See the Stars: Dark Sky Destinations Across America

Stargazing in Death Valley


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Stargazing in Death Valley

Night Vision

For an epic stargazing outing, escape civilization by visiting some of the darkest places in America, where light pollution won't ruin views of the dazzling cosmos. Head to one of these 10 Dark Sky destinations (officially designated by the International Dark-Sky Association as places with little to no light pollution) across the country for incredibly clear views of the night sky. Check out these dark sky viewing tips and be sure to look for travel restrictions and closures before planning your getaway.

Related: 31 Bucket-List Experiences in America's National Parks

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Located in southwestern Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park boasts prime stargazing opportunities within its 801,163-acre swath of protected Chihuahuan Desert land and the Chisos mountain range. Its isolated location means fewer tourists, and it has the least light pollution of any other national park unit in the lower 48 states, making it a terrific destination for taking in the stars without obstructions. While you won't need much more than a pair of binoculars for constellation spotting, the park also offers a variety of night sky interpretive programs — from star parties to moonlight walks — throughout the year to enhance your experience.

Related: Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Natural Bridges National Monument might be best known for its majestic natural bridges like Sipapu Bridge, the second largest natural bridge in the U.S. But you might not know that these bridges are windows to the same dark night sky exploding with stars the ancestral Puebloans observed 800 years ago. Designated the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007, the remote southeast Utah landscape preserves a pristine dark sky largely unchanged by modernity. Here, you'll have the opportunity to witness up to 15,000 bright stars on any given night (in contrast to 500 or less stars you'd see in urban settings). Natural Bridges trails are open day and night, with stargazing allowed virtually anywhere in the park. Visit in the spring or summer for ranger-led stargazing and astronomy programs.   

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Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania by Kevin Wigel (CC BY-SA)

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

Due to its densely populated cities, it's harder to find a truly dark sky for viewing the cosmos on the East Coast, but Cherry Springs State Park — credited as the darkest place east of the Mississippi — gives northeastern night-sky enthusiasts a chance to experience hard-to-see astronomical highlights like meteors, lunar eclipses, asteroids, and the elusive Northern Lights. Spend a few hours at the public viewing area or head to the park's dedicated astronomy observation field (available for overnight camping) for unobstructed, 360-degree views of the celestial heavens. The park hosts free public stargazing events throughout the summer and privately organized tours and astrophotography workshops are also available.

Related: The State Park You Don't Want to Miss in Every State  

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Florida

Astronomy buffs flock about 100 miles south of light-polluted Orlando to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, internationally recognized for its lack of light pollution, to observe the twinkling stars above native palmetto trees and grasses. The 54,000-acre grassland park closes at sunset, but stargazers can gain after-hours access by reserving a campsite or astronomy pad site. (Note: There are special restrictions for astronomy sites like using red spectrum lights only and no campfires allowed.) Florida State Parks Family annual-pass holders can also sign up for an after-hours permit. Enjoy the view of the Milky Way sans telescope or binoculars and spot the International Space Station making its orbit around Earth (use NASA's Spot the Station tracking map), depending on when you visit.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan

Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan

The Headlands International Dark Sky Park grounds are open year-round, all day and night for dark sky enthusiasts, astronomers, and photographers. The 550-acre wooded park on the shores of Lake Michigan offers unparalleled views of the dazzling night sky without having to stray too far from civilization. (It's close to downtown Mackinaw City, yet rarely encounters light pollution.) Take in phenomenal views of the Milky Way and meteor showers in the summer or stunning Northern Lights during the spring or autumnal equinox from the 2 miles of undeveloped beach. (You can't camp, but you can stay all night.) Astronomers with telescopes at the park's public viewing events at the observatory and waterfront event center can help elevate your experience on clear nights.     

Related: 15 Best Places to See the Northern Lights on a Budget

Cosmic Campground, New Mexico

Cosmic Campground, New Mexico

Situated in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, the Cosmic Campground is one of only 14 certified International Dark-Sky Association Sanctuaries in the world and the first in North America. With the nearest source of artificial light more than 40 miles away, it's a mecca for stargazers. The super-remote, 3.5-acre primitive campground with bare-bones amenities offers four concrete telescope/observation pads with 360-degree, unobstructed views, and also hosts “star parties” to absorb the wonders of the natural night sky. 

Sand Dunes And Mountains

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

You'll find some of the best stargazing in the country at Death Valley National Park, America's hottest and driest national park. Located about two hours west of Las Vegas and four hours north of Los Angeles, the vast and arid desert landscape — untouched by urban sprawl and light pollution — makes for an epic place to see the night sky. Wise visitors explore the blazing hot desert with a scenic drive during the day before seeing the universe stretched out above them at night when thousands of stars are visible and temperatures are much more tolerable. The park gets almost 300 days of clear skies annually, so planning a stargazing trip is easy. During the winter and spring months, the park hosts ranger-led astronomy events like the free Death Valley Dark Sky Festival, a collaboration between the park and NASA with activities ranging from planetarium talks to demonstrations from scientists.     

Related: 30 Stunning Photos of Iconic Landscapes in the American West 


Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine

Starry nights at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, an International Dark-Sky Sanctuary in Maine, are truly exceptional. Experience the spectacular, naturally dark night skies from almost anywhere in the park after a day of hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and enjoying a scenic loop drive. You won't find any electric lights or commercial power sources within its 87,564 acres, which makes it an ideal spot for observing stunning constellations, particularly with star enthusiasts and volunteer astronomers at the annual Stars Over Katahdin event.  

big panorama of Horseshoe Bend at night with Milky way and moon. Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Already a must-visit for its awe-inspiring and iconic landscape, stargazers can add Grand Canyon National Park to their bucket lists as a breathtaking place to admire the galaxy from its rocky rims. The park officially earned its International Dark Sky certification in 2019 after dimming and retrofitting all its lighting to be more dark-sky-friendly and enhance nighttime viewing for visitors. Now, you'll likely spot star clouds, nebulae, meteor showers, and planets like Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars during your visit. While the canyon floor has the darkest skies, park rangers offer free astronomy programs almost every night on both the North and South Rims, depending on the weather and moon phases. The park's robust Night Skies Program even features a yearly Grand Canyon Star Party with guest lectures and telescope viewings.     

Related: The Best Remote Vacation Spot in Every State

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho

Originally named for its resemblance to the lunar surface, Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho basically gives visitors a chance to “view the stars from the Moon." The preserve's more than 53,000 acres of moon-like volcanic terrain — which also serves as a site for space science research — showcases spectacular night skies for star seekers. Dramatic volcanic formations and lava flows set the stage for unforgettable night sky viewing events like the Idaho Falls Astronomical Society's popular star parties and ranger-led full moon hikes under the vibrant Milky Way stretching over the park.      

Related: The Most Overlooked Travel Cities in America