5 vacations for under $400: take off for a three-day outdoor getaway that won’t break the bank – Ventureout
How far can you stretch four $100 bills in these tightwad times? Our bargain-minded writer managed to find five escapes ranging from the Florida Keys to southern Oregon–all for less than $400 for a long weekend (transportation and taxes not included). Plus, she’s thrown in a few splurge options worth the extra cash!
Wallet-Friendly Wilderness Retreat
Rockwood, Maine, two hours northwest of Bangor International Airport
Grand total $335 (accommodations, $165; food, about $100; fitness activities, about $70)
Budget digs Stay in a cozy, rustic cabin at The Birches Resort (800-825-9453, birches.com) with a friend; rates start at just $55 each per night. Cabins offer fully equipped kitchens and electricity, and some even have fireplaces. This four-season resort sits on the shore of Moosehead Lake, Maine’s largest at 40 miles long.
Affordable fitness Participate in guided canoeing, kayaking or mountain-biking tours through the 11,000 acres of wilderness surrounding The Birches, or pick up a free trail map from the concierge and explore on your own. Keep an eye out for the majestic bald eagle, black bear, beaver and Maine’s state animal, the moose. Take the four-hour “Socatean Sojourn” kayak trip along Socatean Stream and Bay on a moose-safari eco-tour ($59). Or tread the tree-studded granite formations of spectacular Mount Kineo, which rises 700 feet above Moosehead Lake. Indian Trail is a moderate hike, just under 2.5 miles round trip, that leads to an abandoned fire tower with a view of Quebec.
For a more challenging eight-mile hike, you can follow trails that trace the top of the mountain’s sheer cliff face. Summer access to the Mount Kineo peninsula is possible only by boat. A privately owned former Navy launch motorboat that now serves as a shuttle to Kineo docks at Rockwood Landing, three miles from The Birches ($10 round trip; 207-695-2702).
Frugal gourmet Before or after conquering Mount Kineo, fill up on country-style home cooking at the lakeside Moosehead Inn, a short walk from Rockwood Landing. Five dollars will get you a stack of buttermilk pancakes and coffee; about $6 buys a lunch of hearty chili or a chicken Caesar salad.
Sample the fresh local catch at Kelly’s Landing on the southern end of Moosehead Lake in Greenville Junction. The restaurant’s lobster and crab cakes topped with sun-dried tomato and rosemary butter ($15) are worth the 20-minute drive from Rockwood. And definitely don’t miss Kelly’s Sunday all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet ($8; 207-695-4438; kellysatmoosehead.com).
Splurge! From the resort, embark on the evening Moose Cruise Combo, which includes a dinner in The Birches Dining Room (available May to October; $50). Follow up the cruise with an hour-long Swedish massage from Katia, the resort’s talented masseuse ($95).
Key West, Fla., about 160 miles southwest of Miami International Airport via a connecting flight into Key West Airport
Grand total $294 (accommodations, $164; food, about $90; fitness activities, about $40)
Budget digs Boots, the resident black-and-white cat, greets visitors to Artist House (305-296-3977, artisthouse keywest.com). The lavender clapboard mansion-turned-hotel–the former residence of Key West painter Robert Eugene Otto–has hardwood floors, antique furniture and even a private garden with a hot tub and pond in the backyard. Rates for doubles start at $54.50 per person, per night.
Affordable fitness Walking and bicycling are the best ways to see Old Town Key West; you’ll head past maritime museums and the vendors on Duval Street. Moped Hospital rents bikes for $6 a day (866-296-1625, www.mopedhospital.com).
There are plenty of gorgeous beaches, but for a truly memorable underwater experience, visit North America’s only living coral barrier reef (just 30 minutes from Key West) with Sea-Breeze/Reef Raiders Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, and Scuba Instruction. The three-hour trip includes equipment, a free snorkeling lesson and snacks. Wetsuits are available for a $10 rental fee ($25; 800-370-7745, keywestscubadive.com).
Frugal gourmet Local favorite Bahama Mama’s Kitchen (305-294-3355) is best known for its conch fritters, red snapper and soul-food staples (from $12.75). Or stop by Waterfront Market to pick up cheap lunch fixin’s for less than $10.
Splurge! Snorkel on a Wild Dolphin Encounter & Shipwreck Snorkel tour provided by Catamaran Echo in Downtown Key West. After exploring a shallow-water shipwreck and a living coral reef, enjoy a warm shower and fresh tropical fruit, snacks, beverages and a cruise back to Key West ($79; 305-292-5044, dolphinecho.com).
Budget Babes in the Woods
Nisswa, Minn., 2.5 hours northwest of Minneapolis, in the Brainerd Lakes region
Grand total $358 (accommodations, $293; food, about $45; fitness activities, about $20)
Budget digs Built in 1919, the rustic Grand View Lodge (800-432-3788; grandviewlodge.com) on Gull Lake has a 1,500-foot-long natural lakefront beach as its backyard, an on-site state-of-the-art fitness center, seven tennis courts, a 110-foot-indoor waterslide, and swimming pools and hot tubs. Rates at the lodge, which include full breakfast and dinner at any of the resort’s six restaurants (choose the Modified American Plan), start at $97.50 per person, per day.
Affordable fitness Kayaks, canoes, paddleboats and fishing boats are free to guests. And other activities are minimally priced: Tennis clinics are included in the Modified American Plan (otherwise, they cost $15 an hour), or you can rent a bike for $5 an hour and ride two miles to the Paul Bunyan Trail, a 100-mile wooded corridor from Brainerd to Bemidji.
Frugal gourmet With breakfast and dinner covered, your biggest decision is what to order. The Dining Room at Grand View offers an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. A dinner at Sherwood Forest restaurant might include New York strip steak, grilled mahi-mahi, smoked duck or seafood puttanesca.
For lunch, hit the popular Nisswa Grille, an ideal stop along the Paul Bunyan Trail. Or ask for a packed lunch to go if you’d rather eat on the way. Menu options include wraps or sandwiches such as a teriyaki-chicken sandwich ($7.50-$10).
Splurge! Try an hour-long Aveda Indigenous Purifying Stone Massage at the resort’s Glacial Waters Spa. The treatment combines the aromatic powers of sage, cedar and sweetgrass with opposing sensations of warm and cool stones ($85).
Keep Your Spending at Bay
Pescadero, Calif., less than an hour south of San Francisco
Grand total $275 (accommodations, $75; food, about $100; fitness activities, about $100)
Budget digs Overlooking spectacular stretches of undisturbed shores and rolling hills along the Pacific coast, Costanoa Coastal Lodge & Camp is adjacent to four state parks and a wildlife reserve (650-879-1100, costanoa.com). “Rough it” in a furnished, heated canvas cabin, or enjoy such creature comforts as showers and fireplaces in the rustic lodge. Prices start at $100 per cabin for up to four people, per day. Stay on the eve of a full moon and you’ll receive a half-price discount for one of three nights.
Affordable fitness Costanoa serves as a base camp to 30,000 acres of hiking trails. Take one of the resort’s free nature hikes, such as the Franklin Point/Atkinson Bluff Loop, an easy three-mile loop that trails along the beach, cliffs, sand dunes and a marsh with a mild elevation gain. Or ply the calm waters below the rocky cliffs in a rented kayak from Venture Quest Sea Kayaking in Santa Cruz, 25 miles southeast of the lodge ($35 per day; kayaksantacruz.com).
Frugal gourmet Continental breakfasts include fresh baked goods and seasonal fruit. Have Costanoa’s general store pack you a sack lunch with a pita sandwich, salad and homemade cookies ($15). Supper fare ranges from macadamia-encrusted mahi-mahi to pesto ravioli ($7-$12 for entrees).
Splurge! The resort hosts an annual yoga retreat, April 30 through May 2, run by Yoga-Nia Adventures. Designed for both yogis and novices, the weekend includes lodging, gourmet meals, a wine and cheese reception, yoga and Nia classes and meditation (from $395 per person in a double-occupancy canvas cabin; www.yogania.com).
Takilma, Ore., less than 15 minutes southeast of Cave Junction, Ore. (near the California border)
Grand total $335 (accommodations, $135; food, about $100; fitness activities, about $100)
Budget digs Out ‘n’ About Treesort (541-592-2208; tree houses.com) stands out above the rest–literally. The Treesort is a cluster of 10 high-end treehouses, ranging from eight to 37 feet off the ground. Amenities include fully stocked kitchenettes, claw-foot bathtubs and small dining tables. Prices start at $45 for a double, per night, and include breakfast. For a group deal, try the Cavaltree, which sleeps seven (about $17 per person, per night). Ground-level cabins are available for acrophobes.
Affordable fitness Learn to climb trees using ropes and harnesses ($20 per person for an hour). Or keep your feet on the ground with a hike through nearby Siskiyou National Forest; trails range from a half-mile to 15 miles for all fitness levels. Half-day raft trips are offered in the spring and summer on the Illinois and Smith rivers ($50 per person). Or tour the local hills and creeks on horseback (from $25 per hour).
Frugal gourmet Fish tacos ($9.50) and fresh fruit margaritas ($5) are the main attractions at Carlos Restaurante in Cave Junction (541-592-4553; carlosrestaurante.com).
Splurge! After a two-day tree-climbing seminar ($400), you’ll be an expert at tying ropes and swinging from branches. Or let Treesort masseuse Amie apply her healing touch to your aching muscles with Swedish massage and reflexology techniques ($40 for an hour).
Gina DeMillo is managing editor of Hooked on the Outdoors. She once enjoyed three days in London for $400, including airfare.
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