Best Places to Star Gaze
Our list of spots to view all the clusters, meteorites and constellations you can see with your bare eyes
Winter is always the best time of year for star gazing. Skies are generally dry and clear, and light pollution is toned down. A clear night without moonlight makes for ideal star gazing, so new moons and crescent moons are optimal for viewing the heavens.
Of course you can warm up some hot cocoa or brew up a pot of coffee and huddle in your backyard with your family, friends or roommates—but for a truly out-of-this-world experience, head out and high. Any mountain where you can get away from smog and ambient light or into some wide open spaces (the more wide open, the better—like, say, the desert or out in the middle of the ocean). And, in general, the higher the altitude, the better the view.
Here are some of the country’s greatest spots for seeing all the shooting stars, meteorites, clusters and sparkling brilliance the night sky has to offer.
Big Bend National Park
They don’t sing that song (“the stars at night/are big and bright/…deep in the heart of Texas,”) for nothing. On a clear night, at Big Bend National Park, you can see 2 million light years away and 2,000 stars will be visible to the naked eye.
Located in southwest Texas, Big Bend (on the border of Mexico and the Rio Grande) is remote and infrequently cloudy.
Bryce Canyon National Park
“The Dark Rangers” may sound like a crew you’d find at a comic-book convention but, really, it’s Bryce Canyon’s own special force of park rangers and volunteer astronomers focused on preserving the sanctuary of natural darkness.
On a clear night, 7,500 stars are visible to the naked eye at this unique “cave without a ceiling,” as it’s sometimes fondly called. In fact, the Annual Astronomy Festival takes place in May, featuring an annular “ring” solar eclipse.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The Outer Banks, North Carolina
With over 70 miles of barrier islands in a rural area, the Outer Banks is one of the most ideal places on the east coast to become engulfed by the awesome night scene. The National Seashore even offers a summer evening program called “Night Lights” that not only explores the heavens but also the ocean’s stars: bioluminescent plankton that sparkles and “glows in the dark” along the shoreline.
Lewis and Clark National Forest
Great Falls, Montana
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, with the Central Montana Astronomy Society, hosts a monthly Star Party at its facility. They set up this star-gazing experience with large telescopes and explanations of all celestial observations. The event occurs on Friday evenings closest to the new moon, subject to weather.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Big Island, Hawaii
When you’re on any Hawaiian island, the thing to remember is that you’re really standing on a big rock way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—they say there are more stars here than there are grains of sand. Weather can be iffy on the more lush islands,but an overnight trip to the Big Island’s often arid Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may be just the ticket for an optimal star gazing experience. Park rangers will give you a star chart to go by.