Bowling Green, Kentucky
Why you’ll love it: Bowling Green, located just an hour north of Nashville, is tucked in among the rolling green hills of South Central Kentucky’s Cave Country. It’s home to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest underground cave system, and the Lost River Cave, which offers Kentucky’s only underground boat tour, as well as Chaney’s Dairy Barn, a real working dairy farm that also happens to make the best ice cream in Kentucky. Don’t forget to check out the city’s National Corvette Museum where every single Corvette in the world is produced.
Budget tip: Free summer activities include exploring the national park on your own and Chaney’s “Ice Cream and a Moovie” outdoor movie series.
Where to stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites has free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and fitness facilities that include a pool and exercise room. It’s conveniently located just minutes away from Bowling Green’s local attractions such as Lost River Cave, Beech Bend Raceway And Park, Mammoth Cave, and the National Corvette Museum nearby. Rates start around $109 per night. Find out tips to make an affordable family vacation happen.
Why you’ll love it: A dynamic city with Old West charm, Denver has a vast array of kid-friendly attractions here, including an aquarium, zoo, botanical garden, art museum with a fabulous hands-on projects space, and the fascinating History Colorado museum—all perfect for family vacations. Coors Field is right downtown, which makes it easy to catch a family-fun Rockies baseball game. And a free tramcar traverses 16th Street, so you can leave your car behind while you try out all the great dining and shopping lining the long pedestrian-friendly zone. If you have more time, consider embarking on a Million Dollar Highway road trip.
Budget tip: Denver CityPASS gives you discounted access to kid-friendly city highlights, including the aquarium, zoo, and museums starting at $39, a 40 percent discount.
Where to stay: HALCYON, a hotel in Cherry Creek, located in the charming walking-friendly neighborhood, has a rooftop pool, a free gear garage with bikes and longboards, and complimentary muffins and scones in the morning, plus snacks, coffee drinks, and even wine and beer for mom and dad from 4 to 9 p.m. at its “kitchen counter” check-in desk. It’s also right around the corner from a Whole Foods, so you can pick up picnic supplies, and one of the city’s most-beloved burger spots, The Cherry Cricket.
Hamilton County, Indiana
Why you’ll love it: If you love trains, this affordable heartland destination, nicknamed Rail Country, should be at the top of your list. In the fall, hop on The Nickel Plate Express for scenic train excursions. When you’re not riding the rails, stop by Conner Prairie, the Smithsonian-affiliated living history museum and park with hundreds of acres to explore including 4-story, interactive treetop outposts and an outdoor 1836 Prairietown where kids can visit with 1800s Indiana settlers, and play games and learn a trade from the local interpreters dressed in period garb.
Budget tip: Spend time in the great (free) outdoors at Strawtown Koteewi Park, which features a canoe launch on the White River for boating and fishing, nature trails for hiking or cycling, equestrian trails, an archery center, and a treetop course.
Where to eat and stay: For local eats, don’t miss Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream in the town of Carmel, home of The Big Ugly, a one-pound burger-eating challenge (eat the whole burger and you’ll get your picture framed on Bub’s infamous burger wall). Waddle back to your suite at the Residence Inn by Marriott – Carmel, Indiana, which includes full kitchens, complimentary hot breakfast buffet, indoor pool, and outdoor SportCourt and BBQ patio starting at $109 per night. Don’t miss these top family travel destinations in every state.