak boasts Insta-worthy views from its summit. (Both can be enjoyed for free.) Visitors can also soar high above the Arkansas River in one of the highest zip lines in the country, try whitewater rafting or explore the area’s scenic beauty via train.
For indoor fun, the city touts an excellent craft-beer scene that’s budget-friendly to boot.
Colorado Springs by the Numbers
6. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is most famous for its access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the most popular national park in the country, visitors can hike to waterfalls, test out the Appalachian Trail or watch for black bears. The fee to enter the park? Absolutely nothing.
But it’d be a mistake to spend all your time at Great Smoky without sampling Gatlinburg itself. At this charming small town, you can sip on authentic Gatlinburg moonshine, craft beers and ciders, or local wines; dance to live country music at Ole Red Gatlinburg; or catch a rollicking musical comedy show at Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre & Music Hall.
Gatlinburg by the Numbers
5. Sequoia National Park, California
If you're coming from out of state, the closest airport to Sequoia National Park is a 90-minute drive away at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Once you reach the park, you'll notice what it is most famous for: huge sequoia trees. The biggest tree here — the General Sherman Tree, standing 275 feet tall with a base over 36 feet in diameter — is the largest in the world.
The park’s views of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains are spectacular, as are the steams and unique rock patterns you’ll find underground at Crystal Cave. Oh, and the park is also home to hundreds of black bears, making it likely that you’ll see at least a few during your time here (just remember to keep your distance!).
All this and more is accessible for $20 per individual and $35 per private vehicle. And this fee gains you access for seven days to both Sequoia and the nearby, also stunning Kings Canyon National Park.
Sequoia by the Numbers
4. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is one of the oldest cities in the United States, dating all the way back to 1565. There are tons of free attractions that highlight the historical backdrop of the town, including the Fort Matanzas National Monument, home to a circa-1740 Spanish fort; Mission Nombre de Dios, where Spanish settlers established the first Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the U.S. in the early 1600s; and the Father Miguel O'Reilly House Museum, one of the oldest buildings in the country, built in 1691.
History isn't the only aspect of St. Augustine that draws in visitors, though. With more than 42 miles of beach, the city offers an ideal place to unwind while enjoying Florida’s famous sunny climes.
There are also several free art experiences, including the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum at Flagler College and the First Friday Art Walk, where art galleries offer walking tours. From November to February, St. Augustine decorates the Old City area with thousands of holiday lights for the annual Nights of Lights event. Again, it’s totally free.
Oh, and don’t miss the wine tastings at San Sebastian Winery or libations at St. Augustine Distillery, which sits inside a 100-year-old ice house!
St. Augustine by the Numbers
3. Olympic National Park, Washington
In western Washington, Olympic National Park isn’t particularly easy to access — but its remoteness is also its greatest selling point.
From Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you'll drive at least two hours before being rewarded with views of staggering mountain ranges, the state's famous Evergreen trees and various bodies of water (rivers, lakes, ocean — they’re all here). You also have the option to take your rental car on a ferry to cross the Puget Sound for even more breathtaking views.
Once you're at the park, there are countless things to do, from fishing to boating to visiting tidepools. Hikers have myriad trails to choose from, while serious backpackers can plan overnight adventures. Due to its vast size and distance from city life, the park offers many night-sky programs as well.
One of the most popular attractions is the Hoh Rain Forest, which sits inside the park. One of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States, it offers guests a lush, green canopy of plants and is home to the quietest spot in the continental U.S., making it an ideal place for a digital detox. The park entrance fee? A mere $30 per vehicle.
Olympic by the Numbers
2. Glacier National Park, Montana
With nearly 1,600 square miles of wilderness, Glacier is a dream for hikers, bikers, climbers, wildlife watchers and photographers alike.
One fan favorite is the photogenic Hidden Lake, named for its tucked-away setting amid towering peaks and accessible via a scenic trail that, every spring, blooms with wildflowers. Also beloved is Going-To-The-Sun Road, which passes glaciers, glacial lakes, waterfalls, mountains, cedar forests and wildflowers as it winds its way across the park for 50 glorious miles.
If you'd like to experience the great outdoors with a bit of help, consider taking a guided tour by boat or a ranger-led hike. Don’t want to spend the extra money? Pay $25 per vehicle in the winter or $35 in the summer to explore on your own.
Glacier by the Numbers
1. Grand Canyon, Arizona
President Theodore Roosevelt, who declared the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908, once said, "In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.”
Over a century later, his words very much still ring true.
This natural wonder stuns with its layers of red rocks, shaped over millennia, and sheer scale — it’s 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep.
For another perspective, you can visit the canyon’s depths on a donkey or soar above it on a helicopter. Want to watch for animals? Easy. More than 500 species of wildlife roam here.
It’s just $35 per vehicle to explore this sight known and revered the world over.
Grand Canyon by the Numbers
Honorable Mention: Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage dropped off the recent U.S. News list from previous years, but we think it still deserves an honorable mention. After all, if you're looking for wild beauty on your next vacation, Alaska's largest city has it in spades. It costs a bit more to access this remote destination than other cities on the list, but once you’re here, you’ll find it’s very easy on the wallet.
The city sits on the Cook Inlet and offers access to nearby mountains like Chugach and Talkeetna, where the hiking trails are beautiful, bountiful and free to access. Also free here? The fascinating Alaska Native Heritage Center, open-air Anchorage Market and unique Alaska Trooper Museum, where you can learn about how law enforcement operates in this remote corner of the world.
Probably the coolest thing you can do is view the Northern Lights, often visible from the middle of August through April. There are countless tour options for visitors, depending on your goals, and they’re pretty much all worth the relative splurge.
Embrace winter in Anchorage, and you'll have endless activities, including flightseeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating, skiing, fat tire biking and ice fishing. And lest you think this rugged city lacks culture, it’s also home to a surprisingly good symphony and opera company.
Anchorage by the Numbers
Honorable Mention: Memphis, Tennessee
Another one that dropped off this year's list is Memphis, but we're not really sure why. Music is the main attraction in this city that helped birth American blues, soul and rock 'n' roll. Between the Blues Hall of Fame, Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion, you'll never get bored by day. By night, Beale Street’s live-music venues keep the good times rolling until the early morning hours.
There are also countless ways to explore (for free) the great outdoors in Memphis, famously home to the mighty Mississippi River. Hike, bike or take a four-wheeler on the Big River Crossing for excellent views of the river. At Shelby Farms Park, you'll likely see some buffalo, while the BMX track caters to those with a need for speed. Explore the 342 acres that make up Overton Park and take a brewery tour before you head home.
Oh, and one more thing: The barbecue here is amazing (some will argue the best in the country) and blessedly not overpriced.
Memphis by the Numbers
Honorable Mention: Tucson, Arizona
Arizona is chock-full of cheap cities to add to the bucket list, including this sunny mid-size metropolis that’s too often overlooked.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a massive space that includes an aquarium, botanical garden, zoo, art gallery and natural history museum. Outdoor enthusiasts can get some hiking in at the Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, or meander through the Saguaro National Park, home to sections of the Rincon Mountains, Tucson Mountains and Sonoran Desert.
For something totally different, Biosphere 2 at The University of Arizona is the world's largest living research center, where scientists focus on global challenges surrounding food, water, health and energy. Tours cost about $20.
Cinephiles can nerd out by visiting a movie set at Old Tucson Studios, where Westerns like “El Dorado” and “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” were filmed, as was the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series.
No matter how you fill your itinerary, make sure to end your trip with a picturesque (and free) drive on the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway. The canyon and mountain views can’t be beat.
Tucson by the Numbers
Honorable Mention: Myrtle Beach
Head to South Carolina's Atlantic coast, and you'll find Myrtle Beach and its 60 miles of beaches. The city offers countless ways to enjoy the water, including scuba diving, surfboard rentals, Hobie Cat sailboats rentals, charter boat cruises and guided tours of the blackwater and salt marsh ecosystems.
Myrtle Beach is also known for its celebrity-designed golf courses. With more than 100 courses, every level of player is welcome, and many are quite affordable.
If you have little ones in tow — or just want to embrace your inner child — head to the boardwalk for arcades, restaurants, shopping and one of the country's tallest Ferris wheels (at 187 feet!).
Up for learning some new dance moves? Make your way to Main Street in North Myrtle Beach. Here, you'll find several clubs that specialize in South Carolina's state dance, the shag, a partner dance set to beach tunes.
Myrtle Beach by the Numbers
Honorable Mention: Salt Lake City
The capital and most populated city in Utah also happens to be extremely affordable. Salt Lake City has a variety of free activities, including the Family History Library, the world’s largest genealogical library (cool!), and Temple Square, which hosts lively concerts and block parties at no charge.
Are you an outdoor enthusiast? Red Butte Garden has more than 21 acres of gardens and five miles of walking and hiking trails. If you want to get on the water, head to the Great Salt Lake Marina, which is only slightly less salty than the Dead Sea. You can paddleboard, kayak, sail and take dinner cruises on the lake. And then there’s the Bonneville Salt Flats, a strikingly unusual landscape that’s served as the setting for countless movies and car commercials.
Since you’ve saved so much money, you can hopefully afford the splurge of Utah Olympic Park to experience zip lining, rock climbing, ski jumping, tubing, ropes courses, luge and bobsledding...no experience required.
Salt Lake City by the Numbers
Honorable Mention: Branson, Missouri
This Ozarks town is best known for being a fun-filled family-travel destination, replete with kid museums, themed amusement parks, mini golf, fudgeries and a plethora of (clean) live shows. Even better? You can bring the brood without worrying about how it will affect the family finances.
For nature lovers, there are tons of free parks to explore, including Branson State Park and Table Rock State Park. Head to the Lakeside Wilderness Area for miles of hiking with a waterfall and cave, or check out the Moonshine Beach if a day in the sun is in order.
Branson's landmarks can be accessed via a free downtown trolley. Some of the local wineries and distilleries offer free tours and/or tastings, and you can learn a bit about the town's history at the Branson Centennial Museum — also scot-free.
The Strip, aka Highway 76, aka 76 Country Music Boulevard, is famous for its many theaters and entertainment venues, including Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction and Silver Dollar City, both super-affordable and a guaranteed good time.
Branson by the Numbers