Yellowstone National Park, covering parts of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, is best known for the Old Faithful geyser, which won't disappoint with its spectacular display, Yellowstone is also home to 1,000 miles of hiking trails, 67 species of mammals (including bears, moose, and, thanks to a successful reintroduction in 1995, more than 300 wolves), and ranger programs such as walks, hikes, and campfire programs that can help you get the most out of this crown jewel of the national park system.
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Yellowstone is a wildly popular national park, but you can find a wide range of lodgings, including some with budget-minded rates, at yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with its miles of sand, wildly popular boardwalk, charter fishing expeditions, and Ripley's Aquarium (where you can get nose-to-nose with sharks), will keep you busy while the sun shines, and its world-class eateries roll out an irresistible southern-style welcome with local micro-brews, seafood buffets, and oceanfront tables.
The sun rising over Myrtle Beach is a sight few travelers can forget. Families love the array of activities and friendly atmosphere at this oceanside escape. We love Myrtle Beach Seaside Resorts for their great locations and rates.
America's most popular national park, a major theme park, and miles of trails and streams for a reasonable price? Yep. Head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in North Carolina and Tennessee, for fishing, hiking, and scenic drives like the six-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
While you're visiting the Great Smoky Mountains, don't forget to spend at least one day at 150-acre Dollywood for authentic Tennessee music, food, and, of course, thrill rides such as the Wild Eagle, Mystery Mine, and River Rush roller coaster (pictured here). The Park Vista DoubleTree in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, provides good access to both the national park and Dollywood, and features two restaurants, an indoor pool, and mountain views (doubletree3.hilton.com).
A major American city that is as affordable as it is friendly, Chicago welcomes visitors from every corner of the world with its second-to-none theater, improv comedy such as Second City, blues venues such as House of Blues, and its rollicking Navy Pier (pictured here) along Lake Michigan.
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Chicago's unparalleled Art Institute museum (where you'll find Edward Hopper's moody diner painting, Nighthawks, and Georges Serraut's ground-breaking pointillist masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte) is a must-see. The Allerton Hotel on Magnificent Mile is smack in the middle of a shopper's mecca and evokes the spirit of 1920s Chicago (theallertonhotel.com).
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If natural history with an air of mystery is your thing, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, may be your perfect summer vacation. The world's longest cave system, these limestone caverns can be navigated with the help of park rangers, and programs range from the tried-and-true, one-of-a-kind major paths (ideal for all ages and interest levels) to muddier, darker options that the more adventurous among you will revel in. This time of year, lodging near the park tends to fill up, but you can still find affordable options a short drive away. Super 8 Munford is about a half-hour drive from the park (super8.com).
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Before you cross the California coast off your to-do list for this year, know that Morro Bay, on the central coast not far from the sprawling Hearst Castle, can be a surprising bargain for travelers. With a world-class natural history musem, iconic Morro Rock, a beautiful harbor, and, oh yeah, the world's largest ocean just down the street, Morro Bay remains one of the Golden State's "hidden gems."
The amazing Hearst Castle, not far from Morro Bay, is worth at least one day trip (there are several guided tours, each devoted to one aspect of the unique grounds and art collection). While it's no castle, the Comfort Inn Downtown will give you a warm welcome to the coastal town of Morro Bay, with easy access to Morro Rock and other sites (comfortinn.com0).
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If you don't want to have to decide between great museums and relaxing mountain hikes, book a week in the Berkshire Mountains, in western Massachusetts, where you can revel in both. Explore one of the U.S.'s largest collections of modern art at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams; see the comprehensive collection at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown; view the Shaker collection in Pittsfield (pictured here); and step back into 19th-century New England by crossing the border into Bennington, Vermont, for the Grandma Moses collection at the Bennington Museum and Grandma Moses Schoolhouse. Holiday Inn Berkshires is in North Adams, Massachusetts (holidayinn.com).
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Michigan's lakeshores aren't exactly under the radar—Midwesterners have long regarded locales like the Upper Peninsula and Mackinac Island as the best places for a family vacation. But they remain underrated among travelers from farther away and if you're still on the fence about where to spend a week before school starts again in September, head for Mackinaw City, a half-hour ferry ride from Mackinac Island's Victorian homes and stunning state park.
Mackinac Island is a Victorian-style community with picturesque buildings and, if you visit a little later in the year, stunning fall colors. Days Inn and Suites Mackinaw City Bridgeview Lodge puts you near Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and local shopping (daysinn.com).
The mountains, the ocean, the pine-scented air! You may have thought a trip to Acadia National Park, Maine, was off-limits pricewise for summer vacation. But this popular, well-booked area is still a budget options if you're willing to book lodging a short drive away. Acadia is for travelers who like their seaside a little rough around the edges, with cliffs, trails, and surprisingly empty beaches.
Relaxed, uncluttered Maine beaches are waiting in Acadia National Park! Ramada Ellsworth is 18 miles from Bar Harbor and walking distance from an L.L. Bean outlet (ramada.com).
Orlando in summer! If you've been putting off a trip to theme-park paradise because of the expense, summer can offer some nice discounts on hotel rates. Sure, it's hot down here in summer, but finding deals near Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, and Walt Disney World may take the sting out of some of the park admission.
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A trip to Orlando can "transform" your kids' summer from "ho-hum" to "hooray!" Wyndham Orlando Resort is less than 20 minutes from the major parks, includes three restaurants, three pools, a health club, and even an on-site ice cream parlor (wyndham, com).
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