Mount Rushmore transforms at night to become even more grandiose. Photo by Steven Wilke / CC BY 2.0 

Characterised by wide open spaces, dazzling landscapes peppered with dramatic natural sights and the refreshing scent of fresh air, national parks always seem to convey an exhilarating sense of unbridled freedom. It is at such places where you feel truly connected to nature and all worries seem to float away on the stirring breeze rustling around you.

Daytime exploration is the usual modus operandi here; after all, journeying towards elevated peaks, swooping valleys and crystal-clear lakes on a bright day not only allows you to appreciate awe-inspiring views, but is also much safer if hiking or trekking is your thing. But come night time, the United States‘ national parks reveal a hidden side, where travellers have ample opportunity to uncover a lesser-known beauty to these destinations. From star walks to glimpsing the Northern Lights and more, Quotient highlights some memorable night-time activities you may have overlooked at these national parks.

Watch Mount Rushmore National Memorial light-up
A National Memorial where the faces of four iconic American presidents have been carved out of a cliff, Mount Rushmore is one of the country’s biggest sights. In the day, the looming granite sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are brightened by the sun but the real show only begins at night. A special evening lighting ceremony will be held daily during the summer season, where the massive monument will be gradually illuminated until the imposing faces of the past presidents shine with glory in the dark sky. Accompanied by a short performance and film, the ceremony truly brings out the grandeur of these great leaders. Embark on the short walking trail around the monument to appreciate the Shrine of Democracy’s splendour from different angles.

A night at the Grand Canyon will make you feel closer to the stars. Photo by steffo photography / CC BY 2.0

A night at the Grand Canyon will make you feel closer to the stars. Photo by steffo photography / CC BY 2.0

Walk beneath the stars at Grand Canyon
Besides the stunning spectacle of the yawning canyon and its multi-coloured jagged peaks and caverns, the Grand Canyon is also one of the best sites to observe the night sky in the country. With its dark skies, minimal light pollution and clean air, exploring the mysteries of the cosmos will no longer be a far-fetched dream. Armed with telescopes along with the expert guidance of park rangers and amateur astronomers, visitors can embark on constellation tours on select days to buff up on their knowledge of celestial bodies. Grab a peaceful moment for yourself as you stroll beneath the glimmering stars twinkling in the inky sky to feel even more attuned to nature.

Photo by Kevan Dee / CC BY 2.0

Seek the Northern Lights effortlessly at the Denali National Park. Photo by Kevan Dee / CC BY 2.0

Gaze in awe at the Northern Lights at Denali National Park
The aurora borealis remains a firm favourite on travel bucket lists for its otherworldly beauty. If you haven’t had the chance to catch the sight, consider travelling to Denali National Park during the winter season. With its vast landscape and lack of light pollution, travellers stand a high chance of catching sight of the undulating Northern Lights. In fact, you don’t even have to wander in search of the phenomenon on a late-night tour as people typically do if you don’t want to; just stay over at one of the lodges and they’ll give you a wake-up call when the phenomenon makes a showing so you can pop out and appreciate its ethereal beauty for yourself.

Photo by / CC BY 2.0

Wildlife activity sometimes increases in the evening hours. Photo by Tim Lumley / CC BY 2.0

Get up close to wildlife at Yellowstone National Park
Elk, bison, moose, wolves and bears; these are some of the creatures that call the Yellowstone National Park home. Sign yourself up for an evening wildlife tour through key sights of the park in the summer and you might just encounter these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The rare opportunity to observe their mannerisms from up close will keep you enthralled for hours. Midway through your wildlife hunt, settle in for a rustic picnic in the great outdoors under the orange blaze of the setting sun. The welcome respite also makes for an opportune moment to snap wonderful pictures.

Photo by Chao Yen / CC BY 2.0

The Joshua Tree is an iconic landmark that is often photographed. Photo by Chao Yen / CC BY 2.0

Astrophotography workshops at multiple parks
One for the photography enthusiast, several National Parks including Mount Rainer National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park now offer astrophotography workshops to hone your night-shooting skills. Guided by professional photographers, you’ll quickly pick up useful tips on how to best capture landmarks and the starry sky given limited light conditions. Photography aside, the visit to iconic landmarks such as the Joshua Tree and the Owachomo bridge themselves are already plenty enjoyable. That said, being able to take home pictures of your own to commemorate the occasion is always a welcome bonus! These popular tours that usually run in the summer and autumn seasons tend to sell out quickly so be sure to plan your trip well in advance.

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