Labor Day weekend translates to the last hurrah of summer, when sun-lovers prepare for a bittersweet farewell to the season. We’ve rounded up a list of top Labor Day escapes to help you get out and enjoy the great outdoors while the days are still warm, whether your pleasure be lounging on island shores (we've got five to pick from), hiking in the big country of Montana, or relaxing waterside at one of the Midwest’s premier lake resorts. Travelers who prefer a more cultured vacation needn’t fret — we’ve got those covered too. Consider these destinations to stimulate the mind — exotic Reykjavik beckons with its Nordic culture and animated nightlife, while Niagara-on-the-Lake lures visitors with a renowned theater festival just minutes from the famous falls. Or, leave land behind altogether, and take to the high seas onboard a tall ship, with its billowing sails guiding the way through New England.
Follow the trail of Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea into the Old West and spend your holiday weekend under the Big Sky. Picture Brad Pitt in "A River Runs Through It", knee deep in a rivulet of the Missouri River, rod in hand, the mountains stretching up behind him, all soaring pines and forested hills – that’s Montana for you. Thankfully, the area hasn’t changed much since the historic trek of 1804-06. Today, you can follow the steps of early explorers and venture through river canyons and past white sandstone cliffs until you see the most spectacular site of all: the multi-chute Great Falls. Besides the awesome scenery, there are plenty of activities, like fly-fishing, white-water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing to do; history buffs can also visit museums, go on cultural tours, and partake in educational workshops. The seven Indian reservations around the state also evoke the Lewis and Clark days; you can even visit an old-school Indian village where a rich cultural heritage is still upheld through traditional garb and rituals.
While many head to Hawaii for a warm reprieve during the long winter months, Labor Day — and fall — are actually better times to hit the surf, as they fall outside the Aloha State’s rainy months (which run from November to March). With some of the best beaches in the world, daunting volcanoes, towering mountains, glistening waterfalls, and vibrant flowers, the scenery here is nothing short of spectacular, and, at six hours from the West Coast, you can be standing on a lanai in short order, watching the sun set behind the Pacific. So drape a lei around your neck and enjoy a tropical Labor Day holiday filled with lazy days on the beach, surfing, scuba diving, hiking, biking, swimming with dolphins, and more.
Iles de la Madeleine
Remote, beautiful, and altogether unique, these stellar islands some 130 miles off the coast of Quebec are the ultimate off-the-path end-of-summer escape. Of the dozen isles that comprise this windswept archipelago (known in English as the Magdalen Islands), only seven are inhabited, six of which are connected only by sand dunes and long grassy reeds. Settled in the 1700s by French-speaking Acadians, many of whom had been in exile in New England, the islands today boast 200 miles of virgin beaches, stupendous fresh seafood, and an otherworldly, uncomplicated aura that make them a joy to visit. Given their northern location, summer is, not surprisingly, the best time to go — and with Labor Day marking the end of the season, there's no time like the present. Of all the settlements here, Île du Havre aux Maisons is our favorite, for its colorful houses, charming boardwalk, and character-rich pubs and restaurants.
Spend the last bit of summer in the former playground of the Rockefellers, Pulitzers, and Morgans – Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia. This onetime exclusive and rarified blueblood retreat is now easily accessible to everyday vacationers — you just need to drive over a bridge near Brunswick to get there. Once on island, ditch the car — it’s best explored by bike, along trails that run right alongside the white-sand beaches. It’s also a renowned boating, fishing, horseback riding, golfing, tennis-playing, and water-park destination, to boot. You can still feel like a millionaire here, mind you, by spending the night at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a fabulous landmark hotel that dates back to the Gilded Age.
Lake of the Ozarks
Lake escapes and Labor Day go hand and hand, making the magnetism of Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks simply irresistible for the long holiday weekend. Situated in the heart of the Midwest, and lined with numerous waterfront hotels and restaurants that cater to the crowds who pour in by the millions during peak summer months, this manmade lake boasts a shoreline longer than the coast of California — at 1150 miles — as well as two nearby state parks. Not surprisingly, there are seemingly endless opportunities for golfing, boating, fishing, shopping, bicycling, camping, and more. But if you prefer to just kick back, there are few finer ways to lap up the last days of summer’s sunshine than by simply lounging on the pristine stretches of beaches along the shores.
New England cruise
For your last blast this summer, take to the high seas, for a unique cruising experience aboard the Arabella. A 42-passenger sailing yacht, the Arabella offers an intimate and adventurous way to explore the highlights of New England, with a five-night Labor Day sailing (book ahead for Labor Day '08 with a sailing set for Aug. 28 through Sept. 2) leaving from Newport, and stopping off at ports of call in Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Cuttyhunk. Discover these quaint and charming New England islands by day — cycling island paths, strolling along the beaches, sightseeing in historic old towns, shopping along cobble-stoned streets, and dining on some of the region’s famously fresh seafood — and head back to your romantic, floating accommodations by night. The tall ship’s billowing sails give off a picturesque, historic appearance, but your onboard amenities are entirely modern — you’ll have AC and satellite TV in your cabin, and perks like a hot water spa, afternoon tea service, and a traditional salon and bar in the public areas.
This quaint village a short drive from the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls offers a different kind of Labor Day away, what with its equal servings of world-class theater and wine tasting. This delightful town couldn't be more different than its more famous neighbor, either; settled by United States Loyalists in the years following the American Revolution, Niagara-on-the-Lake is loaded with Victorian homes — many of which double as posh B&Bs — and memories of England, epitomized by the daily tea service at the regally appointed Prince of Wales Hotel. Its renowned Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com) showcases the best of George Bernard Shaw and a host of other comedic playrights each summer, while nearby vineyards — some of which produce superb ice wine — are also within easy reach. If you can't make it for Labor Day, a three-day fall visit is also feasible — the festival continues until late November and harvesting season brings new vintages to try.
While Iceland might not be an obvious choice for an end-of-summer hurrah, this frigid-sounding place is in fact one very “hot” destination. And, at just five-and-a-half hours from points east, it’s one of the more accessible European capitals for a long-weekend getaway. This dynamic Nordic city has lots to offer, too, from cultural institutions, many of which showcase the island’s unique Viking culture, as well as legendary nightlife, with chic pubs and clubs overflowing with sleek patrons. Reykjavik is also close to some outstanding natural attractions, including hot springs, mountains, glaciers, spouting geysers, waterfalls, and bays, where innumerable outdoor activities await. Considering that most of winter is spent in darkness in this northern outpost, Labor Day is also among your last chances to experience some of the country’s renowned summertime Midnight Sun — albeit, only ‘til 8 or 9 p.m.
Santa Catalina Island
Just a high-speed ferry ride from the California coast, fabled Santa Catalina Island (known more commonly just as Catalina Island), makes a perfect end-of-summer Pacific retreat. West-coasters have easy access to this little gem, once owned by chewing-gum mogul, William Wrigley, which boasts a charming town, beautiful beaches, and abundant wildlife. The island’s Avalon Bay is dotted with yachts and fishing boats while the town of Avalon itself is a haven for romantic B & B’s, delightful restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques. With only 800 cars allowed on island, most everything is within walking distance of town, but if you want to explore and drive through the rugged hills, you can rent an “autoette” — a cross between a golf cart and a jeep. If you’re feeling seaworthy, hop on a glass-bottom boat ride and marvel at the colorful marine life.
Turks & Caicos
Whether as a place to regroup from too much summer fun or to gear up for the long, vacation-free haul ahead, the Turks & Caicos are tailor-made for a long-weekend beach vacation. At just three hours from the East Coast, the chain is one of the closest Caribbean destinations to the United States, not to mention easier to reach than many points within the country itself. What’s more, the main island, Providenciales, is home to one of the best beaches in the entire Caribbean — Grace Bay. As if that weren’t enough incentive, the islands here are also protected by the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, creating superb turquoise waters for miles. While diving and snorkeling are popular here, there’s not a whole lot else to do but hit the beach with a good book, replenish your sunscreen supplies, and, perhaps, keep an eye out for JoJo, the islands’ resident — and friendly — dolphin.
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