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ON A BUDGET

Vacations in America's Own Backyard

February 11, 2001|ARTHUR FROMMER

When winter weather winds down in snowbound parts of the U.S., vacation planning picks up. For people who would prefer to see America first, I can suggest four reasonably priced packages.

* Sierra Club: The conservation group has been running outdoorsy excursions throughout North America and beyond for a century. It has 350 one- and two-week U.S.-based adventures through October. Prices range from $210 per week (helping maintain hiking trails in New York's Adirondack Mountains) to $1,195 (a week sailing Washington's San Juan Islands in a schooner).

Other trips involve hiking, rafting, mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, biking and tai chi; some are designed just for women, families, grandparents and grandkids, even opera-lovers.

You must join the Sierra Club to participate: $39 a year, $24 for students and seniors. Telephone (415) 977-5522, Internet http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/national.

* Colorado: Many of America's ski resorts are just as appealing when the weather is warm and the slopes are green instead of mottled with moguls. Even the fancy-pants places like Colorado's Vail strive to make it worthwhile to visit off-season. Check out Vail's "Wildflower Gotta Getaway Special," good from May through September. You fly into Denver, pick up a rental car with unlimited mileage and drive to a comfortable, amenity-packed condo with mountain views. The price from Los Angeles is $499 for four nights, per person, double occupancy. Want a full week? Tack on $57 per person per night. Tel. (800) 525-3875, http://www.visitvailvalley.com.

* Dude ranches: Family-friendly and pocketbook-pleasing vacations can cost as little as $500 a week (per adult, tax included) for room, board and daily riding. That is the price for seven nights at the Bar H Ranch in Clarendon, Texas (an hour from Amarillo), which also has a pool and fishing hole. It can be booked through Hidden Trails, based in Vancouver, Canada. Toll-free tel. (888) 987-2457, http://www.hiddentrails.com.

Hidden Trails represents 300 affordable ($500 to $700) riding vacations in 18 states, three Canadian provinces and 40 other countries. A few highlights: $550 for seven nights at British Columbia's Red Willow Ranch; a six-nighter for $600 at the Parc Massif du Sud, not far from Quebec City; and seven nights for $660 at the Southern Cross Ranch east of Atlanta (taxes not included on these).

A pricier agent, which has a handful of deals in the $600 to $700 range, is Old West Dude Vacations of Colorado, tel. (877) 440-4677.

* Las Vegas: Even as America's gambling capital continues to open ever-more-lavish and expensive new hotels, its most devoted carrier, National Airlines, is rolling out rock-bottom-priced packages for May through July at Circus Circus, Hard Rock Resort and Paris Las Vegas. Circus Circus, at the north end of the Strip, costs $104 per person for two nights, double occupancy, and round-trip air fare from Los Angeles. About $22 more will get you into the Hard Rock, and Paris in the desert runs another $22 on top of that.

If you want to get to Vegas on your own, the land-only price is $39 per person.

*

For information: tel. (888) 527-8687, http://www.nationalairlines.com.

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