10 Best Places to Stargaze in the U.S.
Advocates work to raise awareness about the growing threat of light pollution and partner with parks and neighborhoods to reduce energy consumption and use alternative lighting practices. Despite certain areas becoming affected by wayward light, there are still many incredible places to stargaze in the United States.
Here's a list of 10 places across the country to spend an evening looking up into the universe we belong to:
Mauna Kea, Hawaii1 of 11
There are several contributing factors that make stargazing optimal here, including a dry atmosphere, cloud-free views, elevation, and limited light pollution. Mauna Kea has it all, and this is probably why 11 different countries have built observatories atop this 13,796-foot volcano. These prime conditions are made possible by a tropical inversion, something that keeps the clouds and atmospheric pollutants below the summit. Even at sea level, you can see stars clearly.
Denali National Park, Alaska2 of 11
Denali has long hours of darkness in late fall, winter and even early spring. These extended hours are especially helpful if you're waiting for the distracting moon to leave the scene. Another reason to visit this park is the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights. This phenomenon occurs year-round, but is only visible to the human eye around winter because of the darkness.
Joshua Tree National Park, California3 of 11
This area suffers from occasional light pollution due to close communities like Palm Springs, but it makes up for it with its landscape and ideal temperatures. The summer nights are warm, there are minimal bugs and the surrounding rock formations almost make it seem like you're observing the universe from a different planet.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona4 of 11
The Grand Canyon is a sight to behold on its own, but a dark night adds the elements of star clusters, distant planets and nebulae. For a particularly special experience, hike through the base of the canyon at night. Anyone in proper physical condition should make the journey. The North and South rims are equally good for gazing. The park has been known to host star parties throughout the year, so be sure to check the calendar ahead of time.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado5 of 11
Similar to Joshua Tree, this park is subject to light pollution from Boulder and Denver, but perseveres due to its elevation. Rocky Mountain has the highest continuous paved road in the United States (Trail Ridge Road at 10,758 feet). This road leads to clear and dark nights, especially during the winter (although this also means uncomfortable temperatures and possible road closures). It's recommended to take a stargazing drive in the summer, using occasional pull-offs to kill the headlights and admire the elevated nocturnal beauty.
Glacier National Park, Montana6 of 11
Pristine and exceptionally dark, Glacier has the benefits of elevation, a dry atmosphere and limited light pollution. As with other parks, the winter is the best time to stargaze, but also the most difficult season to visit. Fortunately, the summer has some of the darkest nights. The park hosts occasional stargazing parties to celebrate. If you're ever on the Montana Highline, be sure to visit this breathtaking paradise.
Big Bend National Park, Texas7 of 11
This has always been a great place to stargaze because of its remote location. Park officials are trying to reduce energy consumption to make the obsidian nights even darker. Big Bend has been regarded by many as the darkest park in the country.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania8 of 11
This is a small park (only 48 acres), but it's one of the best places to stargaze on the East Coast. Cherry Springs is one of only eight to receive gold international dark sky status, meaning artificial light is low, visual magnitude is high and observable phenomenon is high. There's also no air traffic or electrical lines blemishing the natural setting, and you can even see the Milky Way nucleus on occasion.
Emmet County, Michigan9 of 11
In this county, you'll find the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, which earned dark sky recognition in 2011. To promote the designation, park officials started adding public astronomy programs to their calendar.
Key West, Florida10 of 11
Of the islands, Big Pine Key gets the most recognition for dark skies due to its small population. What's remarkable about this island, is that it's the only place in the contiguous United States where you can see constellations common to the Southern Hemisphere. If you're eager to finally see the Southern Cross, this is the place to visit.