7 Eye-Opening Full-Moon Hikes

Lunar light provides a whole new way to experience nature.

Illustration by Bob Scott

Not enough daylight to explore all the Garden State’s natural wonders? Full-moon hikes extend your outdoor time, offering an opportunity to see the state in a whole new light—of the silvery moon.

Full-moon hikes are easy-to-moderate walks in a park or preserve. Led by a staff naturalist, the hikes typically begin at dusk. By nightfall, your eyes are so accustomed to the dark that you won’t need a headlamp or flashlight. In fact, some leaders prefer you go without.

No mere walks in the woods, these moonlit mini-adventures are designed to enlighten, surprise and educate. Some focus on connecting with nature. Others are timed to place the group in an awe-inspiring spot as the moon crests. And some weave history into the walk. One minute you might be hiking alongside a former cranberry bog, the next learning about the last family to farm it.

With your sight diminished, the scent of blossoming plants is magnified, as is the sound of wildlife, including the high-pitched mating calls of male tree frogs. These “spring peepers,” as they’re commonly known, are abundant in wetlands. “It’s like you’re in an amphitheater of peepers,” says Patricia Trasferini, program coordinator for Cloverdale Farm County Park in Ocean County. “Pair that with the moonlit sky, and it’s perfect.”

Registering early is recommended. While you’re signing up, note any age restrictions. Full-moon hikes are scheduled on or near the date of the actual full moon.

Ready to venture forth? Here’s a sampling of hikes, listed from north to south:

Kittatinny Valley State Park

Newton (Sussex County)
Start: 199 Goodale Road
Length: 3-mile loop

Your hike begins at the visitor’s center with an explanation of the phases of the moon. Then it’s into the woods along rail-trails and grassy paths that take you over gently rolling hills and through meadows. But don’t be lulled. The hike includes enough inclines and rocky trail conditions that it’s limited to teens and adults. Those who challenge themselves are rewarded with the sight of the moon reflecting on Lake Aeroflex, the deepest natural lake in the state.

When to go: Monthly in spring and summer. Check website for dates.

Tenafly Nature Center

Bergen County
Start:  313 Hudson Avenue
Length: 1.5-mile loop

Perched atop the Palisades cliffs eight miles north of the George Washington Bridge sits a quiet swath of some 400 acres where budding oak and maple trees, climbing grape vines, and huge fallen trees edge the trails on this meditative, two-hour walk. Leader Jillian Henthorn discourages hikers from talking as she guides them into the woods, stopping occasionally to identify trees or remark on the historical significance of the property, including its ties to the Lenni Lenape, as well as its former life as a cattle farm. You’ll briefly stop at the 4-acre Pfister’s Pond before completing the loop.

When to go: April 17; May 18; June 16

Schiff Nature Preserve

Mendham (Morris County)
Start: 339 Pleasant Valley Road
Length: 2-mile loop

After ascending two moderately steep hills, you coast along flat trails through a hardwood forest of tulip and ash trees, poplars, maples and oaks. Passing an old pole barn brings you to Lookout Point, offering views of the North Branch of the Raritan River. Hike leader Lauren Theis stops the group here to observe the moon before continuing through the forest to the Great Meadow, where hikers marvel at the quarter-mile-wide, moonlit area filled with ironweed, beardtongue and violets, as well as a mix of Indian grass, big and little bluestem, and switchgrass.

Illustration by Bob Scott

When to go: May 18; June 17

The Great Swamp

Harding (Morris County)
Start: 1 Tiger Lily Lane
Length: 1.5-mile loop

If your idea of a good time is mimicking the call of a barred owl and ducking flying squirrels, register early for this popular hike at the Great Swamp Watershed Association Conservation Management Area. Before proceeding onto the mulched or earthen trails, you’re given red film to cover your headlamp or flashlight. This allows you to see better while preserving your night vision. By the time you reach a low, 18-foot-long boardwalk bridge, it’s dark, the moon has risen, and the drone of traffic from Route 287 is replaced by spring peepers and the brook below. “We’ll walk slowly, listening, experiencing what life was like at night 100 years ago,” says hike leader and director of outreach and education Hazel England, who touches on animal behavior, water-quality issues and Great Swamp history. 

When to go: May 18; June 14

Cattus Island County Park

Toms River (Ocean County) 

Start: 1170 Cattus Island Boulevard
Length: 2 miles

The unique coastal habitat of salt marsh and maritime forest, combined with a pre-sunset departure and easy trails, make for a memorable, family-friendly hike. From the Cooper Environmental Center, you pass American holly and Eastern red cedars and pine and oak forests, occasionally stopping to spot ospreys nesting on one of the park’s 11 platforms. You reach the bay beach in time to watch the sunset, then retrace your steps as the moon rises—the air filled with the loud chanting songs of Eastern whip-poor-wills and chuck-will’s-widows.

When to go: May 18

Cloverdale Farm County Park

Barnegat (Ocean County) 

Start: 34 Cloverdale Road, Length: 2.5-mile loop 

Check in early at the nature center and tour its displays chronicling the history of Cloverdale, a 102-acre former cranberry bog. Then it’s onto the relatively level trails past seven connected bogs, one—the Grandfather’s Bog— dating to the late 1800s. After a couple miles, you reach the back of the property, where you might spy the whitish-pink blossoms of mountain laurel and inhale the clean scent of sweet bay magnolia—both Jersey natives. Watch for screech owls zipping past and the occasional night hawks careening over the water. If hike leader Patricia Trasferini times it right—and she keeps you moving at a good clip to do just that—you will find yourself atop a knoll above the tree line as the moon crests.

When to go: May 17

Bass River State Forest

(Burlington & Ocean counties)  

Start: NJ 72, Woodland Township (Call 609-296-1114 for precise location.)
Length: 5-mile loop

Hardy hikers age 10 and up have a unique opportunity to traverse a rare ecosystem on unmarked trails. Park along NJ 72, where the hike leader guides you along sand and gravel paths through a forest of rare pygmy pines that reach an average of only four feet. At the highest point on the route, you pause to gaze over the acres of pines as the moon rises.

When to go: April 20

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