Labor Day weekend activities! 11 ideas for fun in the wild

Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area (New Mexico).

Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Labor Day weekend is headed here fast. Yet some of you have not made plans for your holiday activities! Let us point you to a few Labor Day destinations and activities that will get you outside, off the beaten path and onto the wild lands that we all cherish and work to protect. Whether you plan to spend Labor Day weekend at home or away, there are so many ways to get out into wilderness and enjoy a last slice of summer. Enjoy!

#1 Leave the Labor Day weekend crowds behind - check out these less populated recreation areas:

Why: Because a slice of tranquility is good for the soul. Nearby recreation areas and National Parks are crawling with visitors on Labor Day weekend, so save the popular places for another day, and focus on finding Labor Day activities in more tranquil spots.

How: Try out less crowded, but equally enchanting public lands, such as designated wilderness areas or wildlife refuges.  Another great option for Labor Day travel activities is the National Landscape Conservation System, which is the BLM's network of national monuments, conservation areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers and other spectacular western landscapes. Many of these wild areas are places that Wilderness Society supporters have a hand in protecting, and with more than 885 protected areas, you ought to be able to find one that suits your fancy. Some ideas: California’s Carrizo Plain National Monument, Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante, Colorado's Canyon of the Ancients, Montana's Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument or Arizona's Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument.

Off-the-beaten-path outdoor destination ideas
Locate a wilderness area near you
Locate more getaways within the National Landscape Conservation system

#2 Enjoy a sunset picnic

Why: If you're staying at home Labor Day weekend, a sunset picnic will allow you a quick outing to the wild. This may be one of the last sunsets you’ll be able to soak up without a sweater!

How: Take a short hike into a natural area that offers a great vista or wide-open skies. Unpack some sandwiches and a bottle of wine, or another favorite beverage, and enjoy the glow of the fading sun. Stay longer if you want to snuggle under the stars. Just be sure to bring flashlights or headlamps for the walk back.

#3 Uncover American history

Why: Because amazing relics of our nation’s past (from dinosaur fossils and ancient petroglyphs to historic battlefields) can be found in national monuments and other public lands throughout the 50 states. Visiting such historic places will give you a feel for another component of why designating land protections, such as national monument status, is so important

How: Try out Nevada's Gold Butte National Conservation Area; Dinosuar National Monument, Colorado (with the Yampa River or Vermillion Basin for great add-ons); Minute Man National Historic Park, Massachusetts, or even Fort Monroe, Virginia, which may soon be our nation's newest national monument!

Find more places:

National Historic and Scenic Trails
Find a national monument near you

#4 See the wild at night

Why: One of the best things about summer is the warm nighttime temperatures with the stars above.

How: Guided nighttime walks are offered at many public natural areas. If you're feeling adventurous you can also try night hiking independently, but be sure to study up on night hiking safety precautions before you go. Groups of 3 or more are best.

#5 Visit a wildlife refuge

Why: They’re not just for the birds!  National Fish and Wildlife Refuges can be found in all 50 states, and most of them are less than an hour’s drive from a major American city. Bird watching is always great, but wildlife refuges also welcome hiking, picnicking, fishing, hunting and photography. Many allow canoeing or small boats.

How:  Just click on the USFWS interactive map to find a wildlife refuge near you.

#6 Record a child in nature

Why: Your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews are always growing, and so are the ways in which they interpret nature. They will never be 2, 4, 8 or even 12 again, so don't miss the opportunity to document their unique reactions to being in wilderness. The cute things a five year old says about wildlife will be totally different by this time next year.

How: Start a Labor Day weekend tradition of taking your kids to a special wild place. It can be the same place each year or a different one. Take photos or write a journal entry documenting the activities your child did, the cute things they said and compare it year after year.

#7 Play in the sand dunes

Why: Because nothing beats a giant sandbox.

How:   Head to Kelso Dunes in California’s Mojave National Preserve. These dunes are said to make strange booming sounds as you travel upon them (about 2.5 hours from Las Vegas). Labor Day weekend will still be hot for this trip, so use it as an opportunity to beat the crowds, but take plenty of drinking water and take precautions against the heat.

Or try Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes, voted as America’s most beautiful place on Good Morning America. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a slice of tranquility along the coast of Lake Michigan. This area, which is being considered for wilderness protections, is known for the gorgeous sunsets over towering dunes--some bluffs stretch more than 400 feet above the shore. Dune climb information.

Also Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, or White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

# 8 Hike a portion of a legendary trail

Why: Because you’ve been itching to hike one of America’s great long distance trails but taking six months off is not an option. 

How: Take Labor Day weekend to conquer a portion of The Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, the Appalachian Trail, or another great alternative – the Bartram Trail. A less trafficked alternative to the Appalachian Trail the Bartram Trail crosses through similarly dazzling terrain. The trail begins in Georgia and heads through North Carolina through the Nantahala National Forest for some of the best mountain scenery in the state, including spectacular views of the surrounding Blue Ridge and Nantahala mountains. The Bartram also passes through the proposed Bob Zahner Wilderness area (near the town of Highlands), which The Wilderness Society is working to permanently protect. Maps and trail information.

For the Pacific Crest Trail, we highly recommend the 11-mile Kendall Katwalk hike in Washington’s North Cascades (what Sunset Magazine calls the PCT trail for beginners). The hike goes through dazzling scenery in the Snoqualmie region and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, taking you along a trail on the shelf of a dramatic cliff face. 

Kendall Katwalk trail information.

#9 Sleep under the stars

Why: Nightime. Stars. Crickets chirping. Need we say more?

How: There’s always car camping, but if you haven’t reserved yet, it might be too late to get your chosen campground for Labor Day weekend. Two other great options: 1. Challenge yourself to an overnight backpacking trip.  Even if you have kids, it's quite doable with a little planning! Get family backpacking tips here. 2. Stay at home this Labor Day and camp out with the kids in the backyard. It's a fun activity and they will cherish the memory forever.

#10 Play nature photographer

Why: Photographing nature is a relaxing activity that allows you to be outdoors with out the pressure of a schedule. The only pressure is finding the next great photograph.

How: Just grab your camera over the Labor Day holiday and head out for a few hours at your favorite natural area. Play around with a variety of shots from sweeping vistas to the close up details of flowers or tree bark. Mornings and evenings are the best time for good light.

#11 Go fishing!

Why: Labor Day weekend can be a tricky time for fishing because of the crowds. Increased boat traffic sometimes makes for shy fish, but this is still one of your last opportunities to get out while the weather is still great.

How: Select a location off the beaten path, maybe at a nearby National Wildlife Refuge, fish in the early morning and later evening hours when fish are feeding—and people are scarce. Labor Day shouldn’t be the end of your fishing season either, there is plenty of good fishing for late season panfish like bass and bluegills, and coldwater species like trout that are active feeders all year round.

Use the USFWS' fishing guide to find a wildlife refuge with good fishing near you.

And whatever you do this Labor Day weekend have fun and don’t forget to respect the wild by minimizing your footprint. Stick to designated trails, pack out your trash and keep your animals on a leash.