Labor Day weekend will be here in just two weeks.
For many people, it's a last chance to enjoy a long summer weekend away from home. If you haven't made any plans yet, it's time to get started.
Although many favorite resorts and campgrounds were booked months ago, a bit of creativity can find you a place to stay.
If you're looking for a campground, a good place to start is www.reserveamerica.com (1-800-444-7275 for California State Parks; 1-877-444-6777 for federal campgrounds).
The main attraction of Reserve America is that it coordinates reservations for campsites in national parks, forests and recreation areas along with campsites in state parks and areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
You can also find KOA campgrounds, a number of private campgrounds and RV parks, and some county-based recreation areas such as the East Bay Regional Park District.
One simple search will produce results in areas managed by all of these agencies. For areas managed by an irrigation district, a county, or a private business, such as Lake McClure or Don Pedro Lake, you'll have to contact the facility directly.
My recent Reserve America search for Sept. 4-6 yielded many results in the Sierra Nevada and a few along the California coast.
They may not be campgrounds you've stayed in before, but there's nothing wrong with trying something new. You might just find a new favorite spot that has escaped attention. I found a lot of sites still available near Shaver and Huntington Lakes and in the eastern Sierra along U.S. Highway 395.
If it's a place you haven't visited before, make sure you check the location and the elevation. You could end up with a place that is just too hot to enough to be enjoyed in early September.
In general, I wouldn't choose an inland site below 4,000 feet in elevation unless it is well-shaded and provides some water-based recreation to cool off.
There are also many campgrounds that are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you set out on a busy weekend, make sure you have a list of several sites to try if your first choices aren't available. These campgrounds are often listed on ReserveAmerica.com, which means you can print off a list of possibilities.
You can also call the National Forest Service office for the area you plan to visit and ask for suggestions. With this option, leaving on Friday afternoon or evening will improve your chances of easily finding a site.
If all else fails you can try "dispersed camping." This is usually my preference because it is free and provides a lot of solitude, but it can be a "culture shock" if you aren't used to camping without an established restroom facility.
Dispersed camping is usually allowed on National Forest land along side roads as long as posted signs do not prohibit it.
A ranger station can recommend places where it is allowed. If you want to have a campfire you need to obtain a free campfire permit and follow the rules that go along with it.
Campfires are allowed unless dry conditions have required the forest service to prohibit them. Make sure you check before you strike a match. A nifty change introduced this year is that you don't have to go to a Forest Service office to obtain a permit.
You can take a simple test online and print one out from your computer. Just go to http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/passespermits/campfire_permit/campfire-index.html.
Despite the crowds, there are some good reasons for hitting the road on Labor Day weekend.
Above 8,000 feet the mosquitoes are either completely gone or not nearly as pervasive as they were earlier in the summer. This makes Labor Day one of my favorite weekends for backpacking.
My dad and I have taken a backpacking trip on this weekend almost every year since I was in high school. Just be prepared for cool nights by packing layered clothing and a warm sleeping bag.
If you want to get away from the crowds, your best bets for solitude often involve hiking. Ask a ranger for recommendations of less-visited trails. While the crowds may clog up popular destinations like Yosemite Valley, higher-elevation areas tend to be far less congested.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman and local historian who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the Western states. He can be reached at email@example.com