Living in the Northwest, it would seem like I’d never run out of places to hike. But even so, sometimes I feel like I’ve seen every waterfall, tree, root, and speck of land that Oregon has to offer, and I want something new. A few years ago, I was craving something new, when a perfect opportunity presented itself. The Portland Hikers Meetup group was doing a sunset hike to Angels Rest in one of my favorite spots the “Gorge-ous” Columbia River Gorge. I quickly signed up for the hike, and a week later, I found myself sitting atop that gorgeous rocky bluff, two thousand feet above the Columbia River Gorge, watching the sun slowly drop, content.
The mechanics of a good sunset hike are simple: Hike to a beautiful destination, watch the sun set, go back to your car. In reality, hiking to a viewpoint for watching the sunset takes a little more planning so that you have a safe trip and don’t end up at the bottom of a ravine or walking off a cliff in the dark.
Here’s what we did: We left at 6:30, allowing about 2 hours to hike the 2.3 miles to the top, before the sun was due to set around 8:30. All of the hikers were instructed to pack a picnic dinner to eat at the top, as well as plenty of warm clothing for the return hike, and flashlights. One hiker brought a teeny tiny portable barbecue and I watched jealously as he roasted hot dogs while waiting for the sun to set. Next time, I will be bringing a barbecue. About 10 minutes after the sun was down, we packed up and headed down. The descent was, of course, much quicker than the climb up and I only needed to use my headlamp for the last 15 minutes of walking.
A sunset hike is the perfect way to enjoy the long evenings of summer and to make some of those old trails new again. If you want to plan your own sunset hike, here are a few tips:
- Go with a large group: Safety in numbers is definitely an old rule that should be followed when hiking in low light. Hike in a group of at least 4 people.
- Carry two lights each: Make sure each hiker has a flashlight and a backup flashlight with good batteries. Headlamps are preferable so your hands are free in case of a fall.
- Pick a long warm evening: Choose a date early in summer when the days are longest and aim for a nice hot day so you won’t be cold on the way back.
- Pick an easy to moderate hike: Your hike should be challenging enough to make you feel like you’ve earned that sunset, but be realistic, you’ll have to walk back in the growing dark so the return route should ideally take less than 45 minutes and be relatively safe to hike with limited light. You could also choose a point-to-point hike where a shuttle car can be left at the end of the trail so you won’t have to return in the dark.
- Find a great view: Choose a hike to a viewpoint where you’ll have an awesome view of the sunset.