Illuminating Adventures: Your Guide to Moonlight Hiking in Pennsylvania’s Summer Wonderland

Illuminating Adventures: Your Guide to Moonlight Hiking in Pennsylvania's Summer Wonderland

Photo courtesy of daveynin

By Kalena Thomhave

July 7, 2023

Pennsylvania, with its many hiking trails, is a great place to take your first moonlight hike. We’ve put together an introductory guide to help you find the ideal spot, and what you should know before you set out on the trail.

Hiking is an excellent way to experience the outdoors in Pennsylvania. You’re essentially taking a hard walk through the woods, feeling the heat on your back while you admire the forest view and nod at other passing hikers.

Moonlight hiking is a little different. Take your typical hike and move it to nighttime, and suddenly you’re in a different world. The temperature is cooler, no one else is on the trails, and you have a limited view besides the night sky and what you can see just ahead of you. In short, it’s a refreshing experience that helps you connect intimately with nature as you hear the dark forest come alive around you.

Pennsylvania, with its many hiking trails, is a great place to take your first moonlight hike. We’ve put together an introductory guide to help you find the ideal spot, and what you should know before you set out on the trail.

Where Should I Hike by Moonlight in Pennsylvania?

Longfellow Trail – Cook Forest State Park, Cooksburg 

Difficulty: More difficult

The most popular trail in Cook Forest State Park, the Longfellow Trail is a 1.2-mile trek through an area known as the Forest Cathedral, one of the rare old growth forests in the Eastern United States. As you hike, the moon will shed light on towering groves of hemlock and white pine that are hundreds of years old. Some of these trees stretch nearly 200 feet tall and are more than three feet in diameter, which is uncommon for trees in the Eastern US.

Technically day use areas in the park close at sunset, so you may want to stay overnight at a park campsite or cabin, which is a perfect excuse to make s’mores.

Pond Loop Trail – Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Milford 

Difficulty: Easy

Illuminating Adventures: Your Guide to Moonlight Hiking in Pennsylvania's Summer Wonderland
Photo courtesy of thejaan

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a massive outdoor paradise of 70,000 acres straddling both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. As you might expect, hiking opportunities abound. 

Located in the Cliff Park area on the Pennsylvania side of the park, the Pond Loop Trail is an easy 0.8-mile jaunt around a lovely pond. Hiking the trail at night, you can watch moonlight reflect off the surface of the pond and meditate to the sounds of crickets. Plus, there are more than eight miles of trail in the Cliff Park area that can connect to your initial trek around the pond if you want to extend your moonlit journey.

Forbidden Drive – Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia

Difficulty: Easy

Illuminating Adventures: Your Guide to Moonlight Hiking in Pennsylvania's Summer Wonderland
Photo courtesy of hounddiggity

Forbidden Drive is a 5.5-mile trail within Wissahickon Valley Park, an urban oasis in Philadelphia. Converted from an old turnpike, Forbidden Drive follows the path of Wissahickon Creek and passes over charming bridges, including a covered bridge. At night, the wide trail — remember, it used to be a road — may comfort beginner moonlight hikers who want to avoid tripping over tree roots while they focus on searching for animals active at night, like owls.

During the summer, the Wissahickon Valley Park curfew is 1:00 AM.

Quarry Trail – Nockamixon State Park, Quakertown 

Difficulty: More difficult

Illuminating Adventures: Your Guide to Moonlight Hiking in Pennsylvania's Summer Wonderland
Photo courtesy of Christine with Robot Brainz

The 2.6-mile Quarry Trail is a loop trail in Nockamixon State Park that wanders by remains of an old summer camp, beautiful vistas of Lake Nockamixon, and a view of the trail’s namesake, an old quarry. You can access this trail where PA 563 meets Old Bethlehem Road.

If you’d rather try a moonlit hike with a group, Nockamixon State Park often hosts hiking programs led by park education staff. 

Various Trails – Frick Park, Pittsburgh

Difficulty: Varies

Illuminating Adventures: Your Guide to Moonlight Hiking in Pennsylvania's Summer Wonderland
Photo courtesy of Joey Gannon

Frick Park is a true urban forest, making up 644 acres in the middle of Pittsburgh. The park has miles of trails that crisscross the forest and are ideal for wandering under the stars. And during summer, you may see fireflies assisting the moon in lighting your way. You can start your trek on the 1.2-mile Braddock Trail, a gravel path overlooking a steep valley where much of the rest of the park lies. You can then veer off to walk other trails, like the Firelane Trail or the popular Nine Mile Run.

To tackle Frick Park by night with a large group, register for one of the monthly full moon hikes led by staff at local 3 Rivers Outdoor Company. Red light headlamps are usually required on these three-to-four-mile hikes. You can register on the shop’s website.

Pro Tips for Moonlight Hikers

Don’t hike alone

This tip is especially important when you’re hiking at night. Keep yourself safe by bringing a friend — or several — with you so that you can help each other stay on the trail and so that you’ll have help if any emergencies arise. Plus, you can experience the beauty of your surroundings together.

Know the phases of the moon

The best moonlight hikes are likely when the moon is full or waxing. That way, your path will be somewhat illuminated as you traverse through the woods. 

Use a red light headlamp

To protect your night vision, be sure to only use headlamps or flashlights with red light settings. Bright white light might seem helpful, but it inhibits your ability to see in the dark, and thus would damage your moonlight hiking experience. You want to be able to appreciate the night with your own eyes.

Be prepared

You’re hiking in the dark, so you may very well trip over a tree root you didn’t see. Be sure you’re prepared with a miniature first aid kit in case you need to patch up any scraped knees.

Know the weather, and dress for it

Check the weather a few times before you depart for your hike so you can be sure you’re wearing the right clothes and bringing the correct gear. For instance, if there’s any chance of rain at all, bring a rain cover and waterproof shoes.

Know the terrain

Before you go out onto a trail, be sure you understand the sort of terrain that you’re facing. You want to make sure that you can conquer the hills or rocks you may encounter and that you don’t wander off any bluffs. You also want to ensure you do not hike at night in any hunting areas.

Leave no trace

To keep hiking trails accessible to future visitors — and future generations — make sure you take out all your trash with you. Also, don’t disturb wildlife or plant life, and don’t take home any “souvenirs” from the woods unless you purchase them in a gift ship.

READ MORE: Pennsylvania’s 2023 Festival Season Gets Weird and Wonderful With These 21 Unusual Celebrations

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