The 10 Best Destinations for Stargazing in the U.S.
PENCIL IN A DATE WITH THE MILKY WAY.
The daily grind can get a little tiresome, leading us to feel overwhelmed, burnt out, and ready to unplug. It's no wonder that tourism centered around "getting away from it all" has seen a sharp increase in recent years. And astro-tourism, which involves traveling to destinations renowned for their stargazing potential, has become particularly popular.
"Today, travelers are craving wilderness—places far away from the flicker of city lights and the ever-present glow of smart-phone screens," says Lee Thompson, co-founder of adventure-travel brand Flash Pack. "To really get the best stargazing experience, you need to leave man-made light well behind."
Ahead, we've rounded up 10 incredible places for stargazing in the U.S. where you can look up in pure wonder at the smattering of glittering stars above you.
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Zion National Park, Utah
You might be drawn to the amazing hikes in Utah's Zion National Park, but there's even more to see once the sun sets. This park is considered one of the top stargazing hotspots not just within the United States, but across the entire globe.
"You can gaze up at the night sky as it explodes with stars above the sandstone cliffs and blends in with the surrounding landscape," says Naveen Dittakavi, founder of Next Vacay. "For a once-in-a-lifetime stargazing adventure, visit Kolob Terrace, Canyon Overlook Trail, and Pa'rus Trail. The best time for stargazing in Zion is during spring or fall when you can enjoy fewer crowds than in the summer months."
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
While you're stargazing in Southern Utah, make sure to also swing by the smaller (and lesser frequented) Bryce Canyon National Park. Here, visitors can see up to 7,500 stars on a moon-free night.
"As stargazers look at the sky, the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon," says Janelle Smith, a spokesperson for Recreation.gov. "Among the stars, some planets–including Venus and Jupiter—can be seen and are shining brightly enough to cast a shadow."
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
You don't have to head west to enjoy some star peeping. The east has its share of optimal gazing, as well. One of the best eastern U.S. destinations for stargazing is Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, which is located within Susquehannock State Forest. The park has its own astronomy field–located atop a 2300 foot mountain—and if you're lucky you might just catch the Northern Lights. Time your visit right and you'll get to enjoy both the splendid cherry tree blossoms and magnificent Milky Way.
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While you may be more familiar with Phoenix, Arizona's former state capital is a top destination for stargazing in the world. The city's home to the International Dark-Sky Association and has light pollution restrictions in place across the city. In fact, it's not the glow of the nearby Tucson city lights you'll see at night—it's the dim glow of Phoenix's lights located 120 miles away.
In addition to seeing the bedazzling stars pretty much anywhere you are in the city, you can also visit Kitt Peak National Observatory, which offers a world-class StarGazing program that'll leave you mesmerized.
Glacier National Park, Northern Montana
You might be noticing a theme here. National parks are some of the best destinations for stargazing because they're protected land with minimal noise pollution. Simply put, fewer city and streetlights make for a more impressive visual of the star canopy above.
"Internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park, Glacier National Park provides jaw-dropping night sky views when nightfall comes," notes Dittakabi. "With minimum light pollution, this hiker's paradise is increasingly becoming a destination for local and tourist stargazers. St. Mary Observatory is one of the best locations to look at the stars, as it is equipped with a 20-inch telescope, offering high-resolution views of planets, galaxies, and constellations."
The best time to stargaze at Glacier is during the winter when the skies get darker, and visitors have a better chance of spotting the Northern Lights.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Though it may not be the most popular national park on this list, Big Bend National Park boasts the least light pollution compared to any other national park unit in the lower 48 states.
"The staff and volunteers at Big Bend offer several different types of night sky interpretive programs throughout the year, encouraging discussions about the importance of dark night skies," says Smith. "It is far removed from large towns and cities, and was awarded International Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2012."
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
The lower 48 states are rich with stargazing opps, but we wouldn't dare leave out our friends in Alaska! Denali National Park and Preserve, which encompasses a whopping 6 million acres of Alaska's interior wilderness, is considered the premiere spot in the United States to catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights thanks to its northernmost location and long, dark nights. Just be mindful of the abundant wildlife that surrounds you. It's not uncommon to spot moose, caribou, sheep, bears, and deer.
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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Another increasingly popular destination for stargazing in the United States is Rocky Mountain National Park.
"The park is known for its big blue skies and endless views of the stars, planets, and the Milky Way," says Dittakavi. "With elevations from 7,860 feet to 14,259 feet, minimum pollution, and a somewhat remote landscape, Rocky Mountain offers some of the country's best stargazing opportunities." She adds that one of the best spots for stargazing is atop the Trail Ridge Road in crisp, winter nights.
Rappahannock County Park, Virginia
The other stargazing destinations on this list might sound more familiar to you, but don't let that stop you from venturing to Rappahannock County Park in Virginia. Located near both Shenandoah National Park and the famous Appalachian Trail, this International Dark Sky Park is considered one of the best places across the globe to peep thousands of stars and see the spanning Milky Walk.
Your Own Backyard
Art from Nature/Shutterstock
A long road trip or getaway is grand, but here's the thing about stargazing: You've always got a first-row seat to the constellations in your own backyard. It'll do in a pinch, and there are ways you can make the experience more exciting, says Smith. First, head to a place outside of your city, like a nearby park or preserve where lights are minimal, and choose a night when the moon rises late or is in its late quarter/waning crescent phase. Bonus points for planning the stargazing evening during a meteor shower, like the Perseids (August) or Leonids (November). Lay out a blanket and enjoy.