Five (Plus One) Top Labor Day Travel Destinations

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The lake country of Northern Michigan offers outdoor activities and resorts for Labor Day travel.

Labor Day is that bittersweet last hurrah before the approach of everything fall represents. Before we toughen up for back to school, falling leaves, colder temperatures and the first curls of wind off winter’s wings. To fight all of that off, even for a few days, Americans use it as an excuse for one last trip — one last sojourn to enjoy the dwindling days of summer. 

To point you in the right direction, I’ve put together a list of my favorite (and mostly affordable) destinations for a last minute Labor Day getaway. 

Gatlinburg: Stats say about half the population of the United States lives within a day’s drive of Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains. The city (along with nearby Pigeon Forge) serves up a tourist-heavy collection of attractions and restaurants perfect for families with young children. There is also the National Park built into the Smoky Mountains for outdoorsman, hikers and fisherman. If you’re looking for New York sophistication or Las Vegas clubs, stay home. But, if you want to unwind with friendly folks, hit Tennessee.

Here’s a tip: Visit the Old Smoky Moonshine Distillery for a look at how the hooch is made and for a few free sample shots.

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The Smoky Mountains around Gatlinburg, Tennessee offer beautiful views, hiking, and fishing.

Petoskey: Near the Straits of Mackinac (where the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan meet), quaint resort towns line the lake shores. Petoskey is one of the largest and most popular as the area is studded with beaches and rivers inviting water sport enthusiasts. The area was made famous decades ago by Ernest Hemingway who spent his family summers in the region. It’s also where the great author recovered after his WWI injuries.

Even though pretentiousness is not on the menu in Michigan’s lake country, there are still some quality restaurants both downtown and along the tourist routes.

New Orleans: If you’re a little more adventurous and alternative — and if you can weather the late summer heat of the Bayou – New Orleans offers a unique festival every Labor Day. Southern Decadence is a huge event in a city known for celebrations designed to put partiers on their backsides. It’s basically the gay Mardi Gras when the alternative lifestyle scene takes over the town. It’s not wrong. More than 100,000 LGBT folks head down for the even. But, if you don’t necessarily swing that way, you’re still welcome to come down and behold the spectacle.

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Summer in New Orleans offers warm nights and festivals like the very gay Summer Decadence.

Mount Rushmore: By Labor Day, the fuss of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally clears out of the Black Hills of South Dakota – opening up the hotels and motorways for late summer travelers. While it may not pop up immediately on the radar for tourism hotspots, the region does offer plenty that every American should see. Obvious, the amazing achievement of Mount Rushmore is iconic. From there, a 45 minute drive will bring you to the rough and tumble, Wild West city of Deadwood – where Calamity Jane turned tricks and Wild Bill Hickok was murdered.

For accommodations, head to Rapid City and the Alex Johnson Hotel. From there, a stroll downtown will take through the City of Presidents as statues of America’s leaders stud every corner.

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The Black Hills of South Dakota offer patriotic sites like Mount Rushmore and history like Deadwood.

Kohler: Tucked away not far from the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Green Bay, The American Club Resort in Kohler offers one of less than 50 resorts scoring five stars for both AAA and Forbes. Easily reachable from Chicago, the American Club offers special resort and golf packages for late summer — including rounds at the PGA-level courses of Black Wolf Run and Whistling Straits.

Related: American Club Brings Luxury to Kohler

Honorable Mention – UK: If you’ve got a bigger budget, and you enjoy history-themed tourism away from noisy beaches and festivals, you should consider a trip to the UK for its ongoing WWI commemoration this fall. There are special events and exhibits across the country to salute fallen heroes.