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ON A BUDGET

The East's Parks Beckon the Frugal

May 16, 1999|ARTHUR FROMMER

This past winter, I focused on some of the bargains available in the great parks of America's West. Now, as the weather gets warmer in the East, there is something for every taste and budget in our national and state parks, from a wilderness island in Michigan to the lush shores of the Virgin Islands.

* Alabama: Lake Guntersville State Park. In stone and timber, the fanciest of Alabama's park lodges sits atop a high, forested bluff overlooking a large lake formed by the Tennessee River. Amenities include 18 holes of golf, tennis, a pool, a lake beach and a dining room. In summer high season, a room begins at $60 a night for two. Telephone (800) 252-7275.

* Kentucky: Cumberland Falls Resort State Park. Named for one of the East's largest waterfalls (after Niagara), it has become more famous for its "moonbow"--a rare rainbow effect that occurs during full moons. At inviting DuPont Lodge, rates range from $55 to $73 a night for two, depending on the season. Tel. (800) 325-0063.

Mammoth Cave National Park. America's most extensive cavern system spreads through more than 300 miles beneath rolling countryside. Lodging is above ground at Mammoth Cave Hotel, where the newly upgraded Woodland Cottages go for $49 a night for two. Tel. (502) 758-2225.

* Maryland: Catoctin Mountain Park. Best known as the site of Camp David, the presidential retreat, it also offers the rest of us--outside those well-guarded gates--bucolic wooded slopes and rustic cabins at Camp Misty Mount, renting for $40 a night for up to four people. Nearby is a sandy beach at Cunningham Falls State Park's Hunting Creek Lake. Tel. (301) 271-3140.

* Michigan: Isle Royale National Park. Facilities on this heavily forested island in Lake Superior are cheap only by comparison with commercial offerings in similar wilderness settings. Cabins with kitchens are about $150 a day, and Rock Harbor Lodge offers rooms with a view for about $235 for two, including three meals a day. Tel. (502) 773-2191.

* U.S. Virgin Islands: Virgin Islands National Park. On St. John, it delights snorkelers with some of the Caribbean's prettiest beaches, each tucked away in a small cove ringed by lush hills. Resorts here are very expensive, but at Cinnamon Bay Campground you can enjoy a perfectly comfortable tent cabin--lighted by lanterns, with shared bathroom facilities and an outside grill for cooking--for $52 a night for two. Tel. (340) 776-6330.

* Virginia: Douthat State Park. For much of the year, this is a place for quiet contemplation and maybe a little fishing around the small oval lake ringed by forest-clad hills and ridges; then, in summer, the pace picks up, and the lake beach draws crowds. Fully equipped efficiency cabins (all with microwaves) begin at $59 a night for two; off-season rates start at $43. In summer, there's a one-week minimum stay. Tel. (800) 933-7275.

Shenandoah National Park. Perched atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, this park boasts dazzling views over the valleys to the east and west. It's busiest in October (peak foliage season), but even in high season a cabin with private bath at Skyland Lodge begins at just $57 a night for two; the price can drop as low as $50. Tel. (800) 999-4714.

* West Virginia: Canaan Valley Resort State Park. Sprawling over 6,000 acres ringed by the Appalachian Mountains, it has a full array of resort activities: 18 holes of golf, six lighted tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center with sauna and hot tub, 20 miles of hiking trails and downhill and cross-country skiing in winter. Comfortable motel-type rooms begin at $58 a night for two in spring and fall and $81 in summer and ski season. Tel. (800) 622-4121.

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