12 cool ways kids can explore Pittsburgh after dark

This story first published on Jan. 17, 2018, and has been updated with new information.

Bedtime? What bedtime?

When the sun goes down, there’s still time for excitement for Pittsburgh kids. After dark, the outdoor adventure starts with stargazing and moonlight hikes. Inside, kids build their own robots or take a virtual trip around the world. The truly adventurous can bed down among dioramas of leopards and bears, or unroll sleeping bags below viewing tunnels of sharks and sea lions.

Here are our top choices for an after-dark kid’s night out:

after dark

1. Carnegie Science Center Sleepovers

Kids can head to Carnegie Science Center for an all-out night of fun geared around their topic choice, from learning what it takes to be an astronaut to becoming a spy for the night.

Each Science Sleepover comes with its own theme and correlating activities. Every sleepover comes with an educational STEAM component, based on past popularity. A movie screening and live show demonstrations are part of the fun.

Kids will love to challenge their friends to build the tallest candy tower and makes the best marshmallow shooter during the Candy Engineering Sleepover (Feb. 21). Or create a new superhero persona during the Superhero Science Sleepover (March 27). Of course, making a robot during the Robot Roundup night (April 3) is always a hit. The Retro Game Night Sleepover (April 17) celebrates the 20th anniversary of “Jumanji,” which will play on the big screen. Activities include playing old-school Sega and Atari games.

Kids get a late-night snack before lights-out and a continental breakfast. Included in the sleepover admission is a full day of fun at the Science Center and Highmark SportsWorks. Sleepovers are geared to kids age 6 to 12 and require an adult. But younger kids from 2 to 6 years can be eased into the experience with Almost Overnighters that end at 9 p.m.

after dark

2. Frick Park Full Moon Hike

Leave the flashlights at home and let the moonlight guide you on an evening hike through Frick Park, hosted by Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy  A naturalist educator will lead teens and adults through the park under the full moon on the cold winter night. Families should dress for the occasion in lots of layers and shoes with good treads to prevent slipping and sliding. Registration is required for the Jan. 10 hike that starts at Frick Environmental Center. Plan for upcoming Full Moon Hikes on Feb. 9 and March 9.

3. North Park Full Moon Hike

Let the moon be the guide as kids look to the starry skies and late-night critters. Best for kids ages 8 and older; all kids under 14 years require an accompanying adult. The L.L. Bean-hosted Full Moon Hikes begin at Pie Traynor field on Jan. 10 and Feb. 8.

4. Family Zoo Overnights

The idea of sleeping close to lions and tigers might seem a little scary, but that fear shouldn’t be a problem with mom and dad at hand. That’s the set up at Pittsburgh Zoo’s Family Overnights. Kids ages 6-12 can participate with their favorite adult chaperones in one of the Wildlife Academy programs. Each overnight experience includes animal encounters and behind-the-scenes tours.

Penguins and Pancakes, scheduled Jan. 25, will uncover little-known facts about these cold-weather birds. The theme “When I grow up” on March 28 explores zoo careers. Kids will learn what it takes to be a zookeeper, veterinarian or a wildlife researcher. Coming up in May, the Sleepover Safari begins as the sun sets over the savanna. This night-time expedition takes a stroll alongside African animals.

Family Overnights tend to book quickly, but you can get on the waiting list for an upcoming spot. Scout troops and YMCA groups can schedule sleepovers. And Krazy Kritters Overnight parties can be planned for groups of 24 to 40 kids in search of zoo excitement.

5. Zoo Parents Night Out

If a parental escape is more to your liking, the Pittsburgh Zoo offers a drop-off evening that’s a kids-only party. Kids ages 4-11 will have a blast with games, animal encounters, pizza dinner, tours and crafts before relaxing in front of a  cool movie. Upcoming Parents Night Outs are on the calendar for Feb. 15 and April 18.

6. Phipps Kids Night Out

Phipps sends parents on their way so kids can have a Friday night out on their own. The Kids Night Out drop-off series begins Jan. 17 with Outdoor Art Explorers and winter art projects. The Jan. 24th theme is Conservatory Explorers in which kids participate in a secret-revealing scavenger hunt. Dress for the outdoors at Jan. 31’s Winter World Explorers night of winter games and crafts.

7. Nature Night Out

Mom and dad can head out for the evening while the kids have their own fun at Fern Hollow Nature Center.  Kids ages 5 to 10 years can enjoy monthly drop-off Nature Night Outs with an outdoor hike, crafting and nature exploration. Programs are scheduled from 6-9 p.m. Jan. 24 (Come dressed for a hike in the snow.); Feb. 14 (Dress in pink and red for Valentine’s Day fun.); and March 13 (Prepare for an extra hour of sunlight outdoors). Online registration is required.

8. History Center Friday Night Fun

Mom and Dad can drop off kids from third grade to eighth grade for Friday Night Fun on Jan. 17 at Heinz History Center. Kids will eat a quick dinner followed by art-making, cooking and salesmanship, based on the history of H.J. Heinz. Ketchup, anyone?

9. Allegheny County Park Night Hikes

Our county parks are a great space to find outdoor activities throughout the year, but hikes after dark add a certain thrill. Winter Night Hikes are planned on Jan. 10 for both South Park and Hartwood Acres. Deer Lakes Park and White Oak Park are the sites for Night Hikes on Feb. 8. Check the calendar for registration and meeting place.

10. Powdermill Nature at Night

Bundle up and venture away from city lights to embrace the brrr for an evening of stargazing at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Nature Reserve. Powdermill hosts a free family-friendly program on the third Wednesday of every month that includes a short talk in its nature center, followed by outdoor exploration.

The cold, winter nights are great for hiking and stargazing under a crystal clear sky. Bring a flashlight or headlamp and bundle up for a hike through the woods for the next program, Moonlight and Snow, planned for Jan. 15. The outing will give kids the chance to listen for night sounds, like a hooting owl or yipping coyote.

Check out the calendar for the complete Nature at NIght schedule.

11. Carnegie Museum of Natural History Sleepovers

Carnegie Museum of Natural History offers the chance for kids to invite up to 80 of their closest friends to sleep among the dioramas of bears, moose, and leopards. It’s a  fun opportunity for a birthday party, Scout troops or church groups.

This big slumber party includes three hours of games and activities. Kids can choose from scavenger hunts, where they identify skulls in the North American and African Wildlife halls, or a private, interactive live show with Dr. Dino and Spiny, a 15-foot-long, 10-foot-high spinosaurus puppet. They can take a fossil jacketing course, too, and get a fossil replica to take home.

The overnight extravaganza is geared for youngsters 6 years and older, with one grownup for every five kids. Reservations are required a month in advance.

12. Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve

Nighttime is the right time for families to explore Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve and Succop Nature Park, operated by the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. A Night Hike and Campfire is planned for March 7 for both locations. The event combines a hike under a starry sky with stories around the campfire. Keep an eye on the calendar for additional programming.