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Good times don’t have to all be in the rearview mirror just yet. (Tourism Michigan)

4 Last-Minute Labor Day Road Trips

If you were as caught off guard by the end of summer as we were, here are some easy-to-plan itineraries for the long weekend

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Labor Day typically marks the end of summer travel, but good times don’t have to all be in the rearview mirror 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. 

Southeast

(Photo: ExploreAsheville.com/Dave Allen)

Hit the road bound for Asheville, North Carolina, an accessible fall getaway that’s three hours from Atlanta. The best leaf peeping in this area happens closer to late September or early October, but you may start to spot red and yellow leaves at higher elevations by early September. Make your home base 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.

Take a walk or bike ride on the newly built trail system at Richmond Hill Park, which has a new bike-skills park and about five miles of trails. Or go for a scenic drive on a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile roadway that connects the Blue Ridge Mountains to Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park—both of which see far fewer crowds come September.

To extend the journey, head less than an hour southwest to the town of Brevard, home to craft breweries and biking through Pisgah National Forest. Start with a guided mountain-bike ride with Red Wolf Mountain Bike Tours and end with a beer in the taproom at Ecusta Brewing Company. Red Wolf has a new three-bedroom log cabin on Airbnb (from $252) that’s on a pond and minutes from the trails.

Mountain West

(Photo: Lisa Seaman Photography)

From Denver it’s just an hour south to Colorado Springs, where sandstone rock formations and 21 miles of trails at Garden of the Gods are worth pulling over for. Front Range Climbing leads guided rock climbing within the city-owned park (which is free to visit). Spend the night at Kinship Landing (from $49), a new boutique hotel that opened this year with high-end bunk rooms, as well as a fourth-floor outdoor camping room where you can pitch a tent (bring your own or rent one from the hotel) and take in the views of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak.

From there, detour three hours south to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The sand and air temperatures are cooler this time of year, so it’s an ideal season to go. If you want to slide down the dunes, rent a sandboard before you arrive. Piñon Flats Campground (from $20), within the park, is open until late October.

End your trip in Salida, an hour and a half north, on the shores of the Arkansas River. From here you can climb a nearby fourteener, mountain-bike the legendary Monarch Crest Trail (Absolute Bikes runs shuttles to the top), or soak in the hot springs near the base of Mount Princeton. The Amigo Motor Lodge (from $150) has stylish rooms and vintage Airstreams.

West Coast

(Photo: Erin Thiem)

The charming Sierra Nevada foothills town of Nevada City, California, less than three hours from San Francisco, makes for a great long weekend getaway. The Nevada City Film Festival runs there through Labor Day. Bring your mountain bike—the 1.3-mile Hoot Trail, built five years ago, is a fun, flowy downhill located just outside town that connects to a network of other trails. Before or after the ride, Three Forks, in downtown Nevada City, doubles as both bakery and brewery.

The 38-room National Exchange Hotel (from $186), a historic property constructed during the gold rush and one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in the state, reopened this spring after a complete renovation. The hotel’s new restaurant, Lola, serves brunch and dinner. If you’d rather camp, the Inn Town Campground (from $40), a mile from town, has tent, RV, and glamping sites, as well as outdoor movies on Friday nights. 

It’s an hour drive down the scenic, historic Highway 49, along the Yuba River, to reach the tiny gold rush–era town of Downieville, where mountain bikers, hikers, and anglers will find plenty to keep them occupied. The Lure Resort (from $105) has revamped cabins and rustic camping huts along the river.  

Midwest

(Photo: Tourism Michigan)

For a lakeside escape, check out Port Austin, on the tip of Michigan’s thumb along Lake Huron and less than a three-hour drive from Detroit (or six from Chicago). Visitors come here for a sight of Turnip Rock, a unique stone island just offshore. If you want to see it, you’ve got to go by water, since the land around 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.  

Start your day at Thumb Roast Coffee and end it with patio beers brewed on-site at the Tap Room at Bird Creek Farms. The Saturday farmers’ market, the largest in the state, runs through the middle of October.

The best time to visit the area’s Port Crescent State Park is at night. This Dark Sky Preserve is one of the best stargazing spots in Michigan, and September marks a good time to catch the northern lights. Camp or rent a geodesic dome or cottage (from $33) at the park. Or stay tuned for news on the new Dark Sky Lodge and Tavern, a revamped motel property near the state park that’s slated to open soon.

Lead Photo: Tourism Michigan
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