I started moonlight hiking when I was a teenager
prowling the streets and fields of Michigan. I later found that if I
timed my backpacking trips to coincide with a full moon, I could
hike every night. The two primary motivations for doing this are the
adventure and mystery of night hiking, as well as the practical
advantages that it has.
Moonlight Hiking - A Unique Experience
It's a great experience to hike away the hours of
the night under a full moon. My first time doing this on a longer
backpacking trip was on a five-day hike in the Sierra Nevadas. Every
night I slept next to a lake, waking up when the cold bothered me.
Then I easily hiked through the rest of the night by moonlight.
This meant getting up between two and four in the
morning and hiking the rest of the night. I was moving during the
coldest part of the night, so I was able to get away with a lighter
sleeping bag on this trip. In fact, since there wasn't a cloud in
the sky during those five days, I just slept in the open, without a
tent or tarp every night. Most afternoons I took a leisurely nap in
the sun to catch up on sleep.
Hiking at night meant no other people on the
trail. Crowded trails were not actually a problem where I was, but I
would like to go moonlight hiking to avoid the crowds the next time
I am in Yosemite National Park, or in the Smoky Mountains. Sometimes
it is nice to have the trails and whole mountain valleys to
You can hike a lot of miles at night, without any
problems of over-heating. When the sky is clear and the moon is
full, or within three days of its fullest, the moonlight is more
than bright enough for hiking in fairly open terrain. In thicker
woods you may need a flashlight for assistance.
If you do try this, plan your trip with the full
moon coming right in the middle of the time span (if you can). This
is how you get the maximum use of the moonlight before, during and
after the full moon. Also note the time that the moon rises. About
an hour after moonrise you'll have enough light to hike, unless it
is overly cloudy (something else to check on).
When moonlight hiking on isolated beaches in the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan I could clearly see animal tracks in the
wet sand along the water's edge. They included fresh bear tracks.
Though black bears in this area are not usually dangerous, it keeps
your senses tuned in when you know there are eyes in the woods
watching you and none of them are human.
The lakes reflect the moon, owls swoop by almost
without sound, and animals move in the bushes as you pass. The many
shadows hide things, but you walk on by them, leaving these little
mysteries unsolved. The trees and rocks take on a different, starker
appearance than during the day. Moonlight hiking is a beautiful and
Steve Gillman is a long-time advocate of lightweight backpacking.
His tips, photos, gear recommendations and a free book can be found
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