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Where to Pitch Your Tent This Labor Day

For most Americans, Labor Day weekend offers the last opportunity for summer relaxation before work, school and family commitments drag us kicking and screaming into the fall and winter months. There will be barbecue aplenty and millions will take to the great outdoors to enjoy one of the nation’s 58 national parks. Unfortunately, Labor Day has proven to be one of the busiest weekends for America’s Best Idea for decades, leaving many less than thrilled with their experience thanks to maxed out facilities and noisy campers.

And yet, even with thousands of options available for outdoor types of all skill levels, you needn’t subject yourself to crowds in order to take in all that nature has to offer. Plenty of locations set aside a number of walk-up sites on a first-come, first-served basis, thus eliminating the need for advanced reservations. Additionally, the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management provide a number of dispersed camping options, although it’s important to check specifics in the area you want to visit, as services can be limited.

We’ve compiled a short list of campsites typically overlooked by the masses. Each has its own distinct advantages and provides welcome respite from the day-to-day grind.

NORTHWEST

White River Campground – Mt. Rainer National Park, WA

We know we said to avoid national parks, but this is different. With 112 walk-up sites to choose from, the proximity of White River Campground (located within the northeastern section of Mt. Rainer National Park) to nearby Seattle makes it a quick and easy weekend destination. At 4,232 feet in elevation it’s the last campground to open each summer and the first to close (mid-June to late-September); and the site’s four loops provide individuals and families beautifully spacious sites on which to pitch their tents beneath its lush, forested canopy.

WEST COAST

Kirk Creek Campground – Big Sur, CA

Located on a 100-foot bluff overlooking the crisp, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, Kirk Creek Campground offers busy nine-to-fivers the perfect blend of rest and relaxation for those saddled with an otherwise hectic workweek. Spacious and grassy, each site has its own view of the ocean where you can take in a spectacular sunset from the comfort of a lawn chair. A quaint, rocky beach is just a short walk from the site itself and for those looking for a more traditional beach experience, Sand Dollar Beach is just a 5 minute ride.

THE ROCKIES

Lost Lake Campground – Gunnison National Forest, CO

Nestled in the Gunnison National Forest just outside Crested Butte, Lost Lake Campground boasts breathtaking views of surrounding peaks and spectacular fishing and hiking trails. The US Forest Service refurbished each camping site as recently as 2011 with new tent pads, fire rings and picnic tables – thus ensuring your stay will be a pleasant one. Additionally, the campground’s three nearby lakes (Lost Lake, Dollar Lake and Lost Lake Slough) are stocked with plenty of rainbow trout each season, making it a popular fishing spot for anglers and boaters of all shapes and sizes. 

NORTHEAST

Cathedral Pines Campground – Eustis, ME

Off the beaten path just twenty-some miles south of the Quebec-Canadian border, this family-friendly campground is located on the quaint shores of beautiful Flagstaff Lake amid a majestic red pine forest. With a number of summer activities to choose from – including swimming, fishing, hiking and canoe/kayak rentals – there’s little chance you’ll ever be bored. In an effort to give its guests the most restful experience possible, campsites have been positioned to provide the most privacy possible. And for those new to the outdoors, welcome creature comforts such as hot showers, flush toilets and laundry facilities are certain to put even the most fervent city dweller at ease.

SOUTH

Cayo Coasta Island State Park – Cayo Coast, FL

Although weather in Florida can be a mixed bag come late summer and early fall, Cayo Coasta Island State Park is certainly worth a visit – provided you don’t mind hopping on a boat to get there. A perfect island paradise, visitors can swim or snorkel along its nine miles of beaches or enjoy one of the many nature trails crisscrossing the island amid its pine forests and mangrove swamps. The park offers both tent camping and cabin rental options, and for those not lucky enough to own a boat, Captiva Cruises provides daily ferry service via the nearby islands and city of Fort Myers.

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