In our world where cities never sleep and whole continents shine like beacons when viewed from space, it can be difficult to find an unspoiled landscape where you can see the stars. These are some of the best and most beautiful parks in the United States where you can step away from the harsh, artificial lights of the city and see the Milky Way cross above you like an ethereal bridge through the heavens.
Cherry Springs State Park - PA
On top of the 2,300 foot, Allegheny Plateau within the Black Cherry trees of Pennsylvania is some of the best stargazing in the country east of the Mississippi. The second International Dark Sky Park and the first on the east coast, the park’s plateau is high enough to escape any light pollution and makes for a beautiful backdrop to see even the shadows within the Milky Way.
Mauna Kea - HI
Mauna Kea, on Hawaii’s Big Island, stands over 4,000 feet above sea level and houses the Mauna Kea Observatories. The high altitude and low humidity make for an excellent location as it promotes uncommonly clear skies. Take one of the stargazing tours to the summit and peer through the telescope to see distant stars and planets or sit back and enjoy the Hawaiian sites.
Denali National Park and Preserve - AK
Imagine walking through the national park and looking up to the see bright bands of dancing Aurora Borealis above you. This is one of the few parks where you can see this incredible phenomenon as well as the stars. The sky in Denali National Park is far enough away from the light pollution of cities that the stars burn brightly and the snow-covered landscape makes for beautiful if cold, contrast.
Natural Bridges National Monument - AZ
Named the world’s first International Dark Sky Park, the community near Natural Bridges modified over 80% of their light fixtures to decrease the amount of light pollution and protect the natural beauty of the park. Owachomo Bridge is one of the most popular bridge monuments in the park from which to view the night sky as it compliments the movement of the Milky Way. The park puts on astronomy ranger programs in the summers to educate and captivate the public.
Big Pine Key - FL
Often included in lists of the most beautiful places in the world to stargaze, Big Pine Key is a relatively untapped jewel in the Florida Keys, making for a fairly secluded location and decreased artificial light. From this sandy, palm tree oasis stargazers can see the Southern Cross and other celestial bodies that may be difficult to see anywhere else in the U.S. If you choose Big Pine Key, be sure to watch the sunset over the Atlantic ocean before you stargaze.
Griffith Observatory - CA
Light pollution is the enemy of stargazers and nowhere is it more of a problem than in big cities. Los Angeles may be one of the cities that never sleep but the observatory’s position over 1,000 feet above sea level and the powerful telescope makes for beautiful views of both L.A. below and the heavens above. The observatory is open to the public and many take advantage of this opportunity to see planets such as Mars and Venus and other distant bodies.
Parashant International Night Sky Province - AZ
In the northwest of Arizona are 1.05 million acres of desert and the perfect landscape for unimpeded stargazing. The barrenness of this untapped wilderness makes for gorgeous contrast with the moving, burning beauty of the sky above. This park is so large that nearly anywhere within its borders is within view of billions of stars.
The Headlands - MI
Sitting along more than two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 600 acres in the Michigan forests is the Headlands. Also an International Dark Sky Park, the Headlands’ reputation for unspoiled night skies is preserved by the Emmet County community. Dark Sky Park programs and events are given each year during clear sky weather for amateurs and seasoned astronomers.
Acadia National Park - ME
While Cherry Springs State Park holds the prize for one of the best stargazing locations on the east coast, Acadia National Park is a close contender with the largest expanse of the naturally dark sky. Maine’s sublime landscape is a beautiful spot to sit and gaze at the ancient beauty of the wild. The park provides an annual Acadia Night Sky Festival every autumn to raise awareness of the national loss of natural dark skies to light pollution with workshops, hands-on activities, and speakers.
Death Valley National Park - CA
Death Valley has the honor of being the third park ever to be certified as an International Dark Sky Park in the U.S. From this deserted landscape, the average stargazer can enjoy the beauty of the sky without distractions. Take a “Tonight’s Sky” tour or participate in the Las Vegas Astronomical Society’s Star Party to learn more about the night sky and have fun doing so.
If your group desires extra guidance, check out some of the tours available through the park services or local astronomical societies. Interested amateurs or seasoned astronomers, everyone is welcome to explore the natural world and celestial reaches of the universe.
Escape the city and experience the same night sky your ancestors looked to for light and guidance with your group at one of these highly-rated destinations.