Warm weather and sunshine make summer the perfect time to explore the great outdoors. But your adventures don’t have to be confined to daylight hours. From bioluminescent waves in San Diego to a Pennsylvania state park where you can see the Northern Lights, here are 10 of the best places to enjoy nature at night across the country.
Where to See Bioluminescence
Some living organisms are bioluminescent, meaning they emit light (think jellyfish or fireflies). Here are four places bioluminescent creatures are found in large numbers, creating spectacular, naturally occurring light shows.
Glowworms of the Dismals (Alabama)
Dismals Canyon was a primeval swamp hundreds of millions of years ago, and over time geological events lifted the area upward, according to the Dismals Canyon website. Draining water carved out the canyon’s distinct walls and grottos, and today, natural bridges, waterfalls, and giant boulders make the Dismals a beautiful place to visit and hike. If you want the full Dismals experience, though, you must visit at night when the Dismalites light up the canyon’s walls. These little glowworms are incredibly rare, and they only exist in a few places on the planet. You can get a guided tour on Saturdays to learn more and see these other-worldly creatures.
Bioluminescent Waves of San Diego (California)
What if someone cracked a ton of glow sticks in the water, and they lit up the second a wave rolled in? That’s how LaJolla.com describes the bioluminescent waves of San Diego. There’s always bioluminescent algae present in the waters, but when the algae find a food source and multiply in large amounts, a bluish glow can be seen in the waters at night. Depending on when and where you go, you might even see some people glow-in-the-dark surfing.
Bioluminescent Dinoflagellates of the Space Coast (Florida)
In the area around Cape Canaveral on Florida’s eastern side, there’s an area of beachfront with a name benefitting the nearby space program. This part of Florida is affectionately known as the “Space Coast,” and on summer nights, the lagoons glow blue thanks to dinoflagellates (a type of plankton) and Comb Jellies, according to the Space Coast Office of Tourism. There are plenty of outfitters that will rent you a kayak and take you out on a tour. You’ll be amazed as you paddle around with the water lighting up beneath you.
Fireflies. Lightning bugs. Whatever you call them, you’ve probably seen them glow on a summer evening. But have you ever seen thousands of fireflies blinking in unison? Photinus carolinus, a unique species of lightning bug, calls Great Smoky Mountains National Park home, and for roughly one week in June at dusk, all of the fireflies light up and slowly start to flash in unison, according to the National Park Service. The event is so popular that there’s actually a lottery to determine who gets parking passes to attend. So, make sure to apply before the deadline if you want a chance to go.
Best Places to See Nocturnal Wildlife
While humans typically take care of their to-do lists during daylight, some creatures are more active at night, dawn, and dusk. To catch a glimpse of some famous nocturnal animals, here’s where you can go.
Grizzly Bears of Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana & Wyoming)
Grizzlies are only seen in a few places in the lower 48 states, and Yellowstone National Park is one of them. These massive creatures range from 200 to 700 pounds, and they’re primarily active at dawn, dusk, and night, according to the National Park Service. Head to Hayden or Lamar Valleys bright and early or when the sun starts to set for a chance to spot one roaming around.
Most people know Austin as the funky and fun capital of Texas. But there’s much more to this place than live music and great barbecue. Austin boasts plenty of nature opportunities, and perhaps the coolest one is the chance to see the Congress Avenue Bridge bats. From spring through early fall, the continent’s biggest urban bat population resides under the Austin bridge, according to Visit Austin. When the sun sets, bats start streaming out from the bridge to feed on insects. By the end of the summer, the population is roughly 1.5 million!
Where to See Night-Blooming Flowers
Whether you’re on a spring wildflower road trip or working in your garden, flowering plants are beautiful. However, some of the most spectacular species bloom at night, and many people miss them. Here are two places you can go to see famous night-flowering plants.
The Tohono Chul Botanical Garden displays the beauty of Sonoran Desert plants year-round, but one plant in particular, the Queen of the Night, steals the show during the summer. This cactus blooms for one night only, and the flower will be gone the next day. In other words, you must act fast when Bloom Night is announced. Tohono Chul has the country’s largest collection of this special species, making it the perfect place to visit on this magical evening.
Dallas Arboretum’s Nighttime Flora (Texas)
The Dallas Arboretum typically closes at 5 p.m., but it plays host to numerous nighttime events. To make sure evening visitors have plants to see, smell, and enjoy, the garden’s staff has incorporated night-flowering plants throughout the arboretum, according to the Dallas Morning News. So, find an event that looks appealing, and enjoy jessamine, moonflowers, and more while you take in a concert or attend a special event.
Best Places to Go Stargazing
There’s something magical about looking up at the stars. Unfortunately, big city lights (and even small town lights) can make it hard to appreciate the full beauty of the constellations. Here are some well-known spots for stargazing.
Cherry Springs State Park (Pennsylvania)
When people think of the best places to see stars, a less-than-100-acre park in Pennsylvania probably wouldn’t be at the top of the list. But Cherry Springs State Park isn’t your typical state park. You can see the Northern Lights here when the conditions are right, according to the Park’s website. Even if you don’t visit on the right night, there’s still a chance to see constellations, asteroids, or meteor showers.
It can be hard to escape light pollution in pursuit of the stars, but that’s not a problem at Big Bend. In fact, no other national park in the contiguous United States has less light pollution than Big Bend, according to the National Park Service. It’s a great spot for amateur astronomers because you can grab your binoculars and find a spot to stargaze on your own, or you can join one of Big Bend’s night sky programs, like a star party or moonlight walk.
Before you hit the road to seek out one of these nature-at-night destinations, make sure you’ve got the right coverage by chatting with Direct Auto online, in-store, or over the phone. And, since many of these places are remote, be sure to ask about a roadside assistance plan so you never end up stranded.