Several years ago, me, the wife and our two kids attended an organized night hike at a nearby arboretum. The kids were only in their single digit years but were no stranger to hiking. Most of their trekking miles were gained via state park trails and exploring the woods and meadows near our home. Always being on the alert for new hiking opportunities, I was excited to discover the night hikes offered by the arboretum's naturalists and sign the family up for the next one.
During that first organized night hike, the kids were mesmerized by the naturalist's stories as we prepared to enter the dark forest. The naturalist promised sounds and sights that all would enjoy. But being an avid outdoorsman, I was confident that I would not discover anything new on our nocturnal walk. I was born and raised in the country with hundreds of nights spent stalking lightening bugs with jar in hand as a kid, and sleeping in camping tents draped in darkness. After an hour into the night hike, I realized the treat of the experience — my children were taking in the natural world with all of their senses from a new perspective and enjoying every second of it.
At the halfway point, we sat on the ground in an open meadow on the top of a ridge in the center of the arboretum. There, with a dozen other adults and a few other youngsters, we listened intently to barred owls communicating with each other. In between hoots we laid back and observed the constellations. Again, sky gazing was nothing new to my family, but doing so while on this night hike it seemed different. The naturalist pointed out a few interesting facts about the night sky that I didn't know. Those facts were absorbed by my kids, and during night walks after that, the kids would point to the sky and recite what they had learned on those night hikes at the arboretum.
Today, the kids, now young adults, mention those night hikes occasionally. We continue to enjoy a night hike every now and then, sometimes an organized night trek or simply take a walk in our woods after dark. To keep it fun and safe, it's best to night hike with others. Contact your state and local parks to inquire about offered night hikes and/or invite family and friends to meet at a nearby trail you're familiar with. Allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness and see what you discover.