In the daytime, most hikers are interested in the payoff at the end of the trail: the summit view, the colossal waterfall or the historical remains. At night, the sky itself is often the star of the show. The full moon bathes rock formations in eerie, red Martian light in places like Bryce Canyon's Powell Point. Stargazers revel in the fist-sized stars they find on night-darkened summits and hilltops. Sunset hikers are startled in places like Carlsbad Caverns as bats take flight for a night's hunt.
It would be impossible to list all the amazing places to night hike, so here are a few different things to consider when choosing your night hiking destination:
- Dark Sky Parks: The International Dark Sky Association's dark sky parks are the ultimate night-hiking destinations. There are dark sky parks located all over the world. These include Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, USA, Galloway Forest Park in Scotland and Zselic National Landscape Protection Area in Hungary. Big Bend National Park in Texas is the newest IDSA-certified dark sky park, established in 2012.
- U.S. National Parks: The National Parks Service has been concerned with preserving night skies in its parks since at least 1999. Many national parks now offer guided stargazing and astronomy hikes and programs. These hikes are a great introduction to night hiking.
- Meteor Showers & Celestial Events: Time your night hike to coincide with a meteor shower or other celestial event. Backpacker Magazine lists Shining Rock Wilderness, N.C., as a great place to view the Leonids [source: Backpacker].
- Hiking Clubs: A great way to get started night hiking is by getting involved with your local hiking club. Inquire at your local sporting goods store or visit Meetup.com and search for "hiking" in your area. REI, for instance, offers night hikes in some areas through its Outdoor School program.
Learn more about navigating the Great Outdoors, including an anecdote about my first real encounter with stars, next.