Columbus Day celebrates the arrival of a great explorer, and the resulting three-day weekend encourages many to get out and do a little exploration on their own. With fall foliage ablaze, good hiking weather, and one last chance for a mini-vaca before the holidays start, who wouldn't want to? And that's the problem. Because of high demand, getaways tend to be more expensive around Columbus Day than any other fall weekend, and many of the best deals come with blackout dates.
Nevertheless, don't let the idea of a challenge dampen your prospects. While more difficult than normal, my search for deals yielded some good results in city and country destinations across the U.S. Here are a few strategies for fitting the upcoming long weekend into a $500 budget.
For just about every major holiday, big online agencies compile deals and are some of the best places to start looking. For example, Orbitz has a list of low-priced flights (including taxes and fees) departing on October 10 and returning on October 13. Sample round-trips include Las Vegas to Salt Lake City for $120, Ft. Lauderdale to New Orleans for $156, Denver to Houston for $188, and Philadelphia to Boston for $216. Many more cities are represented. Pair one of these fares with a hotel for around $100 or less per night (based on double occupancy), and you'll easily pay less than $500 per person for the whole weekend.
Expedia's promo is less extensive, but has a handful of good destinations with a 25 percent discount on air and hotel (or just hotel). Head to Las Vegas, Houston, or San Antonio, where rates start at $222 (before taxes and fees) for three nights. Hotel alone starts at $27 per night.
Since Columbus Day is fast approaching, also check for "Last Second Deals" on lastminute.com, where you can book air-and-hotel or air-and-car packages at a discount a week or two in advance. Among the many getaway options to choose from, there's a trip from San Francisco to Seattle for $283.88 (including taxes and fees) per person for air and hotel. And, if you're flexible and need to plan at the very last minute, don't forget to check SmarterTravel.com's database of last-minute fares, posted every Wednesday before the upcoming weekend.
Although city escapes are ideal for some, others want to spend Columbus Day in the woods, enjoying quintessential fall festivities like foliage viewing, or even cozying up in front of a fireplace. Not surprisingly, the best way to find affordable country escapes is to look for deals at small inns and B&Bs. BedandBreakfast.com lists a host of special promotions for fall foliage. While many black out Columbus Day, others provide decent savings. For instance, Garden Grove B&B in Union Pier, Michigan, is offering a free room on Columbus Day if you also book the previous night. Some rooms at the B&B come equipped with Jacuzzis or fireplaces. Also, the Colonial House Inn in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts (Cape Cod), has a three-night Columbus Day package for $450 per couple that includes accommodations, as well as breakfast and dinner each night.
For more offers, check the holiday specials on Pamela Lanier's Bed & Breakfast Inns, where I found a Columbus Day deal for $100 off at the Munro House in Jonesville, Michigan, or the fall specials on BBOnline.com. And, don't rule out non-Columbus-specific deals. Sometimes, the only hitch is that the inn requires a minimum stay. Or, the peak season markup isn't high enough to make you go over budget. Plus, the fact that breakfast is almost always included in the rate means you'll ultimately save some extra cash along the way.
Another good way to find Columbus Day deals is to check with individual destinations, ski resorts (which often have tremendous fall foliage), and parks and wildlife areas. This year, some of the best offers are in Ogunquit, Maine. On It Must Be Maine, the state's official tourism website, I found a package at the Meadowmere Resort that includes hotel, wine and cheese, dinner, and breakfast for $219.95 per person per night (not including Maine sales tax). In addition, both the Ogunquit Resort Motel and Seafarer Motel have affordable Columbus Day offerings.
A couple of states over, in Vermont, experience Oktoberfest during Columbus weekend at the Trail's End & Wellness Spa, where you'll receive room, a three-course breakfast every day, dinner one night, snacks, and passes to Oktoberfest, a craft show, and ski lift up Mt. Snow. Rates start at $279 per person. Other ski resorts like Smugglers' Notch (Autumnfest), Stratton (chili cook-off and beer tent), and Killington (gondola rides) also have good savings opportunities, as well as planned events over Columbus Day. Package rates at Killington, for example, start at $32 per person per night (before taxes). While all these resorts are in Vermont, you can find similar offers at ski resorts around the country.
If you really want to get in touch with nature over Columbus Day, consider camping out at national or state parks, or other wildlife areas. Although pitching a tent is always a cheap option, places like the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, offer more comfortable camping accommodations with extras. At PEEC over Columbus Day, families can stay in a cabin or yurt, enjoy on-site meals, and participate in recreational and environmental activities such as hiking, canoeing, and various team building exercises. Rates for the whole weekend cost $160 for members and $175 for nonmembers (children get a discount), and because it's a nonprofit, there are no taxes to worry about.
If you have a destination in mind other than the ones I've mentioned, go to that area's official tourism site (same goes for ski resorts and parks) and look for specials. Chances are it can direct you to a few good deals, and you'll be off exploring new worlds just like Columbus did back in October 1492.
Share Your Plans
What are you doing for Columbus Day weekend? Taking a leaf-peeping trip? Relaxing at home? Please share your tips and experiences with other travelers by posting a comment below.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)