Today is the shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. But just because we don’t get as much daylight, does not mean we can’t enjoy being outside as much. There are also great benefits to enjoying nature in the dark. It’s almost like you are in a whole different place than when you are in the daylight. So if you have never been night hiking, maybe today is a good day to try it.
There have been more times than I care to admit when I have been on a night hike, but it was not my choice. Miscalculating how quickly I can hike a certain distance has had me finishing my hike in the dark. Looking for a good campsite in the dark is no fun, but I did enjoy the hiking in the dark part.
When you night hike you experience different sensations. The air feels different. The animals are different. And the sights are way different.
And don’t forget the abundance of stars in the night sky. For me that is reason enough to explore the wilderness at night.
In the summer the night-time insects and frogs serenade you as you hike. And one of my favorite night hikes to do is a firefly hike. In Arkansas the fireflies (or lightning bugs depending on what you call them) peak around mid-June. As you hike after dark in the woods, the fireflies fill the forest around you with their flickering lights. It feels like what I imagine being in a fairy tale forest feels like.
Full moon hike
Another type of night hike that is fun to do is a full moon hike. With the forest bathed in a soft glow of ambient light, it also feels like you are in a fairy tale forest. If you try a full moon night hike, you will be amazed at how much you can see by the light of the moon. The full moon also brings out more wildlife, and I love to listen to the chirping, singing, and other sounds they make.
City lights hike
Where I live, we have trails that are close proximity to the city. Going on a night hike in the leaf-off season allows you to see the sparkling city lights in the valley below. It is an interesting and different way to experience the interface between civilization and the wilderness.
Some things to keep in mind
Even if you go on a full moon hike, it is important to have proper lighting. I actually carry two lights. Headlamps are great because the light goes wherever you look. And on a night hike you are less likely to be looking directly at other people while talking to them. We’ve all been blinded around the campfire when our friends look us in the eye having forgotten about having a light on their forehead.
Wearing layers is still just as important. You may not have the sun warming you, but you will get warm while hiking and cold while sitting.
Even if you go with a group, let someone know where you are going and when you should be back. Night hiking is more treacherous because you are more likely to not see that precarious root or rock on the trail. I just did a night hike and fell twice, but I’m clumsy.
So take extra precautions but don’t let the short winter days keep you inside and get you down.