Summer has flown by and Labor Day is right around the corner. For those of you who are as unprepared as I am, there are still opportunities to take that spontaneous trip—just opt for a short hop within your region. These adventures all still have availability and are mapped out by location to make it easy to book a last-minute getaway.
In the Midwest
The Ozarks, Missouri
From bass and fly fishing on Table Rock Lake to tram tours that take you through Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre reserve filled with bison, elk, and whitetail deer, it’s no surprise that Big Cedar Lodge (from $405) and its new 40-tent Camp Long Creek (from $214), in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, was masterminded by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. It’d be easy to spend a long weekend at the 342-room resort, located an hour by car from Springfield, or 15 minutes from the smaller Branson airport, but that would mean missing out on the rich history of the surrounding towns. Be sure to stop by Copper Run Distillery, 30 minutes by car from the lodge, for a taste of the area’s moonshine-making heydays, or drive an hour west to downtown Eureka Springs, in Arkansas, an offbeat creative hub filled with galleries, shops, and Victorian-era architecture. Closer to Branson, Chateau on the Lake (from $200) is another iconic lakeside resort that’s geared towards families, with a marina that offers boat rentals, water skiing, parasailing, and scuba diving.
In the Mid-Atlantic
Fayetteville, West Virginia
As whitewater rafting season winds down in the rest of the country, West Virginia’s Gauley River, a 35-mile stretch of Class V rapids, enters its primetime. Starting in early September for six weekends, the rapids attracts hardcore rafters to Lower Gauley, a technical section that includes a 30-foot plunge, while families and beginners can head to Upper New River, a laidback passage ideal for swimming and wildlife spotting. Adventures on the Gorge, a resort located on New River Gorge in the nearby town of Fayetteville, still has plenty of rafting availability over Labor Day weekend (and is offering half-off normal prices for Upper and Lower New River rafting trips; from $69.50), as well as campsites (from $15) and one- to four-bedroom cabins (from $129). The surrounding area offers a variety of other activities, like climbing and fishing, but for some prime mountain biking, drive three hours north, where the 10.5-mile Blackwater Canyon Trail in Blackwater Falls State Park, and the 22.4-mile Mountwood Park Grand Tour Loop, are fun singletracks.
In the Northeast
Acadia National Park, Maine
While East Coast city residents make an exodus to the standard rotation of weekend getaways (the Hamptons, Newport, Nantucket), head to Portland or one of Maine’s surrounding areas for a quieter and less scene-y alternative—and plenty of outdoor fun. After a day or two exploring Portland, make your way to Acadia National Park, a coastal stretch of granite mountains, woodlands, and beaches on Mount Desert Island, a three-hour drive northwest from the city. Spend a morning hiking the Precipice Trail, which ascends 1,000 feet by a series of ledges that offers sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, before stopping by Jordan Pond House Restaurant for a seafood lunch. In the afternoon, rent a bike from Cadillac Mountain Sports to test six miles of trails at The Camden Hills or rent a kayak from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures to explore the 60 islands that make up the Stonington Archipelago. Come sunset, post up at Sand Beach, a secluded stretch of white sand tucked in between mountains on the east side of Mount Desert Island, which you can access via Park Loop Road, the park’s scenic drive. While most of the park’s main campsites fill up in advance, the main town of Bar Harbor has plenty of inns and hotels that range in price, and Atlantic Oceanside (from $250), Acadia Oceanview (from $139), and Bar Harbor Grand (from $279), still have availability.
In the South
New Orleans, Louisiana
As the city gears up for its fall festival season, when events like Krewe of Boo and Bayou Bacchanal fill the streets with visitors, Labor Day weekend marks a less crowded and less expensive time to visit. With most of the area’s adventure offerings within an hour’s drive from the city, its worthwhile to post up in town. And luckily, the city no longer has a shortage of places to stay, with a number of design-forward (and affordable) boutique hotel openings this year, from the Marigny’s old-world-style Hotel Peter & Paul (from $129), which comes with its own 1860s-era church, and the 67-room Maison de la Luz (from $389), from the guys behind Ace Hotels, to The Eliza Jane (from $200), which has 197 rooms in a series of warehouses on Magazine Street. In between your requisite eating and drinking, paddleboard Bayou St. John, a four-mile waterway that passes historic homes and a sprawling park (NOLA Paddleboards); bike the 31-mile Tammany Trace, a trail converted from former rail yard tracks that goes from downtown Covington to Slidell; or kayak the swamps at Jean Lafitte Historical National Park.
In the Southwest
Santa Fe, New Mexico
If there’s a time of year to experience the full spirit of Santa Fe, it’s over Labor Day weekend, when the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe, a week-long celebration across town, takes place. The festival, which goes from August 31 to September 8 this year, includes parades, arts and crafts booths, mariachi bands, and culminates with the burning of Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom, a towering marionette that represents the hardships of the past year. For those looking for some respite in between exploring the nearby national forests, parks, and monuments, book a stay at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort (from $240), which just added a series of hot tubs set at the edge of its cottonwood-shrouded pond. Or to stay closer to the festivities, opt for El Rey Court (from $280), a refurbished 86-room motor lodge that opened last fall.
In the Northwest
Visiting the city in early September gets you the best of both worlds: it’s the tailend of the busy summer season, when the skies are clear and flowers are in full bloom (it’s called the City of Roses for a reason), and some hotels drop their rates. For visitors who want to take in all the nearby adventure offerings, from hiking up to 80 miles of trails at Forest Park to fishing Clackamas River, without the hassle of buying or renting gear, a stay at the new 174-room The Hotel Zags Portland (from $179) comes with full access to its Gear Shed, stocked with fishing poles, mountain bikes, and—in true Portland fashion—35mm and Leica cameras to document it all with.