It’s fall, and now — before the cold weather and the rush of the holiday set in — is a perfect time to take a weekend getaway. And it doesn’t have to cost a bundle. No matter which corner of the country you live in, you have access to incredible outdoor activities, scenic vistas and historic sites that cost nothing or very little to enjoy.
GOBankingRates identified 10 locations from coast to coast that could fit the bill for your weekend away from home. Free, or nearly free, activities are aplenty at the sites, and hotels priced for an October trip won’t overwhelm your finances.
Just where will these travels take you? From the coastline of Washington state to the Gulf Coast waters, to the Adirondacks of upstate New York and the red rocks of Arizona. Read on to learn more about 10 affordable weekend getaways.
Lake Placid, New York
The 2022 Winter Olympics begin Feb. 4 in Beijing, and you can get in the Olympic spirit with a visit to Lake Placid, New York. The upstate village has hosted the games twice — 1932 and 1980 — and it was in 1980 that the Miracle on Ice team made hockey history. Walk the village to soak up the flavor of the Adirondacks and see the exterior of the 7,700-seat 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, the quaint building where Brooks coached the hockey team to the gold medal. The arena itself currently is undergoing renovations, but artifacts from the Olympic Museum are available to see — for free! There’s also hiking galore at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, which hosted the cross country competition in 1980, and walking or biking around the 2.7-mile Mirror Lake. Hotel rooms are available starting at around $150 a night.
Gatlinburg is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. If fall leaf-peeping is on your list, take a drive around Cades Cove Loop Road, Newfound Gap Road, Cataloochee Valley or Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Drive most of the way to Clingman’s Dome — 6,643 feet in height — and hike the final half-mile to take in the view from the highest peak. If you’re traveling with kids, stop at the beloved Fannie Farkle’s for the food and stay for the games. (There are even coupons on its website!) Or, in nearby Pigeon Forge, go to the Creekstone Inn and buy a $1 bag of cracked corn to feed the wildlife. Lodging is on the more expensive side — about $200 a night — but there are plenty of money-saving things to do there.
Ocean Shores, Washington
In the southwestern part of Washington is Ocean Shores, a family-friendly community with lots of cheap or inexpensive things to do. If you’re traveling with kids, bring the pails, shovels and kites. It’s an ideal spot for building sandcastles. When the weather turns chilly, check out the indoor bumper cars. Birdwatching and fishing also are popular pastimes in Ocean Shores, and plenty of restaurants specialize in fresh seafood. Hotel rooms start at about $100 per night.
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Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s state capital, Providence is an urban community with a lot of charm. For this weekend away, leave the kids at home. While Providence has activities for youngsters, big kids will find a lot to enjoy. By day, check out the bike routes mapped out for foodies or stroll past the shops on Open Air Saturday. At night, you can check out Free Play Providence, where for a $7 entrance fee — $10 on Friday and Saturday — you can enjoy unlimited free play on all games, which include dozens of arcade and pinball games. Entry is limited to those 21 and older. Hotels in downtown Providence are pricey, but you could stay about 12 miles away in Warwick for half the price – about $135 a night.
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On the southern shore of Flathead Lake lies Polson, Montana, in the state’s Glacier Country. With more than 200 square miles of water and 185 miles of shoreline, Flathead is the largest natural freshwater lake in the west of the Mississippi River in the continental United States. Water activities provide plenty for visitors to do, and for those who really want to enjoy nature, stay in one of the area campgrounds. The lake also is known for paddling and powerboating, and rentals are available. If camping isn’t for you, hotels in Polson begin at about $105 a night.
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Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
Atlantic Beach sits on a barrier island bordered by Bogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy the public beaches, then take the kids to the Atlantic Beach Town Park. While there’s a fee to play miniature golf, the little kids can frolic in the splash pad or run around the playground while the older ones play basketball or ride in the skatepark. (Don’t forget to pack the skateboard, pads and helmets!) All that is free. While the area has hotels, you might prefer to rent a condo to save money preparing meals. Nightly costs start at about $65, plus rental fees.
Using Reno as your base of operations, there’s lots to do in the area aside from gambling. Drive about 40 minutes south to visit Lake Tahoe and its crystal clear waters, or stay in the city and enjoy Reno’s Riverwalk District. It’s open 365 days a year and has everything visitors need — and more — with restaurants and bars, shopping and entertainment. If you’re looking for a bit more in the fun and games arena, stay at the iconic Circus Circus at the Row and play some games on the Carnival Midway. Rates are as low as $39, but the hotel does charge a resort fee of almost that same amount per night.
If you’re looking for a warm-weather getaway for white sands and clear blue ocean water, look no further than the Destin/Miramar Beach Area. Crystal Sands Beach is a relaxing spot to take in the magnificent panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico, but you can’t go wrong with any of the beaches the dot the coastline along Scenic Highway 98. Mattie Kelly and Clement Taylor parks also are treasures. When you’re ready to eat, head to HarborWalk Village and stop at a mom-and-pop place. After dinner, stop and listen to the live music in the village. Hotel rooms in Destin and Miramar Beach are available in the $150 per night range.
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Sedona has a reputation as a playground for the well-to-do, and hotel prices reflect that. During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, people flocked there in private jets to get away from densely packed cities. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all the free activities Sedona has to offer by day and stay in an affordable nearby town at night. Take in the breathtaking scenery of Red Rocks Country, either on a hike at places with colorful names such as Coffee Pot Rock, Capitol Butte and Chimney Rock, or by following the 7 1/2-mile Red Rock Scenic Byway. Don’t miss the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the canyon walls. Hotel rooms in Camp Verde, about 30 miles away, cost in the range of $100 a night.
San Antonio has a lot of fun and free — or nearly free — things to do. A lot. Start with a leisurely walk along the 2 ½-mile River Walk and take in the sights and sounds, including abundant window shopping and the mariachi bands. Visit the Japanese Tea Garden at Brackenridge Park, then take the kids for a ride on the miniature train ($4) that traverses the park. And remember the Alamo. Step back into history and see the former Franciscan mission where a famed battle in Texas’ war for independence from Mexico was fought for 13 days in early 1836. Hotels in San Antonio are inexpensive, starting in the $70 range and going up.
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