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Cliffs and the seashore at Land's End in California

Oregon, California, New Hampshire, Washington, Minnesota

6 Affordable Places to Stay in the U.S. Great Outdoors

By: Jayne Clark

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  • States:
    Oregon
    California
    New Hampshire
    Washington
    Minnesota

Among the best values on the United States travel scene are rooms in budget lodgings and hostels.

Yes, large chain hotels are dependable, but travelers will find that smaller, more moderately priced properties often feature a unique charm that can’t be beat. With that in mind, we suggest some standout — and very affordable — lodging options situated among some of the most scenic landscapes in the USA. These accommodations are rustic and sometimes quirky, but you’re sure to remember them long after the trip is over.

Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

The Timberline Lodge in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest, with its dramatic cascading roofline and massive lobby fireplace, has been a model for countless upscale lodges. (Exterior shots of the hotel were used in the 1980 Stanley Kubrick horror film, The Shining.) Completed in 1937, the ski-in, ski-out lodging 100 kilometers east of Portland is so rich in history it merits its own curator. In summer, official U.S. Forest Service guides lead tours of this U.S. National Historic Landmark, which was built mostly by hand by Works Progress Administration workers and artisans during the Great Depression.

You could spend $315 or more on a high-end fireplace room in this iconic lodge, which was featured in the 2002 Public Broadcasting Service series, Great Lodges of the National Parks. But its 10 chalet rooms offer cozy accommodations (bunk beds and a shared bath across the hall) for about $125 during peak season, which is June through early September. The best part: You’ll have access to all this quintessential ski lodge has to offer.

Timberline Lodge, offering access to the only ski area in North America that is open year-round

Timberline Lodge, offering access to the only ski area in North America that is open year-round
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HI Marin Headlands Hostel, Sausalito, and HI Point Reyes, Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Part of the Hostelling International USA collection, the HI Marin Headlands Hostel is on the site of a former military installation in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Located across the bay from San FranciscoCalifornia, this budget lodging comes with a million-dollar location. The beach is a little over a kilometer away, and hiking and biking trails are abundant in nearby Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tamalpais State Park. Accommodations on the eucalyptus-shaded grounds include 80 dorm-style beds for between $28 and $35 a night. Seven private rooms cost between $82 and $132 per night.

If you need some more separation from the big city, book your stay at the HI Point Reyes. Located on the Point Reyes National Seashore about 80 kilometers northwest of San Francisco, the HI Point Reyes offers easy access to the park’s beaches and hiking trails. Visit during the winter and you might catch sight of whales swimming offshore in the Pacific. Like the HI Marin Headlands and other HI properties, the HI Point Reyes features both private and dorm-style rooms, as well as a communal kitchen.

Point Reyes National Seashore in California

Point Reyes National Seashore in California
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Josh Johnson

Highland Center Lodge, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Set in northern New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountain National Forest (about 260 kilometers north of Boston, Massachusetts), Highland Center Lodge has 15 private rooms with private baths and 19 bunkrooms with shared baths in the main lodge. It houses another 16 bunks in the Shapleigh Bunkhouse, a former artist-in-residence home.

The all-inclusive lodge was built in 2003 on the site of the historic Crawford House hotel, which burned down in 1977. Some historic structures survived, however, and they’ve been renovated and incorporated into the Highland Center Lodge’s eco-chic and award-winning environmental design. Rates start at $106 and most include breakfast, dinner, guided programs and offers access to L.L. Bean rental gear, including backpacks, jackets, skis and snowshoes for winter visitors looking to shred powder at Bretton Woods, the state’s largest ski area.

Mountain view in New Hampshire

Mountain view in New Hampshire
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Lake Quinault Lodge, Olympic National Forest, Washington

This lodge sits on the shores of Lake Quinault, surrounded by the lush Olympic National Forest in Washington state.

The Lake Quinault Lodge complex is composed of a historic main lodge that is connected to a newer building, 36 rooms in a newer lakeside building and accommodations in a converted 1923 boathouse. Choose a room in the 1926 lodge and it’ll cost about $100 in low season, which is October through March. That’s half the cost it is in high season and about a third of the cost of the most expensive room. Among the amenities are an indoor pool and sauna, free Wi-Fi and, for an additional cost, guided tours of the lake and surrounding rainforest.

Lake Quinault Lodge, built in 1923 in Olympic National Forest

Lake Quinault Lodge, built in 1923 in Olympic National Forest
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HI Mississippi Headwaters Hostel, Itasca State Park, Minnesota

Built in 1923, this timbered lodge is perched on the shores of northern Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, where the mighty Mississippi River begins its 3,734-kilometer journey south to the Gulf of Mexico. Because of its remote location in Itasca State Park (about 335 kilometers northwest of Minneapolis), the rustic Hostelling International Mississippi Headwaters Hostel is ideal for nature lovers wanting to hike, bike, swim or ski in unspoiled wilderness.

The lodge, which originally served as the park’s headquarters, has exposed log walls, wood floors and a cozy common area with stone fireplace. The onsite self-catering kitchen and barbecue pit promote a communal environment. There are six private rooms, with rates ranging from $80 to $150 a night depending on the season. Space in the dorm-style rooms costs around $30 a night. The lodge is open daily from June through August and weekends only from January through March, May, and September and October.

Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park
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