Bucket List March 16, 2022
by Sarah McCosham The Best Stargazing Is Found At These Incredibly Dark Destinations In The United States
There’s nothing that feeds and fans the flames of wanderlust quite like stargazing. Gazing up at the big, beautiful universe, with its twinkling stars and far-away galaxies, is an immensely grounding and inspiring experience. All across the country, there are dedicated dark sky parks and remote destinations that offer guests a glimpse into the cosmos. And while many of these places require a bit of effort and advanced planning to access, the reward — a heavenly realm full of infinite possibilities and wonder — is well-worth it. So grab your telescope and hit the road; here are the best, darkest, and most beautiful places for stargazing in the U.S.
Crater Lake National Park - Oregon
Not only is Crater Lake the largest and purest body of water in the country, it's also a
spectacular site for stargazing
. Listed by the National Park Service’s Dark Sky Team as one of its top 10 dark sky locations, the beauty of the night sky at Crater Lake is extraordinary. Because the caldera is so isolated, there is virtually no light pollution to compete with the night sky, which in turn allows visitors to see literally millions of distant stars... without a telescope.
Crater Lake, Oregon 97604, USA
Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve - Idaho
The only International Dark Sky Reserve in the U.S., this site is comprised of 1,500 square miles of land in the picturesque Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, making it an amazing destination for dedicated stargazers. The first and only reserve of its kind in the U.S., this is a
gold tier dark sky preserve
, the highest ranking available. It's one of only 12 Dark Sky Reserves in the entire world, in fact, and the third largest on the globe. With 80% of Americans living in cities with light pollution blocking the night sky, visiting a dark sky preserve is an amazing adventure, and there's no better place to do this than this Idaho treasure.
Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, State Hwy 75, Stanley, ID 83278, USA
Redwood National and State Parks - California
California's Redwood National and State Parks are one of our country's crown jewels, housing some of the oldest and most magnificent trees on the planet. These parks are also
an amazing conservation success story
, with California's Save-the-Redwoods League and other organizations working to protect and preserve these grand giants for generations to come. And the preservation work continues; recently, the National Park Foundation partnered with Redwood National and State Parks to increase public awareness of light pollution, retrofitting existing lights and creating innovative activities to teach youth about best lighting practices. As a result, visitors to the park today are treated to stunning, star-filled skies above this fantastic, fairy tale forest.
Redwood National and State Parks, California, USA
Death Valley National Park - California and Nevada
One of the most sublime and intriguing places in the country, Death Valley National Park is an otherworldly wonder. Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Death Valley is a land of extremes: it's the hottest, driest, and lowest-elevation national park in the country. Unique geographical features such as the salt flats, which stretch for 200 square miles, seemingly endless sand dunes, and sedimentary badlands form the landscape of Death Valley, creating a landscape that's wholly unique and uncanny. Its skies, too, are superlative; with little in the way of light pollution, Death Valley is an amazing place for stargazing -- and, in fact, this national park is
the third designated International Dark Sky Park in the country
. The expansive desert horizon lends itself to a gorgeous viewing of the Milky Way, as well as the occasional meteors that streak the sky.
Death Valley National Park, United States
Great Basin National Park - Nevada
Great Basin National Park
is one of Nevada's greatest treasures; it's not just a place of incredible natural beauty and varied geography, but
it's also one of the darkest places in the country
. The preserve was given Dark Sky status in 2016 by the International Dark Sky Association, and if you've ever visited this park at night, you know it's well-earned. Come nightfall, a deep, onyx black seems to blanket the desert landscape, lit only by the glow of an endless sky of stars. This is what night sky might've looked like before electric light was invented, and stargazing here truly an experience for your bucket list.
National Forest Development Road 448, NF-448, Nevada 89311, USA
Canyonlands National Park - Utah
While Utah may be best-known for its extraordinary winter recreation, when the sun sets and moon rises, this state puts on quite a show. Lauded as perhaps *the best* stargazing site in Utah, Canyonlands National Park offers an experience that's wondrous. For those seeking a bucket-list-level adventure, there are
two campsites located within the park
. These sites, known as The Needles and Island In The Sky, offer the most impressive stargazing in the state, as well as the chance to watch the sunrise over the canyons in the morning.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah 84532, USA
Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona
In addition to being
one of the seven wonders of the world
, the Grand Canyon is a certified Dark Sky Park with perhaps the best stargazing in the U.S. When night falls over the deserts of Arizona, trillions of stars and celestial bodies shine bright, creating a sublime scene that doesn't look real. The best part is that you can witness this dazzling spectacle with the naked eye -- no fancy equipment necessary. Stargazing at the Grand Canyon is definitely a must-do when exploring this bucket-list-worthy park.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument - Arizona
The expansive desert skies of Arizona were made for stargazing, offering some of the deepest looks into the cosmos. A designated Dark Sky Park, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument makes the infinite universe accessible to visitors; offering summer night sky events for the public, including astronomy presentations, telescope viewing, and even constellation tours. When the sun comes up, stay and
hike along this dormant volcano
, which is one of the most fascinating places to explore in the country.
Sunset Crater, Arizona 86004, USA
Capulin Volcano National Monument - New Mexico
The skies above
Capulin Volcano National Monument
truly dazzle, with this New Mexico park receiving Dark Sky status in 2016. As darkness falls, the park comes to life and offers an atmosphere of wonder that you simply can’t experience during daylight. Despite being near major cities like Albuquerque and Denver, Capulin remains a source of true darkness that's unrivaled in the West. From nearby planets, to meteors, and distant galaxies, you’ll get to see the stars twinkle like never before in this beautiful and remote site.
Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico 88418, USA
Big Bend National Park - Texas
When Gene Autry sang of the stars in Texas, he most certainly was describing Big Bend.
Boasting some of the darkest skies on Earth
, Big Bend affords visitors the opportunity to see more than 2,000 stars with the naked eye. Located hundreds of miles away from the nearest civilization, Big Bend is among the most remote, and least visited, national parks in the Lower 48. Its remote location makes it well-suited for stargazing, a detail that's not gone unnoticed by the International Dark Sky Association. The park earned its Dark Sky
in 2012; more impressively, the organization ranked Big Bend fourth on its list of the top seven stargazing destinations in the world. Hot Springs Canyon Trail and Rio Grande Village Nature Trail provide some of the least obstructed vistas, and three different campgrounds within the park give gazers somewhere to sleep after their extraterrestrial adventure.
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, USA
Stephen C. Foster State Park - Georgia
Stephen C. Foster State Park is well-known for outdoor recreation -- kayaking, hiking, birding, and canoeing -- but this natural wonder takes on another identity come dusk. This remote park and its 400,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp, one of the great natural wonders in Georgia,
boast some of the darkest skies in the South
. Approved by the International Dark-Sky Association, Stephen C. Foster State Park is one of the most celebrated places to view the stars clearly and with unobstructed views. Plan an after-hours adventure in the marshes of Georgia, for a stargazing experience that's truly out-of-this-world.
Stephen C Foster State Park, 17515 GA-177, Fargo, GA 31631, USA
Mammoth Cave National Park - Kentucky
Recently designated an official Dark Sky Park, Mammoth Cave National Park is the first National Park Service operated site *and* Dark Sky Place in Kentucky, and it’s well-earned:
the stargazing here is nothing short of extraordinary
. The national park received the certification following a rigorous application process that took several years and required strong community support. In short, this certification recognizes the exceptional quality of Mammoth Cave's night skies, and the opportunities to enhance visitor experiences through astronomy-based interpretive programming. It's a tremendous honor, and another feather in the park's (very full) cap.
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259, USA
The John Glenn Astronomy Park - Ohio
Who would've thought that the humble Buckeye State would be one of the best places for stargazing in the U.S.? But superlative stargazing is the name of the game at the John Glenn Astronomy Park. Opening
just a few years ago
, the park was built as a place for inspiration and aspiration. You see, Ohio has a deep love of the stars; it has produced more astronauts than any other state (the park's John Glenn is a beloved state hero!), with Buckeye State explorers logging more than 22,000 hours in space. With little in the way of light pollution, this astronomy park provides extraordinary views of the Milky Way Galaxy, nearby planets, and other outer space marvels. Come and be inspired to dream big; you'll be in legendary company.
John Glenn Astronomy Park, 20531 OH-664 Scenic, Logan, OH 43138, USA
Cherry Springs State Park - Pennsylvania
This Pennsylvania park may seem like a hidden gem, but Pennsylvanians have long known Cherry Springs State Park as the darkest spot on the Eastern Seaboard, and the perfect place for stargazing. Perched atop a 2,500 foot mountain and flanked by undeveloped forest land,
Cherry Springs State Park
promises a stargazing experience free of light pollution; and during certain times of the year (typically September through March), the Northern Lights are even visible!
Cherry Springs State Park, 4639 Cherry Springs Rd, Coudersport, PA 16915, USA
Katahdin Woods & Waters - Maine
Designated a Dark Sky Park in 2016,
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in Maine and all of America
. The area is comprised of more than 100,000 acres that's home to an abundance of wildlife and amazing scenery. But what we love most about this beautiful park can only be seen when the sun goes down. As a International Dark Sky Sanctuary, the stargazing here is, pardon the pun, stellar, offering some of the most extraordinary and accessible views in the country. If you're into a helpless stargazer, each year, the park hosts a
Stars Over Katahdin celebration
, which returns in-person this October and is one of the best stargazing events in the country!
Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, Patten, ME 04765, USA
Denali National Park - Alaska
A region of rugged and untouched beauty, Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the best places to witness the beauty of Alaska's night skies. There are a number of year-round campgrounds located in the park, providing the opportunity to stay and gaze into the skies all night long -- any time of the year. But Denali takes it to another level; this park is a bucket-list destination for stargazing where you'll marvel at some of the most amazing spectacles on the planet, including -- if you're lucky -- the
elusive Northern Lights
Denali National Park and Preserve, Parks Hwy, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK, USA
These beautiful dark sky parks and remote destinations are the best places to go stargazing in the U.S. So grab your telescope and hit the road — the infinite universe awaits!
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