Denver After Dark: full-moon hikes
Stepping out among the stars is becoming increasingly popular for Mile High nature lovers.
Editor’s note: Throughout the summer, RED’s Denver After Dark series will look at fun nocturnal activities in and around the Mile High City.
Colorado has some truly stunning landscapes. But as every hiker knows, the state’s trails can get pretty hot and crowded in the summer.
Around once a month, however, nature provides an ingenious way to sidestep all the sweat, sunscreen and other people: Simply wait a few hours and go hiking in the moonlight.
“Full-moon adventures offer a unique experience filled with completely different sights and sounds, which can really bring an extra wow factor,” said Lincoln Davie, assistant professor of Outdoor Recreation in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Hospitality. “There’s a good reason why poets and naturalists have long praised the value and beauty of darkness.”
There are 13 full moons each year (they occur every 28 days), but hikers can also generally enjoy suitable light conditions for a couple of days on either side of the full moon itself. And given its big skies and vast outdoor spaces, Colorado is one of the best night-hiking spots in the country. “With over 22 million acres of public land and 690 peaks that top 13,000 feet, the options for exploration here abound,” Davie said.
But remember: Walking in the mountains at night demands a little extra care and preparation. Lunar hikers should have a good pair of hiking shoes, enough layers of clothing for a chilly night and a first-aid kit. And if possible, try to pick a trail you already know well.
One more thing: “A good headlamp is a must, but make sure to practice good headlight etiquette,” said Davie. “The latest models pack a blinding punch, and they could really distract from the experience for other people.”
Let’s go moonwalking!
Both of these guided walks, organized under the care of outdoor specialists at REI, take you on a 3-mile trek over mountainous territory. While not too physically demanding (children ages 12 and over are welcome), the fact remains you will be walking over uneven trails in the thick of night with only moonlight to guide you. The good news? All you need to bring are some layers and hiking boots. Your guide will provide headlamps and (should it be necessary) a first-aid kit.
Aurora Full Moon Hike
Plains Conservation Center, Aurora
July 13 (8:30-9:30 p.m.)
Aug. 11 (8-9 p.m.)
Cost: $5 per person
These family-friendly treks, organized by Denver Botanic Gardens, enable walkers to get a little taste of the wild without wandering too far from the city borders. And since they last just an hour and don’t finish too late, bringing along the kids (ages 6 and older) for some quality nature time is a real option. Under the light of a full moon, an expert guide will point out interesting natural features and even throw in a little local history lesson. Visitors are routinely surprised by just how much they can see on clear evenings.
Garden of the Gods
All summer visitors to this ancient wonderland can witness breathtaking Colorado sunsets in the evenings. And the park stays open until 10 p.m. during the warmer months. While there are no guided moon hikes this summer, there’s nothing to stop you from taking an independent wander among the moonlit rock trails and checking out the fantastic views of stars while you go. On a brightly lit night, the Garden can almost feel like an eerie alien landscape.
RELATED: Colorado rocks!
Full Moon Night Hike
Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs
July 13 (7:30-9:30 p.m.)
This night walk comes courtesy of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, a collective of astronomy enthusiasts who promise hikers the exciting (and slightly alarming) prospect of “using your five senses to help navigate at night.” You’ll get to explore various state-park trails under the moonlight, while friendly scientists dispense nocturnal fun facts such as how our eyes adjust to darkness and the ways in which night-prowling animals survive. The minimum age is 10 years, and registration is required.
Winter Park Full Moon Trail Run
Aug. 20 (Time and cost details TBD)
For some people, going for a nighttime walk is not enough — they have to run! In fairness, the Winter Park organizers make it clear that the priority here should be having fun and reaching the finish line rather than breaking any land-speed records. (That’s why there’s a relaxing wind-down party at the end.) But still, these competitors will take part in a 5k race at night, almost 11,000 feet up the side of a mountain. The big draw is that, guided by the light of the full moon (and complimentary headlamps), racers will get spectacular nighttime views overlooking the Rockies.