OUTDOOR ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME
Organized outdoor adventures for the young at heart can be both fun and moderately priced, particularly if you can drive to get there. Consider these offbeat and athletic summer getaways a day or less away by car:
* Sailing in Maine: The 11-vessel fleet of the Maine Windjammer Association hoists its sails each summer for six-day voyages among the coastal islands of Maine. Accommodations are spartan on the small, two-masted schooners, and you may be asked to swab the deck. But you will explore one of the most beautiful sailing areas in the country. A six-day cruise from the ports of Rockland and Camden ranges from $435 to $575 per person, including all meals. Some single cabins are available. 800-624-6380.
* Canoeing in Vermont: By day, you glide down the rivers of Vermont under the watchful eye of experienced guides. At night, you relax in a comfortable country inn. Two-, three- and five-day trips are offered from mid-May to mid-October. The price for a three-day outing ranges from $520 to $550 per person (double) and includes all meals and use of a canoe. Canoe USA, 800-233-2128.
* Trail building in Virginia: This is an almost free trip for the serious hiker who wants to make a contribution of labor to the nation's trail system. Each summer, the American Hiking Society sponsors 35 two-week volunteer projects on national park and forest lands. You bring camping gear, and the society provides all meals at no cost. Trail maintenance is scheduled for the high country of Virginia's Mount Rogers National Recreation Area from May 12 to 24 and Sept. 1 to 13. AHS Volunteer Vacations, P.O. Box 86, North Scituate, Mass. 02060.
* Cycling the Outer Banks: These six-day cycling trips down the North Carolina coast offer plenty of time to cool off in the surf. Accommodations are in inns, and a van totes your luggage between them. Departures from New Bern are in June, September and October at $839 per person, which includes breakfasts and dinners. Country Cycling Tours, 212-874-5151.
* Hiking in the Berkshires: For five days, hikers trace segments of the Appalachian Trail through the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. But don't take a tent; accommodations are in country inns. There is a departure from Lenox on Aug. 18. The price is $589 per person, which includes four nights' lodging and all meals. Other four-day and weekend hikes are available.
Berkshire Hiking Holidays, 413-499-9648. -- James T. Yenckel FIVE SUMMER GETAWAYS CLOSE TO HOME
If you want to stick close to home this summer, the possibilities include any number of reasonably priced vacation destinations for families. Among them:
* Canaan Valley Resort State Park, West Virginia: In the midst of West Virginia's rugged mountains, the resort's 250-room lodge overlooks 6,000 acres of forested slopes and green meadows where deer feed. There are 18 miles of marked hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, six lighted tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, a miniature golf course and a hot tub. A room for two is $64 a night in summer, and children under 12 stay free with parents. Golf and other special packages are available. 304-866-4121.
* Wintergreen, Virginia: A vacation-home resort, Wintergreen occupies more than 10,000 acres of rugged woodlands in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Recreational facilities include 18 holes of golf, tennis, horseback riding, swimming in indoor and outdoor pools and hiking the Appalachian Trail, which crosses resort property. Historic Thomas Jefferson Country is just to the north. In summer, a two-bedroom condo rents for $784 to $1,085 a week and a two-bedroom house is $1,057 to $1,337 a week. Wintergreen, 800-325-2200.
* The Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina: A sightseeing drive is one of the cheapest ways to vacation, and the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the country. It links Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Spend at least four days along the way, taking time out to hike scenic mountain trails and visit museums and historical attractions. The three parkway lodges are attractive and moderately priced (about $60 a night for two people). They are Peaks of Otter at 86 miles, Bluffs Lodge at 241 miles and Pisgah Inn at 408 miles. Superintendent, Blue Ridge Parkway, 200 BB&T Building, 1 Park Square, Asheville, N.C. 28801.
* Augusta Heritage Arts Workshop, West Virginia: The annual summer workshop is a series of week-long classes that draws fans of folk crafts, music and other homespun arts. You can choose from among 100 activities, such as clogging, guitar repairing, story telling, song writing and herb gardening. Special folk art classes are designed for ages 8 to 13. Lodging is in two-person dorm rooms on the shady campus of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. The workshops get underway each Sunday for five weeks beginning July 7. Tuition is $210 to $230 per person, and room and meals are $150 per person (double). 304-636-1903.
* Deep Creek Lake, Maryland: Nostalgic for a lazy week at the lake this summer? Your best bet is massive Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, where you can swim from sandy beaches, fish, water ski, canoe, sail and hike in nearby parklands. The lake has so many hidden coves that even on a busy weekend crowds are well-dispersed. A&A Realty in McHenry is renting three-bedroom lake-front cottages this summer for $725 to $850 a week. A&A Realty, 800-336-5253. DOING DISNEY WORLD FOR LE$$
There probably is no way to have a truly cheap vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. -- but it is possible to cut down on costs.
Lodging: No question -- it's cheaper to stay outside the park. Rates at some hotels a short distance from the front gates can be as low as $25 a night. On the other hand, if you're staying within the park, you won't need to rent a car to get there. And two Disney hotels, the Caribbean Beach Resort and the new Disney Port Orleans (opening in June), are geared to the budget traveler, with rooms at $79 to $99 a night. These hotels aren't serviced by the Disney monorail, but they provide free shuttle buses to park attractions.
Fort Wilderness Campground is another on-site alternative. More than 800 campsites are available for $30 to $48 per night; the lakeside facility includes RV hookups, evening entertainment and horseback riding. A Disney spokeswoman recommends reserving a site at least six months in advance. Trailers, which contain kitchens and sleep four to six, rent for $160 to $175 a night.
Dining: Again, the cheapest establishments are on the other side of the Disney gates. Fast-food restaurants and other chains dot the highways leading to the park.
However, food courts at both the Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney Port Orleans are an option. The prices are generally better than those within the themed areas, and there's a large variety. You want to do the cooking yourself? Walt Disney World Village rents suites and villas with kitchens. Rates range from $155 to $335 a night.
Tickets: If you have only a day to spend in Disney World, the 1-Day Ticket ($31 for adults, $25 for children) is good for admission to either Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios or the Magic Kingdom; unfortunately, you can't jump back and forth between them. A four-day pass ($104 for adults, $83 for children) allows unlimited admission to the three attractions.
Most economical: the 5-Day PLUS Super Pass ($135 for adults, $108 for children), which also provides admission to Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, River Country and Discovery Island. The pass doesn't have to be used on subsequent days, or even during the same visit.
For more information on Walt Disney World, call 407-824-4321.
Package Tours: Delta Air Lines offers a three-night package deal for $929 for a family of four. This includes round-trip air fare from National Airport, three nights at a Quality Inn and a rental car.
A $1,433 package includes four four-day passes to Disney World, a one-night pass for the adults to Pleasure Island, five Disney Dollars (which can be spent like money within the park) for each family member and two-for-one coupons for other Orlando attractions, including the Wet 'n' Wild water park. For more information, call 800-872-7786. MUSEUMS: OPEN-DOOR POLICIES IN SEVEN U.S. CITIES
For the cheap at heart, timing can be everything, especially when it comes to browsing museums. Admission to New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, for example, is $5 for adults -- unless you drop by on a Tuesday evening after 6.. Then it's free.
Here are a few other museums around the country that ordinarily charge admission, but have set aside specific times each week (or month) when you can get in free:
Museum of Fine Arts, Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m.
Art Institute of Chicago, Tuesdays
Chicago Academy of Science, Mondays
Chicago Historical Society, Mondays
Field Museum of Natural History, Thursdays
John G. Shedd Aquarium, Thursdays
Dallas Museum of Fine Art (Wendy and Emery Reves Collection), free admission during special shows, Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m.
NEW YORK CITY
Bronx Zoo, Tuesdays through Thursdays
Staten Island Zoo, Wednesdays (but donations are appreciated)
Whitney Museum of American Art, Tuesdays after 6 p.m.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, second Tuesday of the month
Museum of Contemporary Art, Thursdays after 5 p.m.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, first Tuesday of the month
George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries, second Tuesday of the month
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Seattle Art Museum, Thursdays