Stargazing can be one of the best things about camping. It’s not the reason we camp, but it’s part of the whole experience that keeps us coming back – sitting around the campfire at night, breathing in that fresh, cool air and taking a minute to glance upwards to admire the sparkling sky.
Unfortunately, places across America where you can see the earth’s natural star spangled banner are becoming few and far between – mainly because of light pollution. But don’t despair. There are still a large number of campsites that will give you the views you crave.
With all this in mind, here are a few of the best spots in the US to see the stars. Enjoy the show!
CHERRY SPRINGS STATE PARK
Cherry Springs State Park is nearly as remote and wild today as it was two centuries ago.
Named for the large stands of black cherry trees originally found in the area, the 82-acre state park is surrounded by the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest. The Susquehannock Trail passes nearby and offers 85 miles of backpacking and hiking.
Known for its dark skies, which are famous for great views of the Milky Way, planets, and hard-to-see astronomical objects and phenomena. This park should be high up on your list if you want to make a wish on a shooting star.
DEATH VALLEY, CA
Death Valley National Park harbors some of the darkest night skies in the United States. That dark sky is key to its certification as the third International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. National Park System.
Death Valley’s natural darkness, along with National Park Service actions to reduce excessive outdoor lighting, led the International Dark-Sky Association to designate the park as the third and largest International Dark Sky Park.
Only a 5 hour drive from LA, Death Valley offers up views of the galaxy you can only dream about. In the winter and spring seasons, park rangers offer night sky programs and hold stargazing events with astronomy organizations. Using high-powered telescopes, visitors can explore the mysteries of Death Valley’s dark night skies.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK
With long hours of darkness, the fall, winter and early spring can be a fantastic time to view stars in Denali.
By roughly the second week of August, the skies are dark enough to allow some great views of the night sky from midnight until two or three in the morning. Denali loses daylight rapidly in late August and September, so that you need not be a night-owl to enjoy the night sky by late September.
The long hours of darkness continue through early April, though by the end of that month the sun is making its stunning, and often welcome, return; and it eventually obscures all glimpses of the stars during the summer months.
The main event is the Northern Lights. The aurora is a beautiful, if hard to predict, phenomenon, occurring year-round. Only in the fall, winter and early spring, however, is there enough darkness to allow us to see the northern lights when they occur.
By the second week of August, the night sky is dark enough to potentially allow views of the aurora. The amount of darkness increases each night, as Denali turns farther and farther away from the sun.
Big Bend is known as one of the outstanding places in North America for stargazing, in fact, it has the least light pollution of any other National Park unit in the lower 48 states.
One factor that makes this possible is simply the sparse human occupation of this region. The obvious impression one gets of wildness in the Big Bend is the lack of visible lights indicating a house or a town. Most urban areas have such an abundance of light that very few stars are able to be seen. This can be a real surprise to visitors when they are outside in the Big Bend at night and see the Milky Way in its full glory for perhaps the first time in their life.
Realistically one can see approximately 2000 stars on a clear night here compared to perhaps a few hundred in a medium sized city. The dark night sky has always been a visual impression in the Big Bend, with very few exceptions.
ARCADIA NATIONAL PARK
Free from city lights, smog, and urban development, the skies of Acadia are crisp and sparkling with stars year-round. Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park have been making great strides to keep light pollution at low levels, such as campgrounds installing lights that shine down so they won’t impact the view of the sky.
The park also hosts an annual night photography workshop with the Acadia Night Sky Festival each September, but there are more than a dozen other night time adventures that same weekend.