A sunset hike two days before a full moon

Special to the Los Angeles Times

I slept very well last night. Getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t always come easy when the day’s work is closer than it should be, when too much time has been spent behind a desk, or when everyday worries assail the quiet of the night.

On this particular night, however, a sound sleep was the reward for a long evening hike.

The Southern California Sierra Club was walking one of my favorite trails from a new direction and from a trailhead I was not familiar with. I was curious and did not want to walk a remote trail by myself at night. My curiosity was well rewarded. The hike began less than an hour before sunset, and I found out that the perfect time for a sunset hike is two days before the full moon.

A full moon always rises opposite the setting sun and does not provide light for a nighttime hike until well after the sky has fully darkened. But two days before it is full, the moon rises approximately two hours earlier (one hour per day) and will be high in the sky when the sun slips below the horizon.


We walked up a beautiful trail, held close by thick shrubs and many spring flowers and, as the leader told us about the night sky and the moonrise, I became the de facto plant identifier.

“The brilliant clusters of flowers are purple nightshade .... That’s a vine of wild morning glory clinging to the elderberry shrub .... The black sage is blooming well ahead of the purple sage.”

The sky gradually darkened and we soon walked through a world of tall peaks, rolling hills and wide valleys illuminated by the soft ambience of the moon that shone through a cloudless sky. The trail was uphill for the first hour and then undulated over rolling hilltops before finally descending back to the valley.

As we returned to our vehicles, the conversation held the content of a beautiful evening and the tone of satisfying fatigue.


And I slept very well, with a peaceful feeling and tired limbs. I felt great this morning. My summer hiking legs are coming back. I think I will try a shoreline hike today. It’s been months since I’ve seen the sun setting over the ocean.

Olert, a chief financial officer and nature enthusiast living in Ventura County, hikes and writes for local publications about his wildlife encounters. Since the summer of 2009, he has written 17 stories for an anthology chronicling the seasons in Southern California. He can be reached at

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