Star Struck: Where to Revel in the Night Sky
Get starry-eyed when you escape the city lights.
Look up the next time you’re off the beaten path. You might catch a fabulous show as stars, planets and other heavenly bodies appear in the night sky. But you’ve got to be in the right place to see them. Travelers on the eastern coast of the U.S., or in densely populated areas, face competition from a lot of light pollution. Try venturing out West, or visit a dark-sky accredited spot, like the ones on our list, and you’ll go home with stars in your eyes.
Tyler Nordgren/Death Valley National Park
Cherry Springs State Park, Coudersport, PA
Named for the many cherry trees in the park, Cherry Springs State Park is surrounded by Susquehannock State Forest, which helps shield it from outside lights. For a site on the eastern seaboard, it’s unusually dark at night. Carry a telescope or binoculars (at least 7x50 power is recommended) for star-watching, or simply enjoy the view with your naked eyes. This park offers programs to the public every August, during the Perseids Meteor Shower, and sometimes hosts other starry events.
Terence Dickinson/Cherry Springs Night Sky at the Black Forest Star Party
Death Valley National Park, CA
Death Valley is the hottest place in the world, but it’s perfect for star gazing. After the sun sets, watch for meteors streaking across the sky or the ghostly pattern of the Milky Way. This national park is certified as the largest dark sky park in the national park system. Rangers lead sky-watching programs in the winter and spring; check before you visit to see when various astronomy groups plan to hold special events.
National Park Service
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Fredericksburg, TX
Located in rural Central Texas, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is dark enough to see shooting stars and identify many constellations. The Hill Country Astronomers occasionally hold Rock Star Parties here. The parties are open to the public for a small fee; check ahead for a schedule. Bring a flashlight with a red lens, or some red cellophane to cover the lens, when you visit; white lights affect your night vision. Telescopes are provided, but there’s usually a lot of demand for them, so BYOT (bring your own telescope).
Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, Florida
Look for the Southern Cross when you visit Florida’s Big Pine Key or the Lower Keys. You’ll see southern constellations and other celestial marvels here that aren’t visible from almost anywhere else in the continental U.S. Big Pine Key gets extra protection from artificial lighting to help safeguard the nesting sea turtles and endangered Key deer that make their homes there. Everglades National Park is another spectacular sight for seeing comets, meteors and more. Consider a cruise when you visit; you can often get great views of the stars, moon and planets from the water, depending on the time of year and atmospheric conditions.
Dr. Lester Shalloway and R. Scott Ireland/Southern Cross Astronomical Society
National Bridges National Monument, Lake Powell, UT
Looking through Owachomo Bridge, the natural rock formation at this national monument, is like peering through a frame at the stars. Located in southeastern Utah, Natural Bridges National Monument has modified its outdoor fixtures to limit light pollution, using shielded bulbs that point toward the ground. Astronomers praise the beautiful contrast you can see here between the bright stars and the dark canyon walls.
Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park, Spruce Pine, NC
Managed by Mayland Community College, this star park is located near Pisgah National Forest. Ground has already been broken for a planned observatory that will sit atop a 2,736 foot-high peak. It’s expected to house a Newtonian telescope with a 34” mirror, which will be the largest telescope in the southeast open for educational as well as public use. Blue Ridge Star Park uses state-of-the-art LED bulbs for its outside lights, which conserve energy while helping protect the beauty of the dark sky.