7 Budget Friendly Vacation Ideas for Summer

If you’re trying to decide where to take the family on summer vacation but are worried about your budget, don’t stress! It is possible to have an awesome trip without breaking the bank!

To find that destination that fits your family’s budget, consider places that are a little different.  By this I mean avoiding the headliner destinations like Disney, major cities like San Diego or Chicago, or the super popular beaches.  While I love all of those places, they aren’t always the most budget friendly.  Also, look for places that are either off the beaten path or have plenty of capacity in terms of lodging.  This can often mean lower prices!

While budget friendly means different things to different people, here are some ideas with enough options to fit your family’s budget.

  1. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Colorado Springs combines the best of city amenities and outdoor adventure.  Because Colorado Springs is a good size city, there are plenty of lodging options to fit your needs and budget.  There is LOTS to do in Colorado Springs much of which costs little or no money. You’ll have no problem finding plenty of activities your family will love.

    Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, CO.
    Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, CO
  2. Branson, Missouri: This vacation town is nestled in southern Missouri and has a variety of lodging options that won’t break the bank.  This town has family oriented shows and activities galore.  Branson even has a theme park, Silver Dollar City, which is actually pleasant as far as theme parks go. Silver Dollar City is a cozy park with much to please the kids and adults. And, a season pass is very reasonable making a multi-day visit a great bang for your buck!  Trust me, your kids won’t want to leave!

    Ride at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO
    One of the many family friendly rides and attractions at Silver Dollar City, a theme park in Branson, MO
  3. Big Sky, Montana. Yes, I admit I am partial to summertime in the mountains! Big Sky, Montana is the nation’s largest ski resort.  That means there is a large supply of lodging available at significantly reduced rates during the off season.  Trust me, a ski in/ski out cabin is an awesome place to spend a summer vacation! Big Sky is beautiful during the summer and there are so many family friendly outdoor activities to enjoy. And, Yellowstone is only a short drive away!

    Ski Lift in Big Sky, Montana
    Ski Lift in Big Sky, Montana
  4. Northern California.  You may wonder how California could possibly be budget friendly. Northern California is home to the Redwood State and National Parks. This natural beauty is spread out over a large area, so you will find a variety of small communities along the coast which makes a great base for exploring this national treasure.

    Redwood National and State Parks located in Northern California.
    Redwood National and State Parks located in Northern California
  5. Coastal Maine. Why not consider a different kind of coastal getaway rather than a traditional beach vacation? Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline – that’s more coastline than California! There are charming communities all along the Maine coastline which means there are lots of lodging options. You can get that quintessential Maine experience in so many different places, so you aren’t limited to the more well known (and pricier) resort towns.

    East Boothbay Ocean Point near Boothbay Harbor, Maine
    East Boothbay Ocean Point near Boothbay Harbor, Maine
  6. Arkansas. The Natural State offers the best of both worlds for your summer vacation. Arkansas is a small state, so you can enjoy the amenities of a small city or town such as the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock or Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville but still be close to nature. Opportunities for outdoor adventures are as abundant as they are diverse.  From the State’s beautiful lakes to its scenic mountains, options for outdoor fun include water sports, hiking, climbing, caving, floating, digging for diamonds, biking, birding, and much more! Visit the first National River, the Buffalo National River, or America’s first lands to be set aside for natural features, Hot Springs National Park. If you love the outdoors, you’ll find something to suit your fancy in Arkansas! And best of all, your vacation dollars will go along way in this budget friendly state!
    Float the Buffalo National River in Arkansas
    Float the Buffalo National River in Arkansas

    Bridge over the Arkansas River on the Arkansas River Trail in Little Rock.
    The Arkansas River Trail near the Clinton Presidential Center in Downtown Little Rock is a great place for cycling
  7. The 4 Corners. This area of the country where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado converge offers a variety of adventures! Explore Mesa Verde National Park and Hovenweep National Monument to experience the rich Native American history of the area.  Take a day trip to Monument Valley and try to name all of the movies filmed in this area of the Wild West.  Trek the mountains of the San Juan National Forest.  There is so much to do here, you’ll probably just need to plan to go more than once!

    The 4 Corners
    The 4 Corners marker, Hovenweep National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, CO

Don’t let a limited budget keep you from enjoying a family vacation. For tips on stretching your budget, check out 7 Secrets to Stretch Your Vacation Budget Without Sacrificing Fun!

There are so many awesome places to visit in this great country! So, hop in the car and explore someplace new!

5 Awesome Summer Experiences in Big Sky, Montana

As you might have guessed from my logo, I’m a fan of the mountains!  So, it is no surprise that I love Big Sky, Montana!  Big Sky, Montana may be best known for skiing in the winter, but it is an awesome place to vacation in the summer!

Here are 5 incredible summer adventures that may make you rethink your view of Big Sky as just a winter destination.

  1. Hike Ousel Falls Trail:  Ousel Falls Trail is a fantastic hike which is easy to access as it is just south of the Big Sky Town Center.  It is short and not very strenuous which makes it a great hike for families!  In my experience, there aren’t many hikes that boast such a big payoff with so little effort.  Ousel Falls Trail is approximately 1.5 miles out and back and the reward is not only great Montana scenery but also a beautiful 30 ft waterfall!

    Ousel Falls near Big Sky, Montana
    Ousel Falls
  2. Explore the Slopes:  Riding the Big Sky Resort ski lift in the summer is a real treat! It provides spectacular panoramas of the mountains and ski runs which are carpeted in green. The journey is relaxing as you take in the spectacular views while moving slowly to hum of the ski lift. Once on top, you can hike until your heart is content. big-sky-ski-liftbig-sky-resort-slopes-trip
  3. Take a Yellowstone Day Trip:  There is no doubt that Yellowstone National Park has so much more to offer than is possible to see in one day!  But, don’t let that dissuade you from a taking a day trip! The drive down from Big Sky is fairly short and quite scenic.  A day trip can provide a taste of the park for future visits or an opportunity to hike a new trail.Yellowstone National Parkyellowstone-trip
  4. Enjoy Resort Activities:  I love the fact that ski resorts try to balance seasonality by offering summer activities.  In my mind, a mountain is a big playground.  When you consider the mild summer weather along with off-season prices, a ski resort is a great place to visit during the summer!  The Big Sky Resort is no exception.  There are many activities to enjoy.  Golf (traditional and disc), rock climbing, zip lining, bungee trampoline, and mountain biking are just a few of the adventures that are available.  We also really enjoyed Lake Levinsky with with its paddle boats, canoes, and a small beach.

    Big Sky Resort
    Bungee Trampoline
  5. The Gallatin River: If you picture in your mind how a river in Montana is supposed to look – the Gallatin River is that river.  This winding waterway is almost surreal.  The Gallatin River parallels Highway 191 and provides many recreational opportunities such as fishing and white water rafting.  The highlight for my family was relaxing riverside while we skipped rocks and stepped the river’s smooth stones.  Note to parents: Bring backup clothes! 

    A Montana Stream
    The Gallatin River

Big Sky, Montana is a spectacular mountain destination with many great options for accommodations in the summer.  Because of it’s popularity with the snow skiing crowd, there are cabins of all sizes dotting the mountains along the ski slopes.  So, Big Sky’s adventures are practically right outside your door!

7 Secrets to Stretch Your Vacation Budget Without Sacrificing Fun!

For most of us, considering the budget is just part of going on vacation.  And while it would be nice to travel and not think about the costs, that isn’t the reality for most of us.  I hold out hope that maybe someday…

As we all wait patiently for our ship to come in, consider these 7 secrets to stretch the travel budget without sacrificing any of the fun:

  1. Pack a Picnic:  Packing a picnic is my favorite way to stretch the budget.  Why? Because it is fun!  We started doing this several years ago when traveling with a toddler.  We found it was easier and much more enjoyable to have breakfast or lunch outside somewhere rather than in a crowded restaurant.  Saving money was an unplanned bonus! We’ve continued to pack picnics because it gives us more time in our destination – which is frequently a National or State Park.  But, this tip works in a city as well.  It was a blast eating breakfast in front of the Bean in Chicago!

    A Picnic by the Bean in Chicago
    A picnic by the Bean in Chicago made for a perfect breakfast experience!
  2. Embrace the Roadtrip:  It is a no-brainer that driving is often significantly cheaper than flying.  Our trips are usually to destinations where we’d have to rent a car anyway.  So, when we drive instead of fly, we avoid the cost of airfare AND rental car! This savings means we can either travel more or stay gone longer! WIN!  And, the drive itself can be fun!  Just view the roadtrip as part of your vacation!The road trip
  3. Be Flexible: While I love the idea of traveling during the shoulder season or during the school year, that just doesn’t work for our family at this time.  Even with the traditional school schedule, you can visit places during their less busy time – during that destination’s off season.  That means doing things like going to a ski resort in the summer!

    Ski Lift in Big Sky Montana
    Riding the ski lift in Big Sky, Montana was only 1 of the many fun summer activities!
  4. Consider Similar Destinations:  The popular spots are typically popular for a reason. But sometimes, a nearby but lesser known destination can offer a very similar experience without all the people or the cost! We used this strategy on our recent visit to Maine. Rather than spending a week in Bar Harbor (Acadia National Park), we spent a couple of days in Acadia and the rest of the time in another beautiful coastal town, Boothbay Harbor.  Guess what?  You can go whale watching, eat lobster, and sea kayak in both places, but the cost of lodging was less in Boothbay!  As a bonus, there was less traffic!

    Lighthouse in Boothbay Harbor, Maine
    Boothbay Harbor, Maine had all the elements of a coastal town in Maine without the traffic associated with a National Park in Bar Harbor.
  5. Select Budget Friendly Activities: National and State Parks offer many budget friendly vacation activities.  Enjoying outdoor activities like hiking or fishing costs very little or no money.  Some of the most fun we’ve had on vacation was doing things that didn’t cost a dime.  Even when we aren’t near a park, there are things to do that don’t cost much.  For example, hunting for sea glass in Maine was a blast. And, the free tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Ft. Worth was fantastic! Chances are that you’ll be able to find plenty of fun low or no cost activities wherever you go.

    Rocky Shoreline at Monterey Bay in California
    The shoreline in Monterey, California is a great place to kick back and enjoy the outdoors… for FREE!
  6. Watch Prices: Do you have a list of places you’d like to visit? We do, and I periodically glance at prices for those destinations.  That way, when a good deal comes along, I know it.  We have used this strategy in selecting our vacation destination for years.  And, it works!

    Lake Powell
    We found a great deal for a hotel in Page, AZ (Lake Powell).  It was high on the list, so we decided to go!
  7. Plan Ahead:  Planning your activities and meals before you leave not only helps you budget, but also keeps you from wasting time with the what-do-we-do-next conversation.  With a little prep work, you can not only avoid wasting time, you have a better chance of keeping your group happy with your meal choices.  To top it all off, when you plan your activities ahead of time, you can use your budget more strategically.

    Hamburger at Crave in Colorado Springs
    During pre-trip Internet research, I discovered Crave, a Colorado based restaurant in Colorado Springs.  I knew this hamburger restaurant would be a big hit with my family.  It was TASTY! (and now I’m just hungry)

Travel can be expensive.  But, I never have regretted spending money on these vacation experiences.  Using these strategies, it is  possible to plan an awesome trip without breaking the bank!

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway – Idaho

The good old USA is best seen by car.  Sure, flying is faster.  But there is something extra special taking a road trip across the country stopping along the way.  And, we have great scenic byways throughout the county.  Mesa Falls Scenic Byway in Idaho is one such example.  We stumbled across this little treasure on a road trip from Salt Lake City to Big Sky, Montana.

Mesa Falls Scenic Byway Sign in Idaho
Mesa Falls Scenic Byway Sign

The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway would be easy to miss.  It is a little jaunt off Interstate 20 in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest which is north of Idaho Falls but south of West Yellowstone, MT.  By Interstate, the distance from Idaho Falls to West Yellowstone is 108 miles.  If you take the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, the distance is 119 miles.  So, it is not too far off the beaten path. While you won’t be adding much mileage to your trip, you will want to allow time to stop and enjoy. You can access the Byway (Hwy 47) at Ashton, Idaho.

There are several stops along Mesa Falls Scenic Byway including the Teton Overlook.  Even though the Grand Tetons are nearly 40 miles away, you can still see them off in the distance.

Grand Teton Overlook
The Grand Tetons are visible from the Teton Overlook.

At the Lower Mesa Falls stop, there is a short walk to the Grandview Overlook, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  Here you see the Snake River drop 65 feet through columns of basalt.

Lower Mesa Falls
Grand Overlook view of Lower Mesa Falls.

The real treat is Upper Mesa Falls.  There is a visitor center at this stop as well as a walk way with overlooks along the river.  The view is spectacular.  I really enjoy how the mist of the waterfall nourishes the greenery along the cliffs opposite the falls.mesa-falls-scenic-byway-idaho1-5-tripmesa-falls-scenic-byway-idaho1-4-tripmesa-falls-scenic-byway-idaho1-6-tripmesa-falls-scenic-byway-idaho1-9-tripUpper Mesa Falls Idaho

The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is a real gem and should not be missed if you are traveling in the area.  It far exceeded my expectations! It was a great place to stop and stretch our legs and enjoy a picnic while taking in some fabulous views!