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6 Cheap Summer Vacation Ideas

Posted on 3/29/2012 12:37 EST

If you're already on the hunt for cheap summer vacation ideas, you're a step ahead: Smart travelers know that scoring the best deals means starting their research early. And with spring already here, summer -- and summer vacations -- are just around the corner.

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To save big bucks on your vacation, consider taking a less-traditional trip this year. You'll save money and create lasting memories for your entire family. Here are six cheap summer vacation ideas that won't hit your wallet too hard:

Off-Season Ski Resorts.

If you or your family love the great outdoors, ski resorts offer great summer fun at cheap prices. Most resorts offer mountain biking and hiking, and depending on which resort you choose, you'll also find opportunities for horseback riding, river rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing. To entice travelers, resorts often offer package deals and promotions.


As far as cheap summer vacations go, a backpacking trip is about as inexpensive as it gets. You'll carry your food and tent on your back, as you explore some of the country's most amazing, unspoiled scenery, then settle in for the night in the great outdoors. If you're inexperienced, the magazine Backpacker offers loads of information for first-timers. To save money, you can either borrow gear from a friend or rent it from an outfitter such as REI. And while this trip requires a bit more research than a standard vacation, you're trading flight plans and hotel reservations for trails, campsites, and meal plans - and getting a true adventure in the bargain.


Staying on a houseboat, like renting a vacation home, allows you to save money by sharing expenses with other families and cooking your own meals. On the water, you'll have no temptations to eat out or spend money on entertainment. Instead, the lake becomes your playground and the scenery your entertainment. Many large U.S. lakes are magnets for houseboaters, with established rentals and harbors. Houseboats run the gamut, from luxury 70-foot boats that sleep more than a dozen to smaller rigs that will comfortably house a family of five. Visit HouseBoating.org to begin your research.

Canoe Trips.

In places like Minnesota, extended canoe trips are quite common. But you don't have to be from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" to enjoy a summer vacation in the great outdoors. As with a backpacking trip, you'll spend time in the wilderness, traveling with your own food and shelter. Canoe trips are best done on large bodies of water or in areas where many lakes are close together (because you'll have to carry, or "portage," your canoe from lake to lake). Besides Minnesota, popular destinations include New York, Maine, Wisconsin, and Vermont. Check out the North Forest Canoe Trail or the site for Minnesota water trails to help you plan for your trip.

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Forest Service Cabins.

If camping seems like roughing it a bit too much and renting a house is too expensive, consider renting a Forest Service cabin. Rustic but affordable for those seeking cheap summer vacation ideas, these cabins are situated throughout the U.S. National Forests. They're often located in the backcountry, and while a few are road accessible, most are not and you'll have to backpack your way in with the food and clothing you'll need on your trip. Many cabins come with bunk beds and counter space for cooking; a few include wood stoves or propane heaters, rowboats (if lakeside), and incredible views. You can visit Recreation.gov and research locations by state. It's worth noting that many state parks offer standard cabin rentals as well.

Family Camps.

Summer camp: It's not just for kids anymore. Consider a week-long adventure at a camp that caters to the whole family. Meals and lodging are included in the price, and you won't have to do any activity planning - or any planning, really. In general, the lodging is rustic with wall tents or bunkhouses, but that's part of the reason it's so affordable: You're not going to a resort!. The YMCA offers several family camps across the U.S. Start your research with the Merrimack Valley Camp site.

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