Southern Mom Loves: 8 Outdoors Family-friendly Vacations Under $400

8 Outdoors Family-friendly Vacations Under $400

Saturday, April 26, 2014

8 Outdoors Family-friendly Vacations Under $400

When warm weather rolls in, the first things I think of are getting outdoors, enjoying the sunshine, and going on a summer vacation.

We sorely need a vacation this year, but it will be on a tight budget because our summers also contain 3 immediate family birthdays, with 3 parties, and day trips to the lake for each, myriad extended family and friend birthdays, painting, minor house renovations and repairs, etc., etc., etc.. And it's usually the et cetera that kills our trips.

It will also be on a tight schedule because the kids only get 2 months out of school here, and with the aforementioned plans and my husband's tight vacation window at work, I'm going to have to super-mom this thing. So this year, I'm starting early, researching all the possibilities for an inexpensive family-friendly vacation and I'll share what I find with you.

I'll do a series of posts by type of vacation and give you costs. Of course this will vary by family depending on the number of people, your distance from the site, gas prices, equipment already owned, etc., but it will hopefully give you some ideas and an estimate of what it will cost to take your own inexpensive family vacation.

8 Outdoors Family-friendly Vacations Under $400:

One of the most inexpensive types of family trips is exploring the outdoors, camping, or even renting a small cabin if you don't care for sleeping in a tent, so I'll give you both options where applicable. I've done this one so many times I can plan it in my sleep, and here in the South, there are some fantastic sites with great scenery and numerous options for fun activities. I'm giving you the sites I'm more familiar with, and all are in Tennessee, Mississippi, or Arkansas, so if you're in any of these states, the cost of gas will be pretty low too.

Check out the next posts: 4 Family-friendly Mountain Vacations Under $500New Orleans by Train: A Family-friendly Vacation Under $700

1. Camping on Enid Lake, MS: 
Enid Lake, MS
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, Photo by: Ranger Jackie Ferrell
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Enid Lake
264 C.R. 39
P.O. Box 10
Enid, MS 38927-0010
(662) 563-4571

"Enid Lake, MS, on the Yocona River, is known for its family camping facilities. Located in the Hills Region of Mississippi on Interstate-55 just 56 miles south of Memphis, TN, the lake offers an accessible fishing pier below the dam and an equestrian trail."

Enid Lake offers many different Recreation Areas. They have sites for RVs with electric, but I'm budgeting for tent sites. They also offer hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, showers, boat ramps, fishing, and numerous swimming beaches throughout the lake areas.

Plum Point: This is one of our favorite places, and I've been camping at Plum Point since I was a child. It is one of the most secluded camping areas Enid Lake offers, with beautiful views, a boat dock, and a swimming beach. Most camping spots here are overlooking the lake. Love it. There is a restroom facility at Plum Point, but no showers. Each camping spot has room to pitch 2 tents, and there is a grill and fire pit for each. This page will show you at a glance which amenities each area of the lake offers.

I'm estimating for a 2-1/2 hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, camping fees for 2 nights at Plum Point (all other site fees here) at $6/night, and assuming you already own tents and gear, coolers, utensils, etc.

COST: $147

2. Camping on Sardis Lake, MS:

Sardis Lake, MS
4235 State Park Road
Sardis MS 38666
Information: (662)487-1345

"Located on scenic Sardis Reservoir just one hour south of Memphis. John W. Kyle State Park offers a wide array of recreational opportunities in an area abundant in natural beauty.


They have a huge list of amenities; you can find all of those in the link above. They offer spaces for tents and RVs, and offer cabin rentals. Besides the usual fishing and boating, they also offer golf, volleyball, tennis, playgrounds, and picnic and swimming areas along with laundry and bath facilities.

Sardis Lake, MS map
The camping sites offered at Sardis Lake are Standard (sewer, electric and water) at $18/night, and Premium (sewer, electric and water, lakeside) at $24/night. Their Campsite list shows which Standard sites have RV hookups or not, but doesn't show that there is a price difference for tent or RV. This document shows the fees for all MS state parks. Keep in mind that Sardis Lake doesn't have all of these facilities, but the pricing for camping, fishing licenses, boating, etc. applies across all. 

According to the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks site, they have ten duplex cabins, so a total of 20 cabin rentals and take reservations up to 2 years in advance. Ten of the rentals have a Queen Bed in the bedroom and a sofa in the kitchen/den area. The other ten have double beds. There is also a bathroom with shower, fireplace, grill, picnic table, and central heat and air in all cabins. Each kitchen is equipped with coffee pot, microwave, pots and pans, dishes, towels, and bed linen for four. All have basic Direct T.V. One of the cabins is handicap accessible. The cabins are $70/night on weekdays and $80/night on weekends. They also offer a Golf Villa rental (call for info.)

I would call to reserve and confirm all amenities offered with your rental just to be on the safe side.

I'm estimating for a two hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, camping fees for 2 nights at $18/night, or a cabin for 2 nights at $80/night (to give a lowest cost to highest cost range), and assuming you already own all gear, coolers, utensils, etc.



3. Canoeing on the White River, AR:
Bull Shoals-White River STATE PARK camping
Bull Shoals-White River STATE PARK
153 Dam Overlook Lane
Bull Shoals, AR 72619

"In north central Arkansas amidst the natural beauty of the Ozark Mountains, Bull Shoals-White River State Park stretches along the riverside and lakeshore where the White River and Bull Shoals Lake join at the Bull Shoals dam...The park is a popular camping destination that features 102 campsites along or near the river, one Rent-A-Camp, and three Rent-An-RVs...Park facilities include picnic areas, standard pavilions, playgrounds, hiking trails, and a multi-use trail. The park's marina/store offers boat, motor, kayak and canoe rentals; and, in addition, supplies, equipment, and gifts for sale."

One of my favorite outdoor adventures ever was camping and canoeing down the White River in Arkansas. We had a blast and I tried to remember where we stayed, but couldn't. Doesn't matter because the White River is a prime site for canoeing, kayaking, and white water rafting and there are a ton of resorts up and down the river. My criteria were: on the river, has a campsite, and rents canoes. I chose the Bull Shoals-White River State Park because state park rates are usually the most reasonable. The best thing about camping on a river in summer: natural air-conditioning!

The plan is to camp for the first night, rent a canoe and catch the shuttle service up the river as many miles as you think your group can handle, and canoe back down to your campsite to spend the night again, then pack up the next day.

Bull Shoals-White River STATE PARK kayaking

When planning your canoe trip, make sure to get with the staff. They know the terrain and can tell you the location of waterfalls or rapids because these are features you may want to avoid with kids. They will be able to shuttle you and your rental up the river from 1/2 mile to 4 miles, depending. They will drop you off, so if you aren't confident handling a boat, you may want to skip this activity. Alternately, you can also rent a canoe or kayak and paddle around to your heart's content right there at your campsite.

Keep in mind that the canoe rental may come with lifejackets, but it might not come with things like seat cushions, waterproof bags, or carabiners. They rent or sell all kinds of things "extra". You'll want to bring a small cooler with drinks and snacks, and bungee cords with clips to tether things to the boat with. Seriously. There are people that hang out on the river and fish gear out; you'll see them on the shore with a wide array of paddles & seat cushions. If you are working your way downriver with one paddle left, they'll help you out. For a price. :) Usually a couple of bucks. It may have been your paddle in the first place, but finders-keepers, losers-are-up-the-river-with-one-paddle-weepers. A couple more tips: Bring your sunscreen with you and don't wear flip-flops! You will lose them.

I'm estimating for a 4-1/2 hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, waterfront camping fees for 2 nights at $19/night, a Canoe or Kayak rental for one day (For river float, haul back included) $55/day with a $10 deposit, and assuming you already own all other gear, coolers, etc.


4. Camping in Chickasaw State Park, TN:
Chickasaw State Park
20 Cabin Lane
Henderson, Tennessee
Toll Free 1-800-458-1752

General Information 731-989-5141

"Chickasaw State Park offers various activities...including more than four miles of easy to moderate hiking trails and bicycle friendly roads. Guests can utilize the rowboats and pedal boats available for rent on Lake Placid...The park has 13 cabins that sleep up to six people. The cabins are complete with fireplaces and televisions...The RV campground has 52 sites equipped with water and electrical hookups and the tent campground has 29 sites. 
Chickasaw State Park is also home to one of the few wrangler campgrounds which are designed for visitors traveling with horses. The Wrangler Campground is located near the stables to ensure the best experience for visitors interested in sharing their park experience with their horses. There are 32 wrangler sites, each with water and electrical hookups. All of the park campsites offer amenities such as picnic tables and grills, modern bathhouses with hot showers and restroom facilities and a playground for children to enjoy...The park has horses available for rent from the park stables. There is a guided trail which takes approximately one hour to complete."

Phew! There is a lot to do here and their website is super user-friendly. I went camping here as a child and enjoyed it a lot. There is a swimming area, pedal boats, and horseback riding, so no shortage of things to do with the kids. Also, reservations are accepted, so you can secure your site or cabin before you leave.

I'm estimating for a half-hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, camping fees for 2 nights at $11/night, or a cabin for 2 nights at $70/night, and assuming you already own all gear, coolers, utensils, etc.



5. Eagle-watching at Reelfoot Lake, TN:
Reelfoot Lake, TN
Reelfoot Lake State Park
2595 Hwy 21 E
Tiptonville, Tennessee 38079

"The park’s ecosystem is unlike any other place in Tennessee. Bald eagles can be spotted along with almost every kind of shorebird year-round...The park’s 15,000 acres of lake offer many opportunities for boating and fishing. In addition, there are three hiking trails along the lakeshore. All campsites at Reelfoot Lake State Park provide water, electricity, tables and grills with many campsites located on the lakeshore."

Reelfoot Lake, TN
I actually live fairly close to Reelfoot, but have not actually been there. It was one of the places that my mom, who loved Bald Eagles, wanted to go, but we never made it before she passed. I have heard so many recommendations from people in the area that it's on our short list of camping spots to try.

There is camping, hiking, birding, and fishing to do, so if you are interested in any of these things, I'm told it's gorgeous here. There are a total of 5 hikes, although I guess only 3 are along the lake. They have two campgrounds with 86 sites, all paved, and their rates are listed as $8-$25 a night, with all having 30-amp electric service. Both campgrounds have a small number of primitive sites with water accessible and some with picnic tables only. Also, their Park Rangers patrol frequently, which is always a plus.

Amenities list: Campground Host available 24 Hours, Camper Check-in Station with ice nearby, Boat Launching Ramp Area, Fish Cleaning House with electricity and water, Two bathhouses with showers, sinks, and toilets, One with washer, dryer, and dish washing area, Dumping Station located at entrance/exit, Bait - 2 mile (privately owned bait shops with fishing supplies), Boat – Available for rent from private facilities (within 1 to 5 miles), Pavilion, & Interpretive Programs during the summer months.

I'm estimating for a 1-1/2 hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, camping fees for 2 nights at $8/night, and assuming you already own all gear, coolers, utensils, etc.


6. Hiking at Fall Creek Falls, TN:
Fall Creek Falls, TN
Fall Creek Falls State Park
10821 Park Road
Spencer, Tennessee 38585

"Fall Creek Falls State Park is Tennessee’s largest and most visited state park. The park encompasses more than 26,000 acres sprawled across the eastern top of the rugged Cumberland Plateau. Laced with cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams and lush stands of virgin hardwood timber, the park beckons those who enjoy nature at her finest. Fall Creek Falls, at 256 feet, is one of the highest waterfall in the eastern United States. Other waterfalls within the park include Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls and Cane Creek Cascades. Fall Creek Falls features an inn with 145 hotel rooms, a restaurant and extensive meeting space. There are also 30 cabins and 222 campsites. Backcountry camping is also available with permit."

Fall Creek Falls Inn

I have not been yet, but this is another on our short list and I have friends who have been with their families and brought back gorgeous pictures of hiking to the Falls. They offer fishing, hiking, biking, golf, horseback riding, and birding. They also offer Packages that include inn stays and food, rock climbing, white water paddling, hiking, & backpacking. 

Their campsite prices range from $8 to $25 a night. "The park has 222 campsites in five different areas. All sites have tables, grills, water, and electricity and are served by six bathhouses. 92 sites have sewer connections. Some sites will accommodate an RV up to 45 feet in length. Ice and firewood may be purchased year-round. In addition to the 222 campsites there are 16 primitive sites, 9 are walk in the other 7 are park on. There are 3 back-country sites on the overnight backpacking trails. Most campgrounds are accessible by persons with a disability."

The cabins range from $110 to $150 a night. "Fall Creek Falls State Park features a total of 30 cabins. Each cabin is furnished to sleep up to eight or ten people. All cabins are fully equipped for housekeeping with linens, cooking and serving utensils, appliances, microwave, telephone, and cable TV. Each has a fireplace with firewood provided during the months of October through April."

The Inn ranges from $81 to $210 a night. "The 145-room inn offers panoramic views of 345-acre Fall Creek Falls Lake and makes a great base for folks hiking out to the park’s 256-foot high namesake."

I'm estimating for a four hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, camping fees for 2 nights at $8/night, or a cabin for 2 nights at $110/night, OR a room at the inn for 4 people for 2 nights at $81/night, and assuming you already own all gear, coolers, utensils, etc. If staying at the Inn, I am allocating food/ice/charcoal costs to food at the restaurant.



INN COST: $327

7. Camping at Natchez Trace, TN:
Natchez Trace, TN
Natchez Trace State Park
24845 Natchez Trace Rd
Wildersville, Tennessee 38388

"The park has 13.5 miles of hiking trails, ranging from a one-half mile up to 4.5 miles. The trails wind through the forest and fields and along the lakeshores and streams of Natchez Park. Visitors also enjoy the museum that features local and park history, picnic facilities, camping, cabins and lodges, boating and the park’s restaurant. The park offers activities for visitors of all ages. Fishing is a favorite activity at Natchez Trace and anglers have four lakes from which to choose...Natchez Trace State Park is one of the few parks that have an onsite wrangler camp...the Bucksnort Wrangler Camp features 65 campsites with full hook-ups, two bathhouses and a dump station. There are 250 miles of riding trails on the south end of the park in the Natchez Trace State Forest..."


Natchez Trace offers biking, hiking, horseback riding, and fishing. Like Fall Creek Falls, it also has campsites, cabins, and an inn with restaurant. There are a couple of packages as well here, but are for 55+, or for an Easter Dinner event.

Their campsite prices range from $8 to $25 a night. "The park has 208 campsites and five camping cabins in three different areas. All sites have tables, grills, water, and electricity and are served by four bathhouses."

The cabins range from $85 to $100 a night. "Natchez Trace has 17 standard cabins nestled among tall trees on beautiful Cub Lake. These cabins have one bedroom with a queen bed and a sleeper sofa accommodating up to four people. The cabins are completely equipped for housekeeping with full modern bathrooms, kitchen appliances, cooking utensils, linens and towels. Each cabin has a grill and picnic table. They are air-conditioned and also have fireplaces. The public beach and day-use area are located just across an arm of the lake and are accessible via a rustic footbridge." They encourage reservations.

The Inn ranges from $67 to $220 a night. "The inn is situated on scenic Pin Oak Lake and has 47 guestrooms. Half of the rooms face Pin Oak Lake and the other half face the outdoor pool. A few rooms are fully handicap accessible. Inn rooms range as low as $67 a night for a room with two queen beds to $72 a night for a single queen room, depending on the time of the year."

I'm estimating for an hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, camping fees for 2 nights at $8/night, or a cabin for 2 nights at $85/night, OR a room at the inn for 4 people for 2 nights at $67/night, and assuming you already own all gear, coolers, utensils, etc. If staying at the Inn, I am allocating food/ice/charcoal costs to food at the restaurant.



INN COST: $239

8. Camping at Beech Lake, TN:
Beech Lake, TN map
Beech Lake Family Camping Resort
495 Beech Lake Camp Rd. Lexington, TN 38351
(731) 968-9542

"Enjoy camping, fishing, water sports and beautiful scenery just halfway between Memphis and Nashville."

This one is close to us in West Tennessee. It's about a 30 minute drive, so gas costs are low. We go to the swimming/picnic area for our birthday day trips to swim at the beech (I'm so punny) and cook out. I've never camped here, and it is separate from the well-kept beach/picnic areas, but I can say that, unlike some others we've visited, this area is kept clean and well-maintained. The swimming beach is a paid area, but at $3 per adult and kids under 13 free, it's not a bad deal. There is fishing and a boat dock, also grills and fire pits. I believe there is also a little playground, although we've never used it; once the kids see the water, they're off!

I couldn't find any info on costs, but I can't imagine it's over $12 a night for a single tent camp site. From their Google+ page: "Located on 1000 acre Beech Lk, Henderson County, TN. Camping facilities for RV & Tents. Family-oriented atmosphere & pet friendly. All camping sites sold on a 1st come, 1st serve basis. Must be 21 yr." Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory has a complete list of all amenities offered and has a price of $24 listed, but doesn't say if it is daily, or for a tent or RV.

I'm estimating for a half-hour's drive in gas, food, ice, and charcoal for 4 people for 3 days, 2 nights, camping fees for 2 nights at $12/night, swimming fees for 2 adults and 2 children for 2 days, and assuming you already own tents and gear, coolers, utensils, etc.

COST: $131

I hope this list helps you plan your own inexpensive outdoor adventure. If you have any family-favorite spots, let me know in the comments and maybe I'll start planning another trip! Thanks for reading.

See the next posts: 
4 Family-friendly Mountain Vacations Under $500
New Orleans by Train: A Family-friendly Vacation Under $700

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  1. Any chance of you posting affordable vacation sites in the southwest and west?

    1. I can look into it when I've finished this series. I love to travel, but I'm not very familiar with small, family-friendly vacation sites west of the Mississippi, and I like to be able to give people the "inside scoop". I've got more posts coming up with Mountain vacations in the Ozarks and Smokeys, beach vacations, and vacations by train. There are some great things to see in the West, so I might just make some plans! :)

  2. Thanks for the ideas, I would love to visit Fall Creek!

    1. I've been told it's so worth the hike!

  3. We still have not planned a summer vacation so I am so happy I came across this post! All of this information will definitely come in handy! Thank you!

    1. I'm so glad! That was my hope in writing this! Let me know how it goes!

  4. I am so glad I came across this on a fellow blogger's FB page! My hubby and I haven't had a "real" vacation since moving to Arkansas over 4 years ago. The few trips we have taken have all been to see Indiana and Oklahoma for my brother's BT graduation most recently. It's time for a relaxing one!
    Anyways, we are planning on a trip either this fall or next spring and were undecided on just doing a road trip or staying somewhere relatively close. Tennessee is one of our favorite places to much so we got married there! I love going to Gatlinburg, but I was happy to see that most of your TN destinations were on the west side since it is closer to us. We're hoping to keep the car ride to a minimum since we have a 1 1/2 year old daughter. lol
    Anyways, thanks so much for the ideas and sorry for the life story! :)

    1. I know what you mean! We haven't had one in about 4 years, and we used to take multiple trips in a year in addition to camping close to home. After my daughter was born, she wouldn't sleep anywhere but her room. Not in a hotel, on a car ride...nowhere. We tried, but we were all just miserable listening to her wailing. It was terrible and we tried just about everything! So...we put it all off. She's almost 7 now and has thankfully gotten over her peculiar problem.

      I'm so glad this helped! That was my goal and it makes me happy to hear it. And I love comments. Bring 'em on!

  5. Oh, and my husband grew up in NW Arkansas and used to go camping at Bull Shoals every year too!

    1. Canoeing 4 miles down the White River was one of my all-time favorite trips!

  6. This is great. I'll be blending families soon and the camping vacations look great to unplug four tech addicted kids.

    1. Hope it helps you choose a site! Good luck with the unplugging! ;)

  7. These all look so gorgeous!! We love camping and would love to visit any of these!! The canoeing ones sound super fun as we are a water loving family :) Thanks for the great ideas!!

    1. Hope it helps you plan a fun getaway! Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Wow - these are all wonderful. I'm not sure I've ever been to Tennessee, if I have, it was just driving through it, not to stay. I'd love to try some of these places, sure beats staycations!

    1. I love TN of all of the places I've lived in the South. You should try the Smokies!

  9. I would love to go to Niagara Falls for a summer vacation. It has been about 20 years since the last time it went.