IMG_1500Come June and summer’s 85/85 (degree/percent humidity) days, we’re often resigned to hang up our hiking boots until mid-September. That’s understandable, if you’re working on an 8-hour recreation clock. Thing is, recreation doesn’t rest — but the sun does. Take today, for instance. True, the daytime temperature could hit 90. But after sunset it will drop into the upper 70s.
Isn’t that about what you consider ideal hiking weather?
Add to that the fact that sun sets at its latest during summer at 8:35 p.m., and that a growing number of North Carolina State Parks will stay open until 10 this summer, and you’re looking at a great opportunity for some memorable night hikes.
Below, we’ve put together a list of five of our favorite night hikes. And because we know the uninitiated among you may have questions, we refer you to this Intro to Night Hiking from our friends at
Nervous about going out on your own? Our GetHiking! Triangle crew will be leading periodic night hikes throughout the summer. Keep an eye on our GetHiking! Triangle Meetup page for details.

1. Day-Hike Section F, Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Falls Lake
4.4 miles (out and back)
We like this stretch for late-night hikes for two reasons: one, it’s on N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission land, so there’s no curfew. And two, it’s got a lit parking area at the trailhead (the upper Barton Creek boat ramp). Actually, those are the practical reasons we like this stretch. Esthetically, it plays footsy with the shoreline (including an inevitable wrong-turn that leads, shortly, to a secluded beach), encounters two clear-cuts that are great for stargazing on a clear night, and at the midpoint offers up a blast-from-the past in the form of passage on a long-abandoned, paved section of NC 98.
Details here

2.  Buckquarter Creek / Holden Mill trail figure-8 loop
Eno River State Park
Orange County (Durham)
4.1 miles
IMG_2141A great option for the first-time night hiker — and the first-time night hiker who instantly takes a shine to walking by headlamp. Start on the 1.5-mile Buckquarter Creek loop, heading up the ridgeline, then descending to its namesake waterway. Check the time: here’s where you decide whether to keep this a short first-time outing by returning on the Eno River portion of the trail, or crossing the bridge and tacking on the 2.6-mile Holden Mill loop (remembering, for the purpose of being out of the park by 10 p.m.) that your pace is slightly slower at night). The combination of ridgelines and time along the Eno make this an especially good option during a full or near-full moon.
Details here

3. Morrow Mountain Trail
Morrow Mountain State Park
2.6 miles (5.2 out-and-back)
The best option for this hike involves two cars. Arrive at the park early (by 7 p.m.), drive to the top of Morrow Mountain, drop one car. Drive to the park office in the second car and pick up the 2.6-mile Morrow Mountain Trail. Take an hour, longer if you need (there’s a good climb near the end), to hike to the top. Then hang out and enjoy the long view to the south, the twinkling lights of both the rural Piedmont countryside. Ten minutes ’til closing, hop in your summit car, fetch your trailhead car and don’t let the park gate hit you on the drive out. A little more than an hour from Charlotte and the Triad.
Details here

4. Stone Mountain Loop Trail
Stone Mountain State Park
Roaring Gap
4.5 miles
DSCF3302Here’s a hike you may be familiar with during the daylight, but will want to hike in a different way in the setting sun. Rather than start from the Lower Trailhead parking area in the traditional Stone Mountain Loop Trail way, start from the Upper Trailhead parking area, and hike clockwise. Hit the base meadow as the evening sun is lighting up Stone Mountain’s smooth rock face, climb the challenging ascent on the trail’s north side in the gloam. Summit and lay back on Stone Mountain’s domed surface and watch night unfold. The hike back to the car is quick and fairly straightforward, and you’re near the park exit.
Details here

5. Raven Rock Loop Trail
Raven Rock State Park
2.6 miles
This may offer the best sunset view of the lot. From the Visitor Center, head out counterclockwise on this loop trail. If you get an early start (by 7 p.m.), consider adding the 1.5-mile Little Creek Loop less than a mile into your hike. A little over a mile in, you have the opportunity to descend the 135-step staircase down the face of Raven Rock to the Cape Fear River; otherwise, continue a quarter mile to the Raven Rock Overlook, which, fortunately, includes a western view of the sun setting over the Cape Fear River some 150 feet below. Space is limited and it’s first-come, first-situated. The hike back to the Visitor Center is a little more than a mile, flat, and shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
Details here