These 10 Stargazing Destinations Are Truly Stellar
In the West, where protected parks and way-high mountain towns reign, there’s no shortage of great vantage points from which to admire the night sky
– April 9, 2018
Chad Chase/Idaho Tourism
1 of10Chad Chase/Idaho Tourism
Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, ID
The 1,416-square-mile Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, created in 2017, is the first reserve of this kind in the U.S. The super-strict designation only applies to 12 places in the world, including remote regions in Namibia and Wales, where light pollution is nearly zero. Locals from Stanley to Ketchum banded together to protect their epically bright night skies. It paid off: You won’t find better stargazing visibility anywhere in the country.
Courtesy of Sundance Mountain Resort
2 of10Courtesy of Sundance Mountain Resort
Located a 30-minute drive from the closest mid-size town, Sundance shines bright at 6,000-plus feet. Visitors love the up-close views of Wasatch Mountain during daytime rides on Ray’s Lift at Sundance Resort, but the experience gets all the more magical at night. For 45 minutes, guests can soar toward Ray’s Summit, counting their lucky stars and taking in the glow of the moon as it hangs above Mount Timpanogos in the distance. Just be sure to take a blanket—temps drop drastically at night.
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Courtesy of Great Sand Dunes National Park
3 of10Courtesy of Great Sand Dunes National Park
San Luis Valley, CO
Believers should high-tail it to Center, Colorado, in the San Luis Valley, where desert skies promise more than superb stargazing. Artist Judy Messoline built a UFO-spotting campground and watchtower to support the bevy of alien activity reported on her property. Travelers often cite seeing dancing lights, disc-shaped aircraft, and “weird stuff.” Look east from the tower, and you can see Great Sand Dunes National Park, which also has an otherworldly quality in the moonlight. (Pro tip: This is one of the only national parks where rangers encourage solo hikes at night, so take advantage.)
Courtesy of W.M. Keck Observatory, Andrew Richard Hara
4 of10Courtesy of W.M. Keck Observatory, Andrew Richard Hara
Mauna Kea, HI
Considered a pilgrimage for astronomy lovers, Mauna Kea was regarded as a sacred place by early Hawaiians due to its proximity to the gods. Get a proper 4WD car and climb the two hours to the summit, high above cloud-level, to watch the sun disappear. Scope out the W.M. Keck Observatory, then head back to the Visitors Information Station—it stays open until 10 p.m. and hosts free night-sky viewing sessions at 9,200-feet. Thanks to its location near the equator, the VIS is the only place in the nation where you can see major constellations from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
Creative Commons photo by Carlos Villamayor is licensed under CC BY 2.0
5 of10Creative Commons photo by Carlos Villamayor is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Los Cabos, Mexico
The southern tip of Baja California is a prime spot for stargazing due to the dry, clean air and minimal light pollution. Hotels in the area take advantage of the evening bounty with events like the Night Sky astronomy and bonfire series at Grand Velas, private stargazing tours at the uber luxe One & Only Palmilla, and the Hotel Ganzo’s full moon yoga sessions. But our favorite way to take in the show is on the water: Charter a boat from the quieter San José del Cabo marina and set sail to be enveloped by the sea and sky.
Courtesy of Death Valley National Park, Tyler Nordgren
6 of10Courtesy of Death Valley National Park, Tyler Nordgren
Death Valley National Park, CA
More than 90 percent of this 3.4 million-acre park is undeveloped, garnering it Gold-Tier status with the International Dark Sky Park system (psst, it’s also the largest Dark Sky Park in the country). Since it almost never rains, there’s little chance of your outing getting spoiled by cloud coverage.
Courtesy of Glacier National Park/NPS
7 of10Courtesy of Glacier National Park/NPS
Glacier National Park, MT
As the name implies, Big Sky Country is no slouch when it comes to star spotting. Waterton and Glacier National Parks were designated as a collective International Dark Sky Park as of 2017, which means no bright lights for miles and miles. On any given night, you’ll see the Milky Way, planets, and nebulae light up the night. Rangers and astronomers often lead day programs and night star-viewing sessions during the summer months.
Courtesy of Visit California
8 of10Courtesy of Visit California
Los Angeles, CA
Major cities aren’t likely to rank high on the list of clearest skies—and L.A. with its high pollution index is admittedly hazy. But the City of Angels deserves a spot on the list for its stellar Griffith Observatory, in the city's hilly Griffith Park. Planted in 1935, the 4,000-acre green spot has free admission and public telescopes available to use until 10 p.m. every night. One Saturday every month, the observatory also hosts Star Parties, in which amateurs can hobnob with astronomy buffs.
Courtesy of Tourism Kamloops, credit Bonnie Price
9 of10Courtesy of Tourism Kamloops, credit Bonnie Price
This 90,000-person town has loads of pristine lakes and creeks that glitter under starlit skies. Nature photographers, who call the area home, favor spots like Wolloper Lake, Jamesion Creek, and Wells Gray Provincial Park (a waterfall paradise less than an hour away). Hold out for winter, and you may just catch the northern lights within city limits.
Courtesy of Visit Utah
10 of10Courtesy of Visit Utah
Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Every Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the site hosts free star parties to honor the beauty that hangs in the night sky above. Rangers lead constellation tours and telescope-assisted viewings, and also stop to point out the night critters and plant life that thrive after dark. At 10,350 feet, Cedar Breaks is proud to claim the highest regularly scheduled astronomy program of any national park.