Travel

7 cheap and out-of-the-ordinary vacation stops

Aug. 20, 2014 at 2:15 PM ET

With the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, passengers on the Staten Island Ferry watch the morning sunrise on July 11, 2014, in New York Harbor.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP - Getty Images
With the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, passengers on the Staten Island Ferry watch the morning sunrise on July 11, 2014, in New York Harbor.

For many vacationers, visits to exotic locales and partaking in unique cultural activities are beyond affordable. Fortunately, the United States, in all its breadth and depth, offers countless stunning and out-of-the-ordinary attractions that are free or cheap to enjoy. Few ever make tourists’ Top 10 lists and others require a bit of derring-do, but all are well worth visiting — for their own fascinating natures and for how kind they are to your wallet. Cheapism.com posted suggestions for off-beat attractions before, and here are seven more to add to your list of vacation possibilities.

Watkins Glen State Park (Upstate New York). Watkins Glen is one of the most famous and scenic state parks in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The park features a breathtaking two-mile hike, during which the glen's stream descends 400 feet, creating 19 waterfalls along the way. One visitor described the experience as being like a walk through Tolkien's imagination. Open year-round, with an $8 parking fee, the park offers tours, rainbow trout fishing and 293 campgrounds. Camping prices at this out-of-the ordinary vacation spot change throughout the year, but are cheap enough: about $23 a night for a campground that can accommodate up to six people.  

Natural Rock Face (Alaska). Deep in the Wrangell-Petersburg Census Area is Natural Rock Face, an unusual stone formation in the Alaskan wilderness that resembles a face in profile. The rocky outcrop is not the easiest destination to reach, but is completely free if you happen to be passing through the southern regions of Alaska. Bloggers have noted that Natural Rock Face is best viewed from a boat, which affords a stunning combined view of the rock face alongside Sumdum glacier.  

Free kayaking and canoeing (New York City). Amidst the hustle and bustle of living in and around New York City, finding a place, or the time, to unplug from modern life and embrace the natural world can be a challenge. Several organizations are smoothing the way with out-of-the ordinary free kayaking and canoeing opportunities throughout the five boroughs and the greater metropolitan area. Free Kayaking keeps an up-to-date list of the organizations, locations, and times when stressed-out urbanites can take a breather and reconnect with their physical surroundings.  

The “American Stonehenge” (Georgia). In Elbert County stand the Georgia Guidestones, five massive granite blocks that rise more than 19 feet high and are astronomically aligned. Sometimes referred to as the “American Stonehenge,” the guidestones are inscribed with 10 commandments that urge humanity to live in tune with nature. The commandments appear in eight modern languages, while a shorter message is written at the top of each block in Babylonian, classical Greek, Sanskrit, and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Death Valley (California). Death Valley is a national park east of the Sierra Nevada mountains between California and Nevada. The area is often referred to as a land of extremes: The valley can become unbearably hot during the summer and explode in a sea of wildflowers and grasses from the spring snow runoff. Like Watkins Glen State Park, Death Valley is a stunning, out-of-the-ordinary, and extremely cheap vacation spot. The priciest camp site costs $18 per person, and a seven-day vehicle entrance fee is only $20. Death Valley is also home to several unique phenomena, including locations that are hundreds of feet lower than sea level and rocks that inch across the desert floor by themselves (a.k.a., sailing stones), an occurrence for which there is no known scientific explanation.  

The Golden Driller (Oklahoma). At one point, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was located above the world's largest known reserve of oil. Oil platforms were everywhere in Tulsa, and the city declared itself the “oil capital of the world.” To celebrate, statues commemorating oil drillers were erected on the state fair grounds in Tulsa. The third and last addition is the tallest free-standing statue in the United States, at 76 feet. It weighs 22 tons and is expected to survive tornadoes with winds up to 200 miles per hour.

The Staten Island Ferry (New York City). The Staten Island Ferry may be one of the best ways to experience the Big Apple — in part because a ride is completely free. The ferry is the only non-vehicular way to travel between Manhattan and Staten Island, and offers unparalleled views of New York harbor. Passengers can see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and the entire skyline of lower Manhattan. The ferries run regularly, but are best avoided at rush hour.

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