Southwest Astronomy Festival: Night Hikes


Is It OK to Hike at Night?

Night hikes are a great way to see another side of nature. Although humans are a diurnal species (we like to spend most of our waking hours on the daytime), we have evolved the ability to see fairly well in the dark.
The sun is about 400,000 times brighter than the full moon and yet you can see your shadow under a full moon. How is this possible? The human eye is capable of changing orders of magnitude in sensitivity. Your eyes simply adjust to see with less light. After your eyes adjust to the dark, your eyes are about 100,000 times more sensitive than they are in the daytime. We may not think about this ‘dark adaptation’ often but it is what allows us to see in the dark and hike at night.

You should bring a light, but make it a red one. Blue and white light can quickly destroy your night vision, and dark adaptation takes about half an hour to get back.
Group of people walking on a road with red cliffs.
BLM guides and visitors getting ready for a night hike at the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

BLM Photo.

Escape the Heat! Come to the Dark Side

Not only do night hikes supply unique sights, sounds and wildlife; they also offer pleasant cool temperatures. All those nocturnal animals are on to something! In the desert, daytime temperatures are around 90°F, even in September. Nighttime temperatures are about 20° F, cooler making for much more pleasant hiking also better opportunities to see and hear wildlife.

Close up photo of a Coyote, Owl and Bat
Coyote, Owl and Bat.

Copyrighted photos by Matt Knoth (coyote), Joao Santos (owl)  and the NPS (bat) via Flickr.

Check Out the Nightlife

Many animals are nocturnal or crepuscular, that is, they are active during the night, or prefer the twilight hours. Owls, bats, many foxes, and frogs are all more active after the sun goes down. Getting a chance to see these animals (or even hear them) is a rare treat.

Please note: While all animals need the dark, be aware that nocturnal animals are particularly sensitive to any amount of light. They have evolved to be able to see much better at night than diurnal animals (like humans) and don’t see light the same way we do. Shining light at humans will temporarily take away their night vision (and annoy them), but that same amount of light appears many times brighter to creatures of the night. For Nocturnal animals, unnaturally bright lights can severely disrupt their ability to hunt, protect themselves and even be painful to view (as anyone who has stared directly at a headlight knows.)
Milky-way over silhouette of pine trees.
Milky-way over silhouette of pine-trees.

See the Night Sky Like Never Before

One of the best reasons for going hiking at night is to experience nature fully. The owls are out, the stars are up, the city is far away, and you can be immersed in the dark the way our ancestors were. It’s quiet, serene, and beautiful. The Milky Way is overhead. There is no substitute to having your path lit by the stars overhead.

Tips for Going on a Night Hike:

  • For tricky terrain, bring a red headlamp or flashlight.
  • Bring a regular headlamp or flashlight - for use in case of an emergency. Try to avoid using regular lights if at all possible. It takes about 30 minutes for dark adaptation or “night vision” to return after exposure to bright "unnatural" light.
  • Wear many layers. Temperatures in the desert can change drastically and quickly. If it’s 80° in the daytime, it can still get below 40° during the night.
  • Go slow. It’s ok to take your time on a night hike – it’s dark, it’s quiet, and it’s harder to see things that may trip you.

Regular Hiking Tips:

  • Bring water and snacks.
  • Tell someone you know where you are going.
  • Bring a first aid kit.
  • Leave no trace.

Last updated: October 9, 2018

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Mailing Address:

Cedar Breaks National Monument: Administrative Office
2390 West Highway 56
Suite #11

Cedar City, UT 84720


(435) 586-9451 x4420

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