You asked for more weekend getaways under $500, and we answered! This list of fun and budget-friendly two-night escapes from major metropolitan areas in the U.S. is a follow-up to our original Weekend Getaways Under $500, which, we must add, was quite a hit. We aren't surprised that so many of our readers are fans of the weekend getaway — it's an exceptionally affordable and accessible kind of vacation. Plus, taking a weekend trip is a terrific way to reconnect with your spouse, best friend or sibling (pack your bags, head off on an adventure and bond!).
For these reasons, we came up with even more low-cost mini-vacations to historic towns, nature preserves, national parks and other worthwhile destinations just a few hours' drive from your home town. These getaways cost $500 or less per person, based on a Friday evening departure and a Sunday evening return.
Estimates for gas expenses are based on a price of $3 a gallon and will vary depending on your route and your vehicle's gas mileage. Dinner prices are based on a two-course meal with alcohol, tax and tip. All prices are per person except for hotel rates, which are per room. And, of course, all prices are subject to change at any time.
From the Seattle Area: Forks, Washington
What's there: A former logging town nestled between the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Forks is the quintessential Pacific Northwestern destination. Recently, this picturesque hamlet gained fame from Stephenie Meyer’s "Twilight" book and movie series, which follows the adventures of vampires living in the Forks area.
Getting there: Forks is about a three-hour drive from Seattle, so expect to pay around $30 to $65 in gas for roundtrip and incidental driving.
Where to sleep and eat: Kalaloch Lodge is a remote cabin-style hotel located in Olympic National Park that has ocean-view rooms with cozy fireplaces, with rates starting at $127 per night. The Quillayute River Resort is another worthwhile lodging option, with cabins starting at just $110 per night (open your window to hear the rushing water of the Quillayute River from your room). Outdoorsy travelers can set up camp at one of 16 campgrounds in Olympic National Park, where campsite fees start at $10 per night. Lots of budget-friendly dining options are also available around Forks. Stop by Forks Coffee Shop for a tasty but affordable meal; try pancakes and eggs for $5.95 or a sirloin steak for $11.95. For dinner, Plaza Jalisco serves what many consider "the best Mexican in the area," including burritos and tacos starting at $6.95.
What to do: Hit the trails in Olympic National Park, where you can hike through the Hoh Rain Forest, spot bald eagles, watch the sunset from Rialto Beach, take a dip in mineral hot spring soaking pools ($12 for an adult day pass) or go fishing. Park entrance fees are $5 per adult on foot and $15 per vehicle. Edward and Bella fans may wish to book a tour from Dazzled by Twilight, which offers a variety of Twilight-themed tours of Forks and its surrounding areas that start at $39 per person for roughly two to three hours.
The bottom line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners will cost around $190 to $300 per person (if you don't stay at a campground).
From the Philadelphia Area: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
What's there: A small town steeped in history, Gettysburg was the location for the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, as well as Lincon's celebrated Gettysburg Address. With its lovely 18th- and 19th-century architecture, Civil War-era museums, and massive, well-preserved battlefield, Gettysburg is the perfect destination for history buffs and antiquarians.
Getting there: Gettysburg is a two-and-a-half-hour drive west of Philadelphia. Gas is likely to cost around $25 to $60 in gas for roundtrip and incidental driving.
Where to sleep and eat: There's no shortage of historic inns and B&B's in Gettysburg (many of which claim to be haunted), so skip the Hilton and head to Battlefield Bed & Breakfast, an 1809 farmhouse that sits directly on the battlefield (rates start at $175 per night), or the Brickhouse Inn Bed and Breakfast, a pretty three-story Victorian mansion built in 1898 (nightly rates start at $129). If you're here for the history, a meal at the Dobbin House Tavern is a must. At Dobbin House, waitresses in period costumes serve a mix of modern and Colonial cuisines, like roast duck ($22.95), roasted vegetables ($17.95) and seafood Isabella ($24.95). The Blue Parrot Bistro is another quality (albeit less gimmicky) restaurant option. Blue Parrot has a reasonably priced menu with items like bistro stuffed hamburger ($13), baby back ribs ($24), and clams and linguine in a white wine sauce ($21).
What to do: The biggest and best attraction in town is the famed Gettysburg National Military Park, which is so massive that you may want to plan visits on both Saturday and Sunday. Start your day at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, which features a cyclorama painting of a Civil War battle scene plus 12 exhibit galleries and even a restaurant serving Civil War-era dishes (adult admission to the museum and visitor center costs $10.50, but admission to the park is free). Next, stop by the museum bookstore, purchase a self-guiding auto tour and experience the park in your car (an auto tour CD costs $20). Or you can arrange a guided battlefield bus tour ($27.95 per adult). In the evening, take a Gettysburg ghost tour and search for undead spirits around town. Sleep Hollow of Gettysburg runs candlelight ghost tours led by storytellers in period costume (tours start at $7 per person). Farnsworth House Inn offers interactive tours with ghost hunting equipment like digital recorders, night vision sensors and dowsing rods ($16 per person). In addition, many B&B's and inns in the area offer their own guided ghost tours.
The bottom line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners will cost around $235 to $350 per person.
From the Houston Area: Lake Charles, Louisiana
What's there: Lake Charles is a bustling city in Southern Louisiana known for its authentic Cajun cuisine, casinos, vibrant nightlife and over-the top Mardi Gras festivities (second only to those in New Orleans). Travelers seeking a quieter getaway can also find nature trails and birding hot spots in Louisiana's "Outback" just outside the city.
Getting there: Lake Charles is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Houston. Gas is likely to cost around $30 to $65 for roundtrip and incidental driving.
Where to sleep and eat: The L'Auberge du Lac Casino Resort is a destination in and of itself — especially if you're in town to hit the casinos. L'Auberge has a casino with 30,000 square feet of gaming, a large concert venue with an impressive calendar of entertainers (Willie Nelson is scheduled to perform in May), and a heated pool with a lazy river. Nightly rates at L'Auberge start at about $150. Looking for something more low key? Book a room at the secluded Gross Savanne Waterfowl and Wildlife Lodge, a plantation-style B&B. Rates at Gross Savanne start at $200 per night including all beverages, a five-course dinner, breakfast and brunch. If meals aren't included where you're staying, grab some Cajun grub at Southern Spice; dishes at this restaurant range from omelets for breakfast ($4.69) to grilled catfish for dinner ($12.89). Another eatery serving tasty local specialties is Blue Duck Cafe, which offers affordable Creole food like gumbo ($4.95), Louisiana shrimp sandwiches ($6.25) and Creole roast beef ($5.25).
What to do: Lake Charles has a thriving arts and music scene, and a trip to a local venue to hear some swamp pop or zydeco tunes is a fabulous way to spend an evening. Check out the Lake Charles Convention and Visitor's Bureau Web site,which has a music search tool that allows users to see when and where local musicians will be performing. This site is also a great place to find special events in the Lake Charles region, which has been deemed the "Festival Capital of Louisiana," and hosts more than 75 fairs and festivals annually. Alternatively, if you'd like some peace and quiet for a day or two, get out of the city and head to the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-mile National Scenic Byway close to Lake Charles. Plan a mini-road trip and discover dozens of attractions along the trail, from wildlife refuges to picturesque beaches. You can download audio tours and interactive maps on the Creole Nature Trail Web site.
The bottom line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners will cost around $250 to $380 per person.
From the Columbus Area: Logan, Ohio
What's there: Logan is a convenient base for exploring the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio, a woodsy rural area near the Appalachian foothills that boasts an impressive number of state parks, nature preserves and national forests.
Getting there: Logan is about 50 miles south of Columbus. Expect to pay from $8 to $20 in gas for roundtrip and incidental driving
Where to sleep and eat: Cabin and cottage rentals are the most popular form of lodging in the Hocking Hills region. For $60 per night, you can rent a restored 19th-century cabin with air conditioning and its own private lake at Honey Fork Properties. Or book a stay in a medieval-style cottage or a gypsy wagon at Ravenwood Castle, where nightly rates start at $51.75. More luxurious rentals are also available, such as the spacious Martinwood Cabins, which include amenities like hot tubs, kitchens and wraparound decks (weekend nightly rates start at $189). You can find a complete list of local cabin rentals on the Hocking Hills Web site.It's a good idea to visit a supermarket on your way to Hocking Hills — especially if your cabin has a kitchen. But there are some noteworthy restaurant options in the region. Chow down on budget-friendly meals at Millstone BBQ, which serves Southern-inspired dishes like barbecue chicken melt ($11.99) and apple bourbon pork ($10.99), plus an all-you-can-eat Sunday breakfast buffet ($8.99). The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls Restaurant, which offers seasonal cuisine for lunch or dinner in 19th-century log cabins, is another quality place to eat (entrees range from $16 to $25).
What to do: Hocking Hill's lush forests, teeming with wildlife, dramatic gorges and misty waterfalls, are the region's main attraction. Spend a day exploring Hocking Hills State Park and hike to Old Man's Cave, a mile-long gorge with waterfalls and beautiful sandstone cliffs; Cedar Falls, a majestic 50-foot waterfall; and the enormous Ash Cave, the largest recess cave in the state. On your second day, you may want to visit Wayne National Forest, where you can take a drive along one of two scenic byways or hit the beach at Lake Vesuvius. Bring some binoculars and look for wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, birds (there are more than 158 bird species) and other wildlife in the forest. Check out maps of the best spots to see animals in the park here.
The bottom line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners will cost around $170 to $230 per person.