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Night Hikes & Harvest Moons

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Oct 01, 2017 12:00 PM |
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Hiking under a full moon is a fun and adventurous way to shake up your hiking routine. Nighttime hiking has its own challenges: less visibility on the trail, late-night sleepiness and cooler temperatures. Here are some tips and ideas for your next full-moon hiking adventure.

For the first time in eight years, the closest full moon to the fall equinox, the Harvest Moon, will arrive in the first week of October. What does that mean for hikers? Brighter nights, eerie orange glows, and incredible photo backgrounds. Whether you're a night hiking veteran, or looking for a new way to experience your favorite trail, we've got some tips and ideas to make the most of your next full-moon hiking adventure.

by Melissa Ozbek

Hiking under a full moon is a fun and adventurous way to shake up your hiking routine. Seeing Mount Rainier bathed in moonlight or listening to the sound of waves quietly lapping the shore while gazing up at the full moon lets you enjoy the mystery of the night sky, share an exciting and memorable outing with friends and family and experience a trail in a novel way. Nighttime hiking has its own challenges: less visibility on the trail, late-night sleepiness and cooler temperatures. 

kellybutte_mikeCentioli.jpgLit-up lookouts make an idyllic background for nighttime photos. Photo by Mike Centioli.

Try a meadow hike

Pick a hike with open meadows (like Sourdough Ridge or Fremont Lookout in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park) to enjoy the view of the moon while you hike, and to have a better shot at seeing the trail in the moonlight than on a forest hike. An evening beach hike at low tide is another option.

Do your research

Double-check the date of the full moon (Oct. 5 and Nov. 4) and the status and condition of the road to the trailhead. Read recent trip reports of the hike you plan to do. Leave an itinerary for your emergency contacts so they know your plan and when they can expect you to check in. A personal locator beacon or satellite messenger is also handy in case of an emergency.

rainier_EricPoulin.jpgSunset over the mountains is always a perk of nighttime hiking. Photo by Eric Poulin.

Bring food and water

It may not seem like you need much food for a night hike, but just like with your day hike, nutrition is important. If eating a sandwich in the middle of the night doesn’t sound appealing, try trail mix, jerky or energy bars and pack plenty of water. Bring your camp stove to make some hot chocolate, coffee or tea (please follow Leave No Trace principles) for a special treat and to help you stay warm.

Expect a slower pace

With daylight hiking, you can get away with moving while glancing around, admiring flowers or a distant view. But with a nighttime hike, you have less visibility, and it takes more concentration to see the trail directly in front of you. Plan to come to a full stop to look at flowers or enjoy a viewpoint and not risk tripping or falling.

Bring navigation tools

Trail junctions, clearings and switchbacks become more disorienting in the dark. It’s easy to misinterpret where to turn and which direction to go, even on a relatively straightforward trail. A map, compass and GPS device (or smartphone app) are helpful tools to find and keep your bearings.

artist_nickdanielson.jpgNight hikes make a perfect backdrop for testing out long exposure photography and light painting. Photo by Nick Danielson.

Pack a light

Bring a headlamp or flashlight, even in a bright full moon, to see rocks and roots directly in front of your feet, and step carefully around obstacles.

Stash a summit layer

Temperature-wise, you’ve got the one-two punch of hiking in the evening (often the coldest time of the day) and to the summit (usually the coldest part of the hike). Pack your summit layer to stay warm in the cooler nighttime air and to ward off the chill that comes from getting sweaty on the way to your destination. Gloves and a hat aren’t a bad idea either, especially at high-elevation trailheads like Mount Rainier National Park.

Have a backup plan

The thrill and adrenaline rush of night hiking may seem like they will carry you through the drive home late at night, but it’s challenging when your body is fighting you to rest. Have an idea of where you can crash (a nearby campground, motel or friend’s house) if you need a break. Remember, you are not permitted to sleep in your car in the parking lots or along the roads in Mount Rainier National Park.

This article originally appeared in the Sept+Oct 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.