5 Last-Minute Labor Day Travel Ideas

Cheap and quick getaways that won't break the bank.

Children have already started heading back to school by the time Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, pops up during the first week of September. We all usually do a good job planning a great trip with the family in June or July, and we may forget to make plans for the final summer holiday weekend. We decided to pull together five savvy ideas for quick getaways that won’t break the bank.

1. Get your last thrill at an amusement or water park.

Thunder Dolphin, roller coaster, Tokyo, Japan

Thunder Dolphin, roller coaster, Tokyo, Japan

Photo by: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Cool off during the dog days of summer and go beyond your local public swimming pool. Visit a nearby water park such as Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas. Get wet ’n’ wild on the wave-making Boogie Bahn Surfing Ride and the Master Blaster uphill water coaster. For an adrenaline-pumping adventure, families can head to an amusement park such as Kings Dominion, which is located 20 miles north of Richmond, Virginia, and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Thrill junkies can hop on the Intimidator 305, one of the tallest and fastest roller coasters on the East Coast. Check out our complete guide to U.S. amusement parks for more inspiration.

2. Commune with nature and visit a national park.

dawn, lake, trees with colored leaves, mountains in distance

dawn, lake, trees with colored leaves, mountains in distance

Dawn breaking over Second Pond, Adirondack Mountains, State Park, New York

Photo by: Chris Murray / Aurora / Getty Images

Chris Murray / Aurora / Getty Images

Take advantage of the warm weather and get outside to explore a U.S. national park such as Yosemite, Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains. Some parks offer family-friendly activities, too. Go hiking on Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in Montana or camping under the stars in Maine’s Acadia National Park. We can’t think of a better way to enjoy summer’s last hurrah.

3. Hit the road to explore a nearby city or town.


Photo by: Paul GIamou / Aurora / Getty Images

Paul GIamou / Aurora / Getty Images

Experience the fun of being on the open road while visiting the cities, towns and roadside attractions along the way. Most people think of cultural immersion when traveling abroad, but it works when visiting a nearby city or town, too. Travel like a local and visit popular hangouts, places to eat and recreational sites. It’s a great way to experience cities such as San Antonio, New Orleans, Myrtle Beach and Destin.

4. Relax and head for sand, sun and surf.

ocean, beach, florida, sunset, dock

ocean, beach, florida, sunset, dock

Photo by: Matthew Paulson via Flickr Creative Commons NC ND 2.0, cropped and color corrected

Matthew Paulson via Flickr Creative Commons NC ND 2.0, cropped and color corrected

There’s probably no better way to wrap up a great summer than with a fun getaway to a beach destination such as Cape Cod; Ocean City, Maryland; Miami; or Malibu, California. And even if you don’t live close to the coast, you can plan a lake getaway or splurge for a quick island escape in the Caribbean. Not sure where to go? Check out our picks for the top 10 Florida beaches and top 10 California beach getaways.

5. Satisfy your wild curiosity at the state fair.

Wisconsin State Fair

Wisconsin State Fair

Held just outside Milwaukee in West Allis, otherwise known as America's Dairyland, it's no surprise the biggest attraction at the Wisconsin State Fair is the cream puffs -- betcha can't eat just one.

Photo by: Wisconsin State Fair Park

Wisconsin State Fair Park

Are you ready for cotton candy, kettle corn, fried treats and fun rides? August is state fair season! Head to your state fairgrounds to see unusual competitions that showcase the best at sculpting butter, racing outhouses, rolling logs, chugging milk and more. It’s a great family-friendly outing, but just make sure you pack the sunscreen and stay hydrated. For more travel inspiration, fairgoers should take a look at our lists of the best state fairs in the U.S., state fair competitions, Andrew Zimmern’s 10 favorite state fair foods and, for people watching their waistlines, low-calorie state fair foods.

Labor Day Getaways from 10 U.S. Cities

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From New York City: Cape May, New Jersey

Approximate Driving Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Cape May boasts one of the country’s largest collections of 19th-century framed buildings — in fact, the entire city was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Step back in time this Labor Day weekend and admire charming Victorian-era homes while lounging on pristine beaches.

Photo By: sparhawk4242/iStockphoto

From Washington, D.C.: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Approximate Driving Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

If an outdoor adventure is your idea of Labor Day weekend fun, head to Harpers Ferry, where you can go whitewater rafting on the beautiful Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. The town is also home to hiking trails (the Appalachian Trail passes directly through it), an aerial adventure park and many fascinating historical sites. Don’t feel like driving? You can take Amtrak from D.C. to Harpers Ferry instead.

Photo By: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

From Miami: Key Largo, Florida

Approximate Driving Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

The northernmost of the Florida Keys, Key Largo is the perfect place to spend some time on the water before summer ends. Known as the Diving Capital of the World, it’s home to the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef. Kayaking, sport fishing and swimming with dolphins are a few of the other activities you can enjoy here.

Photo By: By Levranii/Shutterstock

From Atlanta: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Approximate Driving Time: 2 hours

Hop on a river cruise or stroll the 13-mile Riverwalk to take in the sights of this charming city. If you’re traveling with kids, Chattanooga is also packed with fun activities for the little ones: Don’t miss the Tennessee Aquarium, the Creative Discovery Museum and the beautifully restored 100-year-old carousel in Coolidge Park.

Photo By: SeanPavonePhoto/iStockphoto

From Chicago: Saugatuck, Michigan

Approximate Driving Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Saugatuck’s Oval Beach — located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan — has been hailed by Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Travel and other publications as one of the best beaches in the country. Spend some time sun-bathing, then take in the town’s unique collection of shops, restaurants and art galleries. If you need more time on the water, don’t miss the Saugatuck Chain Ferry. Built in 1838, it’s the only hand-cranked chain ferry left in the country, and you can ride it across the Kalamazoo River for just $1.

Photo By: Kenneth Sponsler/Shutterstock

From Denver: Estes Park, Colorado

Approximate Driving Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

A gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is a prime destination for outdoor activities of all kinds, from wildlife watching to fly fishing to horseback riding. If you’re into horror films and books (or even if you aren’t), you’ll definitely want to take a tour of the Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s bestselling novel, The Shining.

Photo By: Phillip Rubino/Shutterstock

From Phoenix: Sedona, Arizona

Approximate Driving Time: 2 hours

Sedona is known for its stunning red sandstone formations, which you can discover by hiking, biking, horseback riding and many other means. Beyond the outdoor activities, many people also visit Sedona to get in touch with their spiritual sides. Healing massages, yoga and psychic readings are a few ways to do this.

Photo By: bboserup/iStockphoto

From Los Angeles: Ojai, California

Approximate Driving Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

A longtime haven for artists and healers, Ojai is the ideal place to relax and rejuvenate over a long weekend. Book a massage or other treatment at one of the area’s many spas. Spend the rest of your stay biking down orchard-lined streets, eating locally grown cuisine and shopping at one-of-a-kind boutiques.

Photo By: Danny Carrillo/Ojai Visitors Bureau

From San Francisco: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Approximate Driving Time: 2 hours

Carmel is known for its European feel — but you don’t have to fly across an ocean to enjoy it. Spend some time exploring the nooks and crannies of the village, where you’ll find shops, art galleries and wine tasting rooms. If you like to travel with your pup, you’re in luck: Carmel is one of the most dog-friendly places in the country, allowing pooches at many hotels, restaurants, walking trails and even the famous Carmel Beach.

Photo By: compassandcamera/iStockphoto

From Seattle: Whidbey Island, Washington

Approximate Driving Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Amazing scenery abounds on this island just north of Seattle. Whidbey is home to Washington’s most-visited state park: Deception Pass, known for its rugged cliffs and iconic bridge. Fort Casey State Park is another great place to connect with nature; take in the views from the top of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse or stroll around the hiking trails.

Photo By: Edmund Lowe Photography/Shutterstock

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