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Astronomical Adventures: The Best Places to See Stars

Few things are more beautiful than twinkling lights across the night sky! To help you find them, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to see stars.

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There’s nothing better than staring up at the night sky and getting lost in a sea of stars. Unfortunately, this is becoming less and less common as light pollution makes it harder to see the night sky in many parts of the world. Luckily, there are still many areas that you can go to that are great for stargazing and we’ve put together this list to help you access the best places to see stars.

Many of these places below are designated dark sky parks by the International Dark Sky Association which is dedicated to combating light pollution around the world and celebrating darkness as an important resource that should be protected and conserved. It was created as a non-profit organization back in 1988. There are currently nearly 200 dark sky parks on this list which have been chosen specifically for having the clearest and darkest skies around the world. 

Expert advice: Try to time your visit to go to the following places during a new moon rather than going during a full moon. This means that the sky will be the darkest and you’ll be able to have the best stargazing experience. You should also stay out for at least 30 minutes so that your eyes will have time to adjust so that you’re able to see the most stars while you’re out. It’s also important to note that many places on this list are at very high altitudes so it’s important to bring lots of warm clothes with you year-round so that you can enjoy the night sky without shivering the night away. 

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In North America

Below you’ll find a list of some of the best places for stargazing in the United States and Canada. Since many of them are national parks, it’s a good idea to invest in the National Parks Pass. For just $80 per year, this pass gives you access to all of the national parks and monuments around the country. It can help you save a ton of money on park entry fees, especially if you’re planning on hitting up more than a handful of parks in a given year.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

There’s a saying that everything is bigger in Texas and Big Bend National Park wants to prove it. Lying on the border of Mexico in Far West Texas, the park encompasses the rugged Chisos Mountains, part of the Chihuahuan Desert, and the enchanting Santa Elena Canyon that was carved by the Rio Grande. The park gets its name from the river’s big bend and is the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan desert in the United States. It’s home to 1,200 species of plants, 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals.

Besides its spectacular biodiversity, the park has also achieved Gold Tier status as a dark sky park, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of thousands of stars, planets, and even the Milky Way on a clear night. The best way to explore Big Bend National Park is by going on a drive along the lovely Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and there are plenty of opportunities for camping, hiking, river running, and horseback riding. Due to the remoteness of the park, it’s a considerable drive from most of Texas’ airports so it’s a good idea to plan on including this as part of a longer Texas road trip if possible so you can make the most of your time not only in the park but also in this fascinating state. 

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

Rather adorably named after a group of cherry trees that once stood at its heart, Cherry Springs State Park may be relatively small at just 82 acres but it’s surrounded by the much larger 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest which helps you feel like you’re off the beaten path (and helps keep the night sky free from light pollution). Thanks to this, it’s considered to be one of the best places in the eastern US for stargazing. 

The park is located about halfway between Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania, making it one of the easier places to access on this list from East Coast cities like New York and Boston or Cleveland, or Columbus.

Death Valley National Park, California

With some of the most inhospitable temperatures and landscapes on the planet, you would imagine that Death Valley National Park would live up to its name. However, rather than being a land without life, instead, the park is home to many different thriving ecosystems. This mind-boggling diversity makes it an amazing place to explore during the day and has earned it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list but things begin to get even more fascinating at night. 

The night skies are considered some of the darkest in the world, giving Death Valley gold-tier status according to the International Dark Sky Association. The skies are so dark and so clear that you can often view stars and planets that aren’t visible anywhere else in the world. The best part of all is that as long as you aren’t right by one of the lodges or campsites, you have great views from pretty much everywhere! Death Valley National Park is located in southern California near the border of Nevada and can be reached via San Diego, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Located in the remote area near Lake Powell, the Natural Bridges National Monument was the first certified International Dark Sky Park designated by the International Dark Sky Association. People flock here for stargazing thanks to the river of light that was created by the Milky Way flowing over the Owachomo Bridge, a natural rock formation. The bridge creates a “frame” for thousands of stars that can be easily seen with the naked eye and creates a gorgeous photo opportunity. Some experts say that you can see up to 15,000 stars on a clear night and we challenge you to try counting them all!

There are plenty of campsites where you can pitch a tent and spend the night staring up at the stars before getting up early the next morning to hike through one of the park’s crisscrossing canyons. The park is located in southeastern Utah’s canyon country and a trip here can easily be combined with a few days in Canyonlands National Park or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, both of which are just a short drive away.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

With the tallest dunes in North America and a diverse landscape mixed with forests, alpine lakes, tundra, wetlands, and grasslands, Great Sand Dunes National Park is much more than its name suggests. The dune field encompasses more than 30 square miles and the tallest dune reaches a staggering 750 feet high. You can unleash your inner children by sliding down the dunes, going for a hike, horseback riding, or going on a ranger-led nature walk.

While this is an amazing place to explore during the day, it comes into its own at night. The park is located at an elevation of approximately 8,200 feet and is very remote, making it a wonderful spot for stargazing. There are astronomy programs as well as Junior Ranger programs with tons of great activities for kids. If you want to stay the night (and don’t mind carrying all of your camping gear), you can even spend the night staring up at the dark skies from the dunes.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Hawaii is famous for being an amazing destination thanks to its beautiful beaches and rugged landscape. Mauna Kea, on the Big Island, elevates this experience even more by providing its very own viewing platform 13,796 feet above sea level to see the stars as well as the world’s largest optical telescope. This spot is considered one of the best places in the world to view the stars thanks to the combination of the high altitude and almost no artificial light. The lofty height is high enough to cause high-altitude sickness but the spectacular stargazing opportunities and the colorful sunrises and sunsets make it worth it! This enormous volcano last erupted more than 4,000 years ago which also creates an interesting landscape and you can enjoy both this and the incredible views on a visit here.

Several tour operators are permitted to take people to the volcano summit where you can get near-perfect stargazing conditions but if you don’t want to spring for the high costs of a summit tour, you can still view the stars from a lower price point and for a lower price! If you have a four-wheel drive, you can also go up to the visitors center but keep in mind that there is very limited parking at the center and there is no space available when you arrive, you’ll be turned away. If you can’t decide whether or not it’s worth the price, keep in mind that so far 11 countries have established observatories here to take advantage of the incomparable stargazing opportunities.

Nova Scotia, Canada

Lying in the far eastern stretches of Canada, Nova Scotia is famous for its wild Atlantic coastline, charming towns, and friendly people. It’s also home to some of the clearest and darkest skies in North America including two official Dark Sky areas. While there are several places that you can go to see the stars at their brightest, the most popular destinations include the Acadian Skies and Mi’kmaq Lands Starlight Preserve, the first place in North America to earn a Starlight certification by the Starlight Foundation, and the Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, one of Canada’s dark sky preserves. Both of these places are located in southwestern Nova Scotia and are just a short drive from one another, making it easy to combine them both into one trip! They are also just a two hours drive from Halifax, which means that they are some of the most easily accessible places on this list.

If you want to try something unique, you can spend the night in a geodesic dome perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. This fun-filled version of glamping allows you to fall asleep underneath the shimmering stars and many of the different dome sites have all of the amenities and luxuries that you would expect from an upscale guest house. 

Around the World

If you’re planning on going a bit further afield, some amazing places around the world combine magnificent natural beauty and sparkling night skies. Our in-house team of travel experts have come up with an exhaustive list of destinations that are sure to delight even the most road-weary of travelers.

Atacama Desert, Chile

Nestled on the border of Argentina and Bolivia west of the Andes Mountains, Chile’s Atacama Desert ranks #1 on virtually every list of the best places for stargazing. Famous for being the driest place on Earth, this sprawling desert may seem a bit barren during the day but at night, the spectacular beauty of this place becomes apparent. Here, you have the delightful combination of clear skies, a high altitude, and virtually zero light pollution that all come together to provide the perfect backdrop for stargazing.

While visiting the Atacama Desert, you’re likely to see views of some of the Southern Hemisphere’s most well-known constellations including the Tarantula Nebula, the Southern Cross, the Large Magellanic Cloud, the Fornax Cluster of galaxies, and a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The region is a popular tourist destination and it’s easy to join a guided stargazing tour or simply grab a rental car and head out on your own. 

However, the night sky isn’t the only thing to check out in the Atacama Desert. You can also explore the red rocks of Las Piedras Rojas, the saline lake of the Salar de Talar, or the colorful Rainbow Valley. You can even get a bird’s eye view of the desert from a hot air balloon. The easiest way to access the Atacama Desert is via the border city of San Pedro de Atacama which is just a short flight from the capital city of Santiago. 

Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, Japan

Located on the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa in the East China Sea, the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park was the first place in Japan to receive International Dark Sky Places accreditation. Due to its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer, it’s possible to view up to 84 out of the 88 constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union. Before you make your way to the park, make sure to check the weather conditions as the visibility could differ drastically based on the season.

The easiest way to get to Iriomote-Isigahki National Park from abroad is by flying into Naha, on the main island of Okinawa, and then from there, taking a domestic flight to Ishigaki. You can then rent a car and explore the park on a self-guided tour. Before stargazing, you can spend the day exploring the island’s sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs, the dense mangrove forests, or the gushing waterfalls,

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Kruger National Park is world-renowned for its amazing wildlife diversity. It’s one of the largest game reserves in Africa and has a high density of the Big Five. During a safari, you’re likely to see elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions, and buffalo plus countless other birds, mammals, and reptiles that call the park home. However, this is not the only thing here and when nighttime comes, the skies come alive with constellations and twinkling stars.

Kruger National Park can be easily accessed by flying into the South African capital of Johannesburg. Here, you can rent a car and drive a few hours to the park or get public transportation to one of the nearby cities or villages. You’ll find plenty of accommodation options offering options for all different travel budgets. However, if you want to get the best stargazing experience, it’s a good idea to book one of the camps within the park itself. Try to find the smallest one as it’s likely to have the least amount of light pollution. 

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand

Far, far away from the city lights of Christchurch or Queenstown, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest reserve in the Southern Hemisphere and the second-largest dark sky reserve in the world. Like many of the national parks on this list, the reserve aims to create an international dark sky community protected from light pollution. 

The reserve is located in the center of New Zealand’s South Island and is relatively easy to access from many of the region’s most popular tourist attractions. This means that you can combine it with a fantastic trek on one of the island’s epic hiking trails or a boat ride through the fjords. Tour options range from “humble” observatory visits to dreamy nights spent swinging in hammocks under the stars. Keep in mind that New Zealand is a very expensive place to visit and if you want to go all-out with your stargazing experience, you may want to check your budget first!

NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

Situated just north of South Africa on the continent’s Pacific coast, Namibia has exploded onto the tourism scene thanks to its rolling red sand dunes, dramatic coastline, and cute German towns. The NamibRand Nature Reserve lies just south of Sossusvlei, Namibia’s most famous dune, and is a private reserve dedicated to protecting and conserving the unique biodiversity of the southwest Namib Desert. 

Thanks to its location far from pretty much everything, the NamibRand Nature Reserve was the 2nd place in the world to be awarded Gold Tier status and was the first dark sky park in the developing world. Since it’s in a desert, the air is very dry and cloudless for most of the year and from here, you can view the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds, and the Andromeda Galaxy throughout the year. The landscape surrounding the dunes can be a little rough to navigate so the best way to view the skies is by joining one of the many overland tours that traverse the country. 

Need more adventure?

We hope that this guide has left you inspired to plan a whole series of stargazing trips! And when you need more ideas for adventure, you know where to find us! Our blog is full of activity ideas for friends, families, and couples.

As always, we would love to hear your feedback, so please feel free to drop a note in the comment section.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best places for stargazing in the United States?

For a great stargazing experience, you can head to Big Bend National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania.

Where can I go stargazing in Africa?

Some of the best places to see stars in Africa are the Namib Desert and Kruger National Park. Both places are relatively easy to access and will offer a celestial experience!

What’s are the best places in the United States to see stars?

For the best stargazing in the US, try Death Valley National Park in California, Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, or Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.

What are the best outdoor adventures at night?

If you’re looking to explore the outdoors after dark, you can’t beat stargazing! Check out this list of the best places to see the stars! Keep Adventures From Scratch nearby for more ideas.

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