Labor Day trips

Five alternatives to Burning Man this holiday weekend

A camper takes in Juniper Lake, a canoer and Mount Lassen at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

A camper takes in Juniper Lake, a canoer and Mount Lassen at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Photo By kat kerlin

When my husband bakes in our kitchen, I can expect three things: 1) Whatever he makes will be delicious, 2) the place will be thrashed while his creation is underway, with flour flying and gooey dishes piled high, and 3) he’ll thoroughly clean up once it’s all over. So in a way, our kitchen is a bit like Burning Man.

Burning Man is a Leave No Trace event, but you wouldn’t know it while you’re there. Cigarette butts, beer cans, plastic water bottles, charred remnants of fire-centric artwork—all of this litters the playa during the festival by people who haven’t taken to heart the anti-MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) philosophy other Burners share. Despite its wide-reaching artistic and recreational merits, for many, Burning Man is a big party where you make a mess and worry about cleaning it all up later.

The Earth Guardians, Black Rock City LLC, Friends of Black Rock High Rock and other volunteers meticulously clean the playa once the party is over—this must be done for the festival to get its permit each year—but there is trash the wind gets to before they do over the course of the week.

“There’s no way you can bring 50,000 people out to the desert and not have an impact,” says Brian Beffort, associate director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness. “There’s just no way. If it’s not the fires and the smoke and all of the petrol driving out there, it’s thousands of people peeing on the playa in the middle of the night, plus the impact on the playa itself. Having said that, they’ve picked a pretty good spot to minimize those impacts. They do a great job cleaning up, and I think there are some benefits to offset the impacts—just helping people gain an appreciation for Leave No Trace. It’s not perfect, but they’re trying.”

But there is more to Labor Day than Burning Man. There are obvious places, like Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake, but the idea here is to get away from the crowds and hassle. For those seeking a cleaner, cheaper, more serene outdoor experience within a day’s drive of Reno, here are five alternatives this Labor Day weekend:

1) Great Basin National Park. This is a place for superlatives: among the oldest living things on the planet (4,000-year-old bristlecone pines) reside here, darkest night skies, most underrated national park in America. It’s in Eastern Nevada, five to six hours from Reno.

2) Lassen Volcanic National Park. Hissing fumaroles, clear alpine lakes, places named Bumpass Hell, all roughly three to four hours from Reno, what more could you want?

3) Yuba River. Miles of river running past campgrounds, rental cabins, stunning High Sierra scenery and full of great swimming holes. Along Highway 49 near Grass Valley.

4) Ruby Mountains. Find out why so many in these parts name their dogs and daughters Ruby as you take in Ruby Dome, explore Lamoille Canyon, or hike the Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail.

5) Mount Rose. The Mount Rose campground is the only nearby camp site, but it’s closed for reconstruction during the 2010 season. The second closest is at Washoe Lake. But the trailhead to this roughly 10-mile roundtrip hike is only about 25 minutes from Reno, so it’s a nice day trip.

Nevada has the most mountain summits in the lower 48, so you’ll likely find something to do this weekend.