As a San Jose resident, I’m used to a summertime heat wave. Still, it can be a chore to get moving when the thermostat nears (or jumps into) the triple digits. While coastal walks and redwood hikes can offer a reprieve, the long, sticky car ride to exit the city can be a bit of a slog. Of course, certain times of day are cooler than others. One tried-and-true strategy for hiking in the heat is to rise at dawn and get out there with the early birds. Another is to join the night owls! The magical perks of a twilight or moonlight adventure are many. Still, it’s important to plan ahead. Read onward for our tips to stay safe and well-prepared, as well as our favorite Bay Area locales for night hikes and evening strolls.


A pink full moon rises over the silhouettes of trees on a hillside.
For the best nighttime visibility, sync your hiking plans with the next full moon.

Before You Go

  • Check operating hours. Many parks lock their gates at sunset, so always check the operating hours before you head outdoors. Others only allow campers and backpackers to explore trails after dark. If you’re a fan of camping, consider integrating a pre-s’mores night hike into your itinerary.
  • Test out the trail in the daytime. If you’re new to night hiking, start on a familiar trail. That way, you’ll know what’s ahead. Avoid hazardous terrain like steep cliff sides, river crossings or dense forests with canopies that obscure the sky.
  • See what the weather has in store. Areas that are hot in the daytime can dip to much cooler temperatures at night, so you may need layers.
  • Consult a lunar calendar and find the next full moon. Planning your hike during a full moon makes all the difference. With the added natural light, you’ll be able to see much more without draining the batteries on your light source.
  • Pack the necessities. You’ll want plenty of water, some snacks, a first aid kit, a fully charged cell phone and a flashlight or headlamp.
  • Tell someone where you’re going. Let them know your intended trail, departure time and when you think you’ll return. On the off chance that you get lost, they’ll know where to find you.

During Your Hike

A skunk sniffs around in the darkness in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Different kinds of wildlife are active at night versus during the day.
  • Bring companions. While solo hiking is fun during daylight hours, it’s undeniable that there’s safety in numbers. Some organizations host docent-led group hikes at night, so check local calendars for opportunities.
  • Limit the use of your light source. Bringing a flashlight or headlamp along is essential so you can check your map or find something lost in your knapsack. Still, it’s best to rely on natural moonlight as much as possible.
  • Hone your night vision. When your eyes adapt to the darkness, your hearing sharpens and your night vision improves. This is ideal for soaking in the landscape, wildlife and starlit skies. Be patient: it can take up to 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Take it slowly to avoid falls and other injuries. As your eyes adjust, it might be trickier to notice changes in the trail’s surface.
  • Respect wildlife and your surroundings. Wildlife can be more active at night. While it’s a treat to hear owls hoot or coyotes howl, it’s crucial to give creatures their space. Know what animals you might encounter and what to do if you cross paths.


A view of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset on rocky Baker Beach.
Baker Beach is an ideal place to observe the sunset.

1. Baker Beach

San Francisco – Beginner Friendly

Situated at the base of San Francisco’s rugged serpentine cliffs, mile-long Baker Beach is an idyllic place for an evening stroll. While walking along the shoreline, you can take in spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and Lands End. It’s a great place to catch an awe-inspiring sunset, so be sure and bring a beach blanket to observe the sherbet-colored skies from the sand. For those willing to brave the chill winds, the northern end of Baker Beach is designated as clothing-optional.

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2. Mirada Surf Trail

Half Moon Bay – Beginner Friendly

This .36 mile multi-use and ADA accessible path runs from Magellan Avenue to Surfers Beach. The gentle stroll is supported by parking and a restroom at the southern portion of the trail. Benches located along the path are ideal for taking in views of the sea.  And if you want to dine under the stars, you can scope out the picnic tables at the northern end of the trail.  If you’re looking to make a longer trek of it, come during golden hour and explore adjacent trails at Quarry Park which closes at sunset.

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3. Mission Peak (Ohlone College Entrance)

Fremont – Moderate to Challenging

The Ohlone College Entrance of Mission Peak is one of several East Bay Regional Park locations that remains open until 10 p.m. This popular night hiking destination is well worth the trip to Alameda County. The challenging seven-mile Peak Trail to the summit and back passes through shaded woodlands and open grasslands. At the summit, you’ll enjoy sweeping views with twinkling city lights. It is also part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, one of the regional trails that POST has had a hand in protecting.

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4. Henry Coe State Park

Gilroy – A Range of Options from Easy to Challenging

Gilroy’s dry summers make for daytime highs above 90 degrees. But when the sun goes down at Henry Coe State Park, temperatures often cool into the 50s. As the largest state park in Northern California, Henry Coe boasts over 87,000 acres of wild open spaces and 250 miles of trails and ranch roads. Hikes in the park range from short leisurely trails with little elevation gain to highly rugged and ambitious backpacking loops. Remember to map out your route and try it in the daytime in advance! This is a rare example of a local park that is open around the clock. Still, with nineteen campsites to choose from, consider pairing your night hike with a sleep under the stars.

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5. Rancho Corral de Tierra

Half Moon Bay – A Range of Options from Easy to Challenging

Another local park that’s open 24/7 is Rancho Corral de Tierra. If you’re an experienced night hiker, evening is a prime time to ascend Montara Mountain via the Alta Vista Trail. During daylight hours, much of the 3.2-mile trail is in full sun, adding to the strain of this already strenuous trek. Under a full moon in the cool night air, you can breathe a bit easier before taking in stunning ocean and city views. Still, it’s crucial to scope out the trail in the daytime before you attempt it at night. If you’re looking for a shorter, mostly flat alternative that’s still scenic, try out the Ocean View Loop. Note that this preserve lacks a parking lot, but there’s plenty of neighborhood parking available nearby.

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I hope you’ll enjoy exploring the region’s enchanting trails under the moonlit sky. I think you’ll find it’s an unforgettable experience. From the breathtaking views to the serenity of nature at night, night hikes and evening strolls are a unique and magical way to connect with our local landscapes.

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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