Budget Travel

Your membership includes:

  • Access to our exclusive booking platform with private rates.
  • Newsletters with weekend getaways, trip ideas, deals & tips.
  • Sweepstakes alerts and more...
  • Don’t have an account?Get a FREE trial membership today. No credit card needed. Sign up now.
  • FREE trial membership. No credit card needed. Limited time only. Already have an account? Log in here.
    By creating an account, you agree to our Terms of Service and have read and understood the Privacy Policy
Close banner
ADVERTISEMENT

10 budget-friendly adventures across the midwest

By Terri Law
updated November 15, 2021
3627890636 7D9Aa9D5F9 C
​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


ADVERTISEMENT
Keep reading
Budget Travel Lists

Visit the 6 most stunning Japanese gardens in America

Those of us dreaming of traveling to Japan will have to practice the art of patience, as the country has currently barred leisure tourism from 152 nations including America. Fortunately, we can still experience the beauty of Japanese culture, architecture, and spirituality at authentic gardens located throughout the United States. America has over 200 public Japanese gardens, which are designed to evoke the feeling of an untouched mystical landscape. Many include traditional structures like a tatami-floored tea pavilion, and natural features such as koi fish ponds. In response to the pandemic, most gardens require guests to wear masks, and offer limited numbers of timed tickets per day. Spring gives us a short window to admire cherry blossom trees at a Japanese garden. Visitors can take part in hanami, the age-old tradition of picnicking under the pink flowers. In the age of COVID-19, the concept of “mono no aware”—a wistful recognition of impermanence, as represented by the falling blossoms—hits especially close to home. Spend time outdoors at America’s most spectacular Japanese gardens, and get immersed in the elegant culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. 1. Japanese Hill-and-Pond at Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Brooklyn, New York Brooklyn’s 52-acre Botanic Garden is famous for its visually striking Japanese Hill-and-Pond. Designed by Takeo Shiota, the Japanese garden debuted in 1915, making it one of the oldest in America. Look for a dramatic red Shinto torii perched over the 1.5 acre pond, which was modeled after Japan’s famous Miyajima Gate. The surrounding hillside gardens are carefully arranged shizen-style to highlight natural formations. A winding path turns to reveal a five-tiered waterfall, blanked by ferns that hang “just so” for a serene effect. With details such as a curving wood bridge and a tiny Shinto shrine, every vista feels like a scene from an ancient painting. Between March and May, the Cherry Esplanade explodes into color with double rows of blossoming trees. Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden houses 27 species that bud at different times, covering the “Cherry Walk” with petals ranging from white to dark pink. Open Tuesdays-Sundays (except holidays), 990 Washington Ave, 718/623-7200, bbg.org, admission $18. 2. Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon After World War II, many American cities founded Japanese gardens as a way of rebuilding cultural understanding. In 1967, Portland transformed the former Washington Park Zoo into a green space based on Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophies. Today, their Japanese Garden is considered one of most impressive in the nation. Most gardens adhere to one traditional landscaping style, but Portland’s designers decided to showcase five historical forms over 5.5 acres. The Sand and Stone Garden features swirls of gravel and minimalist boulders, which encourage the Zen contemplation of emptiness. In contrast, Kashintei Tea House sits in an otherworldly grove, prefaced by a mossy path of irregular stepping stones. The showcase extends to the present with Kengo Kuma’s LEED-certified Cultural Village, a blend of contemporary steel and glass with ancient aesthetics. Open Thursdays-Mondays, 611 SW Kingston Ave, 503/223-1321, japanesegarden.org, admission $18.95. 3. Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida South Florida has a surprising century-old connection with Japan. In the early 1900s, a group of Japanese farmers established an agricultural colony named Yamato in what is now Boca Raton. They introduced innovative crops and farming methods to stimulate the local economy, but the project failed to take off and was abandoned by the 1920s. In 1977, Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens opened to honor this local heritage. The villa has a permanent exhibit about Yamato Colony, with thousands of artifacts such as teacups and textiles. The surrounding 16 acre garden is known for its elegant strolling paths marked by stone lanterns and basins. Admire the collections of tropical plants, and don’t be surprised to see turtles, iguanas, and alligators basking in the central lake. Morikami specializes in bonsai exhibitions and classes: anyone can learn how to trim and grow a tree in the tiniest of planters. On Saturdays, witness an intricate Japanese tea ceremony at Seishin-an teahouse. Visitors can also stop by Cornell Cafe to enjoy a bento lunch on the open-air terrace. Open Tuesdays-Sundays (except holidays), 4000 Morikami Park Rd, 561/495-0233, morikami.org, admission $15. 4. Shofuso Japanese House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Since opening its doors in 1958, Shofuso’s careful attention to authenticity has reflected Philadelphia’s post-war friendship with Japan. The garden’s centerpiece is a magnificent 17th century-style house surrounded by weeping cherry trees. Designed in the shoin-style, the fully-functional home sits under a long peaked roof balanced on wood posts. Step inside rooms with tatami mats and sliding white shoji screens. In 2007, artist Hiroshi Senju installed twenty waterfall murals on mulberry paper, creating a permanent exhibit that flows with the living space. Shofuso House overlooks a koi pond and an acre of photogenic gardens. Pause to feed the fish, and contemplate the sound of a three-tiered waterfall. Look for a towering stone statue of the Buddhist bodhisattva Jizo, nestled by a wall of bamboo. (In the winter, the deity wears a bright red hat and bib for protection.) Open Wednesdays-Sundays, Lansdowne Dr & Horticultural Dr, 215/878-5097, japanphilly.org/shofuso, admission $12. 5. Seattle Japanese Garden, Seattle, Washington Seattle’s Japanese Garden was inspired by the “stroll gardens” of the Edo era. In the 17th century, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate and samurai. The daimyo, or feudal lords, built winding paths around their castles that let guests discover scenic views at every turn. Since 1960, Seattle residents have enjoyed exploring the meandering paths around the Japanese Garden’s pond. Each bend reveals dazzling details such as a zigzagging wood bridge, or a simple teahouse from Tokyo. Landscape designer Juki Iida seeded a variety of plants native both to Japan and the Pacific Northwest. He also travelled to the Cascade Mountains and brought back 500 granite boulders, which he arranged around the waterfall. The effect is natural and harmonious, revealing vistas bit by bit as you journey along the path. Open Tuesdays-Sundays, 1075 Lake Washington Blvd E., 206/684-4725, seattlejapanesegarden.org, admission $8. 6. The Cherry Blossom Grove, Washington, DC In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City, Japan, gifted 2000 cherry blossom trees to Washington as a symbol of the growing friendship between the countries. The trees were planted around the tidal basin on the National Mall, and fill the monuments with a saturated pink every spring at peak bloom. Washington, DC, holds the annual cherry blossom festival every spring (though it is cancelled this year due to COVID), which brinngs people from near and far to see the beautiful trees. Open year-round. The National Mall, DC. Free to visit. -- La Carmina is an award-winning journalist who writes the alternative travel blog La Carmina. (http://www.lacarmina.com/blog)

List pin
List pin
Road TripsBudget Travel Lists

10 of the most scenic drives in the USA

This content is sponsored by Before you leave, make sure you check health and safety regulations in any area you are traveling to, as well as the weather conditions. Mountain roads in particular are subject to closures due to snow. Prior to setting off on any road trip, make sure your car is ready for the journey. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. Going-to-the-sun road - Glacier National Park, Montana Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana is almost 50 miles carved into the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It is the only road that traverses the park, providing access to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. This alpine road is so winding it takes up to ten weeks for snow plows to clear them each year, so the best time to visit is later in the summer and early autumn. We recommend lodging on the Western edge of the park in Kalispell, where there is also an airport. Shenandoah National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Skyline Drive - Shenandoah National Park - Virginia Skyline Drive is a 105-mile mountain road that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, starting in Front Royal, about an hour west of Washington, DC. There are 75 overlooks, providing amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. It is especially beautiful in the summer and autumn. Drivers should plan to spend a full day doing Skyline Drive, and we highly recommend you make time to watch an evening sunset from a west-facing overlook. King's Canyon National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel King's Canyon Scenic Byway - California State Route 180 This state road has the benefit of going through two National Parks in short order. The first is the General Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park. The road continues for another 50-miles through the Western Sierra to King’s Canyon National Park, an underrated gem in the National Park system. The nearest major city to King’s Canyon is Fresno, California. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock Cades Cove Loop, Great Smoky Mountain National Park The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is deep into Great Smoky Mountain National Park and it makes for a perfect leisure drive. Spend 2-3 hours exploring an early 1800s European settlement and appreciate the fresh air and beauty of the mountains. Make sure you plan a picnic and stop at Cable Mill, which also has restrooms. For accommodations, we recommend nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The nearest airport is in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Overseas Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West The 110-mile Overseas Highway drives, well, overseas – connecting Miami to Key West through all the Keys. Drivers will feel the salt air and sunshine on their face and find plenty of charming nooks to explore along the way. There are beaches with public parking and unique local art gardens. At the end, arrive in beautiful Key West. North Cascades National Park © Checubus / Shutterstock North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington The North Cascades Scenic Byway in Northern Washington is the most mountainous and hair-raising road traversing that park. You will see turquoise blue glacier water and sprawling mountain peaks. Make sure to stop for a photo at the Washington Pass Overlook. Eat, explore and stay at one of the 1920s towns along the way, and spend some time in the outdoorsy Methow Valley. Like most mountain passes, this is closed in the winter due to snow. North Cascades is relatively far away from society, the nearest airport is Seattle. Beartooth Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Beartooth Highway - Southwest Montana This 68-mile mountain pass crosses from the town of Red Lodge, through Southwest Montana, and into the Northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It crosses through the beautiful Beartooth Mountains, one of the most remote regions of the United States, and one of the most ecologically diverse. The Beartooth Highway offers some incredible vistas as it climbs up the mountains. The nearest major airport is in Billings, Montana. Monument Valley © francesco ricca iacomino / Getty Images US Rt 163 - Monument Valley, Utah US Rt 163 is the 64-mile highway running from Arizona through the Navajo Nation in Southern Utah, showing off the dramatic and beautiful landscapes of Utah in Monument Valley. The red rocks and cliffs are one of the most iconic scenes in America, and the wide-open space makes the drive feel uncrowded. Plan at least two hours to make this drive and take time to stop for photography. Sunsets are particularly spectacular. The nearest major airport to Monument Valley is in Flagstaff, Arizona. The coastline surrounding Acadia National Park © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock Park Loop Road - Acadia National Park, Maine The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the primary road around Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. It offers scenic ocean vistas where the rocks hit the water, and the forest changes colors with the seasons. Make sure to plan extra time to stop for hiking and photography. For inexpensive accommodations, we recommend staying in nearby Bangor, Maine. Rocky Mountain National Park © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado The Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile long mountain route, nicknamed the ‘Highway to the Sky.’ The highway starts in Estes Park in the East and goes to Grand Lake in the West. It climbs up more than 4,000 feet to above the tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park. Considered the highest elevation paved road in Colorado, it features plenty of hairpin turns. Plan at least half a day to fully appreciate this trip. The nearest major airport is in Denver. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between Budget Travel, GEICO, and Lonely Planet. All parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

Sponsored by GEICO
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.