Pennsylvania’s 4 best budget-friendly vacations, according to readers

A sign that says "Smile. You're in Pennsylvania."

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By Stacy Rounds

May 29, 2024

Looking for the best cheap vacation spots in Pennsylvania? Look no further! Pennsylvania offers a wide range of budget-friendly vacation options, from amusement parks to historic sites to natural wonders. Our readers have spoken in our recent poll and named their top four budget vacation areas in the Commonwealth. Let’s explore some of the most wallet-friendly vacation destinations in the Keystone State.

The lighthouse at Presque Isle beach

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4. Presque Isle

Wave goodbye to the notion that a beach getaway needs to break the bank because Presque Isle is here to challenge that tide! On the shores of Lake Erie, this “almost island” in Pennsylvania’s chimney offers up all the beach vibes you could wish for, sans the steep seaside prices.

Let’s dive into what makes Presque Isle the ideal spot for sun-seekers on a budget. First up, the beaches – and oh, are you in for a treat! With over 11 miles of sandy retreats, you’re spoilt for choice. The gentle lapping of Lake Erie’s waves provides the perfect soundtrack for a day spent lounging under the sun, building sandcastles, or indulging in a good book with your toes tickled by sand.

But the fun doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. Presque Isle is a playground for the active and adventurous. Fancy kayaking? Want to try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding? This place has you covered, and at prices that won’t have your wallet waving a white flag. And for those who prefer terra firma, the multi-purpose trails invite bikers and hikers to explore scenic routes wrapped in natural beauty – all for the grand price of zero dollars.

If you’re a fan of picnics, you’re in luck! Presque Isle’s numerous picnic areas offer idyllic spots to enjoy a meal al fresco. At Beach 7, you can find a massive playground for the kids with nearby fishing and covered picnic areas for the perfect picnic day with the whole family.

Accommodation and dining options in the area also lean towards the pleasantly affordable. From cozy, wallet-friendly hotels and cabins to nearby campsites that invite you to sleep under the stars, there’s a range of options to suit every budget and style.

And when it comes to refueling after a day of beachy bliss, nearby local eateries serve up delicious dishes that won’t have you digging too deep into your pockets. This writer may be biased (since I’m an Erie native), but you can’t have a day at Presque Isle without a stop at Sara’s Restaurant for the best ice cream in town or a delicious Smith’s hot dog.

But perhaps the best thing about Presque Isle is its ability to offer a slice of beach paradise that feels worlds away from commercialized vacation destinations. Here, the natural beauty is unspoiled, the pace is relaxed, and the trails are rich with history and wildlife.

An old canon at Gettysburg

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3. Gettysburg

The Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania is a go-to for history buffs and a sanctuary for those seeking an enriching journey without hefty expenses. Experiencing Gettysburg is like turning the pages of a living history book where the stories leap off the pages. Imagine wandering through fields that once bore witness to one of the most pivotal battles in American history.

The Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the Civil War, unfolded right here, and today, you can tread the same ground without spending a single greenback. That’s right, many of the battlefield tours are absolutely free, making it possible to soak in the gravity and grandeur of this place on a shoestring budget.

But the battlefield is not the only attraction. Gettysburg is dotted with museums and historic sites that offer a deep dive into the era, and many of these experiences come with a minimal price tag or kindly ask for a donation. The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center, for instance, serves up a slice of history with a side of affordability.

Looking to get a little more interactive with history? The town doesn’t skimp on reenactments, storytelling sessions, and walking ghost tours. These immersive experiences offer a unique way to connect with the past, allowing you to walk in the footsteps of soldiers and civilians alike.

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

Accommodation in Gettysburg also caters to the frugal traveler. Whether you’re pitching a tent under the stars at a nearby campground or cozying up in a budget-friendly bed and breakfast, you’ll find that extending your stay in this historic town won’t require you to cough up your life savings.

The PA Grand Canyon with misty fog

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2. The PA Grand Canyon

Step right up, nature lovers and scenery seekers! The PA Grand Canyon, also affectionately known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania or the “Little Grand Canyon of the East,” is calling your name. This little-known natural wonder in the Keystone State offers a feast for your eyes and calm serenity for your soul. If you’re scouting for the best cheap vacation spots in Pennsylvania, you need to check out this spectacle of nature.

The edge of a gorge has been carved by the fingers of time and the relentless flow of water, offering stunning verdant views. The PA Grand Canyon stretches over 47 miles, with depths reaching up to nearly 1,500 feet, creating a hiker’s playground that’s awe-inspiring.

What can you do in this slice of Pennsylvanian paradise? Well, if you’re thinking you’ll just stand around and admire the view, you’re only partially right. The PA Grand Canyon is a wonderland for the active and the adventurous. Lace-up those hiking boots because the trails here offer everything from leisurely walks to challenging treks that will test your mettle and reward you with breathtaking vistas. For the two-wheeled enthusiasts, biking along the Pine Creek Rail Trail offers a smoother journey but with all the scenic rewards.

And let’s not forget about the anglers and the bird watchers. With Pine Creek coursing through the canyon, fishermen (and women) can cast their lines in hopes of a bountiful catch. Meanwhile, ornithologists and casual bird lovers alike can keep their binoculars at the ready for a glimpse of the majestic bald eagles that call this place home.

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

If you thought such natural magnificence would come with a hefty price tag, think again. The PA Grand Canyon laughs in the face of expensive vacations, offering affordable camping options and nearby accommodations that won’t make your wallet cry.

A vintage swing amusement ride at Knoebels

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1. Knoebels Amusement Resort

Ah, Knoebels Amusement Resort, the crown jewel of Elysburg, Pennsylvania, and our readers’ top pick for budget-friendly fun. Knoebels is filled with roller coasters, funnel cakes, and laughter. But the best part: free entrance and free parking. You only pay for the rides you choose, so you can tailor your day to fit your budget tighter than your favorite pair of jeans.

And speaking of rides, Knoebels packs a punch with its eclectic mix of attractions. Fancy a trip back in time? Hop on one of their classic wooden coasters that’ll have you gripping the safety bar tighter than your grandma holding onto her secret pie recipe. Or maybe cooling off is more your style. In that case, the water rides are ready to drench you thoroughly on a hot July day.

Plus, the food at Knoebels is an experience in its own right, like a culinary carnival. From mouth-watering barbecue to pizza, the food is deliciously affordable. You can feast like a king, even on a budget.

For those who think a day at the amusement park isn’t complete without a bit of swag, Knoebels has you covered with a variety of shops. Here’s where your spending can truly become a choice rather than a necessity. Want a memento to remember your day? You can snag something sweet without breaking your wallet.

In a world where the price of fun seems to only go up, Knoebels Amusement Resort stands out as a bastion of affordability. It’s proof that you don’t need to spend big to have a memorable time. Whether you’re there for the thrills, the food, or the simple joy of a day out with loved ones, Knoebels makes sure your only worry is how to fit in one more ride before the day ends.



  • Stacy Rounds

    Stacy Rounds is a writer and growth producer for The Keystone. Prior to joining the team, Stacy has worked as a writer, editor, and engagement specialist covering topics ranging from local history, disability advocacy, recreation, and food hotspots to relationships and mental health.

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