Ready to experience next-level stargazing? The U.S. is chock-full of Dark Sky Parks: areas with exceptionally starry skies and environments that restrict light pollution, as designated by the International Dark-Sky Association. In North America, these Dark Sky Sanctuaries are frequently established within the national park service, state parks, or land secluded from artificial light sources. With those Dark Sky standards, a galaxy of stars opens up overhead, often including views of the Milky Way and out-of-sight constellations.
Save your perfect sightseeing spot nearby for a solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, passing comet, or one of the 30 meteor showers visible from Earth every year. Pack a blanket and your telescope and watch for shooting stars.
Utah is a must-visit spot for stargazers, as it boasts the highest concentration of Dark Sky Parks in the world. Moab, in particular, is a great home base for astronomers and stargazers, with four International Dark Sky Parks nearby: Arches National Park, Canyonland National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.
Along the state’s border with Colorado, sit back and stargaze at Dinosaur National Monument. Further south, near St. George and Brian Head, you can hit the hiking trails by day and watch the skies by night at Zion National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Blue waves and boundless starry skies await. Florida’s first Dark Sky Park, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, rests just an hour from Fort Pierce, promising open skies and little to no light pollution. Visitors are treated to immaculate views of the Milky Way without the need for telescopes or binoculars. The second of the state’s Dark Sky Parks, Big Cypress National Preserve, sits adjacent to the Everglades National Park, making it a perfect stop to kick back and watch the night sky after a day of exploring.
Though you’ll find most of Michigan’s Dark Sky Parks in its Upper Peninsula, Headlands International Dark Sky Park sits on two miles of undeveloped shoreline in northern Michigan and is worth a visit. Not only can you see the Milky Way during the summer, but stop by from fall through spring and, if you’re lucky enough, you might catch the Northern Lights.
Enjoy seeing world wonders day and night at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, just off the coast of Empire. This preserved area of Lake Michigan boasts 450-foot bluffs, stunning lakeside scenery, the largest collection of freshwater sand dunes, and some of the greatest views of the night sky. Paddle out on the crystalline waves, hike through the verdant forests, and stop by the visitors center for the area’s weekly and monthly night sky programs.
Don’t let the Lone Star State’s nickname fool you—Texas has some of the darkest skies (and the best stargazing) in the country. If isolation and open skies are necessary for unbeatable views of the night sky, Big Bend National Park certainly has it covered. The combined land reserve here, including Big Bend Ranch State Park, offers 1,720.75 remote square acres of natural wilderness, trails, and clear night skies.
If Big Bend is too much of a hike, don’t fret—Texas has plenty of other Dark Sky Parks within reach. Scenic Texas Hill Country enjoys access to three International Dark Sky Parks: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Lyndon B. Johnson Historical Park, and South Llano River State Park. Bring a group of friends for amateur stargazing and star parties, or join in on night sky programs hosted by the park rangers and the visitors center.
End summer with a dip in the pool and a night of stargazing. Joshua Tree National Park is only a half-hour drive from the Coachella Valley and its alien-like terrain makes for a one-of-a-kind stargazing experience. The kid-friendly International Dark Sky Park will have your little ones feeling like astronauts landing on Mars as they hike through the desert trails during the day, and watch the Milky Way take the sky’s center stage once the sun sets.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Coachella Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (about an hour and a half away from both Temecula and San Diego), is also certified as an International Dark Sky Park. Bring binoculars to spot bighorn sheep along its mountain vistas and take advantage of bringing science lessons to life by identifying constellations and studying the craters of the moon.
Prepare to be wowed in more ways than one with a trip to Arizona. As stunning as its colossal rock formations, plateaus, and desert beauty, half the fun begins after dark. The state is where the International Dark Sky Association is headquartered, and has a history of Dark Sky Star Parties, as well as other astronomy events. Find a home base at the heart of it in Tucson and take your pick of Kartchner Caverns State Park or Oracle State Park, just outside of town, for a night of wishing on shooting stars.
While you might be awestruck by a visit to Grand Canyon National Park, its glittering night sky might rival the geological views you see during your hike. The national park, about an hour and a half drive from Flagstaff, is certified as an International Dark Sky Park and makes the perfect place to watch meteor showers. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument are also fantastic Dark Sky Parks to check out, especially if you’re hoping to skip the crowds.
Dark Sky sanctuaries, parks, and communities are areas with exceptionally starry skies and environments that restrict light pollution, as designated by the International Dark-Sky Association.
Yes, Joshua Tree National Park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park in 2017. It has since been awarded the “silver tier” designation due to its near-perfect unpolluted dark skies.