It’s amazing what one extra day can add to a weekend. Suddenly, the time you use just to catch your breath can be spent on an epic adventure. Regardless of whether you plan to get out of town or stick close to home, make the most of a holiday weekend by researching and putting together an itinerary in advance—including menu planning and prep, permits, and shuttle plans. With any luck, you’ll finish the three-day weekend feeling tired, sore—and totally refreshed.
1. HIT THE TRAIL
Unlike a quick overnight backpacking trip, you can spend three days and two nights on the trail really decompressing. That can involve covering more mileage, bagging a peak, packing in a fly rod, or starting a trip farther from home than usual. With the extra time, you can spice up your usual backpacking menu (think Top Chef, rather than Top Ramen) and hike to that perfect campsite previously out of reach.
Make the most of your additional day by securing permits and paying fees in advance, if possible, and checking local guidebooks and topo maps to plan your route. Since three-day weekends tend to bring out big crowds, it’s worth doing a little homework to find spots off the beaten path. Consider heading to Bureau of Land Management property rather than an adjacent national park, for example—you’ll get to hike through a lot of the same landscape sans other backpackers.
2. HEAD DOWN THE RIVER
Whether you’re a whitewater novice or a seasoned river rat, you’re bound to have some fun on a multi-day river trip. Many whitewater guide services offer full- and multi-day trips, which usually include great meals cooked at camp. Some outfitters even offer the option to paddle duckies or SUPs along quieter sections of the river.
Know how to pilot a boat? Bring a group of friends out for a mellow flatwater paddle or a gnarly whitewater rafting run—everyone will be psyched to relive the most exciting moments around the campfire. Bonus: Rafting and tubing are conducive to bringing along coolers of beer.
3. HIT THE OPEN ROAD
Few vacation options can compete with the road trip: They’re classic, flexible, and full of possibility. And now, thanks to mapping apps on smartphones, you can spend more time driving and less time figuring out how to get back to the freeway. Maximize time on the road by deciding in advance whether you’ll be stopping at all those “World’s Biggest” roadside attractions or following a meticulously planned itinerary—and whether you’ll be in need of motels or campgrounds. Whatever your plans, one item should be at the top of your list: Hit the road with a fresh oil change and a full tank to avoid National Lampoon-style antics—unless, of course, that’s part of the plan.
4. STICK CLOSE TO HOME
Even with an extra day off, it’s not always possible to leave town, but there’s an excellent alternative: See your hometown in a whole new light by spending the long weekend as a tourist. Check out the must-see attractions and oddities, visit museums, check out the hiking trails, and restaurants—basically, re-kindle your love for wherever it is you live. Even if you’re sticking around town, the key to a successful stay-cation is treating it like an out-of-town trip: Turn off or limit use of devices, set email replies to “away,” and, most importantly, avoid chores around the house.
5. JOIN THE RACE
There’s nothing like a goal race to motivate mid-week workouts, and scheduling a race for a long weekend gives you added time to travel—or recover—before and after a big race. Peruse the calendar for long-weekend races around the country, then use the extra day to explore your destination.
Sticking closer to base camp? Consider upping the ante and training for a longer distance, higher elevation, or tougher terrain race than you’ve done before. Then you’ll really be glad for the additional time to recover, whether that means splurging on a massage or heading to your favorite local watering hole.
Signing up for a race has the added advantage of ramping up the excitement for your upcoming mini-holiday: It’s so much easier to drag yourself out of bed before work or hit the gym after a day at the office when you can see yourself finishing with a PR. Best of all, when your coworkers ask how you spent the long weekend, your stories of racing glory are sure to impress.