Labor Day Landscapes: Last-Minute National Park Adventures
3 min

The National Park System is full of incredible places with unique ecosystems and enjoyable activities. Whether you want to meander a meadow or hike a hilltop, there’s a park for you! Spend your Labor Day weekend in these memorable locations by staying at these affordable vacation rentals.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee covers 816 square miles of the Great Smoky Mountains. This unique area is named for the fog that hangs low in the valleys, creating a smoke effect many mornings and evenings. Plants form the vapors by emitting volatile compounds.

People flock to this park to capture photos of the phenomenon at sunset and sunrise from high points like Clingman’s Dome. This highest point in the park (and Tennessee) features an observation tower and is reachable via a half-mile walk from the parking lot. This walk is steep and not recommended for wheelchairs or mobility devices. Come early to grab a spot as the lot fills up quickly.

If you enjoy hiking, take a stroll on part of the 72 miles of Appalachian Trail inside the park. Keep your eyes out for thru-hikers, people walking the entire 2,198.4-mile route from Maine to Georgia. You can tell thru-hikers from day trippers or section hikers (people hiking the trail in chunks) by their small packs, tanlines, and disposable water bottles that help them cut down on carrying weight.

Stay in nearby Gatlinburg at Bear Trails, a beautiful discount vacation rental with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a full kitchen. Bring your pup to hike the trails in GSMNP and then curl up together on the comfy couch with a cozy fire in the fireplace as you enjoy the latest flicks on the Blu-ray player. Take in mountain views from the hot tub on the deck before calling it a night.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park in California covers almost 1,200 miles of valleys, granite walls, sequoia trees, and waterfalls. Over 400 species of wildlife live here, from amphibians and birds to mammals. Visitors should watch for black bears, bighorn sheep, foxes, and mountain lines while driving or recreating in the park.

Sunlight plays interesting tricks here during sunset when the granite faces of Half Dome and El Capitan turn bright oranges and reds. Horsetail Falls, a waterfall that flows in February, also lights up and looks like it’s on fire! Guess you’ll have to come back in the winter to see this ephemeral sight. Stargazing is incredible here year-round, but the summer months are extra popular due to mild conditions.

Climbers clamber for permits to summit Half Dome, a rock formation at the eastern end of the park that tops out around 5,000 meters. Hikers stroll the valley photographing seasonal waterfalls, wildlife, and flowers. Sign up for a tour to take a bus to Tuolumne Meadows or check out Glacier Point.

Stay inside Yosemite National Park at this beautiful Hasting’s Hideaway at The Redwoods in Yosemite. The one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage has a full kitchen and sleeps four people. Cozy up at the wood-burning fireplace if it’s chilly. Or use the gas BBQ on the back deck to say goodbye to summer with burgers and veggie skewers. This discount vacation rental is close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the largest Sequoia grove in the park. The more than 500 trees include the famous California tunnel tree with a trunk you can walk through.

Sunset during a last minute trip to Yosemite National Park with a view of Half Dome

Sunset views of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park spans 415 square miles and has more than 300 miles of hiking trails. The park has 77 peaks over 12,000 feet and is one of the highest parks in the U.S. Around 250,000 acres are designated as wilderness and include forests, meadows, tundra, and alpine peaks.

Take a scenic drive along the Bear Lake Road Corridor, a 9.2-mile paved road between 8,200 and 9,475 feet of elevation. Drive this path for views of several alpine lakes, Beaver Meadows, and the Moraine Park area. Bring a picnic or charcuterie ensemble to enjoy at a particularly beautiful overlook.

People age 16 and over can buy a Colorado fishing license and toss out a line to fish for rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout in the many lakes and rivers here. Be sure to follow park-specific regulations, such as practicing catch-and-release fishing and disinfecting waders and other gear to avoid transporting invasive species.

Heading out on a getaway with your partner or by yourself? Stay at the Inn at Silver Creek, where you can start the day cooling off in the pool and end it in the hot tub. (Or vice versa!) This discount vacation rental has a king-sized bed, smart tv, and balcony. Use the money you saved on the rental, which does not include a full kitchen, to eat and drink at local spots like Camber Brewing Co and Java Lava Cafe.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah includes 229.1 square miles of slot canyons and sandstone cliffs. This area is known for its beautiful red and orange rock and jewel-blue sky. The park hosts many archaeological sites from civilizations who lived here as much as 10,000 years ago! The Virgin River continuously carves new features into the canyons here. This river movestons of sediment as it rises and falls with changing water levels and drought.

Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel, a 25-mile road and 1.1-mile-long tunnel connecting Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. This engineering marvel made a nearly untraversable high desert region accessible to visitors. The road took almost three years to build and is now a designated Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Hikers and backpackers travel here from all over the world to traverse The Narrows, the narrowest section of the gorge within the park. Visitors hike along the Virgin River and are responsible for repeatedly checking weather updates to avoid dangerous flash floods common during the monsoon season from summer to early fall.

Stay in this Desert Escape in nearby St. George. The three-bedroom, four-bathroom discount vacation home has 1,182 square feet of space, making it perfect for up to nine adults. It’s located on the 18th hole of The Ledges Golf Club and has access to a hot tub, heated pools, and pickleball courts. The fiber optic internet is incredibly fast for streaming sports, catching up on shows, or finishing up last-minute tasks before signing out for a little Labor Day vacation.

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