The holidays are a time when most family budgets are stretched thin. Lavish winter breaks are not an option for many. Yet for those that hate to let a school break pass by without at least a short getaway, finding cheap winter family vacations is a challenge.
The festive season also brings high rates and occupancy at many hotels. (See my picks for the best Christmas hotels in the USA.) If you are really lucky, you may have the option of traveling the week before Christmas or after New Year’s but for most, traveling during the high season is hard to avoid.
No matter how you slice it, winter family vacations on a budget can be hard to find. So I did some research to find some inexpensive winter vacation destinations in the United States.
Cheap Family Vacations in the U.S.
I based my research on destinations that could host a family of four (2 adults and 2 children under 12) for at least five days between December and February for under $3,000. Rates have definitely gone up in the last year but, if you are careful, you can still manage a winter family vacation on a budget.
This would include lodging and activities. Some options are much less than that, while others will use the whole budget for activities like skiing. Depending on where you live, some of these are possible road trips or not too far from an airport (which may mean stretching the budget, but not necessarily.)
Whether you prefer warm weather or cold hopefully you will find an idea for this year’s winter family vacation that works for your budget. If you are willing to leave the U.S., consider a trip to the Quebec Winter Carnival or New Brunswick, Canada for an affordable Canadian vacation.
Cold Weather Family Winter Vacations
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.
If cold is your thing, but you are looking for a bargain, avoid the large ski mountains and look for something smaller yet family-friendly.
1. Niagara Falls, New York
Wintertime in Niagara Falls USA is unlike any other, with plenty of outdoor adventure and no crowds. An easy drive from Boston, Cleveland, or NYC, you can enjoy the frosted Falls while also finding cozy places to warm up.
Take a stroll along snow-covered trees and catch panoramic views of the Falls on the Observation Tower at Niagara Falls State Park, America’s oldest. In the winter you can take an abbreviated Cave of the Winds Gorge Trip, where you can get up close and personal to the Bridal Veil Falls from one of the two permanent observation decks. Outdoor enthusiasts can also explore the 400-acre state park using complimentary snowshoe rentals and if it is cold enough, catch a glimpse of the famous “Frozen Falls.”
Families can warm up indoors at one of the many budget-friendly attractions in Niagara Falls including the Aquarium of Niagara, where you’ll encounter penguins, sharks, seals, and other fish. Or, choose to thaw out with a cup of hot chocolate at Platter’s Chocolate Factory while watching the chocolate-making process from multiple viewing areas.
Rooms at the Sheraton Niagara Falls start at $122 per night and the hotel offers a variety of kid-friendly amenities, including family suites, the Reef Beach Club & Pool, an arcade, and a Rainforest Café. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of Niagara Falls State Park.
2. Silver Mountain, Idaho
Silver Mountain is located just over an hour from Spokane, Washington near the historic mining community of Kellogg, Idaho. There is plenty to see and do for families, both on-mountain and off. With two mountains featuring 73 trails and 300 inches of snow annually, skiers and snowboarders will love the diverse terrain, extensive graded areas, and plenty of fresh powder.
There are also scenic gondola rides, snow tubing, and Idaho’s largest indoor waterpark. In Kellogg, families can explore old gold and silver mines, go snowshoeing, or cross-country ski.
Families can stay in a one-bedroom unit with a fireplace, full kitchen, and pull-out sleeper sofa for only $250 per night, with access to the waterpark included.
Ski packages start at $63 per day, per person, but there are also multi-day discounts and the Ski Idaho Passport Program allows kids in 5th or 6th grade to ski for two or three days for only $18. This gives you plenty of time to ski and relax, with wiggle room in the budget for food and extra activities.
For even cheaper skiing, head over to the family-run Lookout Pass ski resort.
3. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
An hour from Milwaukee on the shores of Geneva Lake, the four-season resort area of Lake Geneva is a great spot for a family winter vacation (Lake Geneva in the summer is also fun.) Here you will find small-town charm with no big-city prices.
Winterfest, which takes place in late January-early February, features the United States Snow Sculpting Championship along with helicopter rides, magic shows, a chili cook-off, and a human-dog sled race.
Ice Castles are also coming to Lake Geneva. These man-made castles include slides, thrones, archways, tunnels, and lights that twinkle to music. Perfect for all Frozen fans!
In February, families can enjoy Sky Circus on Ice at the Lake Lawn Resort. Lake Geneva also offers cross-country skiing, ziplining, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice skating, with plenty of indoor entertainment and shopping also available.
Families can stay in a one-bedroom suite at the Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark for $299 per night (including 6 waterpark passes.) Or, The Cove in downtown Lake Geneva offers two-bedroom suites for only $212 per night, including access to an indoor pool and 24-hour arcade.
4. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Located in the middle of the country and accessible using budget airlines such as Frontier, Colorado Springs, CO is the perfect, budget-friendly choice for a family winter vacation. With a backdrop of the rugged Rocky Mountains and nearby places like the stunning Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, Colorado Springs is perfect for outdoor-loving families.
Colorado Springs is home to more than 60 attractions, including the U.S. Air Force Academy and Olympic Training Center, and over 30 of them are totally free. Families will also enjoy unique experiences like hand-feeding giraffes and elephants at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, visiting Santa at The North Pole Christmas-themed amusement park, and an array of hands-on museums like the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and Money Museum.
Lodging properties range from charming B&B’s to full-service indoor waterpark hotels, some of which are under $150 per night in the off-season. Check the Visitors’ Bureau website for special deals and discounts!
5. North Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
North Lake Tahoe spans two states and is within driving distance from Northern California. Situated on beautiful Lake Tahoe, you will find two dozen beaches, twelve ski resorts, and hundreds of miles of biking trails.
In the winter, families can enjoy a day of ice skating at Northstar California Resort, and warm up at the fire pits and couches that surround the rink while sipping hot cocoa and eating s’mores. They can also take a magical sleigh ride in the snow at Sand Harbor, try dog sledding at the Resort at Squaw Creek, or visit the SnoVentures Family Fun Zone at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows for mini-snowmobiling and snow tubing.
The waterfront Franciscan Lodge offers affordable accommodations starting at $200 per night for a studio with a fully-equipped kitchen.
6. Waterville Valley, New Hampshire
Waterville Valley is an affordable winter vacation destination offering skiing and winter sports in the White Mountains – and plenty more for families to enjoy. Young skiers can enjoy Kids Venture Kamps with specially designed Venture Zones for learners. Waterville offers 52 trails and 12 ski lifts and the Nordic Center features 75 km of groomed trails for cross-country skiing.
When not on the trails, families can enjoy the White Mountain Athletic Club for swimming or the Waterville Valley Ice Arena for skating. At the nearby Curious George Cottage, once home to Margret and H.A. Rey, the creators of the world’s most beloved monkey, the Curious Kids program takes children and families into the White Mountain National Forest to explore and learn.
Families can save on food and attractions around Waterville Valley with the Freedom Pass. Lodging options for families range from $125 for a room at a local inn to $411 per night for a three-bedroom condo on the mountain.
7. Finger Lakes Region, New York
The Finger Lakes region of New York may be most known for its wineries and lakes, but it is also a great destination for adventurous families in the wintertime. Greek Peak Mountain Resort offers 30+ ski trails and an adventure center with a mountain coaster, ziplining, snow tubing, and ropes course.
And unlike some of the larger ski resorts in New York, this one is affordable for families with rooms at the Hope Lake Lodge starting at $200 per night. Designed with families in mind, the hotel features 106 condominium-style suites sleeping up to 10 guests at a time and is equipped with full kitchens.
8. Canaan Valley, West Virginia
Located under three hours from Washington DC and Pittsburgh, PA, Canaan Valley Resort Ski Area is an affordable winter destination for families. Canaan Valley has won numerous awards from Liftopia in recent years, including top rankings in family-friendly and best-value categories. In addition to skiing, Canaan Valley offers a 1,200-foot tubing park (the longest in the Mid-Atlantic region) and covered outdoor ice skating.
Kids stay free in one of the 160-lodge rooms and suites, and the resort also offers 23 cabins and cottages. A six-night stay in early January, including two days of skiing, lessons, tubing, skating, accommodations, dining, and access to the fitness center with swimming pool is under $2500 for a family of four, leaving room in the budget for plenty of hot chocolate by the fire.
9. Massanutten Resort, virginia
Massanutten Resort is an all-season resort nestled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, within a few hour’s drive from Washington D.C. and just 45 minutes from the Charlottesville Airport. With a selection of affordable accommodations and activities, Massanutten is an ideal winter vacation choice for families in the mid-Atlantic region.
Resort lodging options include Woodstone Meadows, which starts at $250 per night. These premium condos comfortably sleep four with a queen bed and sleep sofa, and are located near the Woodstone Meadows Golf Course and Recreation Center. Eagle Trace townhouse-style condos also start at $300 night and are conveniently located near the Family Adventure Park and Ski Area. A one-bedroom condo will sleep four with a queen bed and two queen-sleep sofas. The Massanutten Resort Hotel starts at just $118 and can also sleep up to four, with a choice of one king-size bed and a sleeper sofa or two queen beds.
Families can enjoy free hiking on Massanutten’s western slope, which offers more than thirty miles of trails for hikers of all experience levels. Families can also enjoy a leisurely walk at Rockingham Springs Arboretum or explore the Shenandoah Valley through geocaching.
For those that want to be more active, adult rates for ski slope tickets start as low as $51 for a 4-hour session or $61 for an 8-hour session. The Family Adventure Park is also ideal for thrill-seekers, with a Zip Line Canopy Tour, Snow Tubing, a Kids’ Adventure Course, and the Mega Zip, an 800-foot zip line capable of reaching up to 30 miles per hour.
10. New yOrk, New York
Sure, New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world, especially if you are visiting NYC around Christmas. However, if you are looking for a cheap winter weekend getaway in January, New York City should be on your list. You can regularly find hotels, especially around the Times Square area at around $200 a night.
New York City restaurant week also runs from mid-January through mid-February, offering great deals on prix fixe dinners, offering a great opportunity to try some of New York’s top restaurants. Broadway Week takes place at the same time, providing an opportunity to score 2-for-1 tickets to shows. And if you really want to bang out the tourist attractions, invest in a New York CityPass and maximize your savings.
11. Ace Adventure Resort, West Virginia
If you are an active family but looking for a winter-weather alternative to skiing, try the ACE Adventure Resort. An hour from Charleston, WV, and within a 250-mile drive from major cities including Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, ACE is easily accessible via car and is located within New River Gorge, America’s newest National Park.
During the winter months, they offer a range of activities for all ages including winter ziplining, ATV tours over snow, winter paintball, and you can even do a three-house adventure “Brave the Bridge” walk on the New River Bridge, the longest single-arch bridge in the Western hemisphere, which towers 800 feet above the water. There are also complimentary resort amenities and adventures including winter hiking or mountain biking the dozens of trails with views of the historic town of Thurmond, the New River Gorge, and maybe even a frozen waterfall. ACE is also a bird watcher’s paradise and in West Virginia, no fishing license is necessary to utilize the resort’s private ponds.
Ideal for families, ACE offers a range of private cabins, in addition to options for camping sites and an RV campsite, which have access to all of the resort amenities. For a family of four, the Lakefront Cozy Park Cabin starts at only $250 a night.
12. Ellijay, Georgia
The mountain town of Ellijay, Georgia is located about an hour and a half north of Atlanta, and is perfect for those that want a chilly, mountain destination, but not too chilly. There are plenty of affordable rental cabins with cozy fireplaces for under $200 per night. You can also be a little more adventurous and sleep in a vintage Airstream or geodesic dome at Elatse’ Yi.
Ellijay is great for families that want to be outside and then warm up at some of the area’s charming restaurants and locally-owned shops like In the Woods, where you can take pottery lessons.
Gilmer County and its surroundings are home to 11 mountain hiking trails, 59 mountain bike trails, and several impressive waterfalls. The best views are in the winter when the leaves are off the trees and you can take in the scenery on the Bear Creek Trail or climb the path to Amicalola Falls.
13. Clarksville, Tennessee
Clarksville is less than an hour from Nashville, but way more affordable! You can still venture into Nashville for a night at the Grand Ole Opry or to take in ICE at the Opryland Hotel, but with an average age of 30, Clarksville knows how to entertain families. The average cost of a hotel room is about $150/night and there are plenty of locally-owned and reasonably-priced restaurants downtown.
Clarksville features multiple indoor recreation venues, including The City Forum, which is one of the largest indoor entertainment complexes in the country. It features climbing, blacklight golf, two escape game venues, a trampoline park, and more.
Plus, in December the downtown and RiverWalk transform into a sparkling, magical place with 1 million lights along a ½ mile of RiverWalk and into the Public Square downtown. There are special performances such as Charlotte’s Web, Miracle on 34th Street, and other Christmas exhibits. See more affordable things to do in Tennessee.
14. Togwotee Mountain Lodge, Wyoming
Conveniently located near three national parks, Togwotee Mountain Lodge is a short 45-minute drive from the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Families appreciate the charming, rustic cabins with full kitchens and cozy fireplaces, and winter rates start as low as $240 a night.
This destination is considered to be one of “America’s best” for winter activities thanks to 600 miles of snow-packed adventure along the Continental Divide. The fine power also sets the stage for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing & dog sled tours through the backcountry of the Tetons. Snowmobilers are encouraged to bring a bathing suit to stop for a soak at Granite Hot Springs. These little-known hot springs are located just above Granite Creek Falls and set amongst gigantic spruce, fir, and pine trees alongside sheer granite cliffs that tower thousands of feet overhead. During the winter months, the hot springs can only be accessed via a snowmobile dog sled, snow bike, or skiing.
Winter is the time when wildlife viewing is at its best to spot gray wolves, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, moose, and bald eagles. And while access to the parks may be more limited in the winter, families can visit Bridger Teton National Forest, Grand Teton National Forest, and Yellowstone National Park in just one weekend.
15. Beech Mountain, North Carolina
As the highest town in the Eastern USA and with sweeping views of snow-capped mountain tops, Beech Mountain, North Carolina is the ideal destination for winter adventure. Once the 80 inches of yearly snowfall blanket the pristine mountain hideaway, this magical destination becomes a budget-friendly, winter haven for adventurers of every age and skill level. To top it off, the area is within driving distance of most major cities in the South and more affordable than other ski resort towns, yet offers visitors the same unforgettable winter sports options with fewer crowds and more affordable pricing.
At the Beech Mountain Resort, guests can take advantage of a perfect home base within the Town of Beech Mountain to enjoy exciting winter sports and activities without the high price tags. Families can also enjoy snow tubing, ice skating, sledding, or snowshoeing on Beech Mountain’s 30 miles of town-maintained trails using free snowshoes from Buckeye Recreation Center.
There are lodging options for groups of all sizes from condos, chalets, and private homes, to quaint inns & lodges, with many priced at around $175 a night. Also, many of the condos, chalets, and house rentals come with equipped kitchens which always helps in saving from eating out meals for larger families.
Warm Weather Family Winter Vacations
While I can’t make any promises about the weather, sometimes even warmer (than home) is good enough when you are from the north. Here are some ideas for warm winter family vacations in the U.S. that are budget-friendly.
1. Jacksonville, FLorida
Jacksonville is the perfect destination for families this winter, with hotel rates typically 30 to 40 percent less than most Florida destinations. With a ton of free outdoor and holiday activities, Jacksonville has plenty for the whole family, and won’t break the budget. Plus, budget airline Allegiant recently added new direct flights to JAX from Nashville, and other airlines have added more direct flights to JAX including major cities like Dallas and Raleigh, NC.
Warmer winters in Florida mean families can spend the days outside–exploring the largest urban park system in the Country, with over 400 city parks, seven state parks, and two National Parks, making it a great destination for families with young children. Teens will also enjoy paddling through Jacksonville’s 1,100+ miles of waterways on guided eco-tours or relaxing at one of Jacksonville’s beaches that stretch over 22 miles of the East Coast of Florida.
Jax is also home to several interactive museum exhibits, like the Museum of Science and History, and the much-loved Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. For a splurge, you can try fun family activities like indoor skydiving, indoor go-karting, and Adventure Landing, which offers a mega-arcade, laser tag, mini golf, and more.
If you are visiting during the holidays, you can enjoy some of the city’s “Winter on the Water” events like Deck the Chairs and drive-thru holiday lights.
2. Orlando, Florida
If you are lucky enough to get out of school the week before Christmas, this is an ideal time to head to Orlando. The Hilton Orlando offers low room rates during that week. You don’t even need to spend money on the theme parks with the Hilton Orlando’s 892-foot-long lazy river, a winding water slide, and a zero-entry swimming pool. There is also a new splash pad, spray ground, and an expanded pool deck.
This is also a perfect opportunity to see everything that Orlando has to offer beyond the theme parks, including these free things to do in Orlando. We have also found great rates at the Margaritaville Resort Orlando.
3. St. Petersburg, Florida
St. Pete Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida is a great home base for so many area attractions from the Clearwater Aquarium, Busch Gardens, and Tampa’s amazing food scene. Plus, staying on the beach gives easy access to water sports such as jet skiing and paddleboarding.
Located right on its own private beach, Sirata Beach Resort recently went through a huge renovation with even more family-friendly amenities. Guests can enjoy three pools, a Kid’s Splash Zone, a hanging chair garden, and a beachfront oasis. With budget-friendly seasonal packages going as low as $200 per night, St. Pete Beach can be a great cold-weather escape.
4. Panama City Beach, Florida
The Florida gulf coast has so much to offer for families looking for a low-cost winter getaway. Even if it isn’t swimming weather, Panama City Beach offers 27 miles of coastline with sugar-white sand beaches to enjoy.
In addition to the beaches, there are also two state parks, hiking trails, fishing piers, and family attractions such as Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium and Gulf World Marine Park. There is even plenty to see off-the-beach in nearby Panama City including a family-friendly Mardi Gras.
Families on a budget can find affordable beach rentals from Royal American Beach Getaways, with one to four-bedroom units averaging around $200 per night. Guests can also enjoy free perks like drinks at the Spinnaker Beach Club, a gift card to Rock’It Lanes, and discounts on area attractions.
5. Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama is home to some of my favorite beaches in the U.S. Even if it isn’t beach weather, you can enjoy dolphin cruises, kayaking, and biking, as well as ziplining at The Wharf and visits to Historic Fort Morgan and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Of course, one of my favorite activities is eating at some of the amazing Gulf Shores/Orange Beach restaurants!
These two beach towns offer plenty of affordable and family-friendly vacation rentals, from the indoor/outdoor pools and lazy river of the Caribe, to the simpler, beachfront Crystal Tower. Fall and winter are the perfect time to look for a lodging deal and try out a property that may be out of budget in the summer.
6. Biloxi, Mississippi
Margaritaville Resort & Family Entertainment Center in Biloxi, Mississippi on the Mississippi gulf coast offers families a fun escape without the flight to the islands. With 371 coastal rooms and suites, many priced just under $100 mid-week and $125 on the weekends in the winter months, it is also an affordable option for families. Those prices leave plenty of room for margaritas!
Margaritaville Resort in Biloxi features a 55,000 square foot arcade, with 200 games and attractions such as the 48′ rock wall, indoor sky coaster, and sky trail ropes course. (Just note that the pool is closed in the winter.) Of course, Biloxi and nearby towns are also chock full of activities for families, such as the Infinity Science Center or Lynn Meadows Discovery Center.
7. South Padre Island, Texas
With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, South Padre Island, one of the best Texas beaches, off the southern tip of Texas is an ideal winter destination for families. This barrier island offers the unsurpassed beauty of the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Located just a few hours from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, Texans can easily get to the island, and guests looking to fly in can do so via the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport or McAllen International Airport.
South Padre Island offers an assortment of lodging options from beachside hotels to colorful home rentals, starting below $100 per night. South Padre Island is also popular for RVing and camping. Getting around the island is also a breeze with free transportation from the Island Metro.
South Padre Island has activities for the whole family from sailing, fishing, windsurfing, dolphin watching, horseback riding, golf, shopping, and sandcastle building. South Padre Island offers an abundance of opportunities to get up close and personal with animals at both The Sea Turtle Inc. and South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center, and the Alligator Sanctuary. If you time things well, you may also be able to see a SpaceX rocket launch.
8. Tempe & Mesa, Arizona
There are plenty of affordable options in Mesa, Arizona, such as the Sheraton Mesa at Wrigleyville, Mesa’s newest hotel located next to the Chicago Cub’s spring training stadium, and Delta by Marriott downtown.
Located between Scottsdale and Phoenix in the “Valley of the Sun”, families can enjoy the Sonoran Desert without the heat. Adventurous families can hike, cycle, and even horseback ride at the Superstition Mountain Wilderness or state parks. Kids also love a day trip to The Apache Trail, a scenic byway with multiple stops including an old west stagecoach stop, an authentic gold mining ghost town, and the Superstition Mountain Museum.
Tempe, Arizona is another affordable choice, located just 10 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and with a walkable downtown for a car-free vacation. There are lots of outdoor activities and things to do in Tempe that make it a great family destination. Also see things to do in nearby Phoenix.
9. Santa Maria Valley, California
Located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Santa Maria Valley is an ideal home base for exploring California’s Central Coast. Nature-loving families will love exploring the great outdoors on the 13 beaches and 24 hikes within a 30-minute drive.
Families can also ride dune buggies, take bike rides, and explore the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, before sipping a glass of local wine at one of the 34 nearby tasting rooms.
Plus, from October through February, thousands of Monarch butterflies flock to the nearby eucalyptus groves! In the slower winter season, families can find hotel rooms for just over $100 per night, making Santa Maria Valley a great budget destination.
10. Oceanside, California
Located near San Diego, Oceanside is not your over-polished Southern California resort beach town. Instead, it has a quirky vibe and its budget-friendly accommodations make it a laid-back destination that is great for families.
The SpringHill Suites Oceanside offers suite-like rooms, ocean views, and is within walking distance to the pier and downtown for under $200 per night. And with temperatures that average in the 70s year-round, it is a great warm-weather winter getaway.
Nearby, families can enjoy fishing from the longest wooden pier on the west coast, whale-watching cruises, kayaking, surf lessons, helicopter tours, biking, and attractions such as the California Surf Museum and Buena Vista Nature Lagoon. With budget and family-friendly restaurants and craft breweries, there should be budget to spare for a visit to nearby Legoland.
Need more ideas? Also try:
- Best Places to go for Christmas on the East Coast
- Best Christmas Hotels
- Affordable spring break ideas