The Budget Travel Guide to Vermont
During a drive in Vermont, it’s common to see simple, handwritten signs tempting with their advertisements of hyper-local goods. “Eggs for Sale,” “Maple Syrup Here” and “Fresh Produce” beckon drivers all along the state’s country roads.
Unless you’re in a big hurry — and, if you’re driving through Vermont, where the pace is almost island-like, you shouldn’t be — you’ll want to factor in random, unplanned stops, a promising part of a visit to the quintessential New England state.
Nestled in between Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire, Vermont is the second-least-populated U.S. state. It’s no stranger to visitors, however, who long ago began discovering the sweet state’s trove of treasures.
It starts with its rolling green mountains, duly cherished by skiers and snowboarders. Fans of the winter sport flock to Stowe for its European-like village and Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain, and to Jay Peak, the beloved resort on the US-Canada border. Killington’s sheer vastness (1,509 skiable acres) explains its well-appointed nickname: The Beast. There’s a mountain for every level — and every interest too.
While skiing has never been a budget-friendly sport, those who wish to get in a day on the slopes will find flexibility is key for the gentlest prices. A midweek day pass offers the best value for your buck; at $146/day, upscale Stratton is on the high end, and at $93/day, Mount Snow is on the lower end. But the best deal is for those athletes who don’t need a chairlift to get up the mountain. One can experience The Beast for $35 — and plenty of grit and endurance to skin up the mountain.
Of course, Vermont’s mountains don’t disappear come summer, and for many, it’s a much more pleasant time to check out the trails.
Plus, it’s free in the off-season! Cyclists, trekkers, and ambitious trail runners will be rewarded with mesmerizing views at the top. If the state’s heavily forested landscape is something to see along the road, it’s otherworldly from this vantage point.
For those preferring water activities, Vermont’s warm-weather months offer a bevy of recreational activities. Lake Champlain comes alive in summer. Think paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, swimming and sunning.
A visit to Lake Champlain is highly recommended, but it’s not the only way to splash around. All across the state are swimming holes, waterfalls and treks of varying degrees of difficulty, many with water crossings.
Some top spots include Clarendon Gorge, Warren Falls, and Bristol Falls, though it’s worth noting it is possible to find random waterfalls and swimming holes no matter where your adventures take you.
Beer is good
After you’ve worked up a sweat and cooled off in a river, it’s time for liquid sustenance. Vermont’s beer scene exploded years ago, but it’s still popping today, as evidenced by the astounding number of breweries across the state. That and the fact that you’re more likely to find a four-pack of craft brews than a six-pack of Budweiser at the local markets and gas stations has aided Vermont’s stellar reputation among beer drinkers.
It’s never a bad idea to visit a brewery, and it’s an especially good idea when there’s a killer view to pair with your pint. Beer Naked in Marlboro, VT sits on the top of Hogback Mountain; the deck tables are worth waiting for. The rotating selection of craft brews pairs wonderfully with inventive and familiar bites coming out of the kitchen — bone marrow spread to please the adventurous eaters, and the cheese plate as a matter of course.
If you want to get a taste of several different breweries and a deeper understanding of why Vermont’s beer scene is superior, you might consider a Vermont Brewery Tour with 4 Points. For less than a hundred bucks, the tour includes pick-up and drop-off, multiple brewery stops and tastings, snacks and entertaining fodder from your guide. It’s a relative bargain, though not as inexpensive as creating your own beer trail with the help of this nifty website.
You can find excellent local cheese in just about every Vermont grocery or general store. River Bend Market in Wilmington has a particularly unique selection of cheese from reputable cheese makers, including Vermont Creamery, Crawley, and Grafton, which has its own shop in Brattleboro..
A visit to Grafton Village Cheese, which sells wine and cheese accoutrements, may just inspire an impromptu picnic.
If you’d rather gallivant around the state collecting this most delicious of souvenirs, you’ll be delighted to learn there’s a Cheese Trail Map, which lists the cheese makers who welcome visitors. In July, $50 will get you into the Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival, which offers workshops, tasting and other cheese-centric activities around the over 200 cheeses showcased.
While the state deserves its cheesy (sorry/not sorry!) reputation, when it comes to wallet-friendly bites, you need not look too hard to find other delicious items.
Charming diners, cafes and bistros can be found throughout the state, but look a little closer and you’ll start to notice a smattering of food trucks.
Vermont’s food truck scene isn’t as diverse as Portland Oregon’s or as big as Austin, Texas’s, but it’s nonetheless an exciting one.
Nomad Food Kitchen Trailer in Dover has weekly specials in addition to a menu rounded out by ramen. About that ramen: The prices are a little steep for this part of town, but the best thing on the menu is the $5 pork bun. Loaded with glistening meat, crispy around the edges, crunchy vegetables and sweet and salty sauce, it’s basically two (three if you’re a more delicate eater) of the best bites in Vermont.
Healthier fare can be found at Carte Blanche in Burlington. Think eclectic soups, inventive sandwiches (pork belly with miso mayo), and kimchi-topped rice bowls. As the name implies, anything goes here.
Further North in Jefferson is chef and owner Lea Ann Macrery’s My Favorite Things. Hailing from South Africa and Malawai, Macrery might be dishing up poutine one day and a specialty beef burrito the next.
Most of the food trucks update their Instagram and Facebook pages regularly, so check there first to make sure you know how and where to find them.
Dose of Culture
Vermont boasts a number of family-friendly activities, many of which are inexpensive or free. A top pick is Bread & Puppet Theater, where puppets perform in a barn in the middle of the Northeast Kingdom. Art can be purchased here too — and for a nominal fee.
Want to add a history lesson to your Vermont visit? The Vermont Historical Society offers an interesting look at the state’s history, including a collection depicting the early days of skiing.
The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum also offers a history lesson with its model gallery showing the evolution of boat building in the region and The Roost, a cabin featuring stories of women on the water -- lighthouse keepers and lake explorers.
Both children and adults will find joy in Vermont’s farms, whether picking blueberries in July or petting alpacas in the fall.
Midnight Goat Farm sells cheese and offers goat meetings in typical times. Maple View Farm sells alpacas and offers information on alpaca breeding, but you need not be in the market for an alpaca — visiting and petting opportunities are available at this farm.
Shelburne Farms is chock-full of animals and kid-friendly activities. Introduce the kids to donkeys, cows and sheep and pick up some pasture-farmed eggs if you haven’t already been lured off the road by an “eggs for sale” sign.
For many visitors to Vermont, a must is visiting the flagship Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory. Located in Waterbury, this is also where you’ll find the infamous Flavor Graveyard, just up the hill from the main building. Here you can grieve the flavors that are no longer.
Dog lovers traveling with Fido or missing Fido back at home won’t want to miss Dog Mountain, where dog-lover and artist Stephen Huneck, has created a haven for dog people. Roaming the grounds and visiting the chapel is free.
Just up the road from the sprawling Grafton Village Cheese complex is Jeff’s Basement, an antique store with an impressive as well price-friendly selection of mid-century and postmodern furniture, lamps, and art.
For more fantastic vintage finds, Anjou & The Little Pear up in Burlington delights with cool glassware, snazzy art and old but gently used rugs.
For more eclectic finds and random finds, The Vermont Antique Mall has everything from the old-school bedside clock you didn’t know you needed to the mini cast iron pan.
And, finally, for rock-bottom prices and seriously sweet finds, including rooms full of toys and children’s games, there’s Twice Blessed. Located in Dover, right next to the dog-friendly Snow Republic Brewery, the cash-only shop a fine place to while away an hour or two and make good use of that twenty-dollar bill hiding in your wallet.
With majestic canyons, sandstone walls, and breathtaking hikes, it’s no wonder this jewel of the National Park Service was named for the promised land. Zion National Park in Southwest Utah is one of the most extraordinary places in the United States (and on earth). It offers adventure surrounded by towering canyons, immense sandstone walls, and amazing hikes that every American must see at least once in their lifetime. Getting There McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is the largest airport near Zion National Park. The St. George Regional Airport is a bit closer at just 50 miles away, but prices are usually between $100 and $200 more for a round-trip ticket. Keep an eye on ticket prices leading up to your purchase, and snag some for St. George if you find a comparable deal. If you’re coming from Las Vegas, rent a car for the 160-mile drive to the park. Then take off toward the mountains on I-15 for desert panoramas that will just begin to prepare you for the jaw-dropping Utah landscape you’re headed for. We recommend completing this drive during daylight. Not only will you want to take in the desert scenery, but there are also some winding roads. For the best gas prices, be sure to fuel up in St. George or Hurricane, UT. It’s also advisable to buy several gallons of water before entering the park in case of emergency. Entering And Navigating The Park Park Entrance At the park entrance, you’ll pay $35 per car, which gives you access to the park for seven days. For $80, you can get the America The Beautiful pass, which grants you access to all national parks in the US. If you plan to go on from Zion to other nearby parks such as Bryce Canyon or Arches, we absolutely recommend this option. Shuttle Buses During most of the pandemic, Zion has been implementing a shuttle ticket system. At the end of May 2021, the park eliminated this system. The shuttle is now open for anyone to ride. The only requirement is that you wear a mask! As of June 2021, the only places the buses are stopping include the visitor center, the lodge, the Grotto, Big Bend, and the Temple of Sinawava. There is often a line to get on a shuttle, and on busy days, you may feel as though you’re standing in line at Walt Disney World. The line is typically worse in the morning as everyone is arriving to the park, but extra-early birds can beat the crowds. Shuttle buses begin running at 6 AM, so get in line around 5:00 AM if you’d like to be one of the first up canyon. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel runs between Zion Canyon and the east side of the park. Due to height limitations, this 1.1-mile tunnel cannot accommodate large vehicles in both lanes. Rangers must control the traffic flow so that oversized vehicles can drive down the center of the tunnel. Therefore, vehicles larger than either 11’4” tall or 7’10” wide must pay a $15 tunnel permit fee at the park entrance station. Vehicles larger than 13’1” are completely prohibited. Also note that pedestrians and bicyclists are not allowed in the tunnel at any time. See below for the 2021 tunnel hours of operation (MDT) for large vehicles. August 29 to September 25: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM September 26 to November 6: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Winter hours of operation starting November 7: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Camping: The Ultimate Bargain Dispersed Camping Tent camping is one way you can cut expenses while visiting Zion National Park. You can make camp on most BLM (public) land without a fee; however, this option should only be used by those who are experienced campers. If you want to camp for free, make sure you have a map and give yourself plenty of daylight to find a campsite. The tradeoff with this option is that you’ll have to devote a little more time traveling to and from the park. Campgrounds If you’d prefer a campsite inside the park with more amenities, plan to book your spot early. The Watchman Campground is right by the visitor center and is the busiest campground, often selling out months in advance. Additionally, the South Campground is just a bit further up the road and allows reservations up to 14 days before your trip. For a little more privacy, you can stay at the first come, first served Lava Point Campground, about an hour and twenty minutes from the south entrance of the park. Hotels Are A Short, Beautiful Drive Away Affordable hotels can be found in Hurricane, UT, about a 30-minute drive from the park. Prices can be as low as $60 in the off season, and $70 in the high season. The drive is beautiful; just be sure to budget time to get through the park’s gates. Springdale is the closest town to Zion’s south entrance, but it tends to be a bit pricier. Keep your eyes on hotel prices as you prepare for your trip, and again, snag something if you find a comparable deal. There’s a shuttle that runs between Springdale and the park, so parking doesn’t have to be such a pain if you stay in town.Stock up on food in advance To stay on budget, you’ll want to stock up on food and water at a grocery store (pick up a cooler and ice if you’re packing perishables of course). Stop in either Las Vegas or St. George for these items. There are also several restaurants and small markets just outside the park in Springdale, but these will be more expensive. Hiking: Zion’s Main AttractionThe Narrows is one of the most fun hikes in America. Photo by Laura BrownZion is world-renowned for its hiking. Whether you spend the day wading through a river canyon or scaling the side of a mountain, there is no more rewarding way to soak up Zion’s unreal landscape. Plus, hiking is free! Here are our top recommendations in the park. Pa’rus Trail Section: South side (of the canyon) Level of difficulty: Easy The 3.5-mile Pa’rus Trail is great for bicyclists and for those who want a fairly flat trail that will still give them plenty of stunning views. Additionally, there is only one trail in Zion that pet owners can take their animals, and this is it! Watchman Trail Section: South side (of the canyon) Level of difficulty: Moderate If you’re wanting to do something a little more difficult than the Pa’rus Trail without having to enter the canyon via shuttle, try this trail. In 3.3 miles, it rewards you with great views of the Watchman, the lower canyon, and Springdale. Canyon Overlook Trail Section: East side Level of difficulty: Moderate The Canyon Overlook Trail is a beautiful one to watch either sunrise or sunset from. It’s a short jaunt that clocks in at just one mile round-trip, and it leads you up to spectacular views of lower Zion Canyon. Just be sure to head there a little earlier than your intended hike start time as you may have to park down the road. Parking at the trailhead is very limited. Taylor Creek Trail Section: Kolob Canyons Level of difficulty: Moderate If you’re interested in getting away from the crowds Zion is known for, take an hour drive to the Kolab Canyons section of the park and try the 5-mile Taylor Creek Trail. Emerald Pools + The Kayenta Trail Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Moderate Connect the Emerald Pools Trails with the Kayenta Trail for one of the easier hikes up canyon. This route is perfect for families or for those who are a little tired from hiking in the morning. There are a few different ways to do this combination depending on which Emerald Pools Trails you take, but the longest way clocks in at just about three miles. The Narrows Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Strenuous You can hike the Virgin River up to Big Spring (3.6 miles one-way), wading through the water as you stare up at the high walls enclosing you. The trail is listed as strenuous because it involves climbing over some rocks, but there’s little elevation gain. Some choose to rent gear such as walking sticks and water shoes from outfitters in town. If you want to save some money, however, just bring along the trekking poles you’re using to hike with anyways. Note that there’s always a risk of flash floods on this trail. Keep your eye on the flood forecast posted around the park and turn around if you see the following: Deteriorating weather conditions Thunder or a buildup of clouds Sudden changes in water clarity (from clear to muddy) Angel’s Landing Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Strenuous This is Zion’s most famous hike, which ends with a crawl across the spine of a mountain to a view meant for angels. If you’re afraid of heights, stop on the trail at Scout Lookout, which provides views almost as good as those farther on. This trail is often very crowded – by the end of the effort, you’ll be best friends with the people climbing the trail around you. Bring extra water as the set of steep switchbacks on the trail will have you needing more than you might think. Angel's Landing is more strenuous than you think. Be prepared! Photo by Laura Brown Other Things You Need To Know Closed Hikes Due to rockfall in 2019, a few hikes are closed: Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, and Observation Point via the canyon floor. These trails are bound to be closed for another decade or so (if they ever reopen). Cyanobacteria The Virgin River (and any water sources coming from the river) is currently experiencing a toxic cyanobacteria bloom. Even though the park is monitoring it regularly, much is unknown regarding its effects. If you choose to go into the water, avoid getting it in your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or in any open wounds. Additionally, do not let dogs drink from or get into the river as the algae has been found to be fatal to our furry friends. The United States’ national parks are some of our favorite road trip destinations, and we were thrilled to create this budget guide for Zion. For more details about the park, head to the NPS website. If you go to the park and post any photos on social media, be sure to use the hashtag #MyBudgetTravel for a chance to be featured on our page!
Great Smoky Mountain National Park (nps.gov/grsm) is America’s most visited national park (with more than 11 million visitors in 2017), in part because of its proximity to large populations of people, but mostly for its sweeping views, great hiking trails, and opportunities to get up close and personal with the most biodiverse park in America. Must-see highlights include hiking to the top of Clingman’s Dome Observatory and the drive through Cades Cove. In late 2016, some of the most trafficked trails of the park, along with the neighboring town of Gatlinburg, were burned when a wildfire met a windstorm. Both the park and the town have rebounded, offering a fascinating opportunity to see how the natural world rebounds after a wildfire GETTING THERE Straddling the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains is one of the most centrally located national parks and a manageable road trip from many major urban areas in the East, Midwest, and South. The closest regional airports are Mcghee-Tyson in Knoxville Tennessee or the Asheville regional airport in North Carolina. Both airports have rental car options. And remember when renting a vehicle that you do not need a 4WD vehicle to experience this park. ENTERING AND NAVIGATING THE PARK There is no entrance fee for Great Smoky Mountain National Park, because the state of Tennessee would only transfer the land to the National Park Service if they guaranteed no fee would ever be charged to access the mountains. Please consider donating $20 to the Friends of the Smokies instead (friendsofthesmokies.org); this is the admission fee for most of the national parks across the country, and funds go directly to protecting the park’s facilities and wildlife. CAMPING IS A BARGAIN Tent camping is the cheapest way to experience the Smokies . For $20/night, there are 10 different campgrounds in the Smokies. Some of them require reservations and are only open during the high season. You can check the pricing and reservation requirements online (nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/frontcountry-camping.htm). AFFORDABLE LODGING Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee are considered the “gateway to the Smokies” and both have lived up to this moniker by providing ample affordable lodging and a huge variety of activities for families. This area is what I like to call “hillbilly chic” for the way it leans into its heritage. Physical activities like go-karts, mini-golf, and horseback riding abound, but you can also experience museums of the strange and curious - from the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum all the way to the Titanic museum. And you’ll definitely notice a certain affinity for one Dolly Parton. This part of Tennessee is where the singer/songwriter grew up, and Parton has reinvested in the community by opening up several dinner theaters and her own theme park. Dollywood has several of the best roller coasters in the South and provides a great time. Should you decide to do any of these attractions, be sure to do a search for discounted tickets online before you pay full price at the box office. For the cheapest hotel options, you should consider staying in Cherokee, North Carolina (on the other side of the park from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge). This area is the Cherokee indian reservation, and has many hotels that get you more for the price. Cherokee is not as kitschy as Gatlinburg, and you’ll have fewer crowds to deal with. EATING OPTIONS ABOUND There are a plethora of restaurants on the Tennessee side of the park. You can find everything from cheap fast food to mountain pancakes to steak dinners. HIKING & MUST-SEE SIGHTS The Chimneys. The Chimneys is a classic hike in the smokies, a steep climb up to one of the best views in the park. This hike is a bit over four miles round trip, and you should plan on a workout. Bring plenty of water and a walking stick. This trail was part of the burn area in the 2015 wildfires, so it can be muddy in places where the brush was burned away. Because of the fire, you can no longer go the final .25 mile to the summit of the chimneys, but the end of the trail still provides a wonderful view. Alum Cave Bluff Trail. This is a moderate 6.5 mile trail that offers some amazing views and a variety of terrain, concluding at a natural cave in the mountain rock. This hike is really fun and is not as physically taxing as some of the other hikes in the park. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so be sure to get there early! Clingman’s Dome Observatory. Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the park, and has an observatory on the top that provides some incredibly views. The hike to the observatory is less than a mile, with minimal elevation gain. The trail is paved, making this an ideal outing for families with children and those who are disabled. Be sure to bring a jacket as this higher elevation is often cold and windy, even in summer. Appalachian Trail. The appalachian trail is a 2,000 mile adventure that goes right through GSMNP. Those with an adventurous spirit can meet up with the Appalachian Trail at the Clingman’s Dome parking lot and hike as much or as little of it as they wish. Keep in mind that all overnight backcountry stays in this park require a permit. IF YOU'RE VISITING WITH KIDS... Great Smoky Mountains is one of the most fun parks to visit with children. Here, two options that’ll keep little ones enchanted, and make them want to return again and again: Creek Stomping. There are several places in the park that are great for kids to play in nature. At the trailhead for the Chimneys trail is a rocky section of the creek that offers a good opportunity for kids to climb and splash in the water. Scenic Drive and Picnic. Cades Cove is in a valley surrounded by mountains and makes for a lovely scenic drive. This is the best spot in the park for picnicking, as well as providing plenty of great photos and opportunities to see wildlife. Cades Cove used to be a small mountain community, and the old structures from the 19th century have been preserved for the public to get a glimpse of life. Bears are not an uncommon sighting in Cades Cove, but don’t be afraid - black bears prefer a lazy lifestyle as long as you don’t get too close! Plan on spending at least an hour driving the Cades Cove loop - which can get crowded on beautiful days and weekends.
This content is sponsored by Fireside Resort Cabins, Wyoming Enjoy the outdoors sustainably without compromising comfort at Fireside Resort Cabins in Wilson, Wyoming. The 25 LEED-certified individual cabins offer modern luxuries in a rustic setting near the mountain town and ski slopes of Jackson Hole. Each cabin has hardwood floors, craftsman-style décor, Native American artwork, king-sized Tempur-Pedic bed, walk-in rain shower and a living room with a fireplace and kitchenette. The atmosphere of a wooded campground is complete with a private campfire and hot tub. Some of the best-known parks in the country – Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone National Park, are nearby. Moab Springs Ranch, Utah Located just minutes outside Arches National Park, the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, Moab Springs Ranch is a locally owned, eco-friendly resort. There are studio-style stand-alone bungalows with private porches, and spacious townhouses with one, two or three bedrooms to accommodate large families. The resort itself backs up to Moab’s majestic red rocks and offers walking, biking and hiking trails, as well as a relaxing garden with hammocks and waterscapes. Tiny Town Cabins, Colorado Since there are no accommodations inside Rocky Mountain National Park, most visitors choose to stay at the bustling city of Estes Park. The energetic town filled with eclectic restaurants and shops, is located at the footsteps of Rocky Mountain National Park, just 90 minutes from Denver. For a typical Colorado-style cabin experience, stay at Tiny Town Cabins at Trout Haven Resorts outside the park. Located alongside the trout filled Big Thompson River, the 19 individual cozy cabins offer a blend of modern amenities and historic architecture. In case you want to bring your four-legged family members along, the cabins are also dog friendly. Lazy Z Resort, California Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountain in Sonora, California, Lazy Z Resort is a family-owned retreat offering 13 cabins and cottages in 40 acres of pines, cedars, and oaks. The expansive rooms come with private kitchens and decks, while common areas include a rustic club house filled with family heirlooms and a relaxing swimming pool in the woods. The mountain retreat is great for nature lovers looking for peace and tranquility, and an easy access to Yosemite National Park. Treetop Hideaways, Georgia Located at the border of Georgia and Tennessee, Treetop Hideaways is one of the most luxurious and sustainable treehouse accommodations. Made of reclaimed wood, copper-lined whiskey barrels, and backed by a crowdsourcing campaign, the two treehouses offer the ultimate glamping experience. Complete with climate control, heated floors, walk-in rain-head showers, and ultra-fast internet, these treehouses feel like an ultimate nature resort in the sky. Nearby, explore Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the first and largest national military park in the country. Glacier Bay Lodge, Alaska The rustic Glacier Bay Lodge is the only hotel accommodation available within the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in this remote part of Alaska. Glacier Bay Lodge offers spectacular views and easy access to Bartlett Cove and the Fairweather Mountain range. It is also the perfect place to embark on an adventure day cruise to see towering snow-capped mountains, magnificent glaciers, humpback whales, moose, mountain goats, brown and black bears, and bald eagles. Sunshine Key Tiny House, Florida Sunshine Key Tiny House Village features all the comforts of home cleverly designed in a fascinatingly small space. The bright tropical colored tiny homes are ideally located on the 75-acre island of Ohio Key, in the lower Florida Keys. Each tiny house is individually designed and decorated to express a unique personality (such as Hemingway), and inside you’ll find comfortable sleeping accommodations, a kitchenette, full bathroom and a flat screen TV. With steps from the beach, Sunshine Key Tiny House Village provides the perfect getaway for ocean activities, or for just relaxing at the water's edge for romance. Tiny House Village is next to the Bahia Honda State Park in Florida. The Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park are also just two hours away. Falling Waters, North Carolina Inspired by ancient Mongolian design, the yurts at Falling Waters Nantahala provide a unique alternative to cabin rentals. Falling Waters’ Yurt Village in the Smoky Mountains encompasses 8 yurts scattered across 22 acres in the scenic vistas of Western North Carolina. Watch the stars from the domed skylights while lying on a comfortable queen size bed, or gaze at pristine Fontana Lake from a private deck. These yurts come with a refrigerator, coffee maker and heater for those chilly nights. Falling Waters is located within a few minutes of Nantahala National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Castle House Estate, California Situated just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, near Los Angeles, The Castle House Estate is a unique glamping site that looks like a medieval castle. Different lodging options at the nine-acre desert estate include yurts, trailers, and guard towers. The estate offers incredible stargazing opportunities in one of California's designated International Dark Sky Parks. Shash Diné Eco Retreat, Arizona Shash Diné Eco Retreat is one of the few glamping bed-and-breakfast that allows guests to stay directly on the Navajo Nation. The homey Bell Tents, cabins and shepherd huts are outfitted with king size beds, hot water showers and candle lanterns. There are also two Navajo Hogans, which are traditional dwellings of the Navajo with earthern floors. Each site has a fire pit to make s’mores under a star-studded night sky. Located just 12 miles south of Paige, Arizona, Shah Diné acts as an easy base from where you can access Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Grand Canyon National Park. View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Oxbow Bend on the Snake River © RIRF Stock / Shutterstock Tips for Glamping in 2021 Whether you are planning to camp, glamp or stay at a hotel, traveling during the pandemic requires some advanced planning and additional safety measures. Always call the property ahead to inquire if it’s currently open, at what capacity, and what safety measures they are taking to sanitize the rooms and public areas. Some places may offer touchless check-in, to-go breakfast only, or may temporarily close hot tubs and reception areas. When venturing to the national parks, keep in mind many of them now require advanced reservations to visit. Make sure to print out your reservation confirmation and enter the park during the allotted time. Cell phone reception is generally limited inside the parks, so make sure to download park and surrounding area maps ahead of time. A good way to plan your road trip and hiking trails in advance is by using the free National Park Trail Guide app. Avoid the most popular trails during peak hours and plan your routes in reverse order to escape traffic. Most facilities inside the parks, such as restaurants and gift shops, are closed due to COVID-19 or may have limited operations. Therefore, it is better to prepack snacks, food and drinks for the day before entering the park. Public restrooms inside the park are generally open, but carry PPP items such as hand sanitizers, wet wipes and masks to ensure an extra layer of protection. Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Budget Travel, and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.Sponsored by GEICO
10 budget-friendly adventures across the midwest
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. 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 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. 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. 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