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10 budget-friendly adventures across the midwest

By Terri Law
January 27, 2022
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​Drewski Mac, Flickr creative commons license
Travel in the Midwest can be filled with natural beauty, manmade adventure, and once in a lifetime opportunities all highlighted with the incomparable hospitality for which the Midwest is known. Safe travels!

Outside exploration close to home became a popular alternative for conventional vacations this year providing a safe and creative chance to rediscover (or even discover for the first time) our own backyards. While travel may look different, there are plenty of safe and distanced ways to find fun and adventure.

The Midwest is a treasure trove of unique experiences for every age with a range of exciting opportunities and beautiful landscapes. The Midwest is known for four very distinct seasons and many of the experiences can be enjoyed with a whole new perspective based on season (though some are strictly seasonal) These ten destinations in six Midwest states provide a range of options …from National parks to local U-pick farms, avoiding indoor crowds opting instead for wide open outdoor spaces.

1. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana.

This beach in the middle of the country has a surprising ocean vibe with opportunities to hike, swim, camp, fish, and bird watch. The park offers the “3 dune challenge”, a hike involving a 1.5 mile trail with a 552 vertical feet climb (equivalent of 55 stories) to the 3 highest dunes in the park…through sand!! The views are worth the climb and completion of the hike is an accomplishment in itself. Admission is 7-12$ per vehicle.


Starved Rocks State Park, Illinois
Starved Rocks State Park, Illinois. Photo by: Vigil Photography. Flickr creative commons license.

2. Matthiessen and Starved Rock State Parks, Illinois.

These parks, within a few miles of each other, offer trails that lead to spectacular displays of bluffs and canyons highlighted with scenic overlooks, rock formations and waterfalls. In the summertime, the waterfalls provide a cool respite from the hike and in the winter ice falls form and are climbable. Admission is free.


Elephant Rocks
Elephant Rocks State Park. Photo by: Miguel Acosta. Flickr Creative Commons License.

3. Johnson’s Shut Ins and Elephant Rocks State Parks, Missouri.

These parks, also within a few miles of each other, are both truly hidden gems. Johnsons Shut Ins is essentially a natural water park with chutes, slides and waterfalls as well as swimming holes and rocks to climb. This adventure is truly one of a kind – a stunning destination to see and experience.

Elephant Rocks State Park is made of giant elephantine boulders that are available to climb and explore. The park provides an accessible trail. Both are free.


Maquoketa Caves State Park.
Maquoketa Caves State Park. Photo by: Phil Roeder. Flickr Creative Commons license.

4. Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa.

A unique park in Iowa with 13 caves suited for different levels of exploration, from caves that are lighted and large enough to walk through on a boardwalk…to small caves well suited for spelunking. The park provides hiking trails through rocky canyons and a spectacular natural bridge.

*For added fun, 61 Drive In Theater (just miles from the caves) is a fun way to end the day…a throwback to time gone by, the drive in usually offers current double features, a playground for children before the movie, a concession stand and a train ride.

The caves are free. The drive in ranges in price from 7-9$ for children and adults.


5. Drive the Great River Road.

A natural scenic byway passing through 10 states along the 3000 mile Mississippi River. In Illinois, a day’s drive might start in the quaint artsy town of Galena to enjoy the vibrant main street shopping and eateries. After which, drive along the river to Palisades State Park to hike the bluffed overlook enjoying the views. Continue with a stop in the Quad Cities, the only place where the mighty Mississippi runs east to west instead of north to south. The Quad Cities are home to John Deere world headquarters and pavilion where construction and agricultural machinery is often available to view on their outdoor terrace. A paddlewheel riverboat cruise is reminiscent of simpler times depicted by Mark Twain in his life and writings on the Mississippi and a perfect way to enjoy the third longest river in the world. End the evening on the sky bridge with a sweet corn flavored ice cream watching the sunset . All free with exception of the cruise (and the ice cream.)


6. Henry Doorly Zoo, Nebraska.

This zoo was a wonderful Midwest surprise (similar to the inland beach), as this zoo is constantly ranked as one of the best on the world and is right here in the middle of the country. The zoo has a variety of specialized exhibits including an aquarium, butterfly enclosure and creatures of the night display. The animal population ranges from polar bears and penguins to gorillas, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and mesmerizing jellyfish. Price is $18.95-$25.95 for a child or adult.


7. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

While this one may be more crowded and a bit pricier – it most definitely deserves a spot in the top ten. From idyllic natural scenery to thrilling water adventures, the Dells is a must see destination. Self proclaimed water park capital of the world, the dells offer water sports, waterslides, museums, amusement parks, and the original duck boat ride – which takes passengers from land to sea on the same craft. The majestic scenery of the sandstone bluffs and the opportunity to explore natural beauty of Witches Gulch or Devil’s Lake State Park is not to be missed. Prices vary depending on activity.


8. Monticello Iowa Canoe Company, Iowa

For an afternoon of canoeing, kayaking, or tubing down the Maquoketa River through beautiful bluffs – truly a memorable way to enjoy a sunny summer day. The company provides a bus ride or covid friendly van ride for small groups or families to the beginning of the float and collects the rented equipment at the end of the float leaving only relaxation time for the floaters. 3-6 hours float for 15-30$ depending on canoe, kayak, or tube rental.


Chestnut Mountain, Galena
Chestnut Mountain, Galena. Photo by: Alan Light. Flickr Creative Commons license

9. Sky Tours Zipline, Iowa.

This most unique adventure combines adventure with history and nature. A guided tour through the ruins of an entertainment venue from the early 1900’s including hiking through the natural overgrowth and nine ziplining opportunities.

74$ for the ziplining tour lasting approximately 2 hours.

*To extend the day’s adventures, nearby in Galena Illinois is Chestnut Mountain which is home to one of the Midwest’s “alpine” slides providing approximately 2000 feet of downhill fun! The tri- state views from the top of the mountain are spectacular and the slide is thrilling way to spend an afternoon. Prices are 10$ per ride or multiple ride passes may be purchased too.


10. U-pick farms.

An afternoon to relax and enjoy nature’s harvests is a perfect way to pass the day. The farms are local and seasonal but opportunities to spend an afternoon in an orchard or field are plentiful in the Midwest. Options range from picking flowers, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, pumpkins, and even Christmas trees depending on the time of year. The harvests of the day can be enjoyed long after with fresh bouquets, delicious homemade pies and pumpkin carving or the fresh pine smell of a real Christmas tree for the holidays, An afternoon at a local vineyard can be truly heavenly with friends or as a romantic getaway…a time to enjoy this unique time in history secluded with the ones you love.

  • Miss Effie’s Country Flowers – first You pick flower farm in Iowa – Donahue, Iowa.
  • Pride of the Wapsi – Pumpkins and sunflowers Long Grove IA
  • Wilson’s Orchard and Farms (apples) Iowa City Iowa
  • Shady Knoll Pumpkin Patch Moline IL
  • Lakeside Pines (Christmas trees) – Hillsdale IL
  • Galena Cellars – vineyard and winery Galena IL

Prices vary


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Budget Travel Lists

5 long weekend trips across Texas

As the second largest state in the U.S., Texas delivers big when it comes to things to see and places to visit. A long weekend offers the perfect opportunity to check out more of what the state has to offer, whether you’re a native interested in exploring your own backyard or you’re a traveler looking to make the most of your visit. 1. Wind Down in Wine Country You don’t need to jet off to Napa Valley to enjoy a wine-filled retreat. Instead, head to the center of the state to enjoy the Hill Country, where over 50 wineries dot the rolling green hills. Founded in 1846, the charming city of Fredericksburg makes for a good home base for your weekend trip through Texas wine country. Here, you can take your pick from unique lodging options like a luxurious room at Hoffman Haus bed and breakfast, or a quaint cottage at Fredericksburg Herb Farm designed like the Sunday houses German settlers used when they came into the city on the weekends. To get going with the wine, stroll up and down Main Street where you’ll find many tasting rooms from popular wineries like Grape Creek and Narrow Path. Alternatively, you can hop on one of the town’s wine tours and shuttles to leave all the logistics to the professionals and visit multiple vineyards in the area. When it’s time to take a break between tastings, immerse yourself in the German heritage of Fredericksburg with a beer at The Ausländer, a cozy meal at Rathskeller, or a swanky dinner at Otto’s German Bistro. Want to balance your culinary explorations with a bit of history? Pay a visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War or the Pioneer Museum. The fun doesn’t stop at Fredericksburg’s borders, so carve out some time to check out the other attractions around the Hill Country. Outdoor lovers shouldn’t miss a hike up Enchanted Rock, a massive granite dome just 20 minutes north of Fredericksburg. Also worth a stop is Luckenbach, a tiny community that consists of a general store, bar, and dancehall where you can catch some excellent country music. Cypress Valley. Photo: Cindy Brzostowski 2. Hide Away in the Highland Lakes Region Why visit just one lake when you can visit multiple? Stretching west out of Austin, there’s a chain of lakes made by dams in the Colorado River known as the Highland Lakes region. Along this stretch, there are so many recreation options that you may have trouble deciding how exactly you should spend your long weekend. For starters, there’s all the boating, fishing, and swimming your little heart may desire at any one of the lakes, including Lake Buchanan, Lake LBJ, and Lake Travis. Those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground will be in heaven hiking the trails of nearby parks like Inks Lake State Park and Pace Bend Park. There’s even more fun to be had from deep underground all the way to the treetops. Go under the surface to see stunning cave formations on a guided cave tour at Longhorn Cavern State Park, which was developed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Then there’s Cypress Valley, where you can join a zoom your way through the canopy on one of their ziplining tours. Better still, you can set free your inner kid and actually stay in one of the property’s gorgeous treehouses. Aside from those cozy nests, local accommodation options include lakeside resorts for anyone who wants to stay in style for the weekend like Lake Austin Spa Resort and Lakeway Resort and Spa. When all that adventuring gets your stomach rumbling, you can’t go wrong with a hefty chicken-fried steak and slice of pie at Blue Bonnet Cafe, or with some mouthwatering brisket alongside a side of their famous butter beans at Opie’s Barbecue. Galveston. Photo: Cindy Brzostowski 3. Go Out to the Gulf Coast If a beachy getaway is more your vibe, drive to Galveston Bay and the Gulf Coast just outside of Houston. You’ll probably want to spend most of your long weekend exploring Galveston Island itself, which offers a mix of historic sites and modern tourist attractions. Along with its beautiful old mansions and the historic downtown known as the Strand, one of Galveston’s draws is simply the beach. There are a few spots to pick from like Stewart Beach or East Beach. If you really want to get a lay of the land, go for a walk along the Seawall, which is 10 miles long and was built between 1902 and 1904 as hurricane protection. Eventually, you’ll come across the historic Pleasure Pier where you can hop on a ride or have a go at some carnival games. While you’re on the island, don’t forget to check out Moody Gardens, a popular destination that stands out with its three giant pyramids. One houses a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium, one is a rainforest exhibit, and one is a discovery museum. Conveniently right next door is Schlitterbahn waterpark, yet another local attraction calling for your attention. From Galveston, you can take the ferry across to Bolivar Peninsula to explore Fort Travis, the first fort established by the Republic of Texas in 1836, and has even more beaches. Alternatively, you can head north to Kemah, a city on Galveston Bay that’s known for it's boardwalk full of family-friendly entertainment. South Padre Island. Photo: Cindy Brzostowski 4. Get Some Sun on South Padre Island If you can make the time for the drive, another relaxing island destination awaits all the way at the southern tip of Texas: South Padre Island. While the journey out here might be long, you’ll be rewarded with whiter beaches and warmer temperatures. You may have heard of South Padre before as the hotspot for spring breakers, but there’s so much more here to enjoy than its wild reputation may let on. Of course, there’s the beach, and there are access points all up and down the eastern coast of the island. For fewer crowds, drive all the way up to the aptly named End of the Road, which is the northernmost point where the island’s main road ends. From there you can walk out over picturesque dunes to quieter expanses of seashell-covered beach without any resorts in sight. Wildlife lovers and families traveling with kids should pencil in time at two of South Padre’s most popular attractions: Sea Turtle, Inc and the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary. Sea Turtle, Inc is an organization focused on rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing injured sea turtles, as well as educating the public about conservation efforts. At their center, visitors can check out the resident turtles as well as the ones there as patients. At the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary, walk along the long, beautiful boardwalk to get an excellent opportunity for birdwatching. It’s not just about the birds here though—they also have an alligator sanctuary on-site, which is home to the 12-foot, 6-inch–long gator known as Big Padre. For sustenance, you have to have some seafood while you’re down here. Blackbeard’s, Ceviche Ceviche, and Sea Ranch are all good options. Big Bend National Park. Photo: Cindy Brzostowski 5. Escape to West Texas Going out to West Texas feels like entering another world. Things are quieter, the distances are longer, and the sky feels bigger. Since it might’ve taken you a good portion of your long weekend just to drive out here, one thing you definitely want to make time for is Big Bend National Park. Going right up to the border with Mexico, this 800,000-acre park has numerous trails across desert and mountains for hikers of all levels. Santa Elena Canyon is one of the park’s highlights and also happens to be a quick, easy hike to tackle if you don’t have too much time. For lodging, you can camp within the park, or you might rather rest your head in Terlingua, an old mining town turned quirky ghost town. Don’t worry, they have accommodations there like the chic, modern casitas at Willow House. Elsewhere in West Texas, one of the most popular places to spend the night is El Cosmico in Marfa where you’ll find unusual abodes like yurts, teepees, and safari tents. Speaking of Marfa, that small town is another gem of the area that beckons many creatives with its respectable art scene. From the Chinati Foundation to various smaller galleries, Marfa is like a contemporary art oasis in the middle of the desert. Out here, you won’t have any trouble seeing a sea of stars in the night sky, but for extra close viewing, check if you can catch a star party at the McDonald Observatory. When making your way in or out for the weekend, you may want to swing a trip to Monahans Sandhills State Park where pristine sand dunes make up an ocean of sand. While you’re free to explore the area on foot, a far more fun way is to rent a sand disk and surf your way down the many peaks—some up to 50-feet high.

Budget Travel Lists

24 safe budget getaways for spring

According to a recent study by vacation rental search engine HomeToGo, bookings are up by 46% compared to last year, with travelers opting to stay within 257 miles of home. Hotels and campgrounds are getting in on the action, with Hilton offering up to 20% off rates at certain properties and free night deals at Sun RV Resorts in Arizona, California and Texas when you book by March 7 and travel by March 31. If remote cabins or unique camping experiences are more your style, check Vacation Renter and RVC Outdoor Destinations for more off-the-beaten-path ideas. If you’re willing to wear a mask, practice social distancing and follow health and safety protocols, spring might be a good time to venture out, especially with hotels and destinations doing all they can to keep employees and visitors safe. Here are 24 socially distanced trips you can drive to this spring, all under $200 a night. New York Save on a Finger Lakes stay at 1795 Acorn Inn, located near Canandaigua Lake about five hours from NYC. Mention the Winter Weekend Package to unlock nightly rates from $130, daily breakfast and a free third night when you book a two-night stay Thursday through Sunday by April 25. Pennsylvania Choose from cabins, cottages, yurts, bungalows, villas, RV and tent campsites and a 52-room lodge at Lake Raystown Resort, about 3.5 hours from Philadelphia or 2.5 hours from Pittsburgh. Bike or hike the 400-acre property’s scenic trails, visit the WildRiver Waterpark or Proud Mary Showboat and dine by the water at the Marina Café. Nightly rates start at $139 for bungalows and villas, $124 for cottages, $94 for cabins, $89 for lodge accommodations and $30 for tent campsites. Washington, D.C. The Cherry Blossom package at The Ven at Embassy Row includes a cherry blossom themed amenity, hand-painted postcards designed by a local artist, a commemorative lapel pin and a $15 rideshare app credit, with rates from $154 a night when you book and stay through April 30. Virginia Head to Southwest Virginia for fewer crowds and beautiful natural surroundings roughly 2.5 hours from Charlotte or six hours from DC. Bring your bike and take on the 35-mile Virginia Creeper trail, hike to the highest point in the state at Mount Rogers or see the wild ponies in Grayson Highland State Park. At The Sessions Hotel in Bristol, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum package includes breakfast for two and admission to the museum, from $194 a night. Nearby, rates at The Bristol Hotel, which makes its home in a restored 1925 landmark building, start at $139 a night. Near Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia, the Vacationing on the Clock package at Massanutten Resort comes with two complimentary cups of coffee, nightly rates from $195 and your choice of lift tickets or waterpark passes when you book and stay at least two nights Thursday through Sunday in a one-bedroom condo by March 7. South Carolina Visit Myrtle Beach, home to more than 60 miles of Atlantic beaches and 50 mini-golf courses. Stop by the LW Paul Living History Farm, stroll through Brookgreen Gardens or treat yourself to a private kayak tour with Black River Outdoors to enjoy the area from the water. Stay at Island Vista, where each room has a balcony overlooking the beach (from $87) or Hotel BLUE, home to South Carolina’s first swim-up pool bar (from $75). About 30 minutes from Charleston, Wild Dunes Resort, a Hyatt property in Island of Palms, offers plenty of outdoor space, tennis courts, a fancy 36-hole championship golf course and opportunities to fish or try stand-up paddleboarding. Rates start at $160 a night this spring. History buffs will love the Olde English District, located about an hour’s drive from Charlotte or Columbia, where you can learn about the area’s African American heritage and Revolutionary War history at a living history site, enjoy the great outdoors at Goodale State Park or get a bird’s eye view by sailplane with Bermuda High Soaring. Nightly rates at the charming East Main Guest House Bed and Breakfast in Rock Hill start at $129. Florida Celebrate Tampa’s Cuban heritage with a staycation at Hotel Haya, located on 7th Avenue in the heart of Ybor City. The Grab & Go Breakfast package, available from $174 a night, includes a homemade guava pastelito, a can of traditional con leche and fresh fruit. Between Pensacola and Panama City Beach, Hotel Effie Sandestin’s location within the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort and proximity to Silver Sands Premium Outlets make it a great base for those in need of a round of golf or a shopping spree, with rates from $189 a night. In the Florida Keys, you’ll save 20% on weeknight vacation rentals or motel stays of at least two nights at Pelican RV Resort & Marina in Marathon (from $165) or Riptide RV Resort & Marina in Key Largo (from $150) when you book by April 30 and stay Sunday through Thursday by May 31. Mississippi Calling all Elvis fans: Whether you’re heading to Tupelo as part of a larger road trip from Memphis or Nashville or just enjoying the city’s history, music and foodie scene in its own right, there’s a lot to see here. Tour the King’s birthplace by bike, take a scenic drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway and camp lakeside at nearby Tombigbee State Park, with cabins from $60 a night and fully equipped vacation cottages from $75 a night. Texas Try a Texas Hill Country getaway or day trip this spring to see the wildflower bloom in March and April, enjoy Barbecue Month celebrations in May or spend time wandering charming towns like Fredericksburg, which celebrates its 175th birthday this year. Aviation enthusiasts will love the Hangar Hotel in Fredericksburg, a quirky hotel built to resemble a 1940s WWII hangar (rooms from $149), while an hour away in Dripping Springs, Lucky Arrow Retreat offers luxury yurts and cabins (from $159–$199) next door to the Bell Springs Winery and Brewing Company. Families near Dallas can enjoy early access to the Hilton Anatole’s new JadeWaters waterpark, which will be open to hotel guests on weekends from April 30 to May 31 before opening fully on Memorial Day weekend. Packages offer a $50 daily credit or complimentary breakfast, from $169 a night. About 90 minutes from Dallas in East Texas, the Deer Lake Cabins Ranch Resort in Mount Vernon offers more than 800 acres of trails and lakes so you can really get back to nature. Spend your days hiking, fishing, feeding farm animals, horseback riding or cruising around on a UTV, and your nights at a cowboy cookout or on a hayride, with cottages from $189 a night. Ohio The Mohicans Treehouse Resort & Wedding Venue, roughly 90 minutes from Cleveland or Columbus, is offering discounts through March 16 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday treehouse stays. Use promo code BUDGET2021 to unlock $200 nightly rates for the Moonlight, White Oak, Little Red, Old Pine and The Nest treehouses and $250 rates for the Tin Shed, Silver Bullet, The View and El Castillo. In Columbus, check out the Chihuly collection at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, wander the historic German Village district, take on the largest free outdoor climbing wall in the country at Scioto Audubon Metropark and get some air along the 253-mile Scioto Mile. Springtime rates at Moxy Columbus Short North start at $91 a night, while the Work Anywhere Stay Pass package includes early 6 a.m. check-in, late 6 p.m. check-out, complimentary Wi-Fi and a $10 food and beverage credit. Illinois Those seeking a pet-friendly staycation should check out the Radisson Blu Chicago’s VIPup package, which includes a doggie bed, as well as a welcome toy, portable food and water bowls, gourmet treats, a food and drink mat and a waste bag dispenser, with rates from $149 a night. Wisconsin There’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had in Door County, just 45 minutes from Green Bay and two hours from Milwaukee. History buffs should head to the Heritage Village living history museum in Sturgeon Bay, which will be reopening in May, as well as the Door County Maritime Museum to learn about the area’s shipbuilding past. Stay at Eagle Harbor Inn, a charming bed and breakfast in Ephraim, with rates from $98 a night. Nearby, the Fox Cities area offers many outdoor attractions — head to High Cliff State Park near Lake Winnebago to hike one of the park’s seven historic trails or try your hand at making maple syrup in Bubolz Nature Preserve. Stay in Appleton and book the CopperLeaf Boutique Hotel & Spa’s Winter Warmer package — you’ll get complimentary hot chocolate, two handcrafted stoneware coffee mugs, two mini bottles of Dr. McGillicuddy’s liqueur and a $50 credit toward dining or spa treatments, from $174 through March 31 — or the Girls’ Night on the Town package, which includes a bottle of wine and a $20 minibar credit (from $150). South Dakota The Badlands and Black Hills are full of scenic outdoor spaces worthy of a road trip, like Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, just to name a few. Visit Custer State Park to see the buffalo roam, then stay onsite at Custer State Park Resort, where you can save 20% and receive a $20 credit on two-night stays (or save 25% and receive a $25 credit) when you stay between April 26 and May 22 and mention the Stay and Save This Spring package. Rates for lodge and cabin rooms start at $140 a night. Colorado Those booking two weekend stays in Arrowhead, Bearclaw or Foxtail cabins at the River Run Resort in Granby will get one free weekend stay when they book and travel by March 28. Two-weekend packages start at $520 (which breaks down to $130 a night) and come with six free bowling games, plus you can add extra nights for 20% less if you want to stay longer. Back in Denver, The Curtis has a great package for groups who want to enjoy a safe getaway together. The Choose Your Adventure package lets up to 24 guests take over an entire floor — that’s 12 guest rooms at double occupancy — from $2,000 a night, which breaks down to about $166 per room or $83 per person. You’ll also get to book your choice of socially distanced adventures, like laser tag, a silent disco or murder mystery game night, among others. Washington For an epic outdoor escape with a luxury resort twist, head 90 minutes from Seattle to Suncadia Resort, a Hyatt property situated among more than 6,000 acres of beautiful mountain scenery in Cle Elum. Spend some time hiking or biking more than 40 miles of trails in Wenatchee Washington National Forest or trying your hand at archery or axe throwing, among other activities, with rates from $171 a night.

Budget Travel Lists

24 Socially Distant Getaways and Staycations You Can Do This Winter

While many are staying home because of the pandemic, U.S. hotels and destinations have continued to carefully reopen, with contactless check-in and other cleanliness and hygiene protocols in place to help keep visitors and employees safe. A recent study by vacation rental search engine HomeToGo found that U.S. travelers are seeking more private, rural getaways with the family, with lots of short last-minute trips being planned — 44% to warm places by the beach and 24% to winter-weather destinations. The study also showed a 594% increase in searches for rentals near the Smoky Mountains compared to last year, indicating a preference for escapes to remote locations in the great outdoors this season. Whether you’re craving some quiet time in nature or an urban staycation closer to home, there are still plenty of options for those willing to travel safely — that means wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and adhering to local health and safety regulations. Here’s a look at 24 socially distant trips you can book this winter, all for under $250 per night. Maine In Camden, Hartstone Inn & Hideaway’s two-night package includes a tasting menu for two, daily breakfast and your choice of winter amenities — snowshoe rental, tickets to Gardens Aglow at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, a personalized Hartstone Inn cookbook or half-day lift tickets to nearby Camden Snow Bowl — from $199 per person. Use promo code Winter and book by March 31, 2021. New Hampshire The Sailmaker’s House in Portsmouth is offering a Skate & Stay deal now through February 28, with rates from $119 per night and two adult ice skating passes to nearby Puddle Duck pond available as a package add-on for $25. Vermont Stoweflake Mountain Resort’s Sensational Snowshoe Adventure package gives you complimentary parking, Wi-Fi and access to the Sports Club, one-day snowshoe and Nordic pole rentals for two and vouchers for breakfast or dinner at Charlie B’s. Rates from $224 per night based on double occupancy; book by April 14, 2021. Save 20% on accommodations, onsite dining or spa treatments at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort and Spa, in Burlington when you book by March 31, 2021. You’ll also receive hot chocolate and fireside s’mores each night of your stay. Note that you must charge dining at The Tavern or Junction, cooking classes at Cook Academy or spa treatments to the room in order to receive the 20% discount. Rates from $119 per night. Want to stay longer? Weekly rates are available from $109 per night for stays of at least seven nights through August 20, 2021. Connecticut The Inn at Middletown’s Sensational Family Winter Escape package includes a $40 room upgrade to a boutique one-bedroom suite, free Wi-Fi, one complimentary rollaway per room (based on availability) and snow tubing passes at Powder Ridge when you book and stay by April 30, 2021. Rates from $156 per night. New York The Rose and Thistle Bed and Breakfast in Cooperstown has a two-night package that includes two country breakfasts and a bottle of wine for $200 when you stay Sunday thru Saturday by March 31, 2021. Just mention the package when booking. Also in Cooperstown, The Curl Up and Unwind package at The Otesaga includes daily breakfast, complimentary Wi-Fi and parking and a signature hot cocoa mix kit created by the property’s culinary specialists. Book by March 31, 2021, to access rates from $149 per night. The Lake George Winterfest is happening every weekend in February and you can save 15% on area hotels by buying a $30 adult Winterfest Wristband for activities like axe throwing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding or fat tire biking (kids’ tickets cost $15 each), bringing most area hotel rates below $200 per night. Washington, D.C. Thompson Washington D.C.’s Popcorn & Pints package treats you to one in-room movie, two bottles of Atlas District Commons beer and one bag of Capitol Kettle Corn, as well as perks like late 1 p.m. checkout and free parking. Rates from $199 per night when you book by March 31 for stays through April 4, 2021. Maryland The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge, Maryland, is offering a 15% discount on rates and daily breakfast for two as part of its Getaway Winter special. Use promo code GET19A to unlock rates from $144 per night when you book by February 28 for stays thru April 3, 2021. Virginia Get your cabin-in-the-woods escape with a stay at James Riverfront Cabin, a cozy spot by the James River that’s within driving distance of the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway and some of the area’s best breweries and wineries. Rates from $159 per night, with enough room for up to seven people. At The Cabin on Back Creek — where rates start at $175 per night with a minimum two-night stay required — you’ll have two rooms to stretch out in and the chance to see or even help the owners make maple syrup. It’s nice and remote, too, about a three-hour drive from Richmond and 2.5 hours from Roanoke. ATV fans should check out The Real McCoy Cabins, a luxury campground located near the Pocahontas and Hatfield McCoy ATV trails, with rates from $139 per night. Train lovers can stay in a refurbished 1926 C&O Caboose, complete with Wi-Fi, access to streaming services and everything else you’ll need for a comfortable stay in the Virginia wilderness. Rates from $195 per night. Florida For a South Florida beach getaway, book now through February 12 to save 21% on rates all year long at SLS Brickell, SLS LUX Brickell, Hyde Midtown Miami and SLS South Beach during SBE Hotels’ winter sale. In Central Florida, Margaritaville Resort Orlando is offering rates from $149 per night through its Stay in Paradise package, which includes a one-time $50 resort credit and daily breakfast for two when you book at least two nights. Illinois The historic Drake Hotel in Chicago is celebrating its 100th year anniversary by offering 100 days of $100 rates when you book and stay by April 10, 2021. Nearby, The Drake Oak Brook offers an ideal wintertime escape, with more than 10 acres of gardens perfect for snowman-building and a cozy spot to warm up as you sip cocktails and play vintage board games by the fire. Rates from $158 per night. Want to take your beloved fur baby along for the ride? Hotel Zachary at Gallagher Way’s Bark & Park package comes with food and water bowls, a dog bed, a branded welcome amenity just for your pup, waived pet fees and free parking. Rates from $154 per night when you use promo code ZJ5 and book by November 24, 2021. Ohio The Mohicans Treehouse Resort & Wedding Venue, located about 90 minutes from Cleveland or Columbus, is offering special discounts on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday treehouse stays now through March 16, 2021, when you use promo code BUDGET2021. With the discount, rates for the Moonlight, White Oak, Little Red, Old Pine and The Nest treehouses start at $200 per night, while rates for the Tin Shed, Silver Bullet, The View and El Castillo start at $250 a night. Tennessee If you’re in desperate need of a girlfriend getaway this winter, the Margaritaville Hotel Nashville’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun package comes with complimentary margaritas from Fins Bar, an in-room party pack, a $25 resort credit and late check-out when you book at least two nights. Rates from $174 per night. Wisconsin Give snowshoeing a try at Nine Mile Forest in Wasau or High Cliff State Park, about 45 minutes south of Green Bay. Lake Winnebago makes the perfect place for ice fishing, while the Dane Co CamRock Trail outside Madison and WinMan Trails at the North Lakeland Discovery Center are ideal for fat tire biking. Check out the ice caves near Lake Superior or along the Apostle Island National Lakeshore, or even take on the waves in Lake Michigan — there’s a reason this area is known as the Malibu of the Midwest. Whatever you do this winter, base yourself at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, with rates from $161 a night that include access to its onsite 54,000-square-foot indoor waterpark. Colorado If you’ve always wanted to try winter trail running, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, head to Estes Park, a lovely town 90 minutes from Denver that’s smackdab in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest. Stay at the YMCA of the Rockies, which rents out budget-friendly cabins and double rooms from $109 a night. Wyoming Head to Cheyenne to try your hand at wintertime activities like ice boating and ice fishing at Curt Gowdy State Park; snow tubing, sledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at Pole Mountain; and ATVing at Terry Bison Ranch. Little America Hotel & Resort Cheyenne is close to all the action, with cozy Western-style rooms from $96 per night for up to four people.

Budget Travel Lists

Budget Travel guide to the Florida Keys

If you’re looking for a road trip that combines nightlife, laid back beaches, and a little Key Lime pie, the four hour drive from Miami to Key West is the perfect adventure. The Florida Keys are a chain of islands just south of Miami that stretch 125 miles, and the most ideal time to visit is during the spring months from March to May or during the fall after hurricane season has ended on November 1st. But truly, visiting the Keys is a good idea no matter what time of year. Whether it's a family vacation, a girlfriend getaway, or a solo expedition, there’s something for everyone in the Keys. Read on for a guide to where to stay, what to do, and where to eat along the way. MIAMI If you’re flying into Miami, I recommend spending at least one night on South Beach. There’s a wide range of accommodations - the Fontainebleau Miami Beach (starting at $350) or the The Setai (starting at $530) are good places to spot A-list celebrities. But if you’re craving something a little more lowkey (this is Budget Travel, after all), book a room at Miami’s favorite hostel The Broken Shaker (starting under $30 a night for a shared room) or the Selina Miami (starting at $75) that’s tucked away in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. If you’re just driving through Miami and only have a few hours to spare, find a parking garage (street parking is notoriously hard to find), and stroll down Ocean Drive. Rent a bike, watch the bodybuilders, or snap a picture in front of one of the unique lifeguard stands For the full Miami experience, book a table at one of the many restaurants along Ocean Drive like the South Beach incon, A Fish Called Avalon ($$$). For something a little more understated, check out one of my favorite restaurants near Lincoln Road mall, Taqueria Bodega ($$). The tacos are authentic and the sodas are homemade. For a real treat, use the “secret door” in the back to enjoy a hidden after hours lounge. Big brown pelicans in the Florida Keys. ©romrodinka/Getty Images KEY LARGO Once you leave the neon lights of Miami, things slow down considerably. The keys have a laid back, hippie vibe that thumbs its nose at its northern neighbor. Located about 70 miles from Miami, Key Largo is the largest section of the keys and a gateway to the rest of the Florida Keys. You won’t find any highrises in Key Largo, but you’ll find a lot of RV campsites, kitschy souvenir shops, and billboards advertising a chance to feed alligators. Accommodations range from quiet luxury to bare bones. Check out the Playa Largo Resort and Spa (starting at $219) where you can lounge in a hammock on the white sand beach and order drinks from the poolside bar. But for something a little more off the beaten path, check into any one of the condos, airbnbs, or smaller hotels along the main highway like the Coconut Palm Inn (starting at $159). Key Largo is also home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park, which is great for scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. Because of its small beach area, John Pennekamp is more suited for activities, so if you’re looking for a beach with a more sandy area to lay out on, try nearby Cannon Beach or Far Beach. Big Betsy the Giant Lobster is a featured roadside attraction in Islamorada. ISLAMORADA From Key Largo head south on US Highway 1 for about 17 miles to Islamorada. The area, named by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, means “Purple Isle.” And although it’s only 20 miles long, there’s still plenty to do. For a quick bite, stop by the food truck Taco Jalisco. Locals love the Mexican eatery, and you can order tacos and hang out next door in the Florida Keys Brewing Company beer garden and listen to live music. Across the street is Morada Bay, an open air restaurant directly facing the Florida bay. You can order from the more casual beach cafe side or eat the upscale Pierre’s Lounge. Either way, enjoy a stunning sunset while sipping a Key Lime Colada or Cucumber Martini. We highly recommend the Key Lime Colada - it's a must-have. Stop in Islamorada at the Rain Barrel Artist's Village for some local handmade crafts and boutiques. You'll know you've found it when you see Betsy the Giant Lobster out front. Another must see attraction in Islamorada is Robbie’s. The marina is a hub for water activities like parasailing, jet skiing, and paddle boarding, but the main attraction is feeding the tarpon. Walk through the vibrant open air marketplace to the back of the marina, and after paying the $2.25 admission, you can buy a $4.00 bucket of fish to feed the monster tarpon that can grow up to 8 feet long. After the adrenaline rush of Robbies, settled in for the 30 mile drive to Marathon. MARATHON The road between Islamorada and Marathon is lined with iconic stilt houses, nature trails, and some of the best beaches in Florida. In Marathon, get your swimsuits and cameras ready. I recommended visiting Bahia Honda State Park. There's a $8 per vehicle entry fee (plus a county surcharge), but the views are priceless. Step onto the fine white sand, and wade out into the crystalline waters or take the short hike up the beach trail and snap pictures off the Old Bahia Honda Bridge that was built in the 1900s. Other nearby beaches to check out are Sombrero or Cocoplum Beach. After splashing around, it’s time for the final stretch to Key West, just 50 miles away. Watch the sunset from Mallory Square. Photo by Laura Brown. KEY WEST One of the most spectacular views of the road trip is driving over the famous 7 mile bridge that starts in Knights Key in Marathon and ends in Little Duck Key. The commute feels like you’re driving across the ocean, and on a sunny day the sun glitters off the turquoise waters, making it hard to look away. If you need a jolt of caffeine, head over to the Cuban Coffee Queen. There are several locations, but if you want to announce your arrival to your Instagram followers with a picture in front of the “Greetings From Key West” mural, be sure to visit the Margaret street location (284 Margaret St). Once you reach Key West, head straight to the “90 miles to Cuba” buoy. The marker is a huge attraction, and lines can get long. If it’s your first time in the Keys, it’s worth getting a photo. Don’t let the long lines dissuade you - there’s always something to keep you entertained. People in Key West are talkative and friendly, and you can buy fresh coconut water or shaved ice from one of the street vendors while you wait. Besides you’re now on Key West time, which means everything is a little slower. Key West is made for walking, but there are several ways to get around town. I recommend parking in a lot for the day and then either renting a scooter or golf cart. Not ready to brave the roads? Hop onto the Duval Loop, a free public bus that will take you around downtown Key West. Make sure you catch a sunset from Mallory Square. You can also tour Ernest Hemingway's Key West house, known for its famous 6-toed cats. If it’s your first time in Key West, it’s worth it to check out some of the well known establishments like Blue Heaven restaurant or the famous Sloppy Joes and Hog’s Breath Saloon bars. But if you want something different, check out restaurants like Santiago’s Bodega, Mo’s Restaurant, El Siboney, or Bad Boy Burrito. Some lively options for bars include Tiki House, The Rum Bar. or Captain Tony’s Saloon. It’s not a trip to Key West without some Key Lime pie. While there are many places that claim to serve the best pie, you can’t go wrong with these three: The Key Lime Pie Company, Key Lime Pie Bakery, or Kermit's Key Lime Shop. My advice? At the end of a long day of exploring Key West, pick the closest one and enjoy a cool, tart slice of pie in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Explore the giant fortress at Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo by Laura Brown. DRY TORTUGAS Key West offers a launch point for people who would like to experience one of America's most remote National Parks. Dry Tortugas National Park is located 70 miles west of Key West, and can only be accessed by boat or sea plane, both of which leave from Key West and can be booked at https://www.drytortugas.com/. Those who make the trip to Dry Tortugas will get a day of exploring an old brick coastal fortress in Fort Jefferson, or snorkel the protected coral reefs. For an additional fee, you can camp overnight at Fort Jefferson, which offers some of the best stargazing options on the East Coast. You'll see several shipwrecks from old boats that hit the reefs, and get a new appreciation for the people who lived and worked in the Florida Keys.

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