Margaret TomasTake your kids night hiking, and they may see nature in a new light.
Of the hundreds of hikes I’ve taken in my life, the night hikes really stand out. Even the most familiar terrain feels and sounds different once the sun sets, especially if you plan ahead and know where to look.
Kids love these nocturnal adventures, as well. Not only does night hiking mean staying up past their bedtime, but the thrill of something special awaits. A whole other world of wildlife comes alive after dark.
In my early 20s, while working on AMC’s hut croo, I came to love visiting other huts at night. After cleaning up from dinner service, we would don headlamps and race across the ridge to the next hut. Years later I listened to nature’s symphony from a remote lake in the Peruvian rainforest. Insects buzzed, monkeys howled, and creatures splashed about on the shore. Scanning the water with my headlamp, I saw dozens of pairs of glowing-red caiman eyes.
But of all my night hikes in exotic locations, one of my favorites was with my kids, in our own backyard in rural New Hampshire.
Friends were visiting, and the kids were up late. The summer night was filled with crickets and fireflies lighting up our meadow. Our friend Keith told us he could find mushrooms and fungus that glowed in the dark. We didn’t believe him, so we made him prove it to us.
We walked through the meadow and into the woods, pausing so our eyes could adjust, then slowly felt our way along the trail until we came upon a rotted log. Keith pulled out a chunk of the soft wood. A greenish-white light softly emanated from the fungus. It blew our minds.
All kinds of amazing and memorable adventures can happen at night— if you plan ahead and make it fun and safe. Here are some basics to get you started:
- Stay local. Start close to home. Even your backyard or town forest can hold a host of treasures.
- Go short. You will walk slower in the dark, so don’t plan a long hike.
- Keep it dark. Leave the headlamps off, when possible, but keep them handy.
- Pause to listen. Hear the chirp of the crickets, the peep of the frogs, the snap of the twigs. Try sitting still, without talking, to take all of this in. Nature puts on some unique displays at night. Look for these the next time you explore after dark.
- Fireflies. Nature’s classic nighttime show reaches its peak during a two-week mating season that varies in timing from one summer to the next.
- Aurora Borealis. The unpredictable northern lights come to New England every year or two. Time your hike before moonrise and get as far from sources of human light as possible. Head to a high point so you can see the horizon to the north. Go to swpc.noaa .gov for help forecasting the aurora.
- Ocean bioluminescence. Glowing microorganisms in the sand and water create amazing light displays during summer months. Drag your foot through wet sand or take a midnight swim and watch the microorganisms light up around you. When and where this occurs can’t be predicted, but it works best on the darkest nights during the warmest months.
- Glowing fungi. The foxfire fungus grows in rotting wood. Keep a close eye on kids so they don’t pick up any mushrooms; many poisonous varieties exist in the Northeast.
- Wildlife. Forests host a lot of activity at night. Pause to see how many things you can hear.
- Meteor showers. Head out before moonrise, lie down in a meadow or field, and see how many you can spot.