Find Your Park After Dark: Five Tips for a Fun and Safe Adventure

Did you know that there are 20 International Dark-Sky certified national parks? At these and many other national parks, you can enjoy spectacular views and fun activities once the sun goes down. Don’t miss out on park organized events such as ranger-led night hikes, stargazing, and the Junior Ranger Night Explorers program.

Keep in mind that not all parks are open to visitors at night. Visit the park’s website to find its hours of operation before you head out. When you arrive at the park, we encourage you to be respectful and recreate using the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles. Check out these five tips to help make your nighttime visit fun and safe!

Bring a Friend

Pack up the 10 essentials and invite your friends and family to join you on your adventure! It can be easy to venture off the trail and get lost in the dark, even if you are very familiar with your surroundings. Consider bringing a buddy to travel and enjoy the adventure with you.

Complete a Trip Plan

Let someone know where you are going and what you are doing. Write down and share your Trip Plan before you set off. It provides crucial information to Search and Rescue authorities in the event of an emergency. Leave the trip plan with someone who is not going on the trip with you. For more trip planning tips, check out the NPS Trip Planning Guide.

See and Be Seen

Always have a light source, or better yet, two or three! Bring flashlights and headlamps along so that you can see where you are going and others can see you. Pack extra batteries.Wear brightly-colored clothing and reflectors if you will be walking along roadways or near cars, bikes, and other motor vehicles.

The moon and stars can also help light your way, especially when there is a full moon and a clear sky. Find out if there will be a full moon during your visit to the park and check the National Weather Service’s sky cover map before heading out to see if there will be clear skies for your adventure.

A cell phone is NOT an appropriate light source. Your cell phone’s battery life can quickly drain while you are out in the park, especially if it is being used as a flashlight. Keep your cell phone battery charged in case of an emergency.

Layer Up: Stay Warm and Dry

When the sun goes down, so does the temperature. You may be dressed comfortably for your daytime adventure, but pay attention and layer up as the time passes and the temperature drops. Avoid the risk of developing hypothermia.

Consider these layering basics:

  1. Inner Layer: Wear an inner layer underneath your clothes to hold in your body’s heat and wick away moisture. This base layer goes underneath your other clothing layers and should be made of synthetic materials, wool or silk.

  2. Middle Layer: A middle, insulating layer will help retain your body’s heat and protect you from the cold, outside temperatures. Consider using synthetic materials or wool, if possible.

  3. Outer Layer: The outer layer protects you from weather elements, like rain, wind and snow. Rain jackets and windbreakers should be waterproof or water-resistant and breathable.

Check the weather forecast before you go so you wear the right clothing, such as a rain jacket, hat and gloves, etc.

Bring Your Navigation Tools

Things look very different in the dark—even sites and trails that you may be familiar with. Navigation knowledge is very important. Know how to use a topographic map, gps, and compass before you head out. Take your 10 essentials in case you do go astray, get lost, and have to stay the night outdoors.

Consider taking a ranger-guided tour or visiting places that you have been to before. Stay in designated areas and on trails. Be observant and pay attention to your surroundings. The darkness can make your activity more challenging, so take your time and be aware of your surroundings. Watch your steps so you don’t trip, slip or fall! Take advantage of the many nighttime opportunities that we have in our parks. Learn more about where to stargaze and how to camp under the stars.

Check out the NPS Trip Planning Guide before you go!