Cheap Spring Break Vacation Ideas

Megan Mattingly-Arthur
Family at the beach during spring break

Planning a spring break vacation on a budget can seem like a herculean task, but it's not impossible if you know about some fun and inexpensive places to visit. With a little ingenuity and flexibility, travelers can enjoy a robust spring break vacation experience on a shoestring budget.

Spring Camping Destination Ideas

Great for both families and groups of friends, camping is a popular spring break vacation option that's also rather inexpensive, provided the campers already have all the necessary gear. If not, renting camping gear or borrowing it from an outdoorsy friend can solve that minor problem.

There's no shortage of destination options, but the nation's national and state parks are particularly popular because they offer reasonably priced campsites with a wide range of amenities. Spring is also a particularly great time to enjoy the outdoors. In some parts of the country, travelers can look forward to mild weather that's perfect for hiking and biking, while other parts of the country are still blanketed in snow and ripe for activities like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains

Located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, according to the National Park Service. Known for its ancient, fog-enveloped mountains and diverse plant and animal life that really blossoms in the springtime, the Great Smoky Mountains are a great place to spend spring break.

Tucked into the beautiful Cataloochee Valley, the park's Cataloochee campground is the place to be. Not only is the campground in a relatively remote part of the park, it also gives campers easy access to popular area hiking trails and is the best place in park to see historic 19th and 20th century frame buildings. Campers can also enjoy activities such as fishing and wildlife viewing. Campground amenities include:

  • 27 campsites (reservations required in advance)
  • Flush toilets
  • Drinking water

Custer State Park

Custer State Park
Custer State Park

Comprised of 71,000 acres in South Dakota, Custer State Park is the second-largest state park in the United States. The park's 14 campgrounds give campers access to miles of hiking trails, as well as a front-row seat to gawk at the herds of roaming buffalo, mountain goats and elk. Wildlife enthusiasts can also spot pronghorn antelope, deer, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys and burros.

Custer State Park is also just a short drive from a variety of other regional attractions, including the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments, and the Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks. Set on the southeastern shore of the park's Bismarck Lake, the Bismarck Lake Campground offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating, and mountain biking. Campground amenities include:

  • Sites for tents, trailers, and RVs
  • Picnic tables
  • Campfire rings
  • Vault toilets
  • Drinking water

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Kings National Park
Kings National Park

Nestled east of California's San Joaquin Valley, in the southern Sierra Nevada, the side-by-side Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks comprise 865,964 acres and feature some of the country's most majestic trees and canyons. These jointly administered parks are ideal for hikers and campers and boast more than 800 miles of trails. One of the parks' most popular attractions is the stunning Giant Forest of sequoias.

The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have 14 campgrounds, and three of them are open year-round. All these campgrounds feature:

  • Tent campsites
  • Picnic tables
  • Campfire rings with grills
  • Metal food-storage box

Big City Spring Break Adventures

Big city adventures don't have to cost big bucks. With most spring breakers heading to tropical locales, many hotels in big cities offer discounted room rates to lure travelers to the urban jungle. Spring is also a great time to find low-cost airfare to major U.S. cities, where travelers can enjoy activities like sightseeing and window shopping without breaking the bank.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas
Las Vegas

With all the anecdotes about people losing their shirts in Las Vegas, it may not be the first city that comes to mind when thinking of a budget spring break destination. However, travelers who shun gambling or at least stick to nickel slots can pull off a spring break Vegas vacation for a song.

Due to the fierce competition for customers, hotel rates are surprisingly low. This is especially true in the springtime when travelers can book a room at a budget hotel on the Strip, such as Circus Circus, for around $30 per night. Spring break travelers can often score even deeper discounts on lodging if they venture off the Strip. Many off-Strip Vegas hotels even offer free shuttle service to and from popular points on the Strip. Best of all, Las Vegas features a plethora of free attractions, including:

  • Bellagio Conservatory: Found inside the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, the 14,000-square-foot Bellagio Conservatory features tens of thousands of gorgeous blooms which are creatively arranged and maintained by a 120-person horticultural staff. This popular, admission-free conservatory is open 24 hours and receives between 15,000 and 18,000 visitors each day.
  • Fremont Street Experience: Nestled in downtown Las Vegas and surrounded by some of the city's oldest casinos, the Fremont Street Experience is a seven-block, open-air pedestrian mall with a 1,500-foot-long Viva Vision video screen canopy that plays light shows every hour, on the hour after dusk.
  • M&M's World: M&M enthusiasts are sure to have a blast at this admission-free, four-floor shrine to the colorful candies. Located next door to the MGM Grand, the 28,000-square-foot M&M's World features a wide variety of M&M's merchandise, a floor where visitors can personalize their M&M's, an M&M's sponsored Toyota Camry race car, and a 10-minute movie called "I Left My M in Vegas" which plays throughout the day.

Washington, D.C.

Capitol Building, Washington D.C.
Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

The Nation's Capital is a great place to spend spring break, and the city is particularly stunning during the free, month-long National Cherry Blossom Festival held each March/April. That's when the beautiful trees around the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument explode with delicate blossoms.

Spring breakers can also take advantage of Washington, D.C.'s many free attractions, including the Smithsonian Institution's network of 19 museums and galleries. Other notable free attractions include:

  • Capitol Building Tours: The United States Capitol, which is the seat of the U.S. Congress, offers free tours Monday through Saturday, but visitors must reserve a spot in a tour group in advance.
  • National Archives Museum: An attraction with the word "archives" in it may not sound incredibly exciting, but don't be fooled. The National Archives Museum houses some of the nation's most significant historical documents, including the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Admission is free, but advanced reservations are recommended.
  • Lincoln Memorial: Built to honor the nation's iconic 16th president, the Lincoln Memorial is a can't-miss Washington, D.C. attraction. The monument is an ideal stop for spring breakers on a budget; not only is admission completely free, but the monument is open 24 hours.

New Orleans

Jackson Square, New Orleans
St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

Spring is a great time to visit New Orleans. The Mardi Gras crowds have gone home, and the charming city is gearing up for the largest free music festival in the South, the lively French Quarter Festival held each April. Spring break visitors can look forward to smaller crowds and less-expensive accommodations -- compared to Mardi Gras -- while enjoying the city's trendy nightclubs, unforgettable jazz and great Creole flavor. New Orleans has a number of enjoyable free attractions and activities, including:

  • Burgundy Picture House: Located in New Orleans' Bywater District, the Burgundy Picture House is a great outdoor movie theater which hosts free weekly film screenings.
  • Crescent City Farmers Market: Hosted several times each week in different parts of the city, visiting the Crescent City Farmers Market is an easy way to blend in with the locales and take in everything that New Orleans has to offer. In addition to browsing for vegetables or other locally grown or made items, visitors can also watch free cooking demonstrations at the market.
  • St. Louis Cathedral: Found in New Orleans's French Quarter in historic Jackson Square, the St. Louis Cathedral is a notable NOLA landmark that holds the distinction of being the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. The stunning cathedral holds mass regularly and features a gift shop.

Springtime Rural Retreats

Big cities may offer spring discounts, but vacations in out-of-the-way, rural destinations are reasonably priced at any time of year and offer particular value to spring breakers. These rural states offers a bevy of interesting and affordable attractions.

Vermont

While many spring breakers head south to warmer climates, savvy travelers can head north for discounted spring lodging and great deals on end-of-season skiing at Vermont resorts, such as Okemo Mountain Resort and Sugarbush. Vermont also has a thriving agritourism and ecotourism industry; a day trip to a working family farm is an inexpensive way to experience that state's many charms.

Montana

Big Sky Montana
Big Sky Montana

Known for its beautiful "Big Sky," this rugged western state is an affordable spring break destination for travelers on a budget. Not only do most major airlines offer low-cost airfare to Montana, other vacation expenses -- such as lodging, dining, and entertainment -- are also relatively inexpensive.

Spring breakers have no shortage of things to do in Montana. The state's largest ski resort, Big Sky, offers discounted end-of-season skiing in April. The trendy college towns of Bozeman and Missoula are great places to visit, offering quirky shops, eclectic restaurants and breathtaking scenery. For a quiet, laid-back visit, try Great Falls, which is home to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and a hub for western art. The city also hosts a free, week-long western art festival each spring.

Kentucky

Brimming with Southern charm, thoroughbred race horses and bourbon, Kentucky is a perfect destination for spring breakers who hope to keep vacation costs low. The state offers plenty of budget lodging, a wide selection of restaurants offering finger-lickin' comfort food that won't break the bank, and enjoyable free attractions.

The birthplace of bourbon, Lexington is a sophisticated city where travelers can enjoy free tours at several area distilleries. For something a little more off the beaten path, visit the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, located at 689 US 25W in Corbin. This is where Colonel Sanders created his famous fried chicken recipe. Travelers can't go wrong with a visit to any of Kentucky's beautiful state parks, which offer great spring break special offers and packages.

Inexpensive Road Trips

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway

When money's tight, a short road trip can be an affordable spring break vacation option that offers epic adventure and unforgettable memories. Road trip destination choices are endless, and there's a destination to suit nearly any taste in any part of the country.

Travelers can also plan road trips based on various interests, including beer, wine, cheese, ice cream, and sports.

Budget-Conscious Day Trip Ideas

One day trips, aka "daycations," are a perfect option for travelers whose budgets won't permit overnight stays. Luckily, having fun doesn't necessary require crossing state lines. Chances are good there's plenty for travelers to do in their own neck of the woods.

Beaches

Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach

Unless travelers are in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hitting the beach should be a low-cost option that offers something for the whole family. Popular beaches include:

Indoor Water Parks

An indoor water park is a magical place which offers all the fun of an outdoor water park without the potential for sunburn, and these fabulous attractions are sprinkled throughout the United States. Popular indoor water parks include:

Planetariums

Adler Planetarium
Adler Planetarium

Educational and enjoyable, planetariums offer a great way for travelers to learn about the night sky. Star gazers can find these attractions throughout the United States, and admission fees are usually relatively low. Travelers in the following areas should definitely check out:

Botanical Gardens

Far more exciting than simply viewing flowers in a home garden, botanical gardens feature interesting specimens and artistically arranged blossoms that are sure to delight horticultural enthusiasts or anyone with an eye for natural beauty. Notable botanical gardens include:

Children's Museums

Boston Children's Museum
Boston Children's Museum

Children's museums are tailored toward younger children, so they're an excellent spring break vacation option for families with little ones. Examples of engaging children's museums include:

Zoos

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! Zoos offer something for everyone, and some of the finest zoological parks in the nation include:

Other Ways to Save

In addition to finding a low-cost spring break destination, there are some things travelers can do to keep their costs down. For example:

  • Travelers who fly to their destination can take advantage of available public transportation to avoid renting a car or paying for taxis.
  • Planning a trip for the middle of the week can often get travelers reduced rates on lodging if they book their stay starting on a Tuesday, rather than a weekend.
  • Packing lunches for the first day of a road trip and loading the car with snacks helps cut down on food costs.
  • Booking with hotels that offer free breakfast eliminates the cost of the morning meal.

Cheap Can Still Be Fabulous

With so many wonderful options, it's really not difficult to enjoy a relatively inexpensive spring break vacation. If you can set a budget and stick with it, your trip won't feel cheap at all.

Cheap Spring Break Vacation Ideas