Roughing It, Gently

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Yes, there is a summer vacation for the disorganized and broke. Most of this summer's hostel visitors have come and gone already, so August is a great month to walk in (though a family who wants a private room should call ahead). More than 115 hostels dot the U.S., according to Hostelling International hiayh.org). Prices vary by season but are generally less than $20 a night for adults and $10 for children. While not luxe, hostels are not just for backpackers, as these resorts demonstrate.

Lake Itasca, Minn.
The Mississippi Headwaters hostel, built entirely of logs, is in Itasca State Park, just by the first trickle of the river

--Private rooms (four to six beds) cost $40 a night

To do: Swimming, canoeing, biking, hiking and nature activities sponsored by Parks Department

Crested Butte, Colo.
--The old Rockies mining town is the wildflower capital of Colorado

--Private rooms rent for $65 a night in summer, $75 in winter. A private apartment for six is $180

To do: If extreme mountain biking or extreme skiing is too much, there are hiking, rafting, fishing and horseback riding

Montara, Calif.
--Point Montara lighthouse and its turn-of-the-century buildings are 25 miles from San Francisco

--Private rooms cost $48 a night

To do: The area is popular among surfers and windsurfers, but there are also bike trails, a marine reserve and, between November and April, whale watching

Ninilchik, Alaska
The Eagle Watch hostel, open mid-May to mid-September, sits above the Ninilchik River

--There are 20 beds, no more than four to a room. Private rooms are $35

To do: The hostel has free gear for fishing and clam digging. Its motto is "The view is our TV"