With miles of trails, abundant wildlife and breathtaking natural features, national parks are great places to explore during the day. But in the evening, unobstructed skies make the parks perfect places for stargazing.
Wherever you go, the National Park Service offers some tips for nighttime viewing: Dress warmly for cooler evening temperatures. Bring a red headlamp or flashlight. (Red light will preserve your night vision.) Give yourself at least 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust. Bring a chair or blanket to sit on, binoculars, a star chart, bug spray and water. The brighter the moon, the fewer stars you’ll see, so plan your trip around the third quarter and new moon phases.
Here are a few places you can go:
California’s Death Valley National Park has received the highest designation from the International Dark-Sky Association. It’s so remote that in some spots, you’ll find views close to what you would have seen before the rise of cities. Harmony Borax Works and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are among the best places to stargaze.
Located far from sources of light pollution, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park is a sanctuary for natural darkness. The sky gets so dark that on a moonless night you can see thousands of stars, with the Milky Way extending across the horizon like a silver rainbow. The park offers about 100 astronomy programs throughout the year, with topics like the life cycle of stars and space exploration.
Practically anywhere is a great place to stargaze in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park. You’ll have the best experience at least 90 minutes after sunset and 90 minutes before sunrise. Mather Point, behind the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, is a good viewing area at the South Rim Village. On the North Rim, Cape Royal is the best place to stargaze.
At Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border, you’ll find many places with open horizons and a beautiful view of the night sky. Beaver Pond Overlook, Forest Overlook and Kettle Falls Dam are all popular spots. While the best chance to see them is in the winter, if conditions are right, you may even be treated to the dazzling northern lights.
At Montana’s Glacier National Park, astronomy programs are offered during the summer in Apgar, on the western side of the park, and in St. Mary, on the east side. They begin at dusk and last until midnight. In St. Mary, astronomers use the park’s Dusty Star Observatory, with its 20-inch telescope, to explore the cosmos.
The night skies above North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore are some of the darkest along the East Coast. Once a month, the park and its partner, Crystal Coast Stargazers, hold an Astronomy Night at the Harkers Island Visitor Center. You’ll learn about the constellations, watch for the International Space Station and use a telescope to see objects deeper in space.
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