5 Awesome & Affordable American Drives
A great vacation doesn't have to involve flying, or covering great distances via some other elaborate, pricey conveyance, such as a cruise ship. Here at Budget Travel we've always liked to mix our globe-spanning coverage with ultra-local finds, too. Here, we share five of our favorite American drives, which combine accessibility and affordability with awesome scenery, great food, history, world-class lodging, and the nicest folks to meet along the way. We invite you to fire up your GPS, fill up your tank, and get up and go!
1. BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
From Washington, D.C., to the Great Smoky Mountains
Some of the Southeast's most beautiful mountains and charming communities can be yours with a drive that starts in Washington, D.C. and actually connects two stunning national parks.
A 90-minute drive from D.C. on Interstate 66 through Virginia horse country, the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive meanders along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the broad Shenandoah Valley unfolding to the west. Paralleling the road for much of the way—and crossing it many times—is the Appalachian Trail; from the side of the road, utterly fearless Virginia white-tailed deer sniff at passing cars. Near Waynesboro, Skyline Drive turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway, where it stretches for hours and passes overlooks with memorable names (Raven's Roost, Peaks of Otter), before reaching a turnoff for surprisingly cosmopolitan Roanoke. The recently renovated 1882 Hotel Roanoke (hotelroanoke.com) has history behind it: The hotel's bar was once a World War II officers' club, and the ballroom hosted a cattle auction in the sixties. Today, in-room spa services are more typical.
One of the New Deal's most ambitious endeavors, the curvaceous "park to park highway" links Virginia's Shenandoah National Park (nps.gov.shen) with North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park (nps.gov/grsm) via dozens of hairpin turns and 26 tunnels cut through Appalachian granite. Spot a 19th-century farm or postage-stamp-size town at the bottom of a verdant mountainside and you'll realize how seemingly unchanged the road remains since its inception way back in 1935.
As you drive farther into the heart of Appalachia, the traffic thins and the valleys plunge deeper. The Blue Ridge Music Center (blueridgemusiccenter.org), located in Galax, Va., with its outdoor concerts and weekday-afternoon traditional banjo-picking and fiddle sessions, is a welcome sign of civilization near the North Carolina line. (Banjo music is the ideal soundtrack for this drive. Grab yourself a CD compilation of Appalachian music with songs by Aaron Copland and John Williams.) From here, a curving 100-mile drive leads to 87-acre Chetola Resort (chetola.com), North Carolina's only Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge. Yoga, horseshoes, and canoes await those with little interest in hooking a trout.
It's easy to see how the Blue Ridge earned its name—layers of peaks really do tint blue in the distance. In downtown Asheville, N.C., 87 miles west of the resort, Southern classics (cornmeal-crusted catfish) are made with ingredients from local farms at the Early Girl Eatery (earlygirleatery.com) After lunch, it's on to Gatlinburg, Tenn., where the Bearskin Lodge's lazy river mimics the nearby Little Pigeon River (thebearskinlodge.com). To experience the full sweep of the Great Smoky Mountains, take Newfound Gap Road up 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome, the park's tallest peak, where you can see more than 100 miles out on clear days.
It's almost a sin not to spend a couple of extra days in Gatlinburg, on the edge of the national park, and explore the Great Smoky Mountains. The options are limitless, from hiking and biking to rock climbing—but the white-water rafting trumps them all, with no fewer than five world-class rivers in the area. Get a taste through a half-day trip on the 24 Class III and IV rapids of the Big Pigeon River.
En route back to D.C., take in the crystalline formations of Skyline Caverns in Front Royal, Va. And, if you're up for a totally worth-it splurge, get yourself a sweeping final view of the Shenandoah Valley on a Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons tour.
2. JOSHUA TREE
Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park
The Joshua tree, made famous by the national park and the 1987 U2 album of the same name, is actually a yucca. Legend has it that the yucca was renamed by Mormon settlers who thought its upraised limbs and scruffy-bearded appearance resembled the prophet Joshua leading them to the promised land. Joshua Tree National Park (nps.gov/jotr) is at its most crowded from March through May, when the wildflowers are in bloom and the temperatures are still mild; if you're hoping to avoid the crowds, such as they are, consider visiting in the fall. Most major airlines serve Palm Springs International Airport.
Heading northwest from Palm Springs on Indian Canyon Drive, you'll be greeted by the wind farms of San Gorgonio Pass. The 60-foot-tall gray metal poles are intrusive, but striking, and in any event harnessing the wind is better than burning oil. With more than 4,000 turbines, the farm is one of world's largest, and if you're in a convertible, you'll hear the propellers whirring every time you stop at a red light. They sound like gentle waves breaking in the clouds.
Desert Hot Springs, 50 miles south, is built over a natural mineral-water aquifer, and the town claims to have some of the world's best water. The Emerald Springs Resort and Spa (760/288-0071) offers rooms with turquoise walls, black furniture, and white duvets, giving it a fifties vibe. Go swimming in all three of the hotel's heated mineral-water pools, in the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains, surrounded by cacti and bougainvillea. Then get a good night's sleep, in anticipation of your first day exploring Joshua Tree National Park.
Head east on Highway 62, toward the West Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. At nearly 800,000 acres, the park straddles two distinct deserts: the Mojave in the north, marked by craggy Joshua trees and moon-like rock formations, and the Colorado in the south, with wide-open vistas and jagged mountain peaks. Between the two lies the transition zone, with features from both plus cholla cactus gardens and patches of spidery ocotillo. The Joshua Tree Visitor Center is the place to buy lots of water—one gallon per person per day, two in the summer.
You may feel as if you've been transported to prehistoric times. Boulders the size of dump trucks sit near spiky trees, and the air is fragrant with lavender and chia. Keys View, by far one of the park's best panoramas, is about five miles south. At nearly 5,200 feet above sea level, you can see the entire Coachella Valley, including the Salton Sea, the town of Indio, and the San Jacinto Mountains. Get another good night's sleep at the Harmony Motel (harmonymotel.com), in nearby Twentynine Palms.
Reenter the park near the Oasis of Mara, then make your way through the transition zone to the southern end. Joshua trees become sparser, the air gets hotter and drier, and chest-high cholla cacti, with fine, light-green needles, begin to appear. Look, but don't touch! And while you're looking, check out the vistas of the Colorado Desert off in the distance.
3. UTAH'S CANYON COUNTRY
Grand Junction, Colo., to Zion National Park, Utah
Cramming five national parks into four days isn't for everyone. But if you are going to attempt such a quest, Southern Utah is the place to do it. Five of the nation's most gorgeous parks are packed into 650 miles of high desert. Bryce Canyon (nps.gov/brca) and Zion (nps.gov/zion) are both justly famous; so are the sandstone bridges in Arches National Park (nps.gov/arch). Less well known are Canyonlands (nps.gov/cany), every inch as impressive as the Grand Canyon, and Capitol Reef (nps.gov/care).
Moab, Utah, is less than a 90-minute drive from Grand Junction, Colo. Moab is conveniently located between Arches and Canyonlands. You can have panoramic views of the desert at the northern end of Arches whether you stay in your car or book a mountain-bike ride. But don't just look up and around but also down: The area is dotted with three-toed dinosaur footprints every 50 yards or so. At Arches' southern end, families explore trails along rock formations such as Balanced Rock and Double Arch. Bed down at Moab's Red Cliffs Lodge (redcliffslodge.com) and grab a pint at the city's oldest microbrew, Eddie McStiff's (eddiemcstiffs.com).
The largest of the five national parks at 527 square miles, Canyonlands includes the northern Island in the Sky section (all grand, wide canyons), and the more intimate Needles, where pygmy juniper trees decorate the ground, and hundreds of layers of sandstone fan out in phyllo-like sheets. The black stone of Newspaper Rock is covered in petroglyphs that were scratched over a 2,000-year period by native tribes (Anasazi, Fremont, Paiute, and Navajo). It's an impressive collage of images: men on horseback hunting antelope, oversize gods sprouting horns and antlers. Get a good head start on tomorrow by staying in Torrey, where the Cowboy Homestead Cabins will welcome you (cowboyhomesteadcabins.com).
Torrey is the gateway to Capitol Reef, the least well known of Utah's five national parks. Route 24 cuts through it, threading a high valley carved by the little Fremont River. The 10-mile Scenic Drive leads to a long wash (a dry canyon that becomes a river after heavy rain). The walls rise hundreds of feet on both sides as the dirt road twists its way through the increasingly narrow canyon.
Splurge on Bryce Canyon Lodge (brycecanyonlodge.com) for a night—ask for a lovely balcony with rough-hewn logs for a railing. At Bryce, the altitude ranges from about 7,900 feet to more than 9,100 feet. Two of its best overlooks are at Agua Canyon and the rock window called Natural Bridge.
When you get to Zion, you may want to opt for the park's most rewarding short hike, the half-mile-long Canyon Overlook Trail. Private cars are no longer allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive north of the visitors center, so catch the free shuttle to the Riverside Walk trail, which leads to the Narrows, a 16-mile trail that doubles as the bed of the Virgin River. After hitting five national parks along this great drive, collapse into a comfy bed at the Canyon Ranch Motel (canyonranchmotel.com) after soaking in its outdoor hot tub!
4. FLORIDA KEYS
Key West to Key Largo
Lined with Victorian mansions and late-19th-century commercial buildings, Key West's main road, Duval Street, is a picturesque thoroughfare pocked with rocking-loud bars. A quieter side of Key West is immediately apparent when you turn onto Petronia Street, heading into the Bahama Village neighborhood.
At Blue Heaven restaurant (305/296-8666), in a courtyard that was the scene of boxing matches during the Depression, tables sit under a canopy of trees, a balmy breeze stirring their leaves, and at least a half dozen of Key West's free-roaming chickens scratch around for crumbs. The special is a lobster melt—like a fancy tuna melt—and it's as good as it sounds.
Catch the tour at the Little White House (305/294-9911), an 1890 house on Key West's former naval base. Harry Truman vacationed there 11 times during his presidency.
Don't miss Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, a daily event since the sixties. Grab a margarita from a stand and wander among the crowds and street performers before turning in at the Chelsea House (chelseahousekw.com), in a converted Victorian house surrounded by a garden that makes it feel private and tranquil, though it's just a stone's throw from Duval Street.
Before hitting the road the next day, stop by the Hemingway Home and Museum (hemingwayhome.com), where Ernest Hemingway lived with his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons from 1931 to 1940. It's said that Hemingway was given a six-toed cat—often called "mitten cats"—by a friend who was a ship captain; many cats, most of which are its descendants, live on the grounds today. As the writer quipped, "One cat just leads to another." And speaking of animals, don't miss the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, where you'll be amazed at the sight of so many elusive, fluttering beauties.
When it's time to head north, Route 1, the Overseas Highway, is a sight in itself. In the 1880s, Henry Flagler, an original partner in Standard Oil, began developing resorts along Florida's east coast. He also started buying up and connecting the state's railroad lines. St. Augustine, Palm Beach, and Miami all owe their development to Flagler's efforts. Between 1905 and 1912, Flagler constructed the Over-Sea Railroad, 156 miles of track—much of it on trestles over open water—that linked Miami and Key West. When the first train rolled into town in 1912, it was greeted by 15,000 townspeople. Unfortunately, a fierce hurricane ripped through the Keys in 1935; an 18-foot tidal wave and 200-mile-per-hour winds washed out the embankment and mangled tracks, but the bridges and trestles stood. In 1938, the federal government took over the route and built the Overseas Highway. Route 1 is the main (and often only) road on the narrow strips of land that are the various keys. Mile-marker signs, which start from zero in Key West, are used as locators for addresses along the highway.
The marvelous Seven Mile Bridge runs between mile markers 40 and 47. Until 1982, the bridge ran on the piers originally built for Flagler; those remains stand alongside the new bridge. In Marathon, the White Sands Inn (whitesandsinn.com) has rooms decorated with sunny primary colors and Caribbean-inspired fabrics.
An hour's drive north brings you to Key Largo, where a bungalow at the Coconut Bay Resort (coconutbaykeylargo.com) and a slice of, yes, key lime pie, more than live up to the hype.
5. GREAT LAKES SEAWAY TRAIL
Massena, N.Y., to West Springfield, Penn.
Consider the Great Lakes Seaway Trail the inland version of California's Pacific Coast Highway. This scenic waterfront byway—a 500+-mile drive if you want to go all the way—includes the St. Lawrence Seaway with its imposing Eisenhower Lock, 40 state parks along the way, and 28 historic lighthouses on the shores of two rivers (the Niagara and the St. Lawrence) and two of the Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie).
One of the don't-miss sights along the way is Presque Isle State Park, Pa. (presqueisle.org). This sandy, 3,200-acre peninsula near Erie has miles of untouched beaches to explore. And while the park is immensely popular in summer, it's also a draw in deep winter, when it becomes home to cross country skiers, snow shoers, and ice fishers. The "ice dunes" formed by freezing waves are something you don't see on your average winter jaunt.
Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum (soduspointlighthouse.org), overlooking the southern shore of Lake Ontario in New York State, is a first-rate maritime museum operated by the Sodus Bay Historical Society in the building that once housed the lighthouse keepers, beside the tower and Fresnel lens.
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail's greatest claim to fame, however, is iconic Niagara Falls. There are two towns named Niagara Falls, one in New York and one in Canada. The New York side boasts a state park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame). The Maid of the Mist (maidofthemist.com) boat will take you right to Horseshoe Falls, where the falls crash at their mightiest. If the word "horsehoe" inspires you to test your luck, head over the the Seneca Niagara Casino (senecaniagaracasino.com), a recent addition to the scene that includes gaming, food, and lodging.
But we suggest that you spend the night on the Canadian side. The Chalet Inn & Suites (chalet-inn.com) is a good choice—and it even includes heart-shaped bathtubs, inspired by Niagara's popularity as a honeymoon destination. The Canadian side is something of a mecca for wax museum aficionados, too. Louis Tussaud's (ripleysniagara.com) may be the best known. But, more importantly, the Canadian side also has the better view of the falls. During the day, you'll see rainbows in the mist, and in the evening, colorful floodlights transform the cascading water.
Ultimate Art Lover’s New England Road Trip
Each time my family drives into Bennington, Vermont, it feels a little like coming home. Though I’ve never lived in this little town for more than a few days at a time on vacation, it strikes a deep, familiar chord with me. Perhaps arriving in Bennington feels like home to me because, as a boy growing up in the Bronx, I recall vividly my first discovery of the great American painter Anna Mary Robertson, better known as Grandma Moses, who lived and worked in Bennington. The gentle curves of the Green Mountains just outside of town provide a soothing natural backdrop to this historic place, and they are the very mountains that appear in Grandma Moses’s folk paintings, depicting rural life and seasonal rituals such as sugar-mapling and trick-or-treating. The interplay between the natural world and the art world is at the very heart of this short and totally manageable road trip. DAY 1: BENNINGTON, VERMONT Bennington offers a range of accommodations, but we’ve become fond of the family-friendly Knotty Pine Motel, which has a dog-friendly policy, a very attentive and helpful staff, and a lovely swing set and pool. We especially appreciate the big map of New England that hangs in the main office. My youngest daughter kept asking to go visit the map, and I was so pleased that she’d connected with New England, tracing her finger over my sister’s home in New Hampshire, the beaches of Falmouth and Nantucket where we’ve visited, and the charming little city of New Bedford. It was only later that I realized that my daughter was actually less interested in the map and much more interested in the bowl of Tootsie Rolls the motel proprietor kept on her desk. Oh, well. The map is still a sweet memory, even if the candy was sweeter. In Bennington, the must-see for art lovers is the Bennington Museum and Grandma Moses Schoolhouse. Here, you can view a wide variety of art in a charming and manageable setting. The museum’s permanent collection includes fine art, furniture, and household items from Vermont’s history as well as strikingly modern work by contemporary Bennington artists. The rooms devoted to Grandma Moses (the largest public collection of the “primitive” artist’s work) offer you the chance to see the Green Mountains in Moses’s iconic paintings or rural life and then peek out the window and see the real thing. Unforgettable. The adjoining one-room Grandma Moses Schoolhouse includes chalk-boards and antique schoolbooks, games, and dress-up clothes. If you’re traveling with kids, they may be more enthralled by the schoolhouse than the art, and that’s fine: Let them go. They’ll remember how that schoolhouse made them feel long after they’ve forgotten your lectures on folk art. In 1777, Bennington was the site of a major Revolutionary War battle, and each August, the town celebrates with a parade. Residents and visitors alike line the streets and cheer for the bands and marchers. We’ve been lucky enough to time our visits to parade weekend, and it is a nice way to meet the town’s year-round residents. Don’t be fooled by the name. Kevin’s Sports Pub and Restaurant, in North Bennington, is much more than a place to watch a game on TV. We love its imaginative riffs on burgers, fish and chips, and other pub fare, and the local ales on tap offer a variety of vibrant flavors and textures. In nearby South Shaftsbury, the Robert Frost Stone House Museum surprises, delights, and educates visitors with Frost’s famous poetry, such as “The Road Not Taken,” adorning the walls, with brief, easily digested lessons on his rhyme schemes and meter that even young kids will understand and appreciate. (If you’re headed for the Atlantic coast, drop by another Frost museum, his farmhouse in Derry, New Hampshire, on the way.) Psst! Outside Bennington, there’s a hidden gem of a local lake whose name I promised not to publish because its modest snack bar and canoe rental business are really meant for locals. If you find yourself in conversation with a Bennington local, do ask about places to canoe. We had a family paddling adventure on the lake and down a nearby creek that we’ll never forget. DAY 2: WILLIAMSTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS Williamstown, just across the border into Massachusetts down U.S. 7, is another town where you can easily stay more than one night just to drink in all the art and natural beauty on display. The Clark Art Institute is home not only to a world-class permanent collection that includes European and American art from the Renaissance to the early 20th century (especially rich in work by American painters Winslow Homer, George Inness, and John Singer Sargent), but also to one of the finest museum snack bars I’ve ever experienced. For real. I recommend its salads and sandwiches, especially in good weather when you can eat out on a terrace. The museum’s grounds, including a children’s learning center, are a work of art themselves (they made Architectural Digest’s list of “buzz-worthy” museums). Williams College Museum of Art is another fine collection; focused on the college’s mission, the museum offers a broad range of pieces, from ancient Egyptian art to contemporary American and international work. Williamstown Theatre Festival has been bringing acclaimed productions to the Berkshires each summer since 1955, another example of the exciting synergy between the natural world and human creativity that makes this region so special. Williams Inn is a cozy place in the heart of Williamstown to rest your head in the Berkshires, having welcomed visitors since 1909. As with Bennington before it, you may want to stay more than one night to see all the sights. DAY 3: NORTH ADAMS, MASSACHUSETTS The cherry on top of your art lover’s road trip is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), in North Adams. The nearby mountains and small-town vibe on the streets are a contrast to the hot, ultra-modern work you’ll encounter inside this restored 19th-century mill complex. The museum is an epicenter for the making of visual and performing arts, with residencies that bring cutting-edge creators to town. New exhibits of contemporary artists, including the museum’s Kidspace, are ongoing; check the museum’s excellent website, massmoca.org, for updates. When you’re ready to refuel, MASS MoCA’s Lickety Split lobby bistro is open during museum hours for breakfast and lunch (plus ice cream, espresso, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and, on show nights, a light dinner menu). The cute streets of North Adams also teem with international cuisine, funky cafés and coffee spots, and cool pubs. Ready to hit the hay? The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA is self-consciously kitschy. (In keeping with the museum’s mission, the inn describes itself as “retro-edgy, industrial granny chic.”) You’ll enjoy closing your little hipster eyes in the imaginative heart of the Berkshires. BOOK YOUR HOTEL WITH BUDGET TRAVEL You can find and book a great hotel deal right at Budget Travel's Book a Hotel page.
12 Best Fall Foliage Trips
It's the most colorful time of the year! Here in the northeast, we're surrounded by beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow as leaf-peeping season kicks into full swing—but you don't have to be in just one region to appreciate all the fall foliage. We've got 11 great seasonal spots around the country—and one in eastern Canada—where you can see the leaves in all their colorful splendor, whether by car, train, boat, or by going for a nice, long walk in the crisp fall air. If all else fails, you can always choose to live vicariously through our Fall Into Foliage board on Pinterest. SEE YOUR BEST PHOTOS OF BEAUTIFUL FALL COLORS! 1. VERMONT It goes without saying that Vermont is one of the most well-known places in the U.S. when it comes to fall foliage—especially in the central and southern parts of the state, the Lake Champlain Islands, areas near Burlington, and in the beautiful Green Mountains. As of right now, most of the state is already seeing the first hint of fall colors, with late, more subtle changes in color still slated to happen over the weekends of October. Up for a scenic fall foliage drive? Vermont's Tourism website offers a printable list of more than 20 drives around the state ranging anywhere from 30 to 210 miles long, as well as regional and historical points of interest, apple orchards, and popular local attractions you shouldn't miss along the way. WHERE TO STAY Eddington House Inn, an adorable B&B located in Bennington, Vermont. Rates from $159 per night thru Oct. (from $139 per night Nov. thru June), include complimentary WiFi, breakfast, parking, and sweet treats like locally made chocolate truffles. 2. NEW YORK Whether you're planning to venture upstate in search of fall fun or opt to stay in the big city, New York gives you plenty of options—visit this website for a detailed list of all the great spots within the state to view fall foliage as peak levels tend to change depending on where you are. Baseball fans will want to visit Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, while other outdoorsy leaf-peeping activities include renting kayaks on Lake Otsego or hiking among the gorgeous fall colors at Glimmerglass State Park. For an exciting day trip, bring the family to Barton Orchards now through Nov. 2nd, located about a 90-minute drive north of the City in Poughquag, New York, and home to hayrides, train rides, a corn maze, haunted house, and the chance to pick perfect farm-fresh apples, pumpkins, corn and other seasonal vegetables to take home as delicious fall souvenirs. Don't miss the Farm Bakery & Market where you can pick up maple syrup, seasonal mixes and spices, baked pies and desserts, fudge, and best of all, cider donuts. (Activity wristbands are available for $12.50 and include a $3 general admission fee. Prices for fresh-picked apples, pumpkins, and veggies vary by quantity. Please note that no outside food or beverages are allowed on the farm, but feel free to bring your own wagon). Or if you'd rather stay in the heart of the Big Apple, go for a stroll around Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx in the fall for vibrant color changes during the last few weeks of October into November—pick any spot in the park for a fall picnic, just don't forget to bring your camera! WHERE TO STAY The Wyndham New Yorker Hotel has a great vacation package now thru Dec. 29, 2015, that includes overnight accommodations from $169 per night, continental breakfast, and free tickets to the Empire State Building. 3. CANADA While there are definitely enough places in Canada to warrant its own fall foliage report, we'd like to point out one of our favorite spots in Québec for the purposes of this story: Mont Tremblant, an exquisite ski town roughly two hours outside of Montréal that always has something fun going on no matter what season we're in, and fall is no exception. Hop a quick flight on Porter Airlines from Newark, Washington D.C., Burlington, Chicago, Myrtle Beach, or from any of 12 connecting Canadian cities to reach this beautiful ski town nestled in the heart of Canada's Laurentians (they even serve wine onboard—for free!). In Tremblant, there are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy while you're admiring the fall colors showcased on the mountains around you: play a round of golf on one of the area's two championship golf courses, treat youself to a 60-minute cruise on the 7.5-mile long Lake Tremblant ($24 for adults; $19 for seniors ages 60 and up; $8 for children ages 2-12, free for children two and under), rent a bike for the afternoon (prices vary), explore the mountain on one of 12 hiking trails, or take a ride to the summit on the panoramic gondola (Adults pay $19.99 per ride; children ages 6-12 pay $15.99; children ages 3-5 pay $4.19, and those under age 2 ride for free; Gondola tickets must be purchased online at least two days in advance). After a long day outside, try your luck at the Casino de Mont-Tremblant (a free shuttle is available every 30 minutes between the casino and the pedestrian village), relax your tired muscles at the nearby Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant (access to the Scandinavian Baths for $48 per person; 60-minute Swedish Massages from $130 per person including access to the baths. Take advantage of their fall special—$35 Scandinavian Bath access or $95 for a 60-minute massage with baths), or check out one of the special fall sales happening at Tremblant's many boutique shops. WHERE TO STAY The Residence Inn Mont Tremblant Manoir Labelle offers rooms from $157 per night and is within walking distance of most area attractions. 4. COLORADO Estes Park is the perfect place to view not only fall foliage, but also elk and other area wildlife this time of year. Nature lovers can go fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding in nearby Estes Valley, or even participate in flood recovery efforts. For a spookier fall experience, try one of the Ghost & History Tours at the Historic Stanley Hotel, also known for having paranormal investigators and psychics onsite. Autumn is also the best time of year to take a drive on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, one of the prettiest drives in Colorado, if not the whole U.S. Other scenic leaf-peaping hot spots in Colorado include Kebler Pass near Gunnison-Crested Butte, the 236-mile loop of San Juan Skyway, The Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway, Trail Ridge Road, and Rocky Mountain National Park, among 25 scenic and historic byways that typically showcase the state's world-famous golden Aspens. A ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad is also a memorable way to see the fall colors and learn a little about the area's mining history. (Tickets are from $25.95 for adults; from $18.95 for children ages 3-15). WHERE TO STAY The Rocky Mountain Park Inn offers rooms from $129 per night—their Dine & Dash package includes overnight accommodations with dinner and drinks for two at their restaurant, Longz Bar & Grill, from $110 per night. 5. WEST VIRGINIA Grant County is home to some of the most beautiful fall foliage in the country, and the best way to see it is by train. For one night only, Oct. 16th, the Autumn Splendor Dinner Train will travel through Petersburg, West Virginia, just in time for the red and gold leaves to make their debut. You'll start by sampling local delicacies during a food and wine tasting at the South Side Depot in Petersburg while you wait for your train, and enjoy a West Virginia-made dinner of beef brisket, shrimp, potatoes, green beans, and your choice of homemade chocolate fudge turtle cake or pumpin cheesecake for dessert, all while admiring the view. (Tickets are $60 per person for adults only; reservations required). WHERE TO STAY For a fun vacation option, stay at the Smoke Hole Caverns & Log Cabin Resort located in Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area near Seneca Rocks, WV. Rates at the Log Motel range from $69-$119 depending on which day you go, while cottages are available from $129 per night. 6. TENNESSEE In Tennessee's southeastern corner about two hours from Nashville lies Chattanooga, the state's fourth-largest city nestled alongside the Tennessee River, and a prime spot for viewing fall foliage. The best part: not only is Chattanooga known for having a teriffic network of hiking, biking, and nature trails, but you also have the unique opportunity to view fall foliage by boat. Enter the Southern Belle Riverboat, sailing several times a day from Pier 2, with dinner cruises, lunch cruises, sunset cruises or 90-minute sightseeing cruises up and down the gorgeous Tennessee River. Prices for their three-hour Fall Leaf Cruise—available daily from Oct. 1st thru Nov. 15th—start at $35.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages 3-12. WHERE TO STAY Several hotels in Chattanooga are offering fun specials including two-night/three-day packages with tickets to area attractions like Ruby Falls and Rock City Gardens. 7. MISSOURI If you're looking for the ultimate scenic fall drive, Branson and the Ozarks are home to three of the area's best fall foliage driving tours (and one walking/jogging tour) aimed to please any leaf-peeping enthusiast. Stop by the Welcome Center located at Highway 65 and State Highway 248 for free maps and tips about local attractions, then set off on your fall road trip adventure. The first driving tour takes you on a 90-minute loop around Table Rock Lake and Kimberling City, while the second takes you on a 70-minute loop from Downtown Branson around Forsyth and Rockaway Beach. The third, more in-depth fall foliage drive is a four-hour long journey through Bull Shoals, Peel Ferry, and Mark Twain National Forest, while the walking/jogging tour just takes you on a 1.5-mile tour of Branson Landing and Downtown Branson along Lake Taneycomo, home to Main Street Lake Cruises, another fun way to get a unique look at the region's fall colors. (Tickets are from $26.50 per person. Check the website for more details on pricing and scheduling. Must reserve at least 72 hours ahead). WHERE TO STAY Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing offers rates from $129 per night to stay in the heart of town. 8. WISCONSIN One of our favorite places to write about is Door County, a bucolic peninsula between Lake Michigan and Green Bay not only known for its lakes, art, and cherries, but also as a fall foliage viewing destination. Be sure to check the Fall Color Report for the latest leaf-peeping updates. Embrace changing seasons with any number of available outdoor activities ranging from cruises on the lake, horse-drawn wagon rides around town, to even a scenic airplane ride over the area, or stick to golfing, sailing, fishing, horseback riding, sightseeing, and hunting for that perfect antique souvenir to bring back home. The best part about visiting Door County this time of year: all the roadside stands and farmers' markets selling fresh, hot apple cider among other farm fresh produce and wines from local vineyards. WHERE TO STAY The Lodgings at Pioneer Lane in Ephraim, Wisconsin, offers a small suite from $90 per night year-round and your choice of six larger suites from $109-$139 Nov. thru mid-June and from $169-$199 from mid-June thru Oct 31st. 9. TEXAS Located about an hour and 45 minutes outside of San Antonio near the town of Vanderpool is Lost Maples State Natural Area, one of best spots for fall foliage in all of the Lone Star State. Spend some time admiring the colors of nature during a fall hike, camping trip, bird watching adventure or treat yourself to a fall picnic in the park. In this part of the country, the leaves tend to change color closer to early-to-mid-November, so there's still plenty of time to get in on the action—check the Fall Foliage Report, updated weekly from October thru November, just in case. Keep an eye out for vibrant red, orange, and golden colored leaves near Daingerfield, Martin Creek, Lake Bob Sandlin, and Martin Dies Jr. State Park in East Texas, known for its oaks, elms, and sweetgums. You'll also find golden and bright yellow cottonwoods throughout Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon State Park, as well as rusty-colored leaves that contrast with a swampy, Spanish moss-covered Caddo Lake State Park. WHERE TO STAY Foxfire Cabins in the Vanderpool area offers cozy two-bedroom log cabins from $90 per night. 10. OREGON In the greater Portland and Columbia River area, fall foliage is served up with a side of waterfalls, majestic gardens, dramatic river gorges, and no shortage of local wineries. Take a drive down the scenic Columbia River Highway for views of 900-foot tall cliffs and steep flowing waterfalls overlooking the vast valley. Fall colors can be seen throughout the vineyards of Willamette Valley, where grape vines light up in a variety of reds and yellows. Hiking enthusiasts should make the scenic 1.2-mile, 600-foot ascent to Multnomah Falls for stunning views of the valley below. WHERE TO STAY Comfort Inn Columbia Gorge Gateway offers rates from $85 per night and puts you right in the heart of the action just a 20-minute drive from Multnomah Falls along the scenic Columbia River. 11. CALIFORNIA Yosemite is a wonderful place to celebrate fall and an ideal time of year to visit without having to worry too much about crowds and high hotel prices. Mono County, in California's Eastern Sierra region, is also known for its colorful mix of evergreens, big-leaf maples, Pacific dogwoods, black oaks, and other trees that usually reach their peak colors in mid-to-late October. WHERE TO STAY We love the Yosemite Naitonal Park hotel package from the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chowchilla—Yosemite Park Area. You'll get overnight accommodations, a park entrance pass valid for seven days for one vehicle full of people, two tickets for the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad steam train, and other perks, from $158 per night. 12. SOUTH DAKOTA Each year the area is draped in color, from the yellow Aspens, elm, ash, and oak trees, to the bright reds of the sumac and maple trees. It's easy to work these scenic drives in as a way of traveling between sites and cities—one of the most scenic, Iron Mountain Road, is a 17-mile road that winds its way through the Black Hills between Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park, both of which are definitely worth visiting in their own rite. Drive the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, another twisting mountain road that features six rock tunnels and views of the area's mighty Aspens. Hiking and biking enthusiasts can enjoy the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail that runs through the Black Hills with 15 trailheads to choose from. The Spearfish Canyon State & National Forest Service Scenic Byway is also worth a look, as it offers beautiful forest views and all the colors of its spruce, aspen, pine, oak, and birch trees as it winds its way along the Canyon's limestone cliffs. WHERE TO STAY Any of the great hotels mentioned in this story about the perfect South Dakota road trip, including Frontier Cabins in Wall (near Badlands National Park, from $74 per night), Springhill Suites by Marriott in Deadwood (from $79 per night), State Game Lodge in Custer State Park (from $115 per night), or the Adoba EcoHotel Rapid City (from $101 per night).
Budget Travel has been celebrating the Great American Road Trip for more than two decades, and while some of our favorite drives (think Utah’s National Parks, New England’s autumn leaves, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula...) remain the same, the vehicles in which Americans hit the road have evolved exponentially. For Budget Travelers like me, who came of age when a car was, well, just a convenient means to get from Point A to Point B, the latest crop of high-tech rides c3an seem a little sci-fi - you’re basically driving a hybrid smartphone/entertainment center that talks. For that reason, we sometimes assume all that technology is out of reach for thrifty shoppers. Nope. A new generation of reasonably priced cars, such as the latest models of the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, Toyota Yaris, Ford Focus, and Subaru Impreza, offers an array of tech-driven benefits that will transform your next road trip. Some of the features that are standard or reasonably available in cars under $20,000 include: Wi-Fi. You can enliven your next family road trip by Skyping with family and friends (or co-workers, if you’re into that kind of thing), or downloading music, books, TV, and movies to your devices while on the move. Interactivity. For those of you who can’t bear to be separated from your phone, texting, and music apps, features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto put those apps right on your car’s display screen, allowing you to talk to Siri, Google Maps, and other programs. Mobile App. Some manufacturers offer an app that transforms your phone or tablet into Mission Control for your car. Send driving directions to your vehicle before you get behind the wheel, start or stop your engine, lock or unlock the doors, or check on Wi-Fi settings and diagnostic information ahead of your trip. On top of the interactive features, we’re seeing great fuel efficiency (especially from the Chevy Cruze Diesel), safety features like a rear-view camera for help with parking and rear traffic, and unexpected roominess in smaller cars that allows for all the packing space you need and some elbow room for passengers.
Despite rising gas prices, 80 percent of U.S. families are planning a road trip this summer, up 10 percent from last year, a recent AAA survey found. But for many people, taking that dream road trip requires renting a car, which can be a stressful, confusing, and expensive process. The rental car industry is notorious for its array of sometimes confusing options for customers. Last year one in five car renters reported problems with their service, according to J.D. Power’s annual North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study. For consumers, the rental car counter can be treacherous. “Rental car agents are paid on commission, so they’re incentivized to try to upsell you for everything,” says Jonathan Weinberg, creator of AutoSlash.com, a service that tracks rental price changes to help get consumers the best deals. “If you ask whether you need something, they’re going to say yes.” Also, since many rental car companies are good at burying fees and surcharges in long rental agreements—you know, the paperwork you barely glance at before signing—the onus is on you to thoroughly research your options. Indeed, “when renting a car, it’s a ‘buyer beware’ transaction,” says Neil Abrams, president of the Abrams Consulting Group, which tracks the rental car industry. Follow these steps to drive down the costs on your next rental car and enjoy a cheaper, happier road trip. Bring your own transponder Going through a toll can bring unexpected fees when you use the rental car company’s transponder (e.g., E-ZPass, SunPass). “It varies by company, but usually you’re going to get charged a convenience fee of $5 a day starting on the first day that you use it,” says Weinberg. In other words, if you’re traveling for a week and go through a toll on the first day, you’ll get charged a $35 fee for the whole week regardless of whether you go through more tolls. READ: "15 Last Minute Weekend Escapes" Thus, you’ll want to use your own transponder on the trip. If you need to buy one, you can do so online or at some convenience stores like Publix, CVS or Walgreens. Don’t prepay for the car Many rental car companies give you the option to prepay for the rental in exchange for a reduced price, but there are some major caveats. For starters, you’re locking yourself into that price point, but rates often drop as the pickup date approaches—potentially below the prepay rate that you accepted earlier. If that happens and you try to re-book for the lower rate, you’ll get slapped with a cancellation fee of about $50, which could effectively negate the amount of money you’d save by rebooking. The good news is you can still reserve a vehicle without paying for it upfront; then, if the rate drops, you simply cancel and rebook. “Renting a car is not like booking a seat on a flight, where you’re stuck with the reservation,” says Mark Mannell, chief executive of CarRentalSavers.com. “There’s no penalty for cancelling and rebooking.” Don’t prepay for gas When you pick up the car, you’re given the option to pay ahead of time for the car company to refill the gas tank when you return the vehicle. However, you’ll save money by refilling the tank yourself for a couple reasons. First, “anything that’s left in the fuel tank that you bought is non-refundable if you opted to prepay for gas,” says Abrams. Also, when you prepay for gas, the rental company charges you the “local market rate” for the fuel but it’s often more expensive than gas stations that are just a few miles away. “Rental car companies aren’t gas stations,” says Abrams. “They provide fuel as an accommodation, and they charge a premium for it.” READ: "25 Most Beautiful Cities in America" To maximize your savings, use the free GasBuddy app (available on iPhone and Android) to find the cheapest station near the airport. When you return the car, take a photo of the fuel gauge in case the rental car company tries to charge you refueling fee later, advises Abrams. Take photos of pre-existing damage Many companies will provide an inspection report when you pick up the car, but you should still take photos of any pre-existing damage. (Many camera phones also let you time stamp pictures.) If there is pre-existing damage, make sure the rental agent records it in the agreement. Also, don’t forget to take photos when you return the car, says Mannell. Don’t automatically buy rental car insurance Insurance through the rental car company can cost up to $50 a day, depending on the plan you select, but you may already be covered through your existing car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, or credit card. Weinberg says most auto insurance policies include coverage for rental cars. Still, it’s good to check with your insurance company or credit card issuer ahead of time to make sure you’re covered. (NerdWallet.com, a credit card comparison website, has compiled a list of which cards include rental car insurance.) Look into renting from an off-airport location Airports often charge rental car companies airport concession fees, which the rental companies then pass on to customers. As a result, daily rates at off-airport stations can be up to $20 or $30 cheaper per day, so it’s wise to survey your options. Just make sure you factor in the cost of a taxi or Uber ride to the off-site location when comparing prices. After all, “if you’ll wind up paying $50 for a taxi, it may not be worth it,” says Abrams. Compare rates at independent agencies Avis, Hertz, and Enterprise are the three largest rental car companies, but there are a number of smaller agencies that offer competitive rates, such as Fox Rent a Car and Advantage. But you may have to make some concessions if you rent from one of these companies. “You’re not usually going to get newer car models at discount agencies,” says Weinberg. Also, a lot of independent agencies don’t have airport locations. One car rental agency you may want to research carefully is Payless. The Better Business Bureau recently issued a nationwide warning to consumers after having received more than 800 complaints about Payless in the past three years. (The BBB has given the company an F rating.) READ: Read This Before You Book a Vacation Rental Redeem discounts for premium memberships Rental car companies offer discounts to members of frequent flier programs and credit card holders; AAA, Costco, and BJ’s also offer members deals on rental cars. These discounts can often be combined with discount codes from the rental car company. For example, a full-size car rental from Hertz at Ronald Reagan National Airport was $281.85 in a recent search, but plugging in a AAA member discount code and a Hertz discount code dropped the rate to $201.90.