Not every family can afford the luxury of a weeklong stay in a world-class destination. Fortunately, not every family has to. There are plenty of low-key getaways within easy reach of major North American cities. Many offer an impressive range of lodging options at a fraction of the cost of hotels and resorts in better-known locales.
What these eight destinations lack in cachet or name recognition, they make up for in affordability and down-to-earth touches. How many are on your vacation shortlist?
1. Panama City, Florida
The Florida Panhandle’s beaches comprise a region disparagingly termed the “Redneck Riviera.” Spend a week down here, though, and you’ll have the last laugh. Along with Pensacola and Destin, Panama City is one of the focal points of this astoundingly cheap beach region, and it’s absolutely clotted with three-star and better hotels. Just be sure to book your flight to Panama City, Florida; Panama City, Panama, is nice and all, but it’s a lot farther away.
2. Wilmington, North Carolina
This is another cheap, relatively warm beach destination within easy access of major eastern U.S. cities. Who needs the Outer Banks when you have the seemingly endless expanse of sand that stretches from Wilmington to Myrtle Beach and beyond?
3. Hecla Island, Manitoba
Just off the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba’s largest lake, Hecla Island is a largely wild expanse dotted with cabins, campsites, and rustic resorts like Gull Harbour Marina, a recently refurbished property owned by Manitoba philanthropist David Janeson. Weather permitting, don’t miss a round of golf at Lakeview Hecla Resort’s championship 18-hole course; it’s a bargain compared with comparable courses in higher-profile locales.
4. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is the western gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of North America’s most popular outdoor destinations. For such a busy place, it’s surprisingly affordable and low-key. During the warm months, avail yourself of the ample camping options around here; Camping in the Smokies, a family-friendly RV resort, is perennially popular. The Atlanta and Charlotte airports are both less than a half a day’s drive away.
5. Manitoulin Island, Ontario
This massive freshwater island is a world unto itself. You could spend days exploring forgotten byways and trails here, or set up camp at one of dozens of low-profile cabin resorts and work through your summer reading list. The drive up from Toronto is well worth the time.
6. Lake Havasu, Arizona
South of better-known Lake Mead, Havasu is arguably the most affordable and accessible manmade lake on the Colorado River. Rent yourself a pontoon or speedboat and hit the open water before the sun gets too hot, then cool off with a dip at the beach. If you’re up for a splurge, check out the sumptuous Nautical Lakefront Resort.
7. South Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Lake Tahoe’s less glitzy side is surprisingly affordable, at least by local standards. Traffic and weather conditions permitting, the entire lakeshore is within easy reach from here, and hiking trails in the surrounding mountains tend to be less crowded than up north. Down the mountain, Reno’s international airport has regular service to most cities in the western United States.
8. South Shore, Nova Scotia
The south shore of Nova Scotia is awash (literally) in beaches. Whether you’re looking for a quiet expanse to sun yourself (weather permitting), gnarly breakers to ride all day long, or stunning dunescapes, you’ll find something to love in this part of the Canadian Maritimes. Just remember your wetsuit; the water is nippy year round.Nearby Halifax has nonstop or one-stop connections to most major North American cities.
Get Away From It All Without Breaking the Bank
These aren’t the only affordable vacation destinations within easy reach of major North American cities. With so many low-cost, low-key spots to relax and recharge, it’s a wonder so many tourists insist on visiting high-dollar destinations at all.
Oh, well. That’s their loss. All you can do is get down to planning your next affordable getaway.