How to Visit North Carolina on a Budget

Wondering how to visit North Carolina on a budget?
North Carolina is a super popular travel destination in The United States. With the mountains in the western part of the state and over 300 miles of barrier island beaches to the east, you really get the best of both worlds in a single state. If you are looking for a cheap place to vacation in the states, North Carolina has a lot of great options. This how to guide will give you a list of free and cheap attractions, as well as tips and tricks for saving money on food and accommodation. This is your ultimate guide to visiting North Carolina on a budget.

Free Attractions

When it comes to visiting a destination on a budget, finding things to do that don’t raise your daily spending is crucial. Luckily for you, North Carolina is a dream come true for budget travelers.

A great way to save money on your North Carolina vacation is to spend a day on one of the states gorgeous beaches. To avoid adding to your food costs, pack a cooler of food and drinks for lunch with a view. Some of my favorite beaches in the state are Carolina Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Ocean Isle Beach. Each of these has potential to be your perfect budget friendly getaway. Click the links below to learn more about my experiences with each of the three beaches.

Carolina Beach
Atlantic Beach
Ocean Isle Beach

Croatan National Forest
Croatan is home to walking trails and a boardwalk hovering over the coastal wetlands.

Fort Macon State Park
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Fort Macon several times. It’s a large fort with amazing ocean views from the top.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
This museum is massive, with tons of exhibits to keep you entertained.

North Carolina Museum of Art
Admission to the main galleries in the museum are free, however entrance to temporary galleries do have an admission free.

North Carolina Maritime Museum
A free maritime museum with beautiful views around the museum building.

Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum
Are you a Bigfoot fan? Do you love all things mysterious and spooky? If so, this is the perfect free attraction for you.

Clingmans Dome
Hike your way up to Clingmans Dome for gorgeous 360 views of the North Carolina and Tennessee Mountains.

Museum of the Alphabet
This unique museum walks you through the history of language, culture, and bible translation.

Brunswick Town & Fort Anderson
Dive in to a bit of North Carolina and Civil War history at this site.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum
A free museum honoring what African Americans have done for the state of North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Drive the parkway for breathtaking views of the North Carolina mountains.

North Carolina Museum of History
Lovely museum with exhibits on space, the story of North Carolina, a replica of a 1920’s drug store, and others.

Stanley Rehdar Carnivorous Garden
See carnivorous plants up close and personal at that free garden.

Carolina Beach State Park
The perfect place to hang a hammock and enjoy the view of the water. They have restrooms and picnic tables as well. I love taking family trips to this park, it’s a great place to stop for a picnic lunch.

Bass Lake Park
This lake has picnic areas and is great for swimming and fishing.

Badin Lake
This lake has great walking trails, places to cookout, swim, hammock, and fish.

The City of Raleigh Museum
One of Raleighs many free museums, this one dedicated to the city itself.

Historic Yates Mill Historic Park
This is a seriously beautiful place to visit. I took my sister in laws senior pictures here a while back and it was PERFECT. The mill, creek, lake, and walking trails are all spectacular.

JC Raulston Arboretum
A part of the North Carolina State University, this arboretum is beautiful and surprisingly free.

Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden
Another one of Raleighs many free attractions.

Given that western North Carolina is a mountainous region, there are tons of hiking opportunities. Hiking is always a great option to see the natural beauty of an area as well as save money on travel costs. There are countless trails and parks to visit in North Carolina, I’m going to list 10 of the most popular in the state.

1. Looking Glass Rock Trail
2. Catawba Falls
3. Triple Falls Trail
4. Hawksbill Mountain Trail
5. Crabtree Falls Trail Loop
6. Mount Mitchell Trail
7. Linville Falls Trail
8. Moore Cove Falls Trail
9. Hanging Rock Trail
10. Craggy Pinnacle Trail

Cheap Attractions

There’s nothing I hate more than seeing something awesome to do in a location only to look up ticket prices and be like “nopeeeee, not going there..” The attractions on this list may not be free, be they are definitely worth the price of admission. All attractions are $5 or less.

Huntington Beach State Park
This state park offers beaches as well as access to a free nature walk with an overlook over the wetlands. There is a $5 admission fee. Also, inside the state park is Atalaya Castle.

Atalaya Castle
I adore Atalaya Castle and I recommend it over any other paid attraction on this list. It’s breathtaking and will only cost you a $2 admission fee

Sliding Rock
Located in Pisgah National Forest, sliding rock is a nature made water slide. Admission is only $2.

Marbles Kids Museum
Every Thursday and Friday that the museum is open until 7pm, you can get admission reduced to only $3 when you arrive after 3pm

Curiosities Museum
See a Bigfoot imprint, a mermaids tail, and many more curious and confusing items in the curiosities museum. Admission is $3

Reed Goldmine
Admission to the Goldmine is free, but there is a fee of $3 per pan.


Depending on your travel budget, North Carolina has a few options for accommodation.

Option #1: Budget hotels
In most parts of the state you can find hotels that are less than $70/night. However, if you want to stay right on the beach you will be paying much more during peak season. If you are visiting the beach during the slow season, you should be able to find a beach hotel for less than $100/night.

Option #2: Camping
North Carolina is such an amazing place to camp. You can spend one night in the mountains and the next night on the beach. You can find campsites for tent camping for free. Expect to pay a small fee for most campsites with bathrooms and shower houses.

Option #3: Air B n B
There are several locations on Air B n B that are cheaper than budget hotel. You can find a private place to stay for less than $50/night. There are some really unique places to stay that are also budget friendly. Here’s a list of some of my favorites, click the links to check out each rental for yourself. (rentals and prices as of August 2019)

1. The Dome Home-$49/night
2. 1953 GMC Bus– $35/night
3. Romantic Bus– $50/night
4. Log Cabin Tiny House– $45/night
5. Hilltop Cabin– $44/night
6. Horse Farm Cab– $45/night
7. Amazing Tiny House– $40/night
8. Cozy School Bus– $50/night
9. Happyness Treehouse– $40/night
10. The Cocoon– $45/night

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