Just like that, we’re nearing the end of the summer camping season. The nights may be getting cooler, and the days are getting a little shorter, but there is still one last summer holiday to look forward to—the 3-day Labor Day weekend.
Like any holiday, traveling over Labor Day often takes a bit more determination and finesse than your average camping trip. These six tips will help you make the most out of your travel plans for the upcoming long weekend.
Make Reservations Now
Camping reservations are a must. As more people continue to take their vacations to the great outdoors, breezing into a campground with the anticipation of snagging a campsite is a thing of the past. If you haven’t booked a reservable campsite for Labor Day weekend yet, now is the time.
But don’t give up hope if your preferred camping destination is full. Use Campendium’s mapping features to find nearby campgrounds and campsites, and perhaps even book a backup plan if you don’t mind the potential of paying a cancellation fee. Then, keep a daily eye on the reservations at your preferred campground. Remember, people change their plans all the time. You might get lucky and snag a site that was canceled or re-booked.
Plan Ahead for a “Day-Of” Spot
If you’re feeling brave, you can try a first-come, first-served campsite. Public parks, including some state parks, national parks, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campgrounds, often set aside a handful of “day-of” sites for those of us who didn’t secure reservations. These campsites are available to the first person who can lay claim once the existing campers vacate it. Depending on the park, there may be a queuing system in place, or it could be a free-for-all.
Getting a day-of campsite on a busy holiday weekend is tricky, but not impossible. Start by reading the Campendium community reviews for any useful tips and tidbits that will help you formulate a plan. Then, call the campground or park office and ask how to best get one of these coveted spots.
You should also plan to arrive at the campground early—well before the designated check-out time, and be prepared to wait a while for your spot. Also, be respectful. Don’t ask campers checking out what time they’re leaving or hover next to their site as they pack up. Getting rushed out of your campsite by a pushy fellow camper isn’t how anyone wants to spend their morning.
If reservations fall through and you don’t want to brave the uncertainty of a day-of site, consider boondocking. Boondocking is camping off-grid without services or amenities, typically on public land. There are thousands of places across the U.S. that welcome this type of dispersed camping, and if you’re willing to go a bit off the beaten path, you can have a quiet, relaxing long weekend in nature this Labor Day.
Camp Off the Grid
If you don’t need to check in on work or family, consider camping and exploring outside of cell phone coverage areas (if you’re a Roadpass Pro member, you can turn on cell phone coverage layers on Campendium maps).
A good rule of thumb is that the further you are from cell phone service, the less popular the area is. There are certainly exceptions to this—national parks are often busy no matter signal strength—but if you’re looking to snag a campsite without a reservation or are just looking to escape the crowd, you should look for a spot that takes you off-grid.
As we slowly drift from summer to fall, it pays to pack in layers. Bring a warm jacket for mornings and evenings at the campsite, and if you’re in the higher elevations, consider packing a winter hat and gloves as well. For tent campers, this also means bringing along your warmer-rated sleeping bags and blankets in case the nights get chilly. In an RV, throw another blanket on the bed and ensure your heater is serviced and working. You may not need these extras, but you’ll be grateful that you have them if the thermometer dips below your comfort zone.
Prepare for Traffic
No matter where you travel this Labor Day weekend, you’ll want to prepare yourself for traffic. Busy holiday weekends can often lead to slowdowns on highways and interstates. These can be frustrating but are more manageable if you plan ahead.
Before you begin the drive to or from your destination, take steps that will make it easier for you to go with the flow. Leave earlier or stay later than you would otherwise if it helps you avoid the worst of the traffic, and be prepared with snacks, drinks, and in-car entertainment to keep all of your travelers happy on the road.
Though Labor Day in the U.S. is known as the “official end of summer,” don’t fret if you can’t get out camping for this long weekend. One of the best camping seasons of the year—fall—is just around the corner. There will be plenty of more weekends for exploring before winter arrives.