6 Helpful Camping Tips for Labor Day Weekend

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 hoorah to look forward to—the three-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

This is the year of the camping reservation. With more people hitting the road and enjoying a vacation under the stars, 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 to get cracking.

Aerial view of a busy RV park.
Jackson Rancheria RV Park | Jackson, CA – Photo by: amedeau

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 be able to snap up a site that was canceled or re-booked.

Plan Ahead for a “Day-Of” Spot

If you’re feeling brave, you can try for a first-come-first-served campsite. Often reservable public parks, including some state park, national park, national forest, and BLM campgrounds, 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.

An empty RV spot in a crowded RV park.
Columbia River RV Park | Portland, OR

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.

The most reliable information we can share is this: get there early—earlier than you think (and way before the stated check-out time). Bring coffee, breakfast, and a good book to read or a movie to watch—you may be waiting a while. Also, be respectful. Don’t ask checking out campers exactly what time they are 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.

Go Boondocking

If reservable campgrounds or elbowing for a day-of campsite isn’t your cup of tea, how about a weekend of boondocking? Boondocking, or dispersed camping, is camping without services or amenities on public land. There are thousands of places across North America that welcome 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.

Truck camper parked in front of a lake.
Rhea Springs Recreation Area | Spring City, TN – Photo by: TexasRoadrunners

New to boondocking? Check out these tips to get started:

Explore Outside the Coverage Map

We live in an uber-connected world, and some aren’t able to go without those magical bars of cell service. If you don’t need to check in on work or family, consider camping and exploring outside of cell coverage (if you’re a Campendium Supporter, you can turn on cell coverage layers in all of our maps).

Campendium cell coverage map.

A good rule of thumb is that the further you are from cell service, the less popular the area is. There are certainly exceptions to this—national parks are often busy no matter the coverage—but if you’re looking to snag a campsite without a reservation or are just looking to escape the madding crowd, you’ll do well to look for a spot where your cell phone will report “No Coverage.”

Pack Layers

As we slowly drift from summer to fall, it pays to pack in layers. This applies to clothing (we suggest bringing a warm jacket for morning and evening, and if you’re in the higher elevations, the northern US, or in Canada, a winter hat and gloves) but also to bedding.

Trees changing to yellow in a campground.
Gros Ventre Campground | Jackson, WY

If you’re tent camping with a sleeping bag, either bring your warmest-rated bag or an extra blanket 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.

Labor Day camping trips are perfect for enjoying responsible campfires, but if you’re traveling somewhere with a fire ban in place, check out these tips for campfire alternatives.

Prepare for Traffic

Lastly, 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.

Several RVs parked on a beach at dusk.
Camp Gulf | Destin, FL – Photo by: AU/UA House Divided

Before you begin the drive to or from your destination, take steps that will make it easier for you to go with the flow. Queue up your favorite podcasts, playlists, or a good audiobook. Keep snacks and drinks handy, so you don’t cross over to “hangry” (hungry and angry) territory. Leave earlier or stay later than you would otherwise if it helps you avoid the worst of the traffic. Even if you know where you’re going, consider turning on Waze, Google Maps, or Apple Maps so that they can alert you to traffic ahead and provide timely drive-around options.

Though Labor Day in the United States 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—autumn—is just around the corner. There will be plenty of more weekends for exploring before winter arrives.