When Is the Best Time
September is a very popular travel month in the United States. In early September, Americans visit their family members on Labor Day or plan outdoor and adventure activities during the last weekend of summer. Later in the month, several places around the country are at their peak for fall colors attracting visitors.
The best time to travel in September is after Labor Day between the second and fourth week. Popular destinations are less crowded, roads are less busy, and rates are lower. Plan your trip mid-week if possible.
We provide you with helpful advice when traveling on or around Labor Day weekend and tips for the best time and places for fall foliage in September (at the end of this article).
Best Time to Travel by Plane for Labor Day in September
Although the majority of Americans hit the road for their September Labor Day vacation, a significant number are flying. Follow our advice to avoid busy airports and higher rates.
Worst Days (Start): Friday before Labor Day is one of the busiest air travel days of the year in the United States. Expect a crowded airport when planning to fly on Friday. Thursday is not as bad as Friday but still very busy.
Worst Day (Heading Back): As most travelers are heading back on Monday, that’s the worst day for your flight back home.
Best Times: The best alternative for less busy airports and often lower rates is to leave early on Wednesday and head back on Tuesday.
We always recommend Delta Airlines when traveling in September.
Best Time to Travel by Car for Labor Day in September
The travel time around Labor can take 10% – 20% longer than usual across the United States. In major metro regions, often 80% – 110% longer than expected. That’s why it’s essential to avoid heavy traffic times when going on a trip for that busy weekend.
Besides the congestion in major cities, the states of California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania often have the highest volume of traffic before or on Labor Day weekend. The following tips are based on data sources by INRIX and AAA.
WORST times to start your trip:
- Thursday (before Labor Day) between 4 and 6 PM: During that timeframe, commuters and most Labor Day travelers hit the road.
- Friday (before Labor Day) afternoon from 1 to 5 PM: This is another bad time because holiday travelers mix with early leaving commuters.
- Friday (before Labor Day) evening from 6 to 9 PM: During that time of day, no more heavy traffic from commuters was recorded, but many families start their trips for the weekend within that timeframe.
- Saturday (on Labor Day Weekend) from 10 PM until afternoon: While the morning is less busy many vacationers start traveling by car after 10 PM.
BEST times to start your trip:
- Friday (before Labor Day) in the morning: Start your trip early in the morning between 5 and 7 AM
- Saturday (on Labor Day Weekend) in the morning: Between 5 and 8 AM is the best time to get on the road on Saturday. Hitting the road later is not a good idea due to heavier traffic, including congestions.
WORST times to head back:
- Monday (Labor Day) between 7 and 10 AM: During that time, a large number of trips back home per hour were recorded.
- Monday (Labor Day) from 3 PM until 10 PM: Traffic peaks again after 3 PM on Monday until the late evening.
BEST time to head back:
- Monday (Labor Day) between 11 AM and noon or after 10 PM: If your schedule allows it, start heading back in the late afternoon or in the late evening (after 10 PM). Roads will be much less busy during those times.
Tip #1: Best Laser Radar Detector for You
The ESCORT IX Laser Radar Detector (via Amazon.com) is the best one under 400 USD you can buy and not only for your September road trip. It finds every single radar for miles! Amazon is an authorized reseller, so it’s safe to order it there.
Best Ways to Avoid the Crowds on Labor Day Weekend
Even if you’re traveling on Labor Day weekend, you can still dodge the jam-packed times and areas. Here are our five must-know tips:
- Get up early: Try to be at the popular places at least before 9 a.m. Typically, it starts to get busy after 9 a.m. on Labor Day weekend in September. Around midday, places are packed.
- Stay late: Crowds begin to dissipate after 5 p.m. That’s the time when most visitors get hungry and start to eat dinner. At sunset, some places get busy again.
- Shift dinner time: Most visitors and families have dinner between 5 and 7 p.m. Visiting the restaurants around 3 or 4 p.m. means getting a table easier. Just skip lunch.
- Venture away: Just venture away from the busy must-see sites. Most National parks and other places offer hidden gems that you should discover. Just check Google before you go.
- Step out: Venture away from the busy must-see sites. Most National parks and other places offer hidden gems that you should discover. Just check Google before you go.
Best Time to Travel in September for Fewer Crowds and Less Traffic
The best time to travel in September to avoid busy times is between the second and the fourth week of the month on weekdays.
Week 1 | Extreme (It Depends):
Depending on the exact date of Labor Day: Avoid the first of September if your itinerary allows it and you’re not planning a Labor Day vacation. The weekend and the days around are hectic. However, 1-2 days after Labor Day, everything gets significantly quieter.
Weeks 2-4 | Moderate / Low:
While not as busy as week 1, those weeks are also very hectic due to the peak summertime. The busiest travel day, according to the Travel Association, in July (and August) is Friday, followed by Saturday and Sunday.
A Weekend is traditionally the time most in demand. Thus, the best time to start your holidays in July is from Monday to Tuesday. During these weekdays, the crowds aren’t as heavy as on weekends.
Special Tip | Avoid Weekends:
While travel crowds start to thin out after Labor Day, the weekends still get busy at popular places in the United States. National parks like Rocky Mountain N.P. or famous fall foliage destinations receive the highest visitation on weekends in September. Try to plan your trip during the week if possible as it gets busy from Fridays to Sundays.
Tip #2: Best Car Roof Bags
We tried 7 car roof bags and found the best one from RoofPax (via Amazon.com – Affiliate Link) on a 7-day trip in three states last September. We had about 50 minutes of rain, and everything we put in it was still dry. It’s an affordable, sturdy, waterproof, and practical way to transport a lot of things for your September trip.
Best Time and Places for Fall Foliage in September
The peak time for leaf-peeping usually starts in early October at most travel destinations. However, places at higher elevations encounter their fall color explosions as early as mid-September or even sometimes in early September.
Special Tip: In coastal Maine, the leaves start turning in late September, but we suggest to give it try regardless of the fall colors. Check out our complete Maine season guide, with tips for fall, winter, spring, and summer.
Denali National Park (Alaska)
- Fall foliage peak time: Early September
In Denali National Park, you can spot beautiful leaf colors from late August until the first week of September. There is also a chance of Northern Lights viewing. Make sure to read our complete Denali National Park guide with fall color tips and tips for every season and month.
Glacier National Park (Montana)
- Fall foliage peak time: Mid-September to mid-October
The yellow aspens offer a charming contrast to the snow-capped mountains and the year-round green pines. As fall progresses, more and more leaves turn red, resulting in a gorgeous landscape. September is a great time to visit Glacier National Park for the turning leaves.
- Fall foliage peak time: Mid-September to late September
Aspen offers a relatively short foliage period for visitors in the fall. The leaf colors are peaking in Aspen within the third and fourth weeks of September. The easiest way to see the gorgeous leaves is to hike on one of the trails in the region.
Santa Fe National Forest (New Mexico)
- Fall foliage peak time: Late September to early or mid-October
The fall color period in Northern New Mexico typically lasts a few weeks. It’s an underrated destination for fall color explosions. However, we highly recommend it to travelers. You can explore the region and its golden leaves by driving on the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway.
Columbia River Gorge (Oregon)
- Fall foliage peak time: Late September
During the last weekend of September, you should be able to spot a gorgeous display of orange, gold, and red leaves. The best way to view the fall color is by driving on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Don’t forget to visit Multnomah Falls (and read our ‘Best Time to Visit Guide), especially in the fall and winter months.
Other great places for viewing fall foliage in September are:
- Connecticut: Mid-September, late September until November
- Michigan: Mid-September to early October
- New Hampshire (Northern Region): Starting end of September
- California (June Lake) Starting mid-September
Other Parks: The leaves in Acadia National Park usually don’t start to turn before late September. However, this is the most stunning national park for watching the fall color explosion. Read our famous Best Time to Visit Acadia Guide for the most helpful tips and awesome photos.
Wildlife September Tip: If you’re looking for the best national park to visit in September, then Yellowstone should be on your list! We wrote a complete Yellowstone Wildlife Guide and Calendar with many stunning animal photos and unique tips.