Best Places to Stargaze in Our National Parks
Thanks to light pollution and smog, 90% of the world’s population can no longer see the Milky Way, making our national parks celestial preserves. Next time you go camping, pack a pair of binoculars and enjoy the greatest show on earth.
To the Bridge, SpockUtah’s Natural Bridges National Monument already has a height advantage, rising 6,500 feet above sea level on Cedar Mesa. The rocky catwalks not only bring you closer to the stars, they carry the distinction of being in the first national monument to be certified by the International Dark-Sky Association, an organization that aims to curb light pollution and preserve our celestial views (sort of like a non-profit dimmer switch). 960 1280
Star ManPark Rangers at Southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon take their stargazing seriously. They are tasked with protecting the area’s incredible natural darkness for the 100+ astronomy programs that operate every year within the park. How dark is it? It’s so dark that Venus and Jupiter are bright enough to cast your shadow on the canyon floor. For maximum cosmological majesty, plan your trip around the Annual Astronomy Festival in early June. 960 1280
California StarsJust beyond the reach of L.A.’s ring of smog and neon, Joshua Tree National Park is Southern California’s personal planetarium. Winter solstice offers the longest night of the year and best star gawking opportunity. Weave your way through the desert hippie caravans and gaze deeply into the turquoise buckle of Orion’s belt. 960 1280
Temple of Stars
While perhaps not an obvious choice, Zion National Park in Utah rewards the patient star seeker with some stellar views of the Milky Way. With its towering sandstone cliffs and peculiar rock formations, there’s always something to see in Zion if you look up, even on a moonlit night. Just stay to the paths.
The Western SkyCalifornia’s Yosemite National Park is a popular destination for amateur astronomers who tend to gather at Glacier Point between June and August. Ask politely and they may let you peep through their impressively large telescopes. If you’re looking for a guided star voyage, astronomy walks are offered in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, and Wawona. DIY-ers can download an app like GoSkyWatch and plot their own trip through the night sky. 960 1280
A Star is BornUtah’s Arches National Park is one of the most arresting and photographed landscapes in the world, but at nightfall it becomes a darkened theater for the big cosmic revue overhead. Campers extinguish fires and recline their lawn chairs to take in the great celestial spray of the Milky Way as it bends from horizon to horizon, upstaged only by the occasional streaking meteor. 960 1280
Sea of Darkness
If you really want to get away from the city lights, head for the improbably named Dry Tortugas National Park, which is actually a string of seven small islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Go native and camp on the beach for some all-night sky watching. The only non-celestial light you’ll see is the intermittent flashing from the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key.