After two years of bigger-than-average tax refunds, Americans might be disappointed in this year’s much more modest tax return. Luckily, you don’t actually need oodles of cash to enjoy a dream vacation.
You can get more out of your tax refund by visiting one of these 12 unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations and staying in the U.S. for your vacation.
Black Mountain, North Carolina
About 15 minutes away from the more popular tourist destination of Asheville, Black Mountain is a beautiful city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Depending on what time of year you travel there, motel rooms for two adults can cost as little as $60 a night.
Free outdoor concerts from June through August, lakeside walking paths, and hiking trails help you keep costs low without sacrificing entertainment.
The small city of Forks, Washington, is located on the Washington Peninsula, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. Forks can serve as a home base while you explore dozens of beaches up and down the Peninsula.
While staying on the Peninsula, you’ll also have your pick of national parks, state parks, and state forests.
A state parks pass from Washington State costs just $30 a year for unlimited access to all state parks, while a National Parks pass costs $80 a year (or $20 if you’re over age 62).
If Las Vegas’s glitz and glam are outside your budget, Reno is a quieter, more affordable alternative.
The city might lack Vegas’s rich nightlife, but staying in Reno still gives you access to some of Nevada’s biggest draws, including casinos, high-desert landscapes, and fascinating Western history.
Orange Beach, Alabama
If your ideal vacation is lounging on a sunny Southern beach, you have plenty of options besides an expensive Florida trip.
Orange Beach, Alabama, is home to around 8,000 residents, and the beach itself is just one of many along the state's 32-mile stretch of Gulf Coast.
Depending on when you stay, four-star hotels in Orange Beach can cost as little as $149 per night.
You might not think of Oklahoma as a prime tourist destination, but a trip to Tulsa is almost guaranteed to change your mind.
The city is home to the Gathering Place park, a public park along the Arkansas River that spans over 100 acres and serves as a welcoming recreational space for all Tulsans.
You can find motels starting at around $50 a night for two adults.
Springdale is a tiny town located quite literally at the entrance to Zion National Park. Although you can definitely burn through a lot of cash in the town’s high-end restaurants, bars, and shops, Springdale has plenty of budget options for food and lodging.
Zion can get quite crowded in the spring and summer, but it’s just as gorgeous — and even more affordable — if you visit in the off-season from late fall to early spring.
Many visitors to Grand Teton National Park — as well as to Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole — stay in the nearby city of Jackson, Wyoming.
But if you’re willing to drive an hour to reach the park entrance, Dubois is a cheaper, less crowded option.
The town of 900 residents (and home of the National Bighorn Sheep Center) maintains the authentic Wild West cowboy feel that gets lost in Wyoming’s more touristy cities.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Not too long ago, AARP named Albuquerque as one of its most affordable travel destinations in the U.S.
While the city doesn’t have the same draw as artsy Santa Fe or historic Taos, its free activities should keep it on your radar for budget-friendly vacations.
The University of New Mexico hosts fascinating exhibits with no entry fee, and the Rio Grande Bosque trail gives you the chance to experience New Mexico’s unique natural environment for free.
Three Rivers, California
Visalia, California is typically cited as the nearest city to Sequoia National Park, but if you want to get closer to the park without overspending, it’s hard to beat Three Rivers.
The village is ten minutes outside of the park, and pricing for hotels, motels, and inns ranges from $69 to $200 a night.
Bar Harbor, Maine
If a visit to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard feels too far out of reach for your budget, Bar Harbor is an excellent seaside alternative.
The city is located right up against Acadia National Park, and you can stay at a coastal cottage or inn with ocean views starting at $95 a night in the off-season.
Boat cruises to see everything from puffins to historic lighthouses start at $41 for a two-hour tour.
El Paso, Texas
Hotels in El Paso hover around $50 a night for two adults or around $60 a night for families of four. Beyond saving you money on a ridiculously affordable hotel stay, an El Paso vacation can give you more bang for your buck.
Free activities include scenic drives, walking trails that connect the city’s historic missions, and a visit to the U.S. Army’s Fort Bliss Museum.
Klamath Falls, Oregon
Klamath Falls is located in southern Oregon, fairly close to the state’s borders with Nevada and California.
The city is an excellent destination for nearly any outdoor activity year-round, from skiing to hiking, but its main draw is its bald eagle population.
Apart from birdwatching, visitors to Klamath Falls can enjoy multiple bike trails through the city and quick day trips to tourist draw like Crater Lake.
No matter how much you get back from the government after filing your taxes, you can definitely use that money to reach an amazing, unique vacation destination somewhere in the U.S.
Any of the options on this list can help you stop throwing away money on pricier vacations and find a terrific place to visit that's within your budget.
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Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
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