What’s the best way to go stargazing in winter? On snowshoes of course! Head out of the city for a night hike this winter and get off the beaten path, climb up to a meadow under the stars, lie down on the ground, maybe make a snow angel, and look up. While you could go stargazing on skis as well, I find that the best views are usually found with a bit of height gain and I’m not really a fan of skiing downhill in the dark. I prefer snowshoes where you can move slowly, embrace the experience, and tread safely in the dark with a headlamp in red light mode.
What to bring on your moonlit snowshoe tour
If you’re going to observe the stars, look for constellations, and try to even see a shooting star (without getting a kink in your neck,) you’re going to have to lie down. On snow. So bring a blanket or something warm to lie on. Alternately wear ski pants or something warm that will not get wet while you are on the ground.
Second, think about how you can make the most of the experience and maybe even make the trip more romantic if travelling with a significant other or partner. Perhaps bring some wine or a thermos of hot chocolate (Bailey’s anyone?) Bring that blanket mentioned above with a picnic of fresh fruit, chocolate and cookies.
You’ll also want to bring a head lamp that has a red light mode. Hiking with a regular head lamp ruins your night vision and you won’t see anything clearly when you look up at the sky. For more on how to choose a headlamp, check out this informative article from REI and perhaps consider putting one in your partner’s stocking this Christmas.
Finally, if hiking with children at night, bring a sled. Guaranteed they will get tired quickly if it’s close to bedtime and everything is just more fun with a sled anyway.
Want to take a Guided Moonlit Snowshoe Tour?
I took a guided tour last week with Kananaskis Outfitters in the Canadian Rockies. They are located at Kananaskis Village, approximately an hour away from the city limits of Calgary. I would recommend this tour to anybody visiting the Alberta Rockies or to locals looking for a new way to embrace the winter season while trying something new in their backyard close to home.
A few reasons to consider taking a guided tour:
- You don’t have to worry about route finding, staying on the trail in the dark, or directions at all. Just let your guide do the work and enjoy the scenery and experience.
- Your guide knows where to find animal footprints that you would walk right over in the dark, can help point out constellations in the sky, and even knows the best spots for winter stargazing. Our guide even knew where to take us to see bear scratch marks on a tree, which was super cool!
- Moonlit tours at Kananaskis Village are chosen for peak times when the moon is full and extra tours are scheduled during meteor showers.
- You won’t have to worry about not having the required gear for your hike. Guided tours usually include a pair of snowshoes and a headlamp if hiking at night.
- Safety in numbers. Worried about bears? Don’t be. Your guides will bring bear spray and will ensure you are kept safe while running around in the woods in the dark.
And fondue anyone? Our tour included a delicious chocolate fondue at the end with tea in front of a warm fireplace. It was the perfect ending to a winter evening spent tromping around in the snow and allowed us to further chat with our guides and other guests on the tour.
For more information on the Moonlit Snowshoe Tour with Fondue that I participated in, follow this link to the Kananaskis Outfitters website.
Tour dates for 2015 are scheduled for January 3, February 7, and March 7. Private tours are also available if you want to take the kids or go with your own group of friends.
Visitors wanting to add a snowshoe tour to a weekend getaway in Kananaskis will want to reserve a room at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, located at the Village. The Delta Lodge is ideally situated to enjoy not only snowshoeing but cross-country skiing on groomed trails located outside your door. And when you’re finished snowshoeing or skiing, a moonlit skate on the village pond is the perfect way to finish off a day (if you aren’t at the village pub already.)
For information on rentals at the village, visit the Kananaskis Outfitters page again because they can hook you up with everything you’ll need for the whole family. I’m sure I even saw some fat bikes when I was last there for use on the winter trails around the village.
Special notes on safety while snowshoeing at night
Those narrow trails that you like to snowshoe in the daylight are perhaps not the best choice at night. Watch out for low bushes and branches that can poke out an eye or scratch you up pretty good at the very least. And if you do happen to be doing a bit of light bush whacking, get off trail, or end up on a narrow trail, skip the red light and do what you have to do to be safe.
Put your head lamp on bright and then turn it off when your get to your meadow or open spot. Your eyes will adjust after a few minutes with the head lamp off but it’s better safe than sorry in an emergency room with a sick in the eye.
Finally, if you’re going to go out on your own without a guide, make sure you know the trail really really well. It’s extremely easy to get lost in the dark. The easiest way to ensure you don’t get lost is to create your own trail and then follow it right back to your car.
Disclaimer: My participation in the Moonlit Snowshoe Tour at Kananaskis Village was graciously provided as part of my research for this story. All words are my own and the tour company has not sponsored or paid for this post.
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