Sometimes you just need to get out of town, but you may not have weeks on end to spend away from home. For those seeking a quick escape, U.S. News has compiled some top ideas for affordable weekend trips to help you relax, unwind and get away from it all without draining your bank account or requiring you to trek too far from home. Grab your weekender bag and set out on one of these top cheap weekend getaways across the U.S.
(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Top Regional Destinations:
Some call Stowe, Vermont, a hikers paradise, but travelers embarking on a New England weekend getaway here will also find zip lining and performing arts events, plus ample opportunities to enjoy cold weather sports like skiing and snowboarding during winter months. The city sits near many of Vermont’s top attractions. Autumn is especially beautiful here and can make for a cheaper trip if you stick to free activities like hiking and admiring the colorful fall foliage. As you look for weekend stays within your budget, make sure to check out The Stowehof and Butler House Stowe. There are also many bed-and-breakfast properties in the Stowe area, which can help you start your day with a hearty meal while keeping food costs at a minimum.
Niagara Falls State Park, New York
Niagara Falls may seem like nothing more than a gigantic waterfall to some people, but there’s quite a bit to do and see in the surrounding area. While the falls themselves are a must-visit, you can also take part in activities ranging from hiking into the Niagara Gorge to riding the Maid of the Mist boat tour right up next to the rushing waters. The New York side of this attraction – one of the world’s top tourist sites – can be relatively low-cost when it comes to hotel stays. You may be able to find accommodation in Niagara Falls with nightly rates starting at less than $70 over dates this fall.
New York City
The Big Apple is another city that doesn’t always have the lowest hotel rates, yet you can put your money-saving skills to use in other ways. If you can book a hotel with points or stay with friends or family, a bevy of free things to do in New York City can help you keep your budget in check. Explore the sights and sounds of Times Square or walk the entirety of Central Park, where in summer you’ll find a totally free theater event called Shakespeare in the Park. In the spring and fall, catch free live music at BAMcafé Live, one of Brooklyn’s top tourist offerings. Citygoers can also find affordable entertainment in the form of walking tours, outdoor playgrounds, museums and more.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
You can enjoy an affordable weekend in Atlantic City – provided you steer clear of the casinos. Truthfully, there are plenty of ways to spend your time in one of New Jersey’s top tourist destinations, including exploring the beautiful beaches and boardwalk, whose roots date back to 1870. Atlantic City is also home to numerous arts and culture venues and offerings, such as the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, the aquarium and the Atlantic City Ballet. To keep kids happy and entertained, you can play a low-cost round of mini-golf or spend some time splashing in the water during summer months; if you come here on a romantic New Jersey getaway, treat yourself and your partner to dinner on the waterfront.
Farm Sanctuary: Watkins Glen, New York
(Courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)
Farm Sanctuary in the Finger Lakes region of New York is part animal sanctuary and part country retreat – and an ideal location for a weekend escape from New York City. Travelers eager for a break can book a tiny home and spend time with more than 600 rescued farm animals in Watkins Glen. Cottage rentals start at $225 per night for up to two people during winter (although you do have to pay a $25 membership fee to make a booking). You can check out the top wineries in the Finger Lakes during your visit or explore Watkins Glen State Park.
Black Hills National Forest and Badlands National Park, South Dakota
This area of the U.S. is home to Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and the fascinating caverns of Wind Cave, making the Black Hills and Badlands perfect for a road trip. The Black Hills boasts numerous potentially budget-friendly hotels for families, including campgrounds and lodges. Nightly rates at Sylvan Lake Lodge within Custer State Park Resort start at about $170 per night, for example.
Sankoty Lakes: Spring Bay, Illinois
(Courtesy of Sankoty Lakes)
If you’re searching for weekend getaway deals or romantic trips in the Midwest, make sure to check out Sankoty Lakes. This Illinois adventure playground offers on-site dining options, bookable glamping tents, luxury rental cabins and endless outdoor fun. Guests who visit get the opportunity to participate in activities like fishing, biking, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, bird-watching and more. The best part? Two-bedroom glamping tents start at around $120 per night over dates this fall.
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari: Santa Claus, Indiana
(Courtesy of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari)
If you live in the Midwest, consider making the drive to this budget-friendly theme park and water park. Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari ranks among the most affordable U.S. theme parks especially because of its free parking and modest lodging costs. In addition to plenty of thrill rides, this top-rated amusement destination offers other complimentary kid-friendly perks with admission, including sunscreen, Wi-Fi, soft drinks and use of inner tubes. What’s more, you can camp in a tent next door at the Sun Outdoors Lake Rudolph campground for less than $40 per night.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
(Courtesy of Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau)
Wisconsin Dells is home to a myriad world-class water parks and family-friendly resorts – many of which include entry to their on-site parks within the nightly rate. Visitors will also enjoy theme parks, a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum, a bustling downtown and plenty of gorgeous scenery marked by unique rock formations. You can frequently find hotel and attraction discounts on the Wisconsin Dells tourism bureau’s website; keep in mind for any family trips that the best prices are typically available when kids are in school.
Indianapolis has gained international acclaim for its bustling racing scene, but this Midwest locale is also affordable and fun to visit – particularly for families. The city hosts what’s considered the largest children’s museum in the world, the 250-acre White River State Park and an interactive history museum known as Conner Prairie. Indianapolis boasts plenty of free entertainment and shows especially in summertime, but you can find affordable attractions all year long, such as Eagle Creek Park or the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which connects the city’s public spaces. Look for various hotel deals year-round – the colder months tend to be the quietest, and you’ll probably want to avoid a visit around the car races in May, when lodging prices soar.
Cedar Point: Sandusky, Ohio
(Courtesy of Cedar Point)
The famed Cedar Point theme park – one of the best things to do in Ohio – is home to numerous thrill rides and roller coasters, as well as an 18-acre water park. Patrons can brave the park’s Steel Vengeance, which is one of the longest hybrid roller coasters in the world, for example. You can find affordable hotels or motels in nearby towns when you visit this top amusement park: The Holiday Inn Express in Sandusky, for example, offers free breakfast with rates starting at less than $100 per night this fall. Keep in mind that, as a seasonal attraction, Cedar Point is typically closed from November to early May.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
The Gulf Coast of Alabama boasts more than 30 miles of white sand beaches for hours of relaxation and aquatic entertainment. In Gulf Shores, you can find a two- or three-bedroom beachfront condo that can sleep up to four guests for less than $700 per week on rental sites such as Airbnb, making the city ideal for a family weekend getaway. Plus, you don’t have to visit during the summer to experience the area’s best weather: Spring and fall boast temperatures that are still comfortable for sunbathing and swimming. If you can drive (Gulf Shores sits less than four hours by car from Montgomery, Alabama; Tallahassee, Florida; and New Orleans), you’ll save even more on this weekend excursion in the South.
Massanutten Resort: Massanutten, Virginia
Massanutten Resort offers fun and adventure in all seasons of the year, from winter sports like skiing and snowboarding to golf, mountain biking and water park action during warmer months. This resort is perfect for a last-minute getaway from the nation’s capital, considering it’s less than 125 miles by car from Washington, D.C. Deal-seekers will also be happy with all the lodging options at the resort, spanning hotel rooms to affordable condo-style accommodations with up to four bedrooms. Check out Massanutten Resort’s specials and packages to see what you can save.
Asheville, North Carolina
Situated within the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers a mix of nature, history and food. Travelers can tackle a few of the top hikes in Asheville for some scenic – and low-cost – fun. Stroll along the 1.7-mile Asheville Urban Trail to learn about the city’s unique past, take a daytrip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and go for a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can stop by the Botanical Gardens at Asheville for beautiful flora just outside the city, and be sure to check out the area’s local eateries and boutiques for one-of-a-kind finds.
Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center: Kissimmee, Florida
(Courtesy of Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center)
If you’re hoping to have some central Florida fun without having to pay exorbitant prices to enter the Walt Disney World Resort parks in Orlando, consider booking a stay at this water park hotel. The Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee is perfect for a family-friendly weekend jaunt due to its on-site Cypress Springs Water Park, which features an action river, a couple pools, multiple waterslides, a surf simulator, a water playground and more. Nightly rates with water park entry included start at less than $300 per night this fall for a family of four.
Bahia Honda State Park: Big Pine Key, Florida
Bahia Honda State Park is a great place to visit for those wanting to experience the Florida Keys’ pristine beaches on a budget – even at the last minute. You can rent kayaks and snorkeling gear here, or even hop on a boat to snorkel in the Looe Key marine sanctuary reef. Entry fees at Bahia Honda State Park start at less than $10 per vehicle with two to eight passengers. Plus, you can camp here for just $36 per night (not including tax and the utility and reservation fees). Renting a cabin costs about $120 per night plus fees from May through October, and slightly more in the cooler months.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Savannah sits within a day’s drive of many parts of the Northeast, Midwest and South, yet its historical charm makes it seem a world away; that’s why it’s one of the top tourist draws to Georgia. There are plenty of free and low-cost things to do in Savannah, whether you plan to explore the city’s many scenic parks and squares, visit the beautifully designed Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, stroll through the botanical gardens, enjoy local distilleries or check out a ghost tour. No matter what’s on your itinerary, Savannah is the perfect locale for a romantic getaway in Georgia.
There’s more to do and see in New Orleans than you could hope to accomplish in a weekend, but you can still enjoy a short and cheap trip here. The Big Easy is an affordable place to visit if you secure lodging outside of the French Quarter and avoid huge event weekends like Mardi Gras. December and January are fairly quiet months to visit, but the summer humidity may also bring some savings on hotel rates. Stay off the beaten path in the Garden District, then stroll along iconic Magazine Street, wander through the French Quarter in search of live music and shopping, or stop in a local eatery for a famous po’boy sandwich or beignet.
Jumbo Rocks Campground: Joshua Tree National Park, California
Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park offers the beauty and seclusion of the deserted wilderness with affordable camping to help you get away from it all – at least for a weekend. Exploring the desert is, after all, one of the top things to do in California. There are more than 100 primitive campground spots available here, with reservations required in the busy season from September to May; a maximum of six people can occupy a campsite for just $20 per night (on top of fees to enter the park).
San Luis Obispo, California
Combining small-town charm with California weather, San Luis Obispo sits about 190 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 230 miles southeast of San Francisco – an ideal location for a weekend getaway in the Golden State. With the plethora of outdoor activities here, visitors can hike the area’s trails, surf in the ocean, zip line or go horseback riding. For local flavor, visit the Thursday evening farmers market or dine alfresco at one of many downtown patios. The town’s free Concerts in the Plaza series features performances by the area’s top artists. Beaches await those seeking relaxation in SLO, while wine lovers can explore the region’s Edna Valley wineries.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Pack your sleeping bag and head to Glacier National Park in northern Montana for a camping and hiking weekend with scenery you’ll never forget. The park offers 700 miles of hiking and backpacking trails you can explore, all featuring stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. What’s more, you can camp in the national park – one of Montana’s top attractions – for only about $10 to $20 per night during the summer season. Keep in mind that you’ll also have to pay a park entrance fee and make a vehicle reservation during peak months.
A glitzy getaway in Las Vegas can be yours – and it may be less expensive than you initially imagined. Hotels on the Strip can cost as little as $50 per night on weekdays, but beware of resort fees, which can tack $30 or more on to the daily rate. Try not to spend too much time at the casinos while in Sin City if you’re sticking to a budget – instead, you can spend your time watching characters come and go on the Strip or catch a free outdoor show at the Bellagio Fountains. This Nevada destination could be a good option for a cheap weekend getaway, especially if you’re close enough to drive there.
While Sedona may not spring to mind very often as a top destination for cheap weekend getaways, you can find some hotels for less than $100 per night during off-peak months in the summer and winter. The scenery in this prime Arizona vacation spot is spectacular in every direction, so you can enjoy the area’s main attraction without paying a penny, and the Sedona restaurant scene is brimming with quality eateries. Book a stay to enjoy amazing views of the iconic red rocks – seeing them is, after all, one of the top things to do in Arizona – and plan some extraordinary (and free) hikes on the Cathedral Rock, Fay Canyon and Devil’s Bridge trails.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole is a beautiful Wyoming destination to retreat to year-round. If you’re on a budget, aim for spring or fall, when you can get outdoors and take advantage of free activities without competing for lodging with avid skiers or summer parkgoers (especially since Yellowstone isn’t too far away). Hike the trails in nearby Grand Teton National Park, stroll around the rustic town square or head to the National Elk Refuge, where you can see these amazing animals in their natural habitat.
Gros Ventre Wilderness, Wyoming
The Gros Ventre Wilderness, which is part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, is another natural wonder worth visiting. Plan a weekend here to discover rolling rivers, abundant wildlife, and amazing geological features such as rock formations and natural slides. As for accommodations, travelers can rent the Hoback Guard Station cabin for $80 per night for a party of up to six guests from May to October.
San Diego, California
While hotel rates in San Diego are higher than in some of the other destinations on this list, free activities abound in this popular California destination. For example, visitors for a weekend or longer can head to one of the city’s beloved beaches, check out the famous Gaslamp Quarter, spend a laid-back day exploring Mission Bay Park or take on any number of great mountain hikes that depart from town. If you don’t want to pay the pricey city hotel rates, consider staying in nearby La Mesa or Santee then heading into San Diego for daytrips.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park is well worth a weekend visit, whether you want to hike, stare at the stars or explore its more than 70 miles of untouched Pacific Coast shoreline – which include dog-friendly beaches, if your furry friend wants to come along. While here, visit the famous Hoh Rain Forest, Lake Crescent and Rialto Beach. You can even camp within the park for as little as $40 per night for up to 10 people sharing a campsite. Whether you want to limit exposure to COVID-19 or simply get away from it all, Olympic National Park offers a great place to escape for a weekend. Note that you’ll have to pay a fee to enter the park.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque is quirky and fun, with an Old Town that features cobblestone streets and adobe-style buildings. Visit during spring or fall for the best weather, then take advantage of local festivals: May brings the New Mexico Wine Festival to Albuquerque, or you can stop by the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta come autumn to witness one of the best U.S. hot air balloon festivals – a top thing to do in New Mexico. Tourists may want to take a ride up the nearly 3-mile-long Sandia Peak Tramway or splurge for a hot air balloon ride, which can cost around $170 and up per person. Opt for a vacation rental rather than a hotel to save some coin in this top New Mexico vacation spot.
San Antonio, Texas
For scenic views and a touch of history in San Francisco, head to the Golden Gate Bridge to visit the welcome center and walk or run across the 1.7-mile iconic structure. What’s more, you can take a guided walking tour on certain days. Nearby, the Presidio of San Francisco has 1,500 acres of national park land for hiking, exploring or picnicking. During baseball season, you can take in ocean views at the Portwalk along Oracle Park’s outfield wall and watch up to three innings of baseball for free. Plus, no visit to the “City by the Bay” would be complete without a trip to Pier 39 to watch the sea lions.
Amtrak weekend getaway
(Courtesy of Grand Canyon Railway)
Amtrak offers an array of weekend getaway options by train, including itineraries with overnight lodging. The Rails to the Grand Canyon experience, for example, starts and ends in Los Angeles and lasts five days, starting at about $800 per person. Along the way, you can sit back and relax while enjoying views of the mountains and plains as your train winds along this scenic route. The package includes overnight hotel stays and train rides, round-trip transportation from LA to the Grand Canyon, and two daily meals, but the scenery is priceless.