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    8 of the Best Night Hiking Trails in the U.S.

    best night hiking destination

    Image by Chonlatee42, Shutterstock

    If you already enjoy hiking or trail running, you’re probably familiar with all the physical and mental health benefits. It strengthens your muscles and core, improves balance, helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels, boosts your mood, lowers anxiety and reduces the risk of heart disease — and that’s just the beginning.

    What you may not know is that hiking at night provides all those same benefits, plus several others. Exploring night hiking trails helps sharpen your senses, increases self-confidence, and improves skills including survival and wayfinding. And of course, you’ll also benefit from experiencing scenery in a whole new way on some of the best night hikes.

    If you’re ready to try night hiking but you’re not sure where to start — literally — you’re in the right place.

    Night Hiking Basics

    ActionHub has published a guide to safely exploring night hiking trails, but it’s worth reiterating a few key points here as well.

    • First and foremost, it’s important to know that you need to take all the same precautions and prepare in the same way for night hiking as you do for day hikes. Drink plenty of water and wear appropriate clothing, which includes layers and sturdy shoes. Leave the hiking sandals at home for this particular adventure.
    • Don’t hike a new-to-you trail for the first time at night; stick with familiar ones. Similarly, don’t venture too far from home while night hiking.
    • Wear a headlamp with a red light feature, as it’s much less harsh on the eyes and actually improves night vision.
    • Employ the buddy system if at all possible. We’re all for hiking solo, but at night, everything is inherently a bit more dangerous. Bring a friend along and if you absolutely must hike on your own, at the very least tell a couple of people about your plans. Be specific and tell them where exactly and when you intend to hike, plus when you should be back. And most importantly, don’t forget to send a follow-up text when you’re done!
    • Consider camping overnight to get the most out of the experience on night hiking trails. Doing this will allow you to both stargaze and catch the sunrise on the trail!

    Best Night Hiking Trails in the U.S.

    From (literally) coast to coast, there are some truly stunning night hikes in America:

     
     
     
     
     
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    Joshua Tree National Park, California

    You may not associate southern California with the best night hikes — after all, it’s one of the most densely populated regions in the country. And where there are people, there’s light pollution. Joshua Tree National Park, however, has some of the darkest skies in the state. In fact, it’s an official International Dark Sky Park.

    Visitors can enter the park day or night, but remember, it’s a fragile desert environment and exercise extreme caution. Wear closed-toe shoes, watch your step, and carry emergency supplies even if you’re going for just a short hike. The park has many roadside pullouts with easy access to the best night hiking trails, but be aware that Day Use Only areas are just that — they’re closed from dusk to dawn.

    In particular, check out the stretch of Pinto Basin Road spanning between Cottonwood and Cholla Cactus Garden.


     
     
     
     
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    Mackinac Island, Michigan

    Northern Michigan’s picturesque Mackinac Island is unique in that there are no cars allowed. No taxis, rideshares, or even golf carts, outside of actual golf courses. In fact, the island’s M-185 is the only state highway in the entire country that prohibits motor vehicles! Instead, people get around by walking, biking, or riding in horse-drawn carriages.

    This lack of cars keeps light pollution to a minimum and means Mackinac Island has some of the best night hiking trails in the country. Hike up to Fort Holmes, the highest point on the island, for the best view of both the sky and the shoreline. The hike itself is short and relatively easy, but it does require climbing up a steep hill, so wear sturdy shoes and a headlamp.


     
     
     
     
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    Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

    Home to some of the darkest, clearest skies east of the Mississippi River, Cherry Springs State Park is designated an International Dark Sky Park. The north-central Pennsylvania park sits within the Susquehannock State Forest and features several areas dedicated specifically to stargazing and otherwise observing the night sky.

    The park and state forest combined offer over 85 miles of trails, including several shorter ones considered the best night hikes on the eastern seaboard. Hike the short and sweet one-mile interpretive trail, then head to the Night Sky Public Viewing Area if you’re staying for just a few hours. There’s also the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field, available to those who register in advance. Whichever area you choose, you’ll enjoy unobstructed 360-degree views.


     
     
     
     
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    Phoenix, Arizona

    Hiking is a major pastime in the Phoenix metro area — more like a way of life, really. And with warm weather year-round, you can almost always enjoy night hiking trails. Actually, let’s be honest, it gets so hot during much of the year that if you want to hike at all, you almost have to do it at night!

    Locals refer to Phoenix as “The Valley” because it’s completely surrounded by mountain ranges. There are no less than seven circling the sprawling city, plus a small range (aptly named the Phoenix Mountains) running right through it. With so much easy access, you’d be hard pressed to find better night hiking.

    For some of the best night hikes in Phoenix, try Piestewa Peak, Moonlight Trail in the San Tans, or one of the loop trails in the McDowell Mountains.


     
     
     
     
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    Shining Rock Wilderness, North Carolina

    Western North Carolina, home of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Appalachians, and the Great Smoky Mountains, is full of epic hiking trails. None offer up the best night hikes in the way that Shining Rock Wilderness does, however. The area is defined by a high rock ledge that literally shines bright, thanks to a large quartzite concentration. This smooth rock summit is a popular spot for watching meteor showers and stargazing.

    The hike to the summit isn’t particularly difficult, but it is 6.5 miles long. You may want to start before sunset so you’re only hiking back in the dark, or even consider camping overnight along the trailhead. Because Shining Rock is a dedicated Wilderness Area, you aren’t required to get a permit or pay a fee, but all Leave No Trace principles do still apply.


     
     
     
     
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    Big Bend National Park, Texas

    Sitting directly on the U.S.-Mexico border, Big Bend is perhaps the most unique national park in the country — and by far the most remote. And much like Phoenix, the mild (i.e., rather hot and dry) year-round weather makes it ideal for exploring the park’s night hiking trails.

    With the mighty Rio Grande running right through the park (and, fun fact, serving as the official international border), countless distinct rock formations, and some of the darkest skies in the entire United States, Big Bend is a night hiker’s paradise. Actually, Big Bend has the darkest skies, a certified Class I dark sky on the Bortle chart — very literally as dark as it gets.

    Park rangers offer moonlight walks and guided night hikes throughout the year; check at the visitor center for information on upcoming events.


     
     
     
     
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    Point Reyes National Seashore, California

    Just an hour north of San Francisco, Point Reyes is a nature lover’s paradise that feels worlds removed from civilization. The coastline features dramatic rocky cliffs, deserted sandy beaches, beautiful old-growth forest, and a wide variety of wildlife species. The area also has several dozen hiking and backpacking trails, including a few that are some of the best night hikes in California.

    Check out Abbott’s Lagoon, Bass Lake, and the Limantour Beach Trail for some of the most expansive views of the clear, unpolluted night sky.

    There are a couple of important things to note about night hiking trails in Point Reyes. One, there’s often wildlife on or near the roads, including deer and elk. Drive slowly and carefully. This area is also notoriously cold and windy, even during the summer, so dress appropriately.


     
     
     
     
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    The Maine Coast

    There’s very little light pollution in Maine to begin with, so you’ll find spectacularly clear, dark skies just about anywhere in the state. Along the coast, though — and in particular, the central coast — you’ll also find rugged cliffs, near-empty beaches, historic lighthouses, and wind-swept sand dunes. In other words, Maine has some of the best night hikes in the country.

    Easily one of Maine’s most well-known night hiking trails is Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. You can choose between the South Ridge Trail (7.1 miles) and North Ridge Trail (4 miles), but either way, you’ll want to time your night hike so you’re at the summit at sunrise. Maine gets the first sunrise in the continental U.S., and Cadillac Mountain is one of the best places to view it!

     

    Taryn Shorr is an avid outdoor enthusiast, frequent traveler, and wannabe photographer based in southern Arizona. She lives for the opportunity to explore The Great Outdoors, both at home and in new destinations, and firmly believes that nature is a form of both therapy and religion.

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