Everyday life can get a little tiring and leave us feeling overwhelmed, burned out and ready to unplug. No wonder that tourism related to “switching off” has increased significantly in recent years. And astrotourism, which involves travel to destinations known for their stargazing potential, has become particularly popular.
“Today, travelers yearn for wilderness—places far from the flickering city lights and the ubiquitous glow of smartphone screens,” he says Lee Thompson, co-founder of adventure travel brand Flash Pack. “To really get the best stargazing experience, you have to leave artificial light far behind.”
We’ve compiled ahead of time 10 incredible stargazing spots in the United States where you can stare up in sheer amazement at the scattered twinkling stars overhead.
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You might be drawn to the amazing hikes in Utah’s Zion National Park, but there’s more to see when the sun goes down. This park is considered one of the top stargazing hotspots not just in the United States but around the world.
“You can gaze at the night sky as it explodes with stars over the sandstone cliffs and blends into the surrounding landscape,” he says Naveen Dittakavi, Founder of Next Vacay. “Visit Kolob Terrace, Canyon Overlook Trail and Pa’rus Trail for a once in a lifetime stargazing adventure. The best time for stargazing in Zion is in the spring or fall when you can enjoy fewer crowds than in the summer months.”
While stargazing in southern Utah, be sure to also check out the smaller (and less traveled) Bryce Canyon National Park. Here visitors can see up to 7,500 stars on a moonless night.
“When stargazers look up at the sky, the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon,” he says Janelle Smith, a spokesman for Recreation.gov. “A few planets – including Venus and Jupiter – can be seen among the stars and shine bright enough to cast a shadow.”
You don’t have to head west to see some stars. The East also has its share of the optimal view. One of the best stargazing destinations in the eastern United States is Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park, located in the Susquehannock State Forest. The park has its own astronomy field, located on a 2300-foot mountain, and if you’re lucky, you might just catch the Northern Lights. Time your visit properly and you will be able to enjoy both the magnificent cherry tree blossoms and the glorious Milky Way.
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Phoenix may be more familiar to you, but the former state capital of Arizona is a top stargazing destination worldwide. The city is home to the International Dark-Sky Association and has city-wide light pollution restrictions. In fact, it’s not the glow of nearby Tucson city lights that you’ll see at night — it’s the faint glow of Phoenix’s lights, 120 miles away.
Not only can you see the dazzling stars almost anywhere in town, but you can also visit the Kitt Peak National Observatory, which offers a world-class stargazing program that will leave you mesmerized.
You might notice a theme here. National parks are some of the best destinations for stargazing as they are protected lands with minimal noise pollution. Simply put, fewer city and street lights make for a more impressive picture of the starry sky overhead.
“Glacier National Park is internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park and offers breathtaking views of the night sky at nightfall,” notes Dittakabi. “With minimal light pollution, this hiker’s paradise is fast becoming a destination for local and tourist stargazers. St. Mary Observatory is one of the best places for stargazing as it is equipped with a 20 inch telescope that provides high resolution views of planets, galaxies and constellations.”
The best time for stargazing at the glacier is in winter, when the skies darken and visitors have a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
While it may not be the most popular national park on this list, Big Bend National Park has the least light pollution of any national park entity in the lower 48 states.
“Big Bend staff and volunteers offer various types of night sky interpretation programs throughout the year and encourage discussion about the meaning of the dark night sky,” says Smith. “It’s far from big cities and was awarded International Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2012.”
The lower 48 states abound with stargazing opportunities, but we wouldn’t dare miss our friends in Alaska! Covering a whopping 6 million acres of Alaska’s interior wilderness, Denali National Park and Preserve is considered the best place in the United States to catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights, thanks to its northernmost location and long, dark nights. Just think of the abundant wildlife that surrounds you. It is not uncommon to see moose, caribou, sheep, bear and deer.
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Another increasingly popular stargazing destination in the United States is Rocky Mountain National Park.
“The park is known for its wide blue skies and endless views of the stars, planets and the Milky Way,” says Dittakavi. “With elevations ranging from 7,860 feet to 14,259 feet, minimal pollution, and a somewhat remote landscape, Rocky Mountain offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in the country.” She adds that one of the best spots for stargazing on clear winter nights is on Trail Ridge Road is.
The other stargazing destinations on this list may sound more familiar, but don’t let that stop you from venturing into Virginia’s Rappahannock County Park. Located near Shenandoah National Park and the famous Appalachian Trail, this International Dark Sky Park is considered one of the best places on earth to see thousands of stars and see the spanning Milky Walk.
A long drive or short vacation is great, but here’s the thing about stargazing: you’ll always have a front-row seat to the constellations in your own backyard. It’s enough in a pinch, and there are ways to make the experience more exciting, Smith says. First, go to a spot outside of your city, such as a nearby park or nature reserve, where lighting is minimal, and choose a night when the moon rises late or is in its late quarter / waning crescent phase. Bonus points for planning that evening of stargazing during a meteor shower, like the Perseids (August) or Leonids (November). Lay down a blanket and enjoy.