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Looking for a way to unplug after work? Try an evening hike

By Joe Miller | March 23, 2021 | 4 min read | Healthy Lifestyle, Explore NC

Group of friends hikes across a meadow at sunset

We don’t all have time to get outdoors from 8am to 5pm. But that doesn’t mean we can’t reap the mental and physical benefits of being in nature.

If you’re looking for a way to unplug and de-stress after a long day at work, evening hikes may be an option you haven’t considered.

Here are a few benefits of and tips for hiking at dusk.

With the advent of Daylight Savings Time comes the return, for recreational purposes, of the period known as “the gloaming.” Of Scottish origin, gloaming refers to the period we typically refer to as “dusk” or “evening twilight.” But these terms create a pragmatic picture of day handing off to night. Gloaming, on the other hand, captures the more romantic, more reflective, more melancholy, perhaps, period during which another day comes to a close.

It’s also a pretty awesome time to be in the woods.

The light.

That fading, sideways sunlight of late day presents the forest in a bewitching way, casting shadows that pique the imagination. Despite the ominous way dusk is often cast in literature, in reality, it’s actually a calming, soothing period, perhaps because of…

The sounds.

Evening is when the forest comes to life. The natural world’s nocturnal residents, after a long day of rest, are on the prowl. Rejuvenated by dropping temperatures, they emerge chattering, looking for food, looking for mates, and doing that looking effectively as their fine-tuned rods and cones help them see a world their day-dwelling counterparts can’t. The quintessential sound of a spring evening: the chorus of spring peepers gathered in vernal pools and wetlands cheeping well into night.

The cool air.

Especially in summer, there’s no more welcome relief than the sudden drop in temperature when the sun dips below the horizon. Can 85 degrees possibly feel “cool”? It can at the close of a 95-degree day.

Hikers look up at the sky at sunset
On the Cox Mountain Trail at Eno River State Park (Fews Ford Access) in Durham.

Did you know?

Nature deficit disorder is a real thing–with real consequences. But just 15 or 20 minutes outside can help reduce stress and symptoms of depression after a long day’s work.

So many reasons to get out in the evening, now that there’s sufficient light to enjoy it. So why don’t more of us take a late-day hike?

Fear of the dark.

The best way to overcome your fear of the dark is to prepare for it. Take a headlamp or small flashlight (you can get a serviceable 5 LED flashlight for about $1). Stick it in your pocket, and fear not the dark. Or plan head home before sunset. As of March 23, that’s at about 7:30pm in North Carolina.

Fear of the unknown.

Don’t know a trail? Don’t hike it in the evening. Start with the trails you’re most familiar with. You’ll be surprised how much remains familiar in the waning light of day.

Running out of time (read: daylight).

You’ll likely hike slower as daylight fades, the rocks and roots of the trail a little harder to see, the blazes a bit harder to follow. So whereas it might take an hour to knock out a 3-mile trail in daylight, expect to take an extra 10 to 15 minutes to cover the same ground in fading light.

Also, you’ll likely be distracted — and slowed — by the wonders of an evening forest. Better tack on another 10 minutes.

A few helpful tips.

Hike by your feet.

As the trail gets a little harder to follow with your eyes, follow it with your feet. The trail, especially a well-trod trail, is harder than the surrounding forest floor. When you start sinking into the leaf litter, stop, look around, rediscover the trail. (Do this as soon as you notice you’re on soft ground and the trail should be nearby and easy to spot.)

Don’t hike alone.

Especially late in the day, two (or more) heads are better than one at correcting a mistake and making sure you feel safe.

Take a map.

If there’s not a paper map to take at the trailhead, there’s likely a kiosk with a graphic of the trails. Shoot it with your camera phone and you’ve got yourself a field map.

Be aware of posted hours.

Most lands open to the public have posted hours. Sometimes they’re a bit squishy: sunrise to sunset. If there’s a gated lot, there are usually set hours of operation. Make sure you’ll be back before the appointed hour when the gates are drawn shut. Which reminds us of another tip: take plenty of water and snacks — you never know how long you might be out.

Embrace the evening!

Intrigued by the prospect of a late-day hike, but a little nervous at the prospect? Some options:

GetHiking! Rule the Night: Tips for Hiking in the Evening and Night. Quick tips to help make your late-day hikes a success. Download it here.

GetHiking! Get Comfortable with an Evening Hike. In this two-part class we begin with a 45-minute Zoom session to discuss the virtues of the night hike, how to prepare for a night hike, and what to bring for a night hike and how to execute a night hike. In Part II, we actually take a night hike! For information on the program for individual hikers, go here, for couples and families go here.

GetHiking! Spring 2021 Evening Ephemeral Hike Series. Eight guided hikes on trails around the Triangle especially well-suited for evening rambles. Each hike starts at 6:30 and is about 3 miles. Go here for more information on the program for single hikers, here for more info for couples and families.