The 4 last-minute road trips for Labor Day

The end of summer travel usually coincides with Labor Day, but the summer fun isn’t over just yet. If you have a few days and the curiosity to explore your own region, you can find a long weekend road trip worth taking. Besides, September often means cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, better deals, and seasonal perks like spotting fall foliage or catching the northern lights. For those of you who were caught off guard by the end of summer, here are four easy-to-plan road trips, broken down by region.


(Photo: Allen)

Take the road to Asheville, North Carolina, a three-hour drive from Atlanta and a great fall getaway. The best time to spot red and yellow leaves is usually toward the end of September or beginning of October in this area, though you may begin spotting them earlier if you live at a higher elevation. Stay at the newly renovated Applewood Manor (from $295), a six-room B&B owned by a former competitive cyclist who curates custom bike routes for his guests and rents a fleet of 3T racing bikes.

Explore Richmond Hill Park’s newly built trails, which include a bike-skills park and about five miles of trails. Consider taking a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile road that connects the Blue Ridge Mountains to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park or Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, both of which see far fewer visitors in September.

Head southwest to Brevard, where you can explore craft breweries and bike through Pisgah National Forest less than an hour away. End your day with a beer at Ecusta Brewing Company’s tap room after a guided mountain-bike tour with Red Wolf Mountain Bike Tours. There’s a new cabin from Red Wolf on Airbnb (from $250) that’s minutes from trails amidst a pond.

West Mountain

(Photo: Lisa Seaman Photography)

The Garden of the Gods is just an hour south of Denver, meaning it’s worth stopping by if you’re driving south. It boasts 21 miles of trails and sandstone rock formations. Guided rock climbing classes are offered by Front Range Climbing (free admission). You can pitch a tent on the roof of Kinship Landing (from $49), which recently opened with high-end bunk rooms and an outdoor camping room with views of Pikes Peak (either bring your own or rent one from the hotel).

You should then continue to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is three hours south. Summer is the best time to visit because of the cooler air and sand temperatures. To slide down the dunes, rent a sandboard before you arrive. It is open until late October at Pi*on Flats Campground (starting at $20).

The city of Salida, on the banks of the Arkansas River, is approximately an hour and a half to the north. In this area, you can climb a nearby fourteener (Absolute Bikes offers shuttle service to the top) and bike the Monarch Crest Trail, or soak in the hot springs at Mount Princeton. The Amigo Motor Lodge (from $150) has stylish rooms and vintage Airstreams.

Coast of the West

(Photo: Erin Thiem)

You can spend a wonderful long weekend in Nevada City, California, less than three hours from San Francisco. It runs from Labor Day to the end of the festival. A 1.3-mile downhill trail just outside of town connects to another trail network on the Hoot Trail, built five years ago. Three Forks, in Nevada City, is a bakery and brewery that serves both before and after the ride.

It is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Washington and one of 38 rooms in the historic National Exchange Hotel (from $186). Guests can enjoy brunch and dinner at Lola, the hotel’s new restaurant. Camping with tents, RVs, and glamping is allowed at Inn Town Campground (from $40); it also has outdoor movies on Friday nights.

You will find plenty to do for mountain bikers, hikers, and anglers in the tiny gold rush-era town of Downieville, located along the scenic, historic Highway 49. The Lure Resort (from $105) has revamped cabins and rustic camping huts along the river.


(Photo: Tourism Michigan)

Visit Port Austin, located at the tip of Michigan’s thumb, a short drive from Detroit (or Chicago), along Lake Huron. A unique stone island just offshore, Turnip Rock is a popular destination for visitors. The only way to see it is by boat, since the land surrounding the rock isn’t public: rent a kayak from Port Austin Kayak and paddle the seven miles there and back, on the Point aux Barques water trail.

Take advantage of Thumb Roast Coffee to start your day and Bird Creek Farms’ Tap Room to finish it off with its own locally brewed beer. From now until the middle of October, the state’s largest farmers’ market is held on Saturdays.

Visiting Port Crescent State Park at night is the best time to do so. One of Michigan’s best stargazing spots, this Dark Sky Preserve is a great place to catch the northern lights in September. The park offers geodesic domes and cottages (from $33) for camping. Stay tuned for news on a newly renovated motel property that will open near the state park – Dark Sky Lodge and Tavern.

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