I started moonlight hiking when I was a teenager prowling the streets and fields of Michigan. I later found that if I timed my backpacking trips to coincide with a full moon, I could hike every night. The two primary motivations for doing this are the adventure and mystery of night hiking, as well as the practical advantages that it has.
It’s a great experience to hike away the hours of the night under a full moon. My first time doing this on a longer backpacking trip was on a five-day hike in the Sierra Nevadas. Every night I slept next to a lake, waking up when the cold bothered me. Then I easily hiked through the rest of the night by moonlight.
This meant getting up between two and four in the morning and hiking the rest of the night. I was moving during the coldest part of the night, so I was able to get away with a lighter sleeping bag on this trip. In fact, since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky during those five days, I just slept in the open, without a tent or tarp every night. Most afternoons I took a leisurely nap in the sun to catch up on sleep.
Hiking at night meant no other people on the trail. Crowded trails were not actually a problem where I was, but I would like to go moonlight hiking to avoid the crowds the next time I am in Yosemite National Park, or in the Smoky Mountains. Sometimes it is nice to have the trails and whole mountain valleys to yourself.
You can hike a lot of miles at night, without any problems of over-heating. When the sky is clear and the moon is full, or within three days of its fullest, the moonlight is more than bright enough for hiking in fairly open terrain. In thicker woods you may need a flashlight for assistance.
If you do try this, plan your trip with the full moon coming right in the middle of the time span (if you can). This is how you get the maximum use of the moonlight before, during and after the full moon. Also note the time that the moon rises. About an hour after moon rise you’ll have enough light to hike, unless it is overly cloudy (something else to check on).
When moonlight hiking on isolated beaches in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I could clearly see animal tracks in the wet sand along the water’s edge. They included fresh bear tracks. Though black bears in this area are not usually dangerous, it keeps your senses tuned in when you know there are eyes in the woods watching you and none of them are human.
The lakes reflect the moon, owls swoop by almost without sound, and animals move in the bushes as you pass. The many shadows hide things, but you walk on by them, leaving these little mysteries unsolved. The trees and rocks take on a different, starker appearance than during the day. Moonlight hiking is a beautiful and unique experience.