Even though I work full-time as a freelancer and can make my own hours, I find myself drawn to keeping a nine-to-five schedule, sometimes seven days a week. At the end of the day, I’m usually so tired of staring at a computer screen that browsing travel deal sites to find a cheap getaway isn’t high on my list of priorities.
It’s too bad, because I find that the best antidote to my workday blues is a little fresh air. If you love getting outside but work in a job that keeps you glued to the office, you probably know how I feel.
With my fellow desk-dwellers in mind, I scoured the country for affordable and accessible outdoor vacation destinations that offer a variety of activities. For each destination, I paid special attention to the best (and cheapest) time to visit, affordable places to stay, fun things to do, and special events. Check out some of the destinations near you.
1. Acadia National Park – Maine
Acadia National Park is the only national park in New England. It covers much of Mount Desert Island, a massive, rocky island that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean from mainland Maine. Acadia is known for beautiful inland lakes, thick forests that turn glorious hues in fall, and stunning ocean and mountain views from its rocky outcrops.
Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak on the U.S. Atlantic coast, is a must-visit. The quaint town of Bar Harbor sits just outside the park and features an impressive collection of 19th century architecture. Despite being an easy day’s drive from Boston, Acadia is much less crowded and more affordable than other coastal New England destinations, such as Cape Cod and the New Hampshire coast.
Entrance Fee: $25 for a seven-day vehicle pass, $12 for a seven-day bike/hike pass.
Best Time to Visit: Winter lasts from November to April in this part of the world, and spring is a muddy, often raw season that can last into June. With the year’s best weather, July and August are Acadia’s busiest and most expensive months. Early to mid-October is peak foliage season, another busy and expensive time. The sweet spot is mid- to late September, when crisp temperatures thin the crowds, but there’s no snow or ice and the leaves haven’t yet peaked. Acadia is significantly cheaper and roomier during this time.
How to Get There: Without traffic, Acadia is about four and a half hours by car from central Boston, and roughly half that from Portland, Maine. If you’re coming from outside New England, fly into Boston’s Logan Airport, a major hub. You can then fly directly into Bar Harbor, Maine, from Logan, with flights taking about an hour and starting at $250 per seat. However, the drive up the rocky, rugged Maine coast is hard to beat, and Portland – with its quaint cobblestone streets and unpretentious, affordable foodie joints – is a great overnight stop if you have an extra night to spare.
Where to Stay: There are tons of cute bed and breakfasts in Bar Harbor and nearby communities, but they can be pricey – $150 and up per night, even during the offseason. If you’re set on staying in a warm bed, try the lodgings at Primrose Place (formerly Aurora Inn), just outside Bar Harbor. Posted room rates start near $100 per night in mid-September. For those with tighter budgets, camping is the most cost-effective option during the warm season. Acadia’s two best campgrounds are Blackwoods (drive-up and walk-in, $30 per night) and Seawall ($22 walk-in, $30 drive-up), both of which recommend reservations. Campground availability is extremely limited in winter.
What to Do: Acadia is a DIY kind of park, which is great news for frugal travelers. If you don’t bring your own bike, stop at Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop and rent one (starting at $19 for four hours and $25 for a full day), then take it out on the park’s dense network of carriage roads. If you’re bike-less, choose from easy hikes, such as the two-mile Great Meadow Loop, or strenuous ascents, like the seven-mile Cadillac South Ridge Trail, which takes you from sea level to Cadillac’s peak. If you have a car and want the view without the walking, you can just drive up Park Loop Road to the top of Cadillac Mountain.
Special Events and Attractions: If you visit Acadia in late September, don’t miss the Acadia Night Sky Festival, a celebration of the region’s astronomical assets.
You Might Also Like: Prefer the West Coast to the East Coast? Check out our guide to the best cheap things to do in Portland, Oregon – the United States’ “other” Portland.