Camping Tips for Labor Day

With a little planning, you can make the most of your Labor Day Weekend camping trip and have the perfect end to summer. Read on to hear Expert Kat Smith's top tips.

A tent is perched on a hillside, overlooked green, ridged mountains in the background. Fog fills the valley in between.

Photo by Christopher Jolly

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Labor Day is the first weekend of September, and for many people, it marks the end of summer, making it the perfect weekend to get outside one last time before a new school year starts up and the weather turns chilly! Because of this, Labor Day is one of the most popular weekends to go on a camping trip. But don’t let the fear of crowds deter you. With a little planning, you can get the most out of your holiday weekend camping trip, and end summer in the best way - spending time outside, hanging out around the campfire, and sleeping under the stars!

Choose a Location

A man and a dog walk across a meadow with rocky peaks and pine trees at the edge of the field.

Hike to Amethyst Lake, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah. The lake is a six mile hike from the trailhead, but the extra work is worth it to find solitude on a busy holiday weekend. Photo by Kat Smith

Just like with any camping trip, you first have to decide where to go. Campsites at national and state parks and lakeside campsites tend to be extremely popular, so if you are hoping to avoid crowds and seek solitude in nature on your long weekend, Labor Day is the perfect time to explore the path less traveled. Resources such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website and the U.S. Forest Service website have information on both developed campgrounds and primitive campsites in nearly any state and can help guide your choice to explore a new area.

Once you have a few locations in mind, consider the activities you plan to do. If swimming, kayaking, and fishing are on your agenda, research tent sites near a water source, and make sure you have the appropriate licenses. If you plan to hike, choose a location with access to trails that are within the length and difficulty appropriate for your skill level.

A man stands on large rocks on the edge of an alpine lake and holds up a fish attached to a fishing rod. A dog stands next to him and looks up at the fish.

Amethyst Lake, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah. My pup Fitz is very curious about this little cutthroat trout! Photo by Kat Smith

Before committing to your location, check the weather forecast. Labor Day may be the unofficial end of summer, but in many locations, those hot summertime temperatures have not wavered! In places like the desert of Southern Utah and Arizona, temperatures will still be well into the upper 90s and 100s, making tent camping uncomfortably hot for many people, and putting you at an increased risk of dehydration if you don’t pack enough water. Do a little research on the typical weather patterns so that you know what to expect and can prepare for it! For tips on camping in the desert, check out my article here.

Pro tip: Some areas may already be seeing some early foliage and Fall colors by Labor Day, creating a beautiful backdrop for your campsite!

Reserve a Campsite

With Labor Day being such a popular camping weekend, campsites will fill up early! Once you’ve decided on a location, reserve a campsite as soon as you can so that you don’t have the stress of finding the perfect spot to set up shop come Friday night.

Even if you have a reserved spot, be prepared for more people than usual at developed campgrounds. Maybe you have gone to a campground in the past that has been quiet and generally empty, but for Labor Day, availability may be limited. Consult a campsite map and choose a spot that has space between sites so that you have privacy.

If you are camping with friends and family and have multiple cars, be sure to reserve a group site. Group sites are larger and can accommodate more people and vehicles. If you try to camp with a large group at a single site, you run the risk of lacking privacy, feeling crowded in your space, and damaging the land.

A group camping site with three tents sprinkles across a field with snowcapped mountains in the background.

Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. We set up camp at this beautiful campsite large enough for our entire group, which was nine people and six tents. Photo by Kat Smith

If you are nervous about the crowds at developed campgrounds or if you are unable to get a reservation, there is always dispersed camping! Just like the developed campgrounds, dispersed campsites on public lands will be busier than usual over Labor Day weekend. Plan to get to your location early so that you can select a campsite before they start filling up. Follow the guidelines on the BLM website for dispersed camping.

Pro tip: Pack earplugs, just in case noisy campsite neighbors are unavoidable!

Do your Research

When selecting your location, taking the time to do a little research will go a long way.

Fire Bans

Always call the local visitor center or ranger station to check fire restrictions for the area you are planning to camp. After a long, dry summer, many states may have fire restrictions. The last thing you want is to roll up to your campsite to find a sign saying “No Fires'' when all you’ve brought to eat is raw meat! Or even worse, there may not be any signage at all, and the fines for disobeying fire restrictions are hefty.

A camp stove such as the Coleman Classic Propane Stove is a great alternative cooking method if you find that there are fire restrictions at your campsite. And if you are tight on space, the MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove is a great “in case of emergency” stove, allowing you to easily boil water or even cook meals in a fry pan.

Weather

Two women paddleboard down a blue-green river in a bright canyon with a bright blue sky above. It's a colorful and beautiful scene.

Causey Reservoir, Ogden, Utah. We rented Stand Up Paddleboards to bring on our camping trip near this reservoir. It was the perfect daytime activity on a hot summer day! Photo by Reed Omdal

As mentioned above, always check the weather forecast before heading out for your camping trip. Be prepared with the appropriate extra layers, rain gear, or sun protection. Consider a different location if the weather forecast is not what you are expecting—if you are planning to bring stand up paddleboards and the weather is calling for rain, wind, and storms all weekend, see if there is somewhere else you can go so that you can still get the most out of your Labor Day trip!

Fireworks

If you are bringing your pups on your camping trip, check-in with the local visitor center or ranger station to find out if there have historically been fireworks shows nearby your campsite. Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, and not having a safe space to hide or dim the noise may cause your dog stress. On the other hand, maybe you are camping with your kids and a fireworks show would be a great, festive addition to your camping trip!

What to Pack

Don’t wait until the last minute to pack! Since Labor Day is a popular weekend to go camping, many camping stores may sell out of gear. Have your essential items, including shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and cooking gear ready to go well before Labor Day weekend arrives. If you are a seasoned camper and don’t need any new equipment, you should still check your supply to ensure you don’t need to restock anything, such as fuel canisters for your camping stove, dehydrated meals, bug spray, and firewood and firestarters. That last-minute stop at your local outdoor store on your way out of town may leave you disappointed and scrambling to find key items. If you want to get prepared ahead of time, reach out to a Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated.

If you are camping with friends and family for the holiday weekend, coordinate your camping menu! When I am camping with friends, I like to break up the meals so that we are each providing a meal for the entire group, rather than everyone cooking something different for each meal. Check out How to Cook While Camping for some camp kitchen tips and 3 Delicious Recipes to Make This Summer for meal ideas! Labor Day is a fun weekend to get creative in your camp kitchen and prepare some holiday-specific foods, such as red, white, and blue fruit salad or a classic holiday BBQ meal of burgers and corn on the cob cooked over the open campfire!

The author's tent is set up between pine trees and overlooks a lake below and a snow-streaked hill beyond the lake.

Wall Lake, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah. Photo by Kat Smith

Regardless of how you break up the meals amongst your group, coordinate the communal items, such as condiments and cooking tools. When cooler space is already tight, you don’t want to end up with four ketchup bottles at your campsite, and there’s no need for three spatulas!

As always, take the time to ensure that you have packed all the clothing and footwear you will need for the activities you have planned and the forecasted weather.

Pro tip: Items that are often forgotten include sunglasses, plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, toiletries, a lighter, and trash bags.

When to Leave

On a holiday weekend, the earlier you can leave for your camping trip, the better. Expect heavy traffic and congestion on Friday afternoon as people finish their workday and hit the road for a long weekend, and many popular dispersed camping sites will be full by Friday evening. If you are unable to leave early in the day on Friday and you haven’t reserved a campsite, consider choosing a camping location close to home to minimize travel.

Now that you have researched your location, reserved a campsite, planned your activities, and made a packing list, you’re ready to get the most out of your Labor Day weekend camping trip! If you have any questions or want to get free, personalized gear recommendations, make sure to chat with a Curated Expert!

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Growing up in a suburb of New York City, most of my outdoor adventures were in the Northeast. Hiking, skiing, horseback riding, or just exploring the woods, when I was outside, I was in my element. Now, I am lucky to call Salt Lake City my home, where the world’s greatest outdoor playground is my ba...

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