Nocturnal hikes are often an unplanned byproduct of unfortunate events. Losing your way on a trail or your car keys might result in such a weary march through dark woods. The forest at night is the ominous setting for many horror movies (think Blair Witch Project) and scary fairy tales. Why would anyone intentionally seek out a walk in the deep, dark woods?
Because it is a little scary- and fun, if you do it right! You might chance upon nocturnal wildlife such as bats, coyotes, foxes and owls. While you’re at it, you can do some stargazing and identify your favorite constellations. It is much easier to see stars away from the artificial lighting of developed areas. A trail you have hiked many times in daylight will unveil strange new features and sounds with the nightfall. By doing a bit of planning and keeping a sense of adventure, hiking at night can be an exciting and safe way to explore our natural world.
Hiking at night involves the usual safety recommendations along with a few extra considerations. Be sure to do your homework and go with a group. If you want to start hiking with professionals, night hiking programs are frequently led at state and county parks. If you are a nature lover, don’t miss the library’s upcoming Science Alive event featuring interactive exhibits and information from local parks departments.
For the purposes of this blog, I decided to go on a night hike in the woods near St. Patrick’s Park. A good Girl Scout knows to always ‘be prepared.’ After I cajoled a friend into joining me, I sought out the gear most crucial for explorers: books! SJCPL has a great selection of regional and general guides to aid in nature interpretation.
Then I turned my attention to digital preparations. If you have a smartphone, the apps available for stargazing, plant identification and birding are outstanding. With Googlesky you simply hold your phone up to the sky and it will align with and identify the constellations and planets in sight. There are also apps like Backcountry Navigator that will help you track your progress on topographic maps. It is an thrilling time to geek out about nature.
Our own hike turned out to be refreshing and beautiful. The sound of our boots crunching through the snow prevented us from sneaking up on all but one nocturnal creature. When we rounded a bend in the trail we heard a single shrill SQUEEAK! — a cry for mom, perhaps? The snowy sky curbed any hopes of stargazing that night, but we didn’t really need anything more than the beautiful scenery. I leave you with a challenge to do some exploring of your own and a few words from Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.