The daily grind can get a little tiring, leaving us feeling tired, exhausted, and ready to unplug. It’s no wonder that “get away from it all” tourism has seen a sharp increase in recent years. Astrotourism, which involves travel to destinations famous for their stargazing capabilities, is becoming particularly popular.
“Today, travelers yearn for wildlife—places far from the flicker of city lights and the ever-glare of smartphone screens,” Lee ThompsonCo-founder of the adventure and travel business Flash Pack. “To really get the best stargazing experience, you have to leave the man-made light a lot behind.”
Ahead, we’ve rounded up 10 great stargazing spots in the US where you can search pure wonders for the stars twinkling above you.
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You may be drawn to the amazing hikes in Zion National Park in Utah, but there’s more to see once the sun goes down. This park is considered one of the best stargazing hotspots not only within the United States, but all over the world.
“You can stare at the night sky as it explodes with stars over sandstone cliffs and merges with the surrounding landscape,” Naveen DetacafeFounder of Next Vacay. “For the once-in-a-lifetime stargazing adventure, visit Kolob Terrace, Canyon Overlook Trail, and Pa’rus Trail. The best time for stargazing in Zion is during spring or fall when you can enjoy fewer crowds than in the summer months.”
While stargazing in southern Utah, be sure to also swing by the smaller (and less frequented) Bryce Canyon National Park. Here, visitors can view up to 7,500 stars on a moonless night.
“When stargazers look up at the sky, the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon,” Janelle Smith, a spokesperson for Recreation.gov. “Among the stars, some planets – including Venus and Jupiter – can be seen that are bright enough to cast a shadow.”
You don’t have to head west to enjoy some stargazing. The East also has its share of the perfect stare. Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania is one of the best destinations in the eastern United States for stargazing, located within the Susquehannock State Forest. The park has its own astronomy field—which sits atop a 2,300-foot mountain—and if you’re lucky, you might catch the aurora borealis. Time your visit correctly and you will enjoy both the gorgeous blossoms of the cherry tree and the gorgeous Milky Way.
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While you may be more familiar with Phoenix, the former Arizona capital is the number one stargazing destination in the world. The city is home to the International Dark-Sky Society and has restrictions on light pollution throughout the city. 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 lights located 120 miles away.
In addition to seeing pretty much dazzling stars anywhere in the city, you can also visit Kitt Peak National Observatory, which offers a world-class StarGazing program that will leave you fascinated.
You may notice a thread here. The national parks are among the best destinations for stargazing as they are protected land with minimal noise pollution. Simply put, fewer city and street lights make for a more impressive spectacle of the star canopy above.
Detakabi notes that “Glacier National Park, which is internationally recognized as Dark Sky Park, provides stunning views of the night sky at nightfall.” “With minimal light pollution, this hiker’s paradise is increasingly becoming a destination for local and tourist stargazers. The St. Mary’s Observatory is one of the best locations for stargazing, as it is equipped with a 20 inch telescope, providing high resolution viewing of planets, galaxies and constellations.”
The best time for stargazing at Glacier is during the winter when the sky gets darker and visitors have a better chance of spotting the aurora borealis.
Although it may not be the most popular national park on this list, Big Bend National Park has the lowest light pollution than any other national park unit in the lower 48 states.
“Staff and volunteers at Big Bend offer several different types of night sky interpretive programs throughout the year, encouraging discussions about the importance of the dark night sky,” Smith says. “It’s a far cry from big towns and cities, and was named International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2012.”
The lower 48 states are rich in stargazing operations, but we wouldn’t dare leave our Alaskan friends behind! Featuring 6 million acres of Alaska’s inland wilderness, Denali National Park and Preserve is the number one place in the United States to catch a glimpse of the elusive aurora borealis thanks to its northernmost location and long, dark nights. Just be aware of the abundant wildlife that surrounds you. It is not uncommon to spot moose, caribou, sheep, bears, and deer.
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Another popular stargazing destination in the United States is Rocky Mountain National Park.
“The park is famous for its big blue skies and endless views of the stars, planets and the Milky Way,” says Ditakafe. “With elevations 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 is at the top of Trail Ridge on balmy winter nights.
The other star destinations on this list may sound familiar to you, 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 one of the best places around the world to peek at thousands of stars and see the stretching Milky Walk.
A long road trip or getaway is great, but that’s the thing about star gazing: You always have a front row seat to the constellations in your backyard. It will do, Smith says, and there are ways you can make the experience more exciting. First, head to a place outside of your city, such as a nearby park or preserve where the lights are few, and pick a night when the moon rises late or is in its late quarter/waning crescent phase. Bonus points for planning an evening of stars during meteor showers, such as the Perseids (August) or Leonids (November). Put a blanket on and have fun.