If you’re a new hiker you might be wondering when is the best time of day to go hiking? While it’s a simple question, it’s one that is loaded with considerations, including where you’re going for a hike and your own personal preferences.
The “best” time of day to go hiking is ultimately subjective, but there are some benefits and drawbacks to hiking at certain times of day during different seasons. This post dives into the pros and cons of going for a hike at different times of the day, so you can determine the best time of day to hike for your needs.
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When is the Best Time of Day to Go Hiking?
If you ask different hikers you will probably get different answers to the question of when the best time of day to go hiking is. In general, most people go hiking in the morning. I personally think that the best time of day to go hiking is either in the early morning or at sunset, but I also think there’s a time and place for a mid-day hike.
The best time of day to go hiking can vary seasonally. Here are some considerations to keep in mind depending on the time of year:
Hiking in the Winter
The most important thing to keep in mind when hiking in the winter is that days are short. This means that you don’t have to wake up super early to beat the crowds, but it also means you typically can’t plan after work or evening hikes.
Mornings during the winter are very cold, and it can be hard to find the motivation to leave your warm bed and hit the trail. Trust me, you’re not the only one who feels that way! I find that there usually aren’t many (if any) people hiking early in the morning during the winter, which makes it a great time to hike if you want to get away from the crowds.
Early afternoon is a great time to hike in the winter because this is usually when temperatures will be the warmest. With that said, if you’re planning on hiking with snowshoes you may want to avoid hiking later in the day when the snow starts becoming soft. A sunset hike in the winter is a great weekend activity, but can be difficult to execute during the week.
Hiking in the Spring
Hiking conditions during the spring are going to vary considerably depending on where you’re hiking. A spring hike in the desert is a very different experience than a spring hike in the mountains!
A morning hike during the spring is going to require an early start to the day, especially after daylight saving time in the U.S. This is usually a great time to hike, but many trails start getting busier in the spring, so getting an early start is advisable. If you are planning on a spring hike in snowy terrain in the mountains, an early start is essential to avoiding postholing.
Assuming there’s no rainy weather in the forecast, an afternoon hike can be delightful during the spring. Not only is it usually easier to find a parking spot at popular trailheads in the afternoon after the morning crowds clear out, but you’ll typically encounter fewer people on the trail.
Spring is also a great time for a sunset hike. You can take advantage of the longer days and nice weather, and really soak in your time on the trail!
Hiking in the Summer
Hiking early in the morning during the summer is the best time of day to go hiking, in my opinion. Trails tend to be the busiest during the summer, and going for a sunrise hike is one of the best strategies to beat the crowds and snag a coveted parking space.
Afternoon hikes during the summer can be sweltering depending on the environment you’re in. It’s also common to see afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains during the summer. With nice weather an afternoon hike during the summer can be pleasant, especially if you’re hiking in a forested setting.
A sunset hike during the summer can be the perfect evening activity on a nice day. It can also be a popular time to hike, especially during the week when people have time to go hiking after work.
Hiking in the Fall
There really isn’t a bad time of day to go hiking during the fall. Morning hikes during the fall can be chilly, but that’s the perfect excuse to grab a pumpkin spice latte before hitting the trail. Most trails see a decline in traffic during the fall, except during peak fall colors. Getting out on the trail early is essential during leaf peeping season
Hiking on a fall afternoon usually brings warm temperatures, pleasant weather, and relatively quiet trails. Sunsets tend to linger during the fall, making the evening a great time to head out for a hike. If you go for a sunset hike make sure to pack a headlamp and extra layers.
Is it Better to Hike in the Morning or Evening?
Whether or not it’s better for you to go hiking in the morning or evening is going to depend upon a number of different factors. This includes safety considerations and your location, but it also boils down to personal preference. Here’s what to consider when choosing whether to hike in the morning vs. the evening:
- The weather forecast. If inclement weather is in the forecast earlier or later in the day, you’ll likely want to plan your hike around that. If you’re planning on a high-altitude hike in the mountains during monsoon season, you want to make sure that you start early so you’re back below treeline before storms roll in (typically around noon, although weather patterns can always vary).
- How crowded the trail is. If you’re looking to avoid crowded trails then plan to get an early start to the day. Late mornings and early afternoons are typically the busiest times of day to go hiking, but this can vary depending on the trail.
- The time of year. As previously discussed, whether it’s better to hike in the morning or evening can shift seasonally throughout the year.
- How long it takes to get to the trailhead. Drive time can be an important factor in deciding what time of day to hike. If you have a far drive (anything over 2 hours in my book) it may make more sense for you to go on a late morning or early afternoon hike, even if it means encountering busy trails.
From an energy perspective, people typically have the most energy in the morning when cortisol levels are naturally at their highest. Cortisol drops mid-day, and then peaks again in the evening providing a little extra jolt of energy for a sunset hike.
Here are some of the pros and cons of hiking in the morning and evening:
Hiking in the Morning
- Easy to find parking.
- Very few people on the trail if you hike at sunrise.
- Gives you plenty of time to complete your hike.
- Wind is typically low in the morning, which can be nice for getting still shots of lakes.
- Trail may be crowded if you start after 9-10am.
- Can be cold, especially during the fall and winter.
- Depending on the environment and terrain, you may or may not have good light for photos.
- Wildlife can be more active (which could be a pro!).
- It can be tough getting out of bed early!
Hiking in the Evening
- A great opportunity to take in the sunset.
- Usually fewer people on the trail than in the morning.
- There’s usually parking availability.
- Temperatures are typically mild (depending on the season, of course!).
- You may end up hiking in the dark.
- The trail and trailhead may still be crowded, especially if it’s a popular sunset hike.
- You may not have time for an evening hike in the winter with life obligations.
When is the Safest Time of Day to Go Hiking?
Safety risks while hiking vary depending on where you’re hiking, the season, and the terrain. Common safety risks while hiking include wildlife encounters, inclement weather, accidents, and injuries. While the risk of encountering a dangerous person on the trail is exceptionally low, it is also an unfortunate possibility (and one that most women are already well aware of). Nevertheless, most hiking risks can be mitigated with proper planning, preparation, and informed decision making.
Wildlife are typically most active during dawn and dusk, which as I’ve discussed, are some of the best times of day to hike. Negative wildlife encounters are rare, but it’s important to be aware of the wildlife you may encounter on the trail and take precautions in riskier situations (like carrying bear spray in grizzly country).
The safest time of day to go hiking is during daylight hours when other people are around. Accidents and injuries can occur at any time of day, but it’s helpful to have other hikers around to provide assistance or contact emergency personnel if needed (I always recommend carrying an emergency GPS, like a Garmin inReach mini when hiking solo).
Other safety considerations when hiking include:
- Checking the weather and being prepared for changing conditions.
- Researching the trail you’re hiking ahead of time so you know what to expect.
- Carrying a map.
- Hiking in a group or telling someone where you’re going if you’re hiking alone.
- Making sure you pack the 10 essentials.
Can You Hike at Night?
Night hiking is not for the faint of heart. Some parks and trails may close after sunset, but there are many trails out there that allow you to hike at night.
Depending on where you’re hiking there can be benefits to hiking at night. If you’re hiking in the desert, hiking at night is going to be much cooler than during the day. Depending on the time of year and your location, you may need to hike in the dark or at dawn/dusk. Thru hikers with a strict timeline can also benefit from hiking at night in order to get some extra miles in.
If you’re hiking at night make sure that you have a source of light, like a headlamp, along with backup batteries or a second light source. Also be prepared with extra layers of clothing, because temperatures are usually colder at night.
Conclusion: When is the Best Time of Day to Go Hiking?
The best time of day to go hiking is ultimately up for you to decide. There are a number of factors that can go into your decision, including:
- The time of year.
- The weather forecast.
- How busy the trail usually gets.
- How long it takes to get to the trailhead.
- Your personal preferences (are you an early bird or a night owl?).