In 2017, the travel industry in the U.S. generated $2.4 trillion, with Americans spending over $717 billion on leisure travel alone, according to the U.S. Travel Association. You can start planning a fun and frugal trip by selecting a free destination from this list of iconic monuments, stunning displays of nature, and quirky, charming oddities across the U.S., but you’ll have to figure out your own budget-friendly travel, grub and sleep accommodations.
Whether you want to explore your own state or venture elsewhere, you’ll want to save where you can. Begin your planning by taking a look at the free things to do in all 50 states.
Alabama: Birmingham Botanical Gardens
From dawn to dusk every day of the year, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens offers free parking and admission. You’ll have access to 67.5 acres of 30 themed gardens, ranging from the Ireland Iris Garden to the Zen-inspired Japanese Garden, as well as an adventure zone for kids and a conservatory where you can brush up on your horticulture.
Alaska: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
It’s hard to beat America’s last frontier when it comes to free outdoor activities. Case in point, Glacier Bay’s borders span 3.3 million acres — that’s not a typo. For an entrance fee of $0, you can trek across seashores and mountain summits, photograph crystalline glaciers, visit a living laboratory or check out a living biosphere reserve.
Arizona: Mission San Xavier del Bac
If you like a little history with your free tourism, visit Mission San Xavier del Bac, an authentic church completed in 1797. The Tucson landmark is still religiously active in 2019, but architecture-wise you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the 1800s. You can spend a little souvenir money at the museum or stroll along with a free docent tour every weekday and Saturday morning.
Arkansas: Crystal Bridges Museum of Art
The Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, is permanently free and includes works from the colonial era to the present, featuring paintings by Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. Not to be outdone, the Moshe Safdie-designed building stunningly blends modern architecture with the beauty of the natural world that surrounds it.
California: Hollywood Forever Cemetery
If you want to get your Tinseltown fix without indulging in the typical Hollywood Walk of Fame or the Chinese Theater tours, pay your respects to departed legends like Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Johnny Ramone and hundreds of others among the immaculate landscaping at Hollywood’s most famous cemetery. Cemetery access is free, but Cinespia tickets for outdoor movie nights at the cemetery cost between $12 and $20.
Colorado: U.S. Mint
The U.S. Mint in Denver makes money, but it doesn’t cost money to visit. At one of Colorado’s oldest institutions — founded in 1862 — free tours cover the history of coin craftsmanship and show you and your family the modern minting process firsthand.
Connecticut: Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens
In terms of free activities in America, none smell better than the Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens. The first municipal rose garden in the U.S. is still going strong, boasting 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties of old and new roses. Walk under the garden’s distinctive flower arches to check out peaceful ponds and greenhouses while you’re there.
Delaware: Brandywine Zoo
When you’re making a family itinerary of free fun activities, remember this: Kids love zoos. Children under 3 get to meet animals for free at the Brandywine Zoo, which makes it pretty popular with parents, too. Brandywine is home to a dozen acres’ worth of llamas, pandas, otters, owls, geckos and more.
District of Columbia: The Smithsonian Institution
Few U.S. museums, including others in the D.C. area, are as famed, respected or extensive as the Smithsonian, which exhibits about 154 million artifacts of art, science, tech, history, culture and more. Admission is free for all Smithsonian museums and the zoo.
Florida: Big Cypress National Preserve
The National Park Service is the ultimate purveyor of free tourist attractions that enable you to get some fresh air and exercise. Down in Big Cypress Swamp, 729,000 acres of rich marine glades host a massive variety of plant communities, campsites, and creatures, including the rare Florida panther.
Georgia: Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site
Sometimes the best tourist attractions are those that enrich the mind and spirit. Get inspired as you tour the Atlanta home where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, then continue walking in his footsteps as you explore some of his favorite places and hear an authentic Dr. King speech at the church where he preached.
Hawaii: Sunset Beach
Of course Hawaii’s premier, cost-free outdoor attraction is a beach. Located just outside the charming village of Haleiwa Town, Sunset Beach — an ideal spot to surf, swim or fish — has clear, blue water and clean sands that look like they’ve been pulled straight from a postcard. Hawaii Magazine named Sunset Beach one of the best Hawaiian places to watch the sunset — and clearly, it’s one of the best deals on the island.
Idaho: Boise Greenbelt
Boise’s Greenbelt is a 25-mile stretch of parks with a scenic corridor that runs across plentiful greenery and waterways. It’s also a wildlife habitat and alternative transportation route — you can bike the beautiful 10-mile trail or engage the kids’ brains with a historical scavenger hunt.
Illinois: Statue Stories Chicago
Statue Stories Chicago is an app that puts a new spin on the traditional museum or walking tour. You can install the free app on your phone that brings 29 of Chicago’s most iconic statues — from Abe Lincoln to Cloud Gate, or better known as “The Bean,” in Millennium Park — to life via intriguing, humorous and dramatic narration.
Indiana: Deep River Grinders Baseball Game
You can’t get more American than baseball, and you won’t find better games than those played by the Deep River Grinders vintage baseball team in Lake County. From May through October, this nonprofit group dedicated to preserving, promoting and perpetuating the game of baseball puts on free sports shows that authentically adhere to the 37 original rules of 1858 ball.
Iowa: Pappajohn Sculpture Park
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park combines creative culture with exercise, opening up 4.4 acres of green grass for visitors to explore 11 stunning modern sculptures. Photography and picnicking are encouraged, so use all that money you’re saving on admission to pack a nice basket lunch.
Kansas: Madonna of the Trail
Enrich your road trip by taking in one of the 12 identical Madonna of the Trail statues that span across Route 66 from Maryland to California. Built by the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution in the 1920s, the attraction celebrates the strength of pioneering women of America.
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Kentucky: Whiskey on the Bourbon Trail
The words “free” and “bourbon” don’t often go together, but the Bluegrass State is happy to oblige. Start your journey by requesting a free Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport online from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and you’re off to the races. Although distilleries along the trail do charge a nominal admission fee for tours, all of them offer free sample tastings.
Louisiana: Bayou Rum Facility
The Bayou Rum Distillery has a lot of history. The facility distills rum in traditional copper pots using unrefined Louisiana cane sugar and molasses, and you can see it all happen every Tuesday through Saturday free of charge. Bonus: You’ll get free samples of silver and spiced rum.
Maine: Libby Hill Trails
Free skiing isn’t easy to come by, but if you’ve got the gear, Libby Hill Forest trails have the goods. This nine-mile trail network whisks you through beginner and advanced double diamond trails among striking conifers and wild animals.
Maryland: Edgar Allan Poe Collection at the Enoch Pratt Free Library
Equal parts creepy, educational and free, the Edgar Allan Poe Collection at the Enoch Pratt Free Library is basically the posthumous home of America’s darkest literary giant. Here, you can browse everything from letters and clippings written in Poe’s own hand to a lock of hair taken from his head the day after his death in 1849. Everything is spooky but the price.
Massachusetts: USS Constitution Museum
America isn’t short on free museums, but there aren’t too many that float on the water. This one, however, does just that — Old Ironsides at the USS Constitution Museum houses a collection of arms from the 18th and 19th centuries, 200 years’ worth of artwork, tools of the trade and even the crew’s personal possessions. The museum operates on the basis of suggested donations, which can be as small or as large as you’d like.
Michigan: Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum
If you’re interested in visiting odd attractions, it doesn’t get much quirkier than Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills. The whimsical destination is packed full of unusual games, mechanical oddities, animatronics, machines, and collectibles — so many that it’s impossible to see everything in one trip. Admission is free, just make sure you bring quarters for the vintage arcade games.
Minnesota: Minnehaha Falls Regional Park
Forget Yelp reviews — the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized Minnehaha Falls in his 1853 poem “Song of Hiawatha.” And although the attraction’s trademark 53-foot falls are certainly poetry in motion, don’t forget to check out the off-leash dog park, gorgeous river trails, and Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a 50-mile outdoor recreation loop in the Minneapolis area.
Mississippi: Elvis Presley's Birthplace in Tupelo
What looks like a modest Tupelo home on the outside is actually packed with cultural history — it’s the birthplace of Elvis, and his dad built it. You can also see a memorial chapel, a statue of Elvis with his first guitar, a fountain, park, story wall, memorabilia collection and more. The address is pretty easy to remember — this all-American attraction is located at 306 Elvis Presley Drive.
Missouri: Branson Landing Light Show
A Midwestern town known for its spectacular live shows, the city of Branson spent $7.5 million on this dazzling water attraction. Luckily, you don’t have to pay a dime to check out this mind-blowing spectacle of 120-foot geysers, fire, light, and synchronized music — it runs every day of the week and features a variety of themes for songs like “Kung Fu Fighting,” “Hoe Down” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Montana: Drinking Horse Trail
Montana is famed for its natural beauty, and if you want to get a taste of it all encapsulated in one 40-acre walking trail, Drinking Horse is your best bet. The eight-loop trail spans from Bridger Creek to the summit of Drinking Horse Mountain, gradually reaching a 700-foot elevation as you traverse areas with willows, cottonwoods, wildflowers, and evergreens. Admission is free, but the view is priceless.
Nebraska: Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Mammals from the Miocene Epoch — actually, their 5-million- to 23-million-year-old fossils — pepper the region, earning it the title of “The Great Bonebed of Agate.” Two grassy hiking trails and an artist-in-residence exhibit are on offer here but don’t leave without visiting the full 3D reconstructions of those massive, ancient mammals at the visitor center’s diorama.
Nevada: Circus Circus Carnival Midway
Vegas might be where some people go to lose money, but not if you know where to find deals. With shows every 45 minutes, the Carnival Midway at Circus Circus in Las Vegas showcases an amazing — and amazingly free — live performance that dazzles the eyes and imagination with trapeze artists, strongmen, jugglers, acrobats, cyclists and more.
New Hampshire: Andres Institute of Art
Brookline, New Hampshire, is home to a 140-acre sculpture park, home to more than 80 sculptures carefully placed around the mountain. If you like nature and art this completely free destination should be apart of your bucket list. Visitors can expect to spend two-plus hours wandering the woods and appreciating the art while being surrounded by serene nature.
New Jersey: Marine Mammal Stranding Center
Zoos are better when they have a heart of gold. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center has responded to nearly 5,000 rescue calls for dolphins, whales, seals, and turtles that have washed ashore along the state’s coastline.
During a free tour of the facility’s creature-inhabited ICU, pool house and 1,000-gallon observation tank, you’ll become friends with MMSC’s rescued critters, too. Although donations aren’t required, you’ll probably want to give after one look into those seals’ eyes.
New Mexico: Petroglyph National Monument
Between 400 and 700 years ago, Native Americans and Spanish settlers carved intricate symbols into the massive volcanic rocks in Albuquerque. Those carvings exist today, and the Petroglyph National Monument invites you to decipher them. Before you do, clear your head with a variety of walking trails at the base of Mesa Point.
New York: Staten Island Ferry
New York City has no shortage of iconic tourist attractions, and the Staten Island Ferry is no exception. Every year, 22 million people take this 5-mile, 25-minute boat ride.
Some people ride just to commute to their Manhattan job, but others simply enjoy the sweeping view of New York Harbor, including beautiful sightings of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Not only is the trip free, so is the onboard internet access.
North Carolina: UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens
Six themed collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens run the gamut of fantastic flora. At the Carnivorous Garden, misty tropical plants, orchids, and Sarracenia hybrids enshroud full-size dinosaur fossils. The Susie Harwood Garden, in contrast, offers quaint wooden bridges, the meadow-esque Mellichamp Terrace and Asian-inspired landscaping.
North Dakota: Knife River Indian Villages
No free road trip across America is complete without honoring the country’s true roots. The Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site offers the opportunity to learn about the lives of the Northern Plains Tribes, who hail from the Missouri River and its tributaries. When you visit, you’ll find a balance of nature and education, including archeological events for kids and the Robinson Collection of authentic Native American objects.
Ohio: Cincinnati Art Museum
Cincinnati’s premier art museum is just too good to miss. With more than 67,000 pieces of art in the permanent collection alone, you’ll have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to absorb works by Franz Kline, John Trumbull, Hiroshi Sugimoto and hundreds more.
Oklahoma: Route 66
More than 400 miles of the epic Route 66 shoot through Oklahoma, encompassing roadside diners, vintage neon signs, retro car shows and even the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton. Nearly 50 attractions along the way vary in price from free to pretty affordable, but the classic ride itself doesn’t cost a thing except for gas.
Oregon: Forest Park
Before hipsters and craft beer became the state’s major trend, Oregon was defined by the natural majesty of huge trees and ocean mists. At Forest Park, which dubs itself “America’s premier urban forest,” you can get a 5,157-acre slice of that majesty, including 80 miles of soft-surface trails, mountain views, and guided hikes, all within the city limits of Portland.
Pennsylvania: The Liberty Bell
Even in 2019, some of the most significant relics of American history are still free. At the Liberty Bell Center, located at the intersection of Philadelphia’s 6th and Market streets, you’ll get the world’s closest view of the Liberty Bell, complete with Independence Hall in the background. Before you observe the relic, check out a 10-minute presentation about the bell to get hyped on history.
Rhode Island: Providence Children’s Museum
So kids can exercise while they learn, PCM focuses on playful, interactive exhibits like the swirling Water Ways, an outdoor native plant garden, a maze-like climbing puzzle and the underground tunnels of Underland. Get your free tickets during promotions like MetLife Family Friday or get in free with a Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island card — health insurance cardholders receive one free admission per card with ID.
South Carolina: Old Sheldon Ruins
Sheldon Church Ruins might be quaint compared to more flashy tourist traps, but this Beaufort County attraction is unforgettable. Constructed in the mid-1700s, these haunting ruins were an attempt to mimic the style of a Greek temple — right in the mossy woods of South Carolina. Bring your camera as you explore the dilapidated portico columns and Palladian windows before studying the historical names written on Old Sheldon’s marble sarcophagi.
South Dakota: Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is one of the most quintessential tourist attractions in the country — and it’s free. You know that you’ll be seeing the huge, carved faces of past presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, but throughout the year, activities ranging from Lakota dance celebrations to plays at the amphitheater are free, too. Admission, not parking, is free.
Tennessee: Tennessee State Museum
The Tennessee State Museum’s array of permanent exhibits and traveling installations focuses squarely on frontier history, with hundreds of pieces exploring everything from the first Tennesseans to the Age of Jackson to the Antebellum era. Take in this slice of the South for free — admission includes access to the Military Museum branch — and you can pop on over to the State Capitol for a guided tour, too.
Texas: Gruene Hall
You might have heard the expression, “dance like no one’s watching,” but if you’re at the oldest dance hall in Texas, you can very often dance like no one’s paying. At Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, snacks, and drinks come at a cost, but you can find a handful of weekly shows for free. So dance your heart out like it’s 1878, the year Gruene Hall was built.
Utah: Utah Olympic Park
Utah’s Olympic Winter Games hosting gig ended in 2002, but it left behind 400 acres of awesome free outdoor activities just outside of Salt Lake City. Day passes for some areas and activities range from about $12 to $300, but the Alf Engen Ski Museum, 2002 Winter Olympic Games Museum, Discovery Zone, hiking trails and Mountain Challenge are all free of charge.
Vermont: Museum of the Creative Process
The Museum of the Creative Process calls itself, “a center of creative discovery, innovative research, and intellectual retreat.” This haven for creatives not only houses artistic and scientific exhibits, but it also features an emotional education program based on 30 years of clinical research. Open your mind to sculpture, art and a deeper emotional understanding — all for free.
James and Sallie Dooley left 100 acres of gardens, mansions, goats and sea otters as a gift to all Virginians, and now that gift is yours, too. Admission to the grounds and gardens is free, and the wildlife exhibits and mansion tours operate on suggested donations.
Washington: Kubota Garden
Seattle might be the home of grunge, but Kubota Garden is anything but grungy. Landscaped by Fujitaro Kubota, these 20 peaceful acres combine Northwest flora with traditional Japanese garden designs. Beautiful bridges and paths gently guide you through rock outcroppings, streams, ponds and waterfalls, where you can meditate on all the money you’re not spending.
West Virginia: Blenko Glass Company
Sure, you can purchase Blenko Glass Company’s gorgeously delicate, handcrafted creations online or at the brick-and-mortar store, but it might be the creative process that leaves the biggest impression. Established in 1893, Blenko still employs many traditional glass-making techniques you can see in action for free — glass-blowing demonstrations are the highlight — and you’ll see the whole process as you venture through a fully functioning, glass-making production facility.
Wisconsin: Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour
In Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, free candy makes your trip even more pleasant. Every day, the Jelly Belly Visitor Center and the Jelly Belly Express Train Tour whisk visitors through a free, 25-minute ride that explores production process of treats like candy corn, gummies, and, of course, jelly beans.
The tour includes free samples and — seriously — a chorus line of giant dancing jelly beans. Saving money is sweet, but jelly beans, especially dancing ones, are even sweeter.
Wyoming: Castle Gardens
Think of Wyoming and you probably envision stunning, otherworldly rocks that are the color of a summer sunset. That’s what Castle Gardens is all about, with its hundreds of prehistoric carvings — petroglyphs dated between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1250 — that grace the sides of massive sandstone spires. As you walk the free trail, maybe you’ll be the first to figure out exactly what the ancient Athapaskan Native Americans were trying to tell people through their art.
Click through to read more about how much it costs to visit these tiny towns of America.
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Priscilla Aguilera contributed to the reporting for this article.