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More Weekend Getaways Under $500

From the Houston Area: Lake Charles, Louisiana
What's There: Lake Charles is a bustling city in Southern Louisiana known for its authentic Cajun cuisine, casinos, vibrant nightlife and over-the-top Mardi Gras festivities (second only to those in New Orleans). Travelers seeking a quieter getaway can also find nature trails and birding hot spots in Louisiana's "Outback" just outside the city.

Getting There: Lake Charles is about a 2.5-hour drive from Houston. Gas is likely to cost around $31 to $84 for roundtrip and incidental driving.

Where to Sleep and Eat: The L'Auberge du Lac Casino Resort is a destination in and of itself -- especially if you're in town to hit the casinos. L'Auberge has a casino with 30,000 square feet of gaming, a large concert venue with an impressive calendar of entertainers, and a heated pool with a lazy river. Nightly rates at L'Auberge start at about $250. Looking for something more low key? Book a room at the secluded Grosse Savanne Waterfowl and Wildlife Lodge, a plantation-style B&B. Rates at Grosse Savanne start at $200 per night including all beverages, a five-course dinner, breakfast and brunch. If meals aren't included where you're staying, grab some Cajun grub at Southern Spice; dishes at this restaurant range from omelets for breakfast ($4.79) to grilled catfish for dinner ($13.29). Another eatery serving tasty local specialties is Steamboat Bill's, an affordable, family-friendly eatery serving crawfish, gumbo, po'boys and more for around $10 to $15 an entree.

What to Do: Lake Charles has a thriving arts and music scene, and a trip to a local venue to hear some swamp pop or zydeco tunes is a fabulous way to spend an evening. Check out VisitLakeCharles.org, which has a music search tool that allows users to see when and where local musicians will be performing. This site is also a great place to find special events in the Lake Charles region, which has been deemed the "Festival Capital of Louisiana," and hosts more than 75 fairs and festivals annually. Alternatively, if you'd like some peace and quiet for a day or two, get out of the city and head to the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-mile National Scenic Byway close to Lake Charles. Plan a mini-road trip and discover dozens of attractions along the trail, from wildlife refuges to picturesque beaches. You can download audio tours and interactive maps at CreoleNatureTrail.org.

The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners will cost around $216 to $390 per person.

Hocking Hills State ParkFrom the Columbus Area: Logan, Ohio
What's There: Logan is a convenient base for exploring the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio, a woodsy rural area near the Appalachian foothills that boasts an impressive number of state parks, nature preserves and national forests.

Getting There: Logan is about 50 miles south of Columbus. Expect to pay from $11 to $29 in gas for roundtrip and incidental driving

Where to Sleep and Eat: Cabin and cottage rentals are the most popular form of lodging in the Hocking Hills region. For $60 per night, you can rent a restored 19th-century cabin with air-conditioning and its own private lake at Honey Fork Properties. Or book a stay in a medieval-style cottage or a gypsy wagon at Ravenwood Castle, where nightly rates start at $57.50. More luxurious rentals are also available, such as the spacious Martinwood Cabins, which include amenities like hot tubs, kitchens and wraparound decks (weekend nightly rates start at $189). It's a good idea to visit a supermarket on your way to Hocking Hills -- especially if your cabin has a kitchen. But there are some noteworthy restaurant options in the region. Chow down on budget-friendly meals at Millstone BBQ, which serves Southern-inspired dishes like barbecue chicken melt ($12.99) and Carolina smoked pulled pork ($11.99), plus an all-you-can-eat Sunday breakfast buffet ($9.99). The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls Restaurant, which offers seasonal cuisine for lunch or dinner in 19th-century log cabins, is another quality place to eat (entrees range from $16 to $25).

What to Do: Hocking Hill's lush forests, teeming with wildlife, dramatic gorges and misty waterfalls, are the region's main attraction. Spend a day exploring Hocking Hills State Park and hike to Old Man's Cave, a mile-long gorge with waterfalls and beautiful sandstone cliffs; Cedar Falls, a majestic 50-foot waterfall; and the enormous Ash Cave, the largest recess cave in the state. On your second day, you may want to visit Wayne National Forest, where you can take a drive along one of two scenic byways or hit the beach at Lake Vesuvius. Bring some binoculars and look for wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, birds (there are more than 158 bird species) and other wildlife in the forest.

The Bottom Line: Transportation, two nights' hotel, two lunches and two dinners will cost around $175 to $310 per person.

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    --written by Caroline Costello; updated by Christina Livadiotis

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