7 Moonrise Hikes for Bright Winter Nights

December 26, 2018
Fred ShirleyA chilly glow illuminates Franconia Ridge, one of seven magical moonrise hikes for bright winter nights.

Moonlight can transform even the most mundane landscapes into silvery utopias—especially in winter, when bare branches provide bountiful unobstructed views and snow reflects the magical moonglow. Whether you’re looking for a shorter hike to catch a glimpse of a full moon or a longer trek to more remote vistas, there’s a moonrise hike for you. Remember that winter hiking and night hiking both require more preparation and precaution than a summer-day jaunt. If you’re new to either (or especially to both), start off with beginner-friendly routes before tackling bigger behemoths. The exhilarating routes below offer breathtaking wintry hikes for every skill level, so grab your headlamp and head outside for the longest nights of the year.

1. CADILLAC MOUNTAIN | Bar Harbor, Maine
Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain is known for its early morning sunrise views, but moonrise from the mountain can be just as breathtaking. For the best experience, check a lunar schedule before planning your trek. South Ridge Trail’s gradual incline makes for an approachable trek. Begin at South Ridge Trail’s north trailhead, where the first mile starts off at a gentle grade, becoming more moderate as you go. At the 1-mile mark you’ll cross Eagles Crag Trail, a short 0.3-mile loop that intersects South Ridge Trail. Take the right-hand spur 0.1 mile to reach Eagle Crag overlook and soak up the views of Otter Creek and the Atlantic Ocean.

Keep following Eagles Crag Trail to meet back up with South Ridge Trail, turning right to continue your trek upwards. Here the trail enters an open forest of pitch pine and granite. Follow the trail another 1.1 miles through a pocket of jack pine and down a short descent before reaching the Featherbed, one of the highest wetlands in Acadia. After crossing Canon Brook Trail, begin your steepest climb another 1.1 miles to the summit. Enjoy epic views of the stars and moon from the highest point on Mount Desert Island before returning back the same way.
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 7 miles round trip
Info: Outdoor Adventures Acadia National Park (AMC Books); Acadia National Park

2. FRANCONIA RIDGE | Lincoln, N.H.
Avid White Mountain hikers will recognize this loop, traversing three different peaks mostly above treeline. Hikers be warned though—this is a strenuous hike that requires technical gear.  But if you are prepared, on clear nights you can catch moonlight illuminating the ridge so brightly, you’ll pack away your headlamp for the 2 miles above treeline. Park at the Lafayette Place parking area and begin at the Old Bridle Path trailhead, located on the east side of the highway.

When Old Bridle Path veers left in a short 0.2 mile, follow Falling Waters Trail. Falling Waters takes you past some of the most gorgeous frozen waterfalls in the notch, culminating in the 80-foot Cloudland Falls. Continue into the alpine zone and onto the summit of Little Haystack Mountain. From here the trail turns right and follows Franconia Ridge Trail, summitting Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette before turning onto Greenleaf Trail. You’ll descend from the summit of Mount Lafayette, passing by Eagle Lake and AMC’s Greenleaf Hut (closed in winter) before reaching the intersection with Old Bridle Path. Take it to return to the parking area.
Difficulty: Challenging
Distance: 9 miles round trip
Info: AMC’S Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains; White Mountain Guide, 30th edition (AMC Books)

3. WORLD’S END RESERVATION | Hingham, Mass.
Hikers looking for a coastal moonrise experience should visit the 4.5 miles of winding footpaths at charming World’s End. The largest stretch of Boston’s Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, World’s End offers a unique hike suitable for all ages and skill levels. A stroll around the park’s perimeter with a short detour to Planter’s Hill is popular, but don’t hesitate to choose your own route. The network of well-marked trails and carriage paths makes it easy for hikers to customize an adventure. All trails begin from the parking lot of the Martin Lane entrance.

Start by following the righthand trail along Damde Meadows, a recently restored tidal marsh ecosystem that provides shelter for hundreds of species. From Damde Meadows, the trail pulls away to follow the Weir riverbank then, just over half a mile from the trailhead, makes a short detour to spectacular views from Rocky Neck. Continue across the Bar, a spit of land connecting the northern and southern ends of World’s End peninsula. Circle around the northern shore and back over the Bar, bearing right to remain along the park’s perimeter. When the trail turns left, continue into Brewer Grove and to the top of Planters Hill. Benches here offer unparalleled views of the ocean and the moon over Boston’s skyline. Return to the main loop and turn left to find your way back to the trailhead.
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.6 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Boston, 3rd editionBoston Harbor Islands; The Trustees

4. CHAUNCEY PEAK | Meriden, Conn.
This hike ascends Chauncey Peak with traprock scrambles, thrilling quarry cliffs, and moonlight reflected in a striking reservoir. This short but steep 2-mile trail starts from the Guiffrida Park lot just off Westfield Road. It’s best to start this hike before dusk, since the steep incline at the start of the trail is more navigable with some light still in the sky.

From the parking lot, cross in front of Crescent Lake Dam to reach Chauncey’s blue-blazed trail. The trail leads through a beautiful forest of elm, maple, and dogwood before starting the steep scramble to Chauncy Peak. The views from the summit are incredible, beaten only by the views from the next stretch of trail. Leaving the summit, trace Chauncey Peak’s ridge before turning to follow the edge of an active quarry. Use serious caution along this stretch of the trail. The edge can be very precarious but offers astounding views of the surrounding county and Crescent Lake below. At the junction, follow the white blazes around the Bradley Hubbard Reservoir and back to the car.
Difficulty: Moderate, with challenging sections
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut (AMC Books)

5. BULL HILL (MOUNT TAURUS) | Philipstown, N.Y.
Located north of New York City and south of Poughkeepsie, the Hudson Valley’s Bull Hill offers city dwellers the chance to get outdoors for a fun hike with spectacular moon views. Reaching the trailhead before nightfall will let you watch the sunset and moonrise from any of Bull Hill’s spectacular lookout points. Park in the lot directly across Route 9D from the Little Stony Point Parking Area. Follow the white-blazed Washburn Trail for a short walk and you’ll come across Bull Hill’s abandoned iron and copper mine, where extensive quarrying has left a massive crater on the mountain’s lower western slope. Washburn Trail meanders along this crater before a sharp right turn and immediate upward climb.

Pass through several false summits with breathtaking views of the Catskills, the Hudson River, and a distant Manhattan skyline. The summit itself is flat, and surrounded by trees. Past the summit, Washburn Trail follows a reclaimed carriage road for a stretch. Follow the white blazes north and downhill to stay on the trail. At a four-way intersection, leave Washburn Trail to follow the blue-blazed Notch Trail until reaching the junction with Cornish Trail, also blue-flazed. Follow this trail over the Catskill Aqueduct, through eerie Cornish estate ruins, and back to the parking area.
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 6 miles round trip
Info: AMC’S Best Day Hikes in the Catskills & Hudson Valley (AMC Books)

6. NATIONAL ARBORETUM | Washington, D.C.
Residents of Washington, D.C., may be accustomed to parks closing too early for moon gazing, but the Friends of the National Arboretum offers a unique opportunity to experience nature by moonlight. During full moon nights, the Arboretum opens its gates for nighttime tours of the grounds. Tickets are available through the Friends of the Arboretum website and offer a choice between a full moon guided hike and the newer full moon forest bathing program. The full moon hikes vary depending on the season but generally cover 4 or 5 miles of the Arboretum’s most interesting trails. The guides encourage quiet and careful observation while on the trail, pointing out features indiscernible during the day.
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 5 miles round trip, depending on program and season
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Washington, D.C., 2nd editionFriends of the Arboretum

7. MARY’S ROCK | Luray, Va.
At less than 3 miles, this route traversing Mary’s Rock is one of Shenandoah National Park’s best low risk, high reward hikes, with a moderate trail through the forest and ending at a rocky viewpoint. Begin after dusk to witness unobstructed night sky views of Virginia’s cherished national park. Park at the Meadow Spring parking area off Skyline Drive. (More ambitious hikers can start from the Panorama parking area for a slightly longer trek.) Cross the road to reach the Meadow Spring Trail trailhead. Follow Meadow Sprint Trail just over half a mile to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. Turn right and follow the AT for another 0.6 mile then take the short spur trail to Mary’s Rock summit. Enjoy the view of a starry Shenandoah Valley before retracing your steps back.
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2.8 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley; Shenandoah National Park


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Emily Hughes

Emily Hughes is AMC Outdoors' fall 2018 editorial intern.