With the temperature dropping and the days getting shorter, I find myself falling into the routine of heading home after a day of work and curling up on the couch with a warm blanket and a good book. However, after a few weeks, my restless legs were no longer content with sitting. With a full moon on the horizon, I decided to brave the dark and cold for a night hike.
Joined as always by my dog, Porter, and a few close friends, we headed for the trailhead to the Crystal Bay fire lookout. Though it’s no longer used as a lookout, the area has been outfitted with benches making it a fantastic vantage point for watching a setting sun, a rising moon or in our case, both.
Crystal Bay Fire Lookout
Easy | ¼ mile
Guided Full Moon Tours
Easy-moderate | 2-3 miles
The trail is a paved fire road the runs approximately a quarter mile. It’s easy to navigate, making it the perfect choice for a hike in the dark even if, like me, you forget a headlamp.
From Crystal Bay, follow Reservoir Road up the hill behind the Tahoe Biltmore. Take a right at the firehouse and follow the road up the hill till you see a green, Forest Service gate on the left hand side. Park along the road, but do not block the gate. Walk past the gate and follow the paved fire road until you reach the look out. Bathrooms and interpretive signage line the lookout area.
We reached the lookout just in time to see the sun sink below the ridge along the West Shore and the sky turn shades of pink, purple and blue before the first stars started to twinkle. After a few moments of sharing the darkness, we walked back down the trail a few hundred yards where a picnic table is set in the trees giving a better view of the East Shore. The glowing moon hung just below the horizon illuminating the crest of Crystal Ridge at Diamond Peak. As Incline Village began to light up one house at a time, the moon climbed higher providing just enough light to find the trail even without a headlamp.
A relaxing evening often conjures images of staying in and staying warm, but this hike reminded me that sometimes it truly takes getting outside to settle the mind. Sometimes it’s worth braving the night for a few breaths of fresh air and seeing a familiar view in a different light.
Hiking at night brings a few extra concerns to consider, especially during the winter months. I recommend sticking to familiar trails and always hiking with a group. Make the hike more about having an adventure and less about crushing a record-breaking number of miles in the dark. Plan clothing accordingly and layer well. It may be fairly warm starting out, especially if you are gaining elevation, but remember that as soon as the sun drops the temperature will cool rapidly and you’ll be thankful you carried that extra jacket.
If you plan on spending some time stargazing or admiring the full moon, bring a thermos of hot chocolate or tea and a hearty snack to warm the insides as you relax. Don’t let the snowy weather keep you inside. A good pair of snowshoes will help you get to your destination. Affordable rentals are available at almost every sport shop in the area.
For those who would prefer a guided full moon adventure, Tahoe Adventure Company offers full moon snowshoe tours each month through April. In addition to enjoying the outdoors under the bright moon, experienced guides will discuss natural history and astronomy during each hike. Hot drinks and snacks are also provided and gear is included in the cost.
Look for more full moon tours offered at local ski resorts and at Sugar Pine Point State Park later in the season.
Tahoe Time doesn’t end when the sun goes down. Get out and explore the world in a different light.