Traveling to the beach or having a more adventurous vacation doesn't need
to cost you a bundle. If you have a free week at the end of this summer, why not consider one of these low-budget alternatives to St. Barthelemy or the Louvre.
One of the finest walking vacations in the United States is just a few hours, drive from almost any spot in the Eastern Time Zone -- the Appalachian Trail. And you don't need to hike its whole length from Maine to Georgia to enjoy it. You can hike small sections of the trail at any point along its 2,158-mile length. Simply strap on a backpack with a tent and sleeping bag and start hoofing.
It costs nothing, and there are food stores in the little mountain towns, which are generally spaced about 10 miles apart. Many hikers have made a lifetime game of it and walked the entire length of the trail by hiking small sections each year until every piece of ground has been covered.
The trail is marked with white paint on the trees. Blue blazes denote side trails, which can lead to shelters, water supplies or special viewpoints.
For those who prefer an upper-body workout on their adventure vacation, canoeing the woods of Northern Wisconsin provides an equally serene experience. The Namekagon (pronounced Nam-a-KAY-gone) River is one of the most peaceful and unpolluted rivers in the entire Midwest. Camping is available alongside the banks, and no permit is required. Rapids are gentle, and the only real hazard is the mosquitoes (bring repellent!). Canoes can be rented at most of the towns along the way.
Fire Island, just a few hours' drive from New York City, might be called the workingman's Florida. An unpretentious resort on the shores of the Atlantic, Fire Island offers a choice of sun-splashed beaches, each with its own character. There's a moderately busy party scene near the town of Ocean Beach, but most of the shoreline is defined by deserted strips of sand and low-key, family-oriented developments. Hiking trails can be found in the nearby National Sunken Forest.
Those who prefer a cultural element to their travels - not high European culture but down-home American kind of culture -- will find themselves in hog heaven at the Barbed Wire Museum in the little plains town of La Crosse, Kan. (pop. 1,258), about 150 miles west of Wichita. In fact, La Crosse is home to not one, but two, superlative little museums.
The Barbed Wire Museum features more than 1,000 short samples of the thorny fencing material that helped end the era of open range in the West. The museum also features actual barbed wire strung across the battlefields of all major U.S. wars, plus one of only two walking canes in the world made entirely of barbed wire.
When you tire of that, you can go next door to the Post Rock Museum, which documents the lost Kansas art of sawing limestone into fence posts. The early settlers of the treeless Great Plains had to have a place to string their barbed wire, you know.
La Crosse also features a nine-hole golf course, a furniture factory, a park with picnic tables and see-saws and a municipal swimming pool ($1.50 admission; towel not included).
Those who want a stiff drink after a day of barbed wire gazing are going to be disappointed, however. La Crosse has not a single restaurant or bar with a liquor license. The closest you can come is the 3.2 beer sold at Debby's Place downtown.