‘Tis the season when many cultures and traditions herald the return of the light into the dark winter world — and this year’s winter solstice promises to do that in a big way, with a full moon on Dec. 21.
Since 1793, when The Old Farmer’s Almanac began tracking heavenly events and seasonal changes, the moon has been full on the first day of winter just nine times.
If the skies are clear where you live, the full moon will add great brightness to the longest, darkest night of the year — the moment in the annual calendar when our side of the earth is farthest from the sun, after which we welcome gradually lengthening days as winter turns toward spring again.
To celebrate the solstice and take advantage of this rare lunar climax that coincides with it, bundle up and enjoy a moonlit foray into nature. There are several such events planned at various sites around the country. See if one of these guided outdoor outings is happening near you, or plan your own with a group of friends, capped off with hot chocolate or holiday wassail by candlelight at someone’s cozy home.
Full Moon Hike, Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs, CO
Enjoy a magical evening under the moon and stars in the Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark. Navigate by moonlight (and perhaps some flashlights) through towering red rock spires and open meadows on a one-hour moderate hike. Afterward, enjoy hot chocolate and assorted goodies in the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center. The event is free and suitable for adults and families. There will also be a chance to make dreamcatcher holiday ornaments. For reservations, contact the Trails and Open Space Coalition at 719-633-6884.
Solstice Moonshine, Sawhill Ponds
Naturalists Jennelle Freeston and Dave Sutherland will lead you into the dark while celebrating the light of our nearest celestial neighbor. Come prepared for moon facts and fiction, stories and science. Meet at Sawhill Ponds Open Space on 75th Street, one mile north of Valmont Road over the old railroad tracks.
Full Moon Snowshoe Tour
Lake Tahoe, CA
Join the Tahoe Adventure Company on a snowshoe tour under a gleaming full moon. Equipment and an introductory lesson are included before setting out into the silent forest in North Tahoe Regional Park. Knowledgeable professional guides will discuss natural history and astronomy as well as fascinating facts about the moon. The group will stop along the way to take in beautiful nocturnal views and enjoy snacks and hot drinks. The snowshoe trek is suitable for nature enthusiasts of any ability level, including children. Cost is $65 per person. Call 530-913-9212 or toll-free at 866-830-6125 for reservations and times.
Full Moon Hike, Quogue Wildlife Refuge
Long Island, NY
Celebrate the beginning of the winter with a nighttime hike through the forest up to North Pond. Discover the residents of Quogue Wildlife Refuge as you look and listen for nocturnal creatures while enjoying some night-vision activities under the light of the full moon. The walk will last approximately 90 minutes. For adults and children 12 years of age and older. Reservations required 24 hours prior; call 631-653-4771. Free to Refuge members; $5 for non-members.
Full Moon Winter Solstice Hike
Snowshoe or Ski, Cropseyville, NY
Explore forests and meadows on a guided nighttime nature trek in the countryside outside Albany, sponsored by Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center. Snow conditions will determine the mode of travel, which may include hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing beneath the full moon. Meet at the Center, 475 Dyken Pond Road, near Grafton.
Full Moon Winter Solstice Hike
Laguna Beach, CA
Join Orange County Parks Resource Specialist Laura Cohen and Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteer naturalists on the shortest day of the year for a moderate, 3.5-mile hike through Laurel and Willow canyons up to Bommer Ridge for spectacular views under a full moon. Bring a flashlight and water and wear long pants, a jacket and sturdy hiking shoes. In the event of inclement weather the hike will not take place. Reservations are required; call 949-923-2235. Meet at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Willow Canyon Staging Area, at 20101 Laguna Canyon Road, just south of El Toro Road intersection. Parking $3; donation $2.
Winter Solstice Walk
Spiro Mounds, OK
Herald the beginning of winter with an educational hike sponsored by the Oklahoma Historical Society at the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, an interesting way to enjoy and learn about the solstice in a place where culture and nature intersect in fascinating ways. Archaeologist Dennis Peterson will lead three special guided tours of this unique prehistoric, Native American archaeological site, at 11 am, 2 pm and 7 pm. The evening walk will take place under the light of the full moon. Each walk will take about two hours, covering about one mile of easy walking on paved trails. Peterson will talk about the 12 mounds at the site, the wildlife, history, excavations and why some of the mounds line up for the Solstice and Equinox sunsets. The cost is $3 for adults and $2 for children. There is also an entry fee to the site of $4 for adults and $1 for children.
Winter Solstice Full Moon Cruise
Lake Fort Smith, Mountainburg, AR
Celebrate the shortest day of the year in the Ozark Highlands with a twilight cruise on Frog Bayou. Dress warmly and bring along a thermos with a hot beverage for this cool moonlit adventure as you enjoy a leisurely open-air boat ride in Lake Fort Smith State Park. Reservations are recommended and can be made at the visitor center at 479-369-2469. Pay at the visitor center; tour departs from the marina. The price is $8.50 for adults, $4.50 for kids ages 6-12, free for children under 6. This is a weather-dependent event.