World's Top Nighttime Adventures
It’s 10 p.m. on the banks of the Macal River, a whitewater stream in the mountains of Belize, and Carlos Quiterio has a rhyme to tell: “Black and yellow, kill the fellow; yellow and black, kill the jack.”
Quiterio is leading a night hike at Black Rock Lodge, an eco-resort in Belize’s Cayo District, and we’re alone in the inky night, clouds shifting on a pale moon. Spider eyes pop from the grass like blue sparks, irises ignited in the swoop of a flashlight beam. His rhyme—a mnemonic device culled from a childhood of jungle play—was made to aid in the identification of deadly snakes. “Let’s watch for the fer-de-lance,” he says, referring to an aggressive viper recently seen on a riverside walk.
Nighttime hiking—or biking, skiing, or kayaking—can make for the ultimate adventure, as well as a great way to experience a destination. Fortunately, whether you want to go on your own, hire a guide, or catch up with a local group of enthusiasts, there’s no shortage of opportunities to have an experience where adrenaline shares space with the sublime.
Take the San Juan Islands Kayaking Weekend, a program offered by REI Adventures. After a day of sea kayaking in Washington’s Puget Sound, paddlers have dinner and then suit up again for a late-night tour. The objective is to see a luminous species of tiny creatures called dinoflagellates that glow in the cold waters of the San Juans. “It’s like silver sparklers in the water,” said guide Clark Casebolt, who has experienced the bioluminescence phenomenon dozens of times while leading the REI trip. “The water drips, glowing like molten metal onto a spray skirt.”
Land-lubbers, too, have no shortage of moonlight options. At Quebec’s Mount Sainte Anne resort, for example, there are 17 trails lit up and open each night on a 2,625-foot mountain, letting skiers schuss under the stars. Bikers can do races like the 24 Hours of Moab, an annual competition in Utah that features participants pedaling straight through the night.
But not all moonlight adventures are so hard-core. In Singapore, the Night Safari Zoo, opened in 1994, is touted as the “world’s first wildlife park built for visits at night.” The zoo, open 7 p.m. to midnight, is illuminated mainly by starlight, and guests can see more than 1,000 nocturnal animals in vast naturalistic habitats.
So whether you’re in the urban jungle of Singapore, the slopes of Quebec, or the desert of Utah, you can revel in the oddity and thrill of a nighttime adventure. Read on to discover 10 unique after-dark activities that happen on the dark side of the planet
Kayaking the San Juan Islands, Washington
Nighttime Adventure: A bioluminescence paddle trip in Puget Sound, Washington is part of the three-day “San Juan Islands Kayaking Weekend” trip operated by REI Adventures.
Star Qualities: Glimpse orca whales, porpoises, and seals during the day on this trip into Washington’s wild San Juan Islands. Evening brings kayak excursions in search of micro-size bioluminescent creatures called dinoflagellates, which spark and glow in the water like pixie dust.
Explore a Nighttime Zoo, Singapore
Nighttime Adventure: Touted as the “world’s first wildlife park built for visits at night,” Night Safari is a Singapore zoo open each day from 7 p.m. to midnight.
Star Qualities: As evening fades to dark, the nocturnal animals at this nighttime-only zoo stir awake and start to prowl. More than 1 million people tour the zoo’s exhibits each year—accessible by walking trails or a sit-down tram car—to see Asian deer, jackals, sloths, hyenas, blue sheep from Tibet, and more than 100 other night-loving species.
Take a Jungle Night Hike, Belize
Nighttime Adventure: At Black Rock Lodge, an eco-resort in the Cayo District of Belize, guides lead two-hour, after-dark hikes in search of creatures that only come out at night.
Star Qualities: Armed with a spotlight—plus years of local knowledge from growing up in the jungle—guides at Black Rock lead guests along the banks of the rushing Macal River and into a surrounding jungle wilderness. Common sights include howler monkeys and snakes, tarantulas, tapirs, and leaf-cutter ants tromping in long lines. Jaguars also roam the jungle—an elusive night target whose potential presence keeps hikers on edge.
See the Northern Lights, Yukon
Nighttime Adventure: Head north—as in, Yukon Territory north—to see the aurora borealis swirling through the icy sky at night.
Star Qualities: Yukon-based outfitters like Kanoe People Ltd. offer overnight aurora borealis trips outside the remote town of Whitehorse, where one of nature’s most mysterious acts swirls on the night sky’s canvas. Expect waterfalls of green and white during this psychedelic show, where particles in the ionosphere collide with charged atoms in the Earth’s magnetosphere. Kanoe People trips, available late autumn through early spring, include an optimal vantage on Lake Laberge and a hill with a 280-degree view of the bottomless northern night.
Take a 4WD Nighttime Safari, Australia
Nighttime Adventure: Motor into the Australian dusk in and around Grampians National Park, west of Melbourne via 4WD vehicle to search for nocturnal residents by naked eye and with a spotting beam.
Star Qualities: Using spotlights that have filters (to reduce the impact on the animals’ behavior), guides booked through responsibletravel.com bring travelers on a nighttime safari to seek the park’s more than 40 species of mammals. Emus, owls, kangaroos, possums, echidnas, and wallabies are all potential sightings.
Ski Under the Stars, Quebec
Nighttime Adventure: Boasting some of the highest vertical for night skiing in North America, Quebec’s Mount-Sainte-Anne lights up nine miles of trails and keeps its lifts open into the evening all winter long for schussing under the stars.
Star Qualities: Ski a summit-to-base run after dark at this resort, 180 miles northeast of Montreal, where more than 2,000 feet of vertical drop means serious skiing even after the sun sets. In total, 17 trails are lit up each night, all served by a cozy nighttime gondola that hums to a starry summit.
Go All-Night Mountain Biking, Utah
Nighttime Adventure: Take on some of the country’s toughest trails after dark; arrange private three- to four-hour nighttime mountain biking trips year-round with
Go Night Orienteering, Minnesota
Nighttime Adventure: As the after-dark discipline of an old Nordic sport, night orienteering allows only a map and compass as your guide, en route to finding checkpoint flags hidden in dark woods.
Star Qualities: At meets organized by groups like the Minnesota Orienteering Club, based in Minneapolis, competitors run alone into the nighttime woods with only a headlamp illuminating the way. A spinning compass needle and topographical detail on a page provide scant context to keep competitors on track while searching for flags—and, of course, from getting lost in the dark forest.
Attend a Full Moon Party, Thailand
Nighttime Adventure: Socialize, dance, drink, and rave on the beaches in Koh Phangan, a tropical Thai island, where the once-a-month Full Moon Party features an international crowd of party animals.
Star Qualities: Thousands of travelers and international partiers converge on the beaches of Koh Phangan every month on the night of the full moon. The immense, all-night-long event includes bands, performances, food, drink, and all forms of unfettered bacchanalia, from first dark until the sun rises again over tropical Pacific waters.
Play Capture the Flag, U.S. and Canada
Nighttime Adventure: Currently in revival around North America, this classic outdoors game includes large teams competing for a flag hidden in an immense field.
Star Qualities: Dash behind “enemy lines” in search of a hidden flag during a game of Capture the Flag. Teams may include hundreds of players, who sneak around all night long in city centers and on college campuses. Ad hoc urban games in Toronto and New York have been organized on the Internet in recent years.