Best US National Parks for Stargazing
With their pristine dark skies free of light pollution, America’s national parks provide some of the best stargazing opportunities in the world. From the deserts of the Southwest to the peaks of the Rockies, night skies come alive with dazzling displays in the parks.
For astronomy enthusiasts, in this blog post, we are sharing a list of the best US national parks that offer unmatched locations and dedicated Dark Sky Park designations. Whether you’re looking to catch a meteor shower or see the rivers of stars in the Milky Way, these parks showcase the very best night skies the country has to offer.
Here is a list of the best national parks for stargazing:
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Thanks to its remote location far from any major cities, Great Basin National Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.
This park in eastern Nevada offers phenomenal stargazing, with endless expanses of dark night sky that showcase the Milky Way in incredible detail. Look for brilliant meteor showers, planets, and even galaxies from the park’s high-altitude vistas. Nearby Wheeler Peak also offers a prime stargazing spot at over 13,000 feet in elevation.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
The night skies over northwestern New Mexico have been attracting astronomers for generations. At Chaco Culture NHP, visitors can not only explore ancient Pueblo ruins and petroglyphs by day, but also take in dazzling celestial displays after dark.
The park offers astronomy-themed ranger programs, including night sky photography workshops. Plan a visit in late April or October to catch the Lyrids or Orionids meteor showers from the park’s expansive mesa tops.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
With over 800,000 acres of remote Chihuahuan Desert wilderness, Big Bend National Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Park for its superlative stargazing. By night, the dark skies over the Chisos Mountains and along the Rio Grande come alive with thousands of visible stars free from light pollution.
A particularly good spot is the Chisos Basin, a high-elevation valley surrounded by tall peaks that provide 360° views. Early risers can catch the summer Milky Way from around 3 AM until dawn.
Death Valley National Park, California
The hottest and driest spot in North America also offers some of the continent’s darkest night skies. In fact, Death Valley has been designated a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, thanks to its minimal light pollution and excellent visibility.
Stargazers should head to the Mesquite Sand Dunes in the summer months when the Milky Way is prominently visible arcing across the sky all night long. Other popular spots include Harmony Borax Works and the Devils Golf Course.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
Deep within the red rock landscapes of southeastern Utah lies Natural Bridges National Monument. This Dark Sky Park features some of the most pristine night skies in the U.S.
Under its crystal-clear nocturnal views, you can easily see all the major constellations, along with planets, shooting stars, and the occasional glimpses of the aurora borealis. The Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs at Horse Collar Panel also make for an evocative background for stargazing at this park.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon is one of Utah’s darkest parks, far from any major light pollution. Its high elevation provides above-average atmospheric clarity, showcasing constellations, planets, and the Milky Way in sharp detail. Head to the park’s “astronomy festival” in June when crowds are smaller.
Or bundle up in winter to catch a glimpse of the elusive zodiacal light. For the best views, hike out to Sunrise and Sunset Points or drive the length of Rainbow Point.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
The Mojave Desert offers some of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states. Joshua Tree took advantage by achieving International Dark Sky Park status in 2017. It’s now one of the best places in California to observe the cosmos, with prime meteor showers and stargazing conditions.
For new moon nights, head to the Mt. Ryan Picnic Area. During the Leonid meteor shower in November, Keys View Overlook delivers ideal viewing.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Saguaro’s location on the outskirts of Tucson provides excellent night sky viewing while avoiding excessive light pollution. Take advantage by joining a free astronomy program at the Rincon Mountain District’s Red Hills Visitor Center.
Or observe the colorful bands of the Milky Way – best seen during summer – from the Mica View picnic site. Don’t miss the Flandrau Public Observatory in Tucson for more regional stargazing.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Though less famous than nearby Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef also provides world-class night skies free of light pollution.
Drive down the park’s 100-mile scenic drive by night to fully immerse yourself in the wilderness darkness. For the best viewing, continue all the way to Cathedral Valley, where monoliths and sandstone cliffs create an iconic foreground for stargazing.
Acadia National Park, Maine
For East Coast stargazers, it doesn’t get much better than Acadia. As the first International Dark Sky Park in the Northeast, it promises great astronomy amidst classic New England scenery.
Join a “Stars Over Sand Beach” program to use telescopes and learn about constellations. Or wake early and drive to Cadillac Mountain’s summit to be among the first to see the sunrise on the U.S. eastern coast.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree National Park, just outside of Columbia, South Carolina, was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2017. Its location in the heart of the Palmetto State provides dark skies not often found on much of the East Coast. The park offers new moon stargazing tours where visitors can use telescopes to spot planets, nebulas, and distant galaxies.
Late winter is an ideal time to visit to catch a glimpse of Orion, Gemini, and other prominent constellations high in the night sky.
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
The remote and otherworldly lava fields of Craters of the Moon provide a prime spot for Idaho stargazing. The monument holds regular astronomy programs and events like the annual Idaho Star Party.
One iconic way to take in the stars here is a night hike among the volcanic cinder cones, craters, and basaltic landscape. Time your visit for August to catch the Perseid Meteor Shower, when hundreds of shooting stars streak overhead.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
While nearby Arches National Park suffers from some light pollution, Canyonlands remains among Utah’s darkest night sky preserves. The Island in the Sky mesa and Needles districts both offer fantastic stargazing.
Join a ranger-led astronomy program to learn about visible planets, far-off nebulae, and Canyonlands’ ancient night sky legends. Just be prepared for cooler desert nights when packing your stargazing gear.
With their high-altitude vistas and isolation from development, America’s national parks offer some of the very best places to gaze up at the cosmos across the country. So grab a telescope, pack a sleeping bag, and get ready for an unforgettable astronomical night in the parks. Just don’t forget to book your campsite reservation early. Under the spell of a starry night sky, you’ll never want to leave.