The Best Free Summer Destination in Every State

Summer can be a bummer when every activity has an entrance fee. If you are vacationing in an unfamiliar state, it is easy to get roped into costly tourist traps. Luckily, every state has plenty of fun, free things to do that could wind up being the most memorable parts of any trip. We’ve rounded up the best totally free things to do in each state, so your summer adventures don’t have to strain your wallet.

  1. Alabama: Sloss Furnaces

    Alabama: Sloss Furnaces

    Get a glimpse into Birmingham’s industrial past at Sloss Furnaces, which in the late 19th century was the world's largest producer of pig iron. Grab your camera and walk among the eerily picturesque furnaces and rusty red pipes of this National Historic Landmark.

    Related: 20 Weird and Wacky Destinations for a Family Road Trip

  2. Alaska: Potter Marsh

    Alaska: Potter Marsh

    This wildlife viewing area just outside of Anchorage is home to a spectacular array of migratory birds and scenic vistas. A 1550-foot-long boardwalk, parking, and public restrooms make this outdoor adventure as convenient as it is stunning.

    Related: 20 American Treasures to See Now—Before They Disappear via readlistendream

  3. Arizona: San Xavier del Bac

    Arizona: San Xavier del Bac

    Located just south of Tucson, this impressive mission church was built in the late 18th century and is known as “The White Dove of the Desert.” The ornate structure is considered one of the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the country and is still today a Catholic parish serving the Tohono O’odham community.

    Related: The Secret Histories of 15 Grand Old American Mansions

  4. Arkansas: Petit Jean State Park

    Arkansas: Petit Jean State Park

    This 2,658-acre park offers numerous hiking trails and views of Cedar Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state. Ancient Native American paintings can be seen in the rock shelters along the hiking trails.

    Related: The Very Best Campgrounds from Coast to Coast

  5. California: Griffith Observatory

    California: Griffith Observatory

    This historic observatory, perched on Mount Hollywood, affords views of the famous Hollywood sign as well as a dramatic panorama of Los Angeles stretching clear to the Pacific Ocean. The Observatory building, telescopes, and grounds are open to the public free of charge.

  6. Colorado: Garden of the Gods

    Colorado: Garden of the Gods

    Amazing red sandstone rock formations dot this unique park. Hiking and walking trails that wind through the landscape capture spectacular views, and a free museum and nature center provide background on the park’s geology and history.

    Related: 7 Great Places to Bunk at America's National Parks

  7. Connecticut: Submarine Force Library & Museum

    Connecticut: Submarine Force Library & Museum

    Learn all about the hidden history of submarines at this one-of-a-kind museum operated by the U.S. Navy. The museum is home to the first nuclear-powered submarine in the world, the USS Nautilus, as well as thousands of artifacts and photos.

    Related: America's Most Indestructible Buildings

    Wikimedia Commons via Carol m. Highsmith

  8. Delaware: The Delaware Contemporary

    Delaware: The Delaware Contemporary

    One lazy summer afternoon, take a break from the sun and stroll through this free art museum, replete with industrial-chic gallery spaces and rotating exhibitions. The museum is also home to 26 on-site art studios and has extended summer hours on select Friday nights.

    Related: 10 Ways to Fill a Blank Wall for Under $20

    Wikimedia Commons via The Delaware Contemporary

  9. Florida: The Wynwood Walls

    Florida: The Wynwood Walls

    Saunter through this Miami warehouse district that has been transformed with colorful murals by graffiti artists from around the world. Dress your best and be prepared to take some epic selfies.

    Related: The Best U.S. Cities for a Summer Staycation

  10. Georgia: Atlanta BeltLine

    Georgia: Atlanta BeltLine

    Still being developed, the BeltLine is an urban walking trail created from a historic railroad corridor encircling downtown Atlanta. When complete, it will form a 22-mile-long loop. The trail is dotted with parks, public art, and free events, and it's a great way to see the city. 

    Related: Pedestrians Only: 20 Car-Free Places in America

  11. Hawaii: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

    Hawaii: National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

    Located inside Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, this beautiful military cemetery honors veterans, including those killed at Pearl Harbor. Also known by its Hawaiian name, Puowaina, which means "hill of sacrifice," the crater was once the site of sacrifices to the gods.

  12. Idaho: Custer Ghost Town

    Idaho: Custer Ghost Town

    See what the life of a 19th-century prospector was like by visiting this abandoned gold mining town where several properties have been restored to their original condition. Scenic drives through the surrounding Land of Yankee Fork State Park reveal remnants of other abandoned settlements.

    Related: 11 Tiny Towns You Can Buy—Yes, Really

  13. Illinois: Starved Rock State Park

    Illinois: Starved Rock State Park

    Soaring sandstone canyons and misty waterfalls make Starved Rock State Park a must-see. With 18 canyons and 13 miles of hiking trails suitable for adventurers of all skill levels, the park easily promises at least a day's worth of free outdoor entertainment.

    Related: Do-Good Adventures: 9 Exciting Summer Volunteer Opportunities

  14. Indiana: Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park

    Indiana: Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park

    The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park is full of outdoor artwork scattered throughout 100 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. The park also encompasses a large lake and bird-watching areas. via PunkToad

  15. Iowa: State Capitol

    Iowa: State Capitol

    Touring this unique five-domed Renaissance-style structure is a must for architecture fans and history buffs alike. The interior features numerous murals and mosaics, plus a spectacular law library with four levels of balconies and cast-iron spiral staircases.

    Related: The 14 Best Governor’s Mansions in America

  16. Kansas: Monument Rocks

    Kansas: Monument Rocks

    Located just four miles east of U.S. 83 in western Kansas, these strange towering chalk rock formations create an otherworldly landscape in the middle of vast grasslands. The 80-million-year-old rock formations are remnants of an ancient inland sea.

  17. Kentucky: Floodwall Murals

    Kentucky: Floodwall Murals

    In the 1930s, the city of Paducah was devastated by a surge of the Ohio River. In response, the community built a floodwall for protection. Decades later, artist Robert Dafford covered the concrete walls with more than 50 murals depicting the city's history. Today, a stroll along the sidewalk to admire the postcard-like murals is like taking a trip through time.

    Related: 9 Ways to Crank Up Curb Appeal With Nothing But Paint via Connie Roberts

  18. Louisiana: Barataria Preserve

    Louisiana: Barataria Preserve

    Experience the state’s famous bayous and  swamps from the safety of a sturdy boardwalk trail at the Barataria Preserve. See wildlife like alligators, snakes, turtles, and 200 species of birds, all within walking distance of modern comforts like bathrooms and picnic areas. via Jackie Ann

  19. Maine: Maine State Prison Showroom

    Maine: Maine State Prison Showroom

    Maine has a long tradition of wood craftwork, even in its state prisons. Visitors to the Maine State Prison Showroom gallery can browse and buy ornate wood handicrafts created by inmates enrolled in a job-skills training program.

    Related: 21 Clever Little Things to Do with Scrap Wood via Sarah Mirk

  20. Maryland: Glen Echo Park

    Maryland: Glen Echo Park

    Visit this colorful former amusement park that has been transformed into an arts and culture district awash in Art Deco architecture. Admission and parking at Glen Echo Park are free, but you can choose to splurge on a $1.25 ride on the historic 1921 Dentzel menagerie carousel. via Katherine Bowman

  21. Massachusetts: Cambridge Center Roof Garden

    Massachusetts: Cambridge Center Roof Garden

    This secret garden is definitely not something you would expect to find on top of a parking garage. A hidden green oasis, Cambridge Center Roof Garden is packed with tulips and rosebushes that seem even more impressive against the views of the surrounding city.

    Related: 10 Rooftop Gardens That Bring Gardening to New Heights via Keith Simmons

  22. Michigan: Meyer May House

    Michigan: Meyer May House

    This iconic Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-style house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been dutifully restored to its original 1909 vision. Beautiful stained-glass windows along with original and reproduction furniture can be seen on the free tours of the Meyer May House.

    Related: 15 Famous Houses You Can Rent for the Weekend via Edward Stojakovic

  23. Minnesota: Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

    Minnesota: Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

    The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory has dozens of animal exhibits that are free and fun for the whole family. But the crown jewel of this park in Saint Paul is the Sunken Garden, where lovely flower shows are displayed inside a vast arched greenhouse.

    Related: 20 Destinations for Plant Lovers Across America Kent Kanouse

  24. Mississippi: Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum

    Mississippi: Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum

    This tiny museum pays homage to Jim Henson and the Mississippi boyhood during which he dreamed up his most famous character, Kermit the Frog. The Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum provides biographical information about Henson and serves up plenty of Muppets memorabilia, including a few original figures.

    Related: Yes, These 20 Weird and Wacky Museums Actually Exist via Rogelio A. Galaviz C.

  25. Missouri: The Money Museum

    Missouri: The Money Museum

    Not only is this museum free, but they'll actually give you a bag of money when you leave—shredded money, that is. Guests at the Money Museum can watch real U.S. currency being processed, and coin collectors will love the exhibit of 500 historic coins minted under every president since George Washington.

    Related: The 15 Best Factory Tours in America

  26. Montana: Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

    Montana: Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

    The magnificent scenery of Montana—towering trees, glacial lakes, and the magnificent Rocky Mountains—is a tough act to follow. But the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas holds its own against the state’s natural beauty. This serene sanctuary in the Jocko Valley boasts a remarkable array of Buddhist symbols, statues, structures, and images that promote spiritual change and awakening, with the 24-foot-tall Yum Chenmo, the Great Mother of Transcendent Wisdom, as the garden’s central figure. 

    Related: 20 Must-Visit Mountain Towns Across America via joãokẽdal

  27. Nebraska: Pioneers Park Nature Center

    Nebraska: Pioneers Park Nature Center

    Both a wildlife sanctuary and environmental education center, Pioneers Park Nature Center is a family-friendly destination featuring eight miles of meandering trails through tall-grass prairie, wetlands, and woodlands. Hikers enjoy sightings of raptors, deer, bison, and elk. There’s a bird garden and an herb garden, and kids especially love the Edna Shields Natural Play Area, an outdoor space where they can dig, climb, and create.

    Wikimedia Commons via CrunchySkies

  28. Nevada: Truckee River Whitewater Park

    Nevada: Truckee River Whitewater Park

    Talk about a sure thing! If you’re into kayaking, canoeing, and tubing—or just want to beat the heat (and escape the nearby casinos)—head over to Truckee River Whitewater Park. Right in the middle of downtown Reno, the park floats your boat with 2,600 feet of class II and III rapids, and five drop pools. During the summer, catch free concerts and other fun events.

  29. New Hampshire: Horatio Colony Museum and Nature Preserve

    New Hampshire: Horatio Colony Museum and Nature Preserve

    For a double dose of history and nature, visit the Horatio Colony Museum and Nature Preserve. Built in 1806 and once the private residence of the Colony family, the museum offers a glimpse of gracious New England living and culture with its collection of original furnishings, patterned tin ceilings, honey-colored oak floors, and hand-painted tiles. Each month, the Horatio Colony hosts free lectures and events, such as Old-Time Children’s Games in the Garden on July 12. The nature preserve offers three and a half miles of well-marked trails with interpretive information about geological features, historical ruins, and plant communities.

    Related: The 19 Most Photographed Homes in America

  30. New Jersey: Warren E. Fox Nature Center

    New Jersey: Warren E. Fox Nature Center

    The Warren E. Fox Nature Center, named for the famed environmentalist, attracts nature lovers of all ages to the New Jersey Pinelands. Visitors and “staycationers” alike flock to the butterfly garden, the live animal display area, and Native American artifact exhibits. Staff naturalists are on hand to answer questions and help you explore. The Nature Center also offers loads of free events, including music lessons, game nights, movie screenings, and yoga classes.

  31. New Mexico: Old Town Albuquerque

    New Mexico: Old Town Albuquerque

    First settled in 1706 and still home to about 10 blocks of historic adobe buildings, the Old Town section of Albuquerque will richly enhance your cultural horizons. The adobe structures, arranged around a plaza, include the San Felipe de Neri Church, with carved corbels and wooden vigas that date back to the original 18th-century construction. Old Town is also the new center of the city’s art scene, with enough galleries and exhibits to fuel a twice-monthly ARTScrawl, a self-guided walking tour.  

    Related: 18 American Towns Every Old-House Lover Needs to See

  32. New York: Governors Island

    New York: Governors Island

    A 172-acre paradise in the heart of New York Harbor, accessible by free ferry, Governors Island is all about fun and culture with a unique Big Apple vibe. The park is as well known for people-watching as it is for its vistas, including the Hills, which rises 70 feet above sea level and offers breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty, and Outlook Hill, with its winding path to the plaza at its summit. Free events are available throughout the summer, such as Family Fun Day on July 15, an outdoor festival featuring live music, theatrical performances, arts and crafts, and games, and Art Force 5 (through August 12), which brings a superhero sensibility to community-based art, with workshops, craft stations, and exhibits.

  33. North Carolina: Tryon International Equestrian Center

    North Carolina: Tryon International Equestrian Center

    Folks who really love to horse around should trot on over to Tryon International Equestrian Center. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Foothills close to the city of Asheville, this sprawling entertainment complex is the world’s premier equestrian lifestyle destination, showcasing some of the top riders in the hunter/jumper, dressage, and eventing disciplines. During the summer, Tryon presents Saturday Night Lights, a free, family-friendly festival with carnival games, live music, food, and of course world-class horse shows. Tally-ho! via sugoipix

  34. North Dakota: Plains Art Museum

    North Dakota: Plains Art Museum

    A city that dubs itself “North of Normal” is bound to have a pretty cool (and totally free) art museum. And the Plains Art Museum, located in a renovated turn-of-the-century warehouse in downtown Fargo, is just the ticket. The museum maintains a permanent collection of some 4,000 works, including national, international, and regional fine art as well as ethnographic objects and 12 special exhibitions each year. Now showing: an impressive portrait exhibit titled “Now You See Me...” plus classes, lectures, social events, and performances. via Mark Goebel

  35. Ohio: Hocking Hills

    Ohio: Hocking Hills

    What really puts the “oh!” in Ohio? The fact that all of its 74 state parks are free! They're diverse, too, with all manner of natural wonders and leisure activities. Among the parks are Hocking Hills, 2,356 acres of towering cliffs, waterfalls, and hemlock-shaded gorges; Headlands Beach, with its mile-long natural sand beach along Lake Erie, the largest in the state; John Bryan, 752 acres renown for the limestone gorge cut by the Little Miami River; and the state’s largest park, Salt Fork, more than 17,000 acres of recreational facilities to suit nearly every taste. 

    Related: 15 Places Every American Should Visit at Least Once

  36. Oklahoma: Route 66

    Oklahoma: Route 66

    If you plan to “motor west,” as the song goes, you ought to hit Oklahoma, home to the nation’s largest drivable stretch of historic Route 66, also known as the Mother Road. As you immerse yourself in the nostalgia of this celebrated highway, you’ll discover a host of cool, quirky roadside attractions—for instance, the Old Round Barn in Arcadia, built in 1898 and the only round wooden barn in the state. Another architectural curiosity is Pops, a four-ton, 66-foot-tall sculpture of a soda bottle covered in dazzling lights; the adjacent restaurant offers more than 600 different kinds of soda for sale. Also along the route is the Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum, packed with bikes, photos, and memorabilia sure to thrill the easy rider in everyone. 

    Related: 15 Classic Roadside Motels You Can Visit Along America's Highways

  37. Oregon: Powell's City of Books

    Oregon: Powell's City of Books

    Those with a passion for the printed word must flock to Powell's City of Books in Portland. The flagship of the world’s largest independent bookstore chain, it boasts more than 2 million new, used, and out-of-print books in stock, occupies a square city block, and rises three stories high—yes, you’ll need a map to explore it, and yes, fortunately, they have them. As you browse the stacks, keep your eyes peeled for autographs of famous writers scrawled on the pillars!

    Related: 10 Novel DIYs for a Better Bookshelf

  38. Pennsylvania: Little League World Series

    Pennsylvania: Little League World Series

    Batter up! Every August, the Little League World Series takes the field in South Williamsport. This year marks the 72nd season of this spectacular event, and sports fans can snag a seat in the stadium or watch from the lawn as the best 10- to 16-year-old baseball players in the country compete while displaying extraordinary sportsmanship. 

    Related: 10 Iconic Baseball Stadiums Worth a Roadtrip to See via Governor Tom Wolf

  39. Rhode Island: Cliff Walk

    Rhode Island: Cliff Walk

    If your idea of a dream house is a mansion, get your fill of fabulous ones with a stroll along the eastern shore of Newport. On one side of the winding 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, you’ll see historic homes from the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, notably those designed by society architect Richard Morris Hunt for the Vanderbilt family—the magnificent Marble House and The Breakers, which stands as the region’s largest mansion. Should all that opulence make you long for a little natural splendor, simply turn your head to view the drama of the rocky New England coastline. 

    Related: 10 National Parks That Look More Stunning in the Snow

  40. South Carolina: Prince William's Parish Church

    South Carolina: Prince William's Parish Church

    Erected between 1745 and 1755, Prince William's Parish Church was one of the first Greek Revival structures built in the colonies. Burned during the Revolutionary War, then rebuilt only to be burned again during the Civil War, it now stands in ruins that any history or architecture buff will surely find fascinating. The gable roof, pediment, windows, and interior are long gone, but the old church, now known as the Sheldon Church Ruins, continues to captivate visitors, who roam the grounds, take photographs, and do rubbings of the gravestones. 

    Related: 13 Homes from the Original Colonies That Still Stand Today via Henry de Saussure Copeland

  41. South Dakota: Deadwood

    South Dakota: Deadwood

    The city of Deadwood in the Black Hills of South Dakota, founded in 1876, was notorious for the motley crew of miners, outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers who came to town in search of gold—and a rootin', tootin’ good time. At Mount Moriah Cemetery, you’ll see the graves of such larger-than-life Western legends as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, while exhibits at the Adams Museum include personal belongings, memorabilia, and artifacts associated with these figures. Relive the Wild West in Deadwood! 

    Related: 18 Small Towns That Changed America

  42. Tennessee: Gaylord Opryland Gardens and Conservatory

    Tennessee: Gaylord Opryland Gardens and Conservatory

    Staying at the Gaylord Opryland, one of Nashville's finest hotels, may not be in your budget, but a visit to its garden and conservatory is free—and a priceless experience for anyone with a passion for plants. The garden, which covers nine acres, harbors exquisitely tended regional specimens in some spots and truly resembles a rainforest in others, with tropical species, waterfalls, and even an indoor river. Traipsing through these grounds could take several hours—fortunately, there’s plenty of secluded seating tucked in among the beautiful blooms. 

    Related: The 18 Most Infamous Hotels in America via Michael Kappel

  43. Texas: Klyde Warren Park

    Texas: Klyde Warren Park

    A state as big as Texas better have some impressive parks—and indeed it does. Klyde Warren Park, a five-acre fun zone in Dallas, definitely fits the bill. A modern urban oasis set atop a sunken freeway, Klyde Warren is a gathering space for old and young, locals and visitors, featuring a variety of free programs all year long—fitness classes, dance lessons, lawn games, children's entertainment, and film screenings. Plus, in spring through fall, the park hosts Music Thursdays, with live bands and DJs performing for your listening pleasure.

    Related: 9 DIY Ideas for a Summery Backyard

  44. Utah: Wheeler Historic Farm

    Utah: Wheeler Historic Farm

    What’s cuter than little kids and farm animals? Not much, as you’ll see when you bring your brood to Wheeler Historic Farm, just outside Salt Lake City. Visitors of all ages are welcome to meet horses, chickens, pigs, and sheep as well as wander through some 40 acres of natural woods and wetlands running along Little Cottonwood Creek. Don’t miss the fun Playground Fort, which gives Wild West excitement a pip-squeak spin. 

    Related: Our 12 Favorite Farmhouses Across America via Carmen Ackert

  45. Vermont: Quechee Gorge

    Vermont: Quechee Gorge

    There’s the Grand Canyon, and then there’s the Quechee Gorge, known as “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon.” Formed some 13,000 years ago as the Laurentide Ice Sheet retreated across the region, the Quechee Gorge cuts through bedrock and drops 165 dizzying feet. The majestic sight can be viewed from the U.S. Route 4 bridge and from trails on either side, and the Ottauquechee River, which flows through the bottom of the gorge, is a popular whitewater kayak run.

  46. Virginia: Virginia Beach Boardwalk

    Virginia: Virginia Beach Boardwalk

    If life is a beach, then living may not get much better than the Virginia Beach Boardwalk. Erected in 1888 as a five-block, wooden-planked promenade, today it’s a 28-foot-wide, three-mile-long concrete esplanade stretching along the sparkling Atlantic oceanfront. By day, stroll the expansive walkway or cycle along a separate bike path and admire the various nautical sculptures dotting the side streets— in particular, King Neptune, a 24-foot-tall, 12-ton bronze tribute to the god of the sea. By night, enjoy free entertainment, including live bands and even fireworks. Ooh! Aah! 

    Related: The Best Tiny Beach Towns from East to West

  47. Washington: Pacific Bonsai Museum

    Washington: Pacific Bonsai Museum

    The Pacific Northwest is known for towering trees, so it may seem odd that just outside the city of Tacoma lies the Pacific Bonsai Museum. This open-air museum displays as many as 60 specimens from its collection of 150 bonsai—miniature trees created by ancient Japanese cultivation techniques—in a fine-art setting. It’s one of only three museums in the world dedicated to this beautiful art form, and while it’s literally a hidden gem, nestled within a lush forest, the Pacific Bonsai Museum is a huge draw, attracting more than 40,000 visitors from around the globe each year.

    Related: 7 Trees You Can Grow Indoors

    Wikimedia Commons via Chris Light

  48. West Virginia: Berkeley Springs State Park

    West Virginia: Berkeley Springs State Park

    A number of tourist attractions claim, “George Washington slept here!” but Berkeley Springs State Park can rightfully declare that the Revolutionary War hero actually bathed here! The soothing mineral waters of Berkeley Springs, which maintain a constant temperature of 74.3 degrees, attracted our first president when, a mere lad of 16, he was a member of a survey party. He continued to take the waters there regularly for years afterward. As if Washington’s bathtub and the springs themselves—which discharge approximately 2,000 gallons of clear, sparkling water every minute—aren’t enough, Art in the Park events display the work of local artists during the summer. 

    Related: 12 Destinations You Should Actually Visit During the Off-Season

  49. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Geology Museum

    Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Geology Museum

    This place literally rocks! The world-class collection at the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum includes hundreds and hundreds of rocks, minerals, and fossils as well as some 120,000 geological and paleontological specimens. Also on view at the Geology Museum is the skeleton of the Boaz mastodon. Its bones were discovered on a local farm in 1897; after reconstruction the mastodon stands a mighty 9.5 feet tall and 15 feet long. via Maitri

  50. Wyoming: Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site

    Wyoming: Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site

    Follow in the footsteps—make that the wheel grooves—of those brave pioneers who settled the American West by visiting the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site. As thousands of immigrants struggled to trek across the rugged High Plains, especially in the peak years of 1841 to 1869, their covered wagons wore deep marks into the sandstone ridge. This half-mile stretch along the North Platte River boasts the best-preserved set of Oregon Trail ruts, some as impressive as five feet deep in spots. Westward, whoa!

    Related: From Bridges to Stadiums: 13 U.S. Icons That Are Falling Apart

  51. Free Summer Fun

    Free Summer Fun

    Take advantage of all the free summer fun this country has to offer.

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