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Nighttime Adventures

Originally appears in the Summer 2011 issue

“In darkness I remember that it is not knowledge to which we most deeply belong but mystery, and I sense in the mystery of night a beauty that exceeds even the great and notable beauties of the daylit world.[1]

-John Daniel

Poets and naturalists have raved and written about the values of darkness and the night for centuries (see sidebar for selected quotations). The beauty and magic of nighttime walking emerges in ways seldom apparent during the day. The air smells different, nighttime sounds are strange and more varied, and the trails that may be familiar in daylight appear new and mysterious in the dark. The organized night walk is a way to minimize possible dangers and increase the pleasures for participants attending camps, environmental and nature centers, or those just taking a recreational walk in the woods and fields. This article explains some of the hows and whys of planning and leading a night hike. It describes the purposes of night hikes, some potential barriers, leadership guidelines, safety tips, and suggested activities.

We have been leading night walks for many years now and we know the impact they can have on adults and children. We know that when a night experience is conducted with care and concern for positive outcomes, the participants go away with pleasant and powerful memories and want to go again. We want participants to learn to love the night and to feel comfortable in nature after the sun goes down. We want them to discover a sense of awe and mystery for the plants and nocturnal animals. We know that these goals don’t just happen—they must be facilitated with skill and knowledge of the land in a particular place. We hope that these ideas will help launch a series of night adventures for you and your students, and enable you to successfully lead others through the darkness.

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Brad Daniel is Professor of Outdoor Education and Environmental Studies at Montreat College in North Carolina. He has been designing and leading outdoor activities for over 25 years.  Clifford E. Knapp is a Professor Emeritus in the Teaching and Learning Department at Northern Illinois University and a consultant in outdoor and place-based education. He has been leading outdoor activities for over 50 years.