The 4 best budget vacation destinations in Pennsylvania, according to readers

Looking for the best and cheapest vacation spots in Pennsylvania? Then you've come to the right place! Pennsylvania offers a wide variety of budget vacation options, from amusement parks to historic sites to natural wonders. Our readers gave their opinions in our recent poll and named their top four budget vacation spots in the state. Let's explore some of the most affordable vacation spots in the Keystone State.

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4. Presque Isle

Say goodbye to the idea that a beach holiday has to be expensive, because Presque Isle is here to fight that tide! On the shores of Lake Erie, this “almost island” in the Pennsylvania smokestack offers every beach atmosphere you could want without the high oceanfront prices.

Let's explore what makes Presque Isle the ideal place for sun worshippers on a budget. First off, the beaches – and oh, are you in for a treat! With over 11 miles of sandy beaches, you'll be spoiled for choice. The gentle lapping of Lake Erie's waves is the perfect soundtrack to a day basking in the sun, building sandcastles or reading a good book while the sand tickles your toes.

But the fun doesn't stop at the water. Presque Isle is a playground for the active and adventurous. Want to go kayaking? Want to try stand-up paddleboarding? This place has everything you need at prices that won't break the bank. And for those who prefer solid ground, multi-use trails invite cyclists and hikers to take scenic routes surrounded by nature—all for the hefty price of zero dollars.

If you love picnicking, you're in luck! Presque Isle's numerous picnic areas offer idyllic spots to enjoy an al fresco meal. Beach 7 has a huge playground for children, nearby fishing and covered picnic areas for the perfect family picnic day.

Accommodation and dining options in the area are also pleasantly affordable. From cozy, budget-friendly hotels and cabins to nearby campgrounds that invite you to sleep under the stars, there are a number of options to suit every budget and style.

And when you need to refuel after a day of beach bliss, nearby restaurants serve delicious meals that won't break the bank. This writer may be biased (since I'm from Erie), but you can't spend a day in Presque Isle without stopping by Sara's Restaurant for the best ice cream in town or a delicious hot dog from Smith's.

But perhaps the best thing about Presque Isle is that it offers a slice of beach paradise that feels miles away from commercial vacation destinations. Here, nature is untouched, the pace is relaxed, and the hiking trails are rich in history and wildlife.

An old cannon in Gettysburg

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Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania is a must-see for history buffs and a haven for those seeking an enriching trip without breaking the bank. Experiencing Gettysburg is like turning the pages of a living history book, with stories leaping from the pages. Imagine walking through fields that once witnessed one of the most decisive battles in American history.

The Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the Civil War, took place right here, and today you can walk into the same place without spending a single dollar. That's right, many of the battlefield tours are absolutely free, so you can experience the significance and grandeur of this place even on a budget.

But the battlefield isn't the only attraction. Gettysburg is dotted with museums and historic sites that offer a deep dive into the era, and many of these experiences are available for a nominal admission fee or a kindly requested donation. The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center, for example, offers a piece of history at an affordable price.

Want to experience history in a more interactive way? The city offers numerous reenactments, storytelling sessions and walking ghost tours. These immersive experiences offer a unique way to connect with the past and walk in the footsteps of soldiers and civilians.

And let's not forget the simple pleasure of strolling through Gettysburg's charming downtown. With its historic architecture, quaint shops and cute restaurants, it's a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The culinary scene here is as rich as its history, offering everything from cozy cafes to gourmet restaurants, with plenty of budget-friendly options to satisfy your appetite without emptying your wallet.

Gettysburg has accommodations for budget travelers, too. Whether you pitch your tent under the stars at a nearby campground or settle into a budget-friendly bed and breakfast, you'll find that you don't have to spend all your savings to extend your stay in this historic city.

The PA Grand Canyon with misty fog

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2. The Grand Canyon in Pennsylvania

Come in, nature lovers and landscape lovers! The PA Grand Canyonalso affectionately known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania or the “Little Grand Canyon of the East,” is calling to you. This little-known natural wonder in the Keystone State offers a feast for the eyes and peace for the soul. If you're looking for the best and cheapest vacation spots in Pennsylvania, this natural spectacle is a must-see.

The rim of a canyon carved by time and the incessant flow of water, offering breathtaking green vistas. Stretching for 47 miles and up to 1,500 feet deep, the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is an awe-inspiring playground for hikers.

What is there to do in this slice of paradise in Pennsylvania? Well, if you think you can just stand around and admire the view, you're only partially right. The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is a wonderland for the active and adventurous. Lace up your hiking boots, because the trails here offer everything from leisurely strolls to challenging treks that will test your courage and reward you with breathtaking views. For two-wheel enthusiasts, a bike ride along the Pine Creek Rail Trail is a more peaceful journey but one that offers all the scenic rewards.

And let's not forget the anglers and bird watchers. With Pine Creek flowing through the canyon, fishermen (and fisherwomen) can cast their lines and hope for a bountiful catch. Ornithologists and bird lovers, meanwhile, can get their binoculars ready to catch a glimpse of the majestic bald eagles that call this area home.

Camping under the stars is a rite of passage for the budget-conscious traveler here. With options ranging from rustic to more fully equipped sites, you can choose how close you want to get to Mother Nature.

If you thought such natural splendor had to come at a high price, you're wrong. Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon is a joke on expensive vacations, offering affordable camping and nearby accommodations that won't make your wallet cry.

A historic swing ride at Knoebels

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1. Knoebels Amusement Resort

Uh, Knoebel's Amusement Resortthe crown jewel of Elysburg, Pennsylvania, and our readers' top choice for budget-friendly fun. Knoebels is full of roller coasters, funnel cakes, and laughter. But best of all, it's free admission and free parking. You only pay for the rides you choose, so you can design your day to fit your budget tighter than your favorite pair of jeans.

And speaking of rides, Knoebels has a lot to offer with its eclectic mix of attractions. Feel like traveling back in time? Hop on one of the classic wooden roller coasters that will have you gripping the safety bar tighter than your grandmother held her secret cake recipe. Or maybe cooling off is more your thing? In that case, the water rides are ready to get you thoroughly drenched on a hot July day.

Plus, dining at Knoebels is an experience in itself, like a culinary feast. From mouthwatering barbecue to pizza, the food is delicious and affordable. You can feast like a king, even on a budget.

For those who feel a day at the theme park isn't complete without a little swag, Knoebels has a variety of shops to choose from. Here, spending money can really be a choice, not a necessity. Want a souvenir of your day? You can snag something sweet without breaking the bank.

In a world where fun seems to be getting more and more expensive, Knoebels Amusement Resort is a guarantee of affordable prices. It's proof that you don't have to spend a lot of money to have an unforgettable time. Whether you're here for the thrills, the food, or just to enjoy a day with your loved ones, Knoebels ensures that all you have to worry about is how to squeeze in one more ride before the day is over.

Anna Harden

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