Îles de la Madeleine
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; 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.
Remote, beautiful, and altogether unique, these stellar islands about 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 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 1,150 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.