Part of the romance of camping is the chance to sleep under the stars. But due to the ever-growing light pollution in this country, campgrounds with really stellar stargazing are rare. On average, city residents can only see a handful of stars. People living in really rural areas may be able to see a couple thousand. But there are a few spots left in the country where you'll be able to see up to 10,000 stars (and maybe even some planets!) with just the naked eye. It can hardly be surprising that the best sites can be found within our national parks, where civilization is kept at bay. One of best ways to choose a stargazing destination is to find a Dark Sky Park. Parks can be certified a Dark Sky Park on a national and international level. With that in mind, here are a few of the best spots in the US to see the stars:
This Pennsylvania State Park is the darkest and most remote spot east of the Mississippi. The high elevation and the fact that the viewing field is on a plateau means that you'll have a 360-degree view of the skies around you-- perfect for stellar stargazing! It was the first park to be certified as Dark Sky in the US and the second in the world. On a clear night, you’ll be able to see ten thousand stars and have a vivid view of the Milky Way. There are easily accessible viewing areas if you only want to visit for a few hours, or you could spend the night in one of the park’s campsites. One of the most popular events is the Black Forest Star Party, which attracts hundreds of astronomers every year.
Death Valley is the largest International Dark Sky Park in the country. Only two hours from Las Vegas and five from Los Angeles, it's 3 million acres of dark, desert wilderness. The dry air means the skies are immensely clear for most of the year. Visitors come to see meteor showers or lunar eclipses, and park rangers offer stargazing programs during the winter and spring. Spend the night at The Furnace Creek Resort and enjoy the night view!
You can’t talk about stargazing without mentioning the Northern Lights. Denali National Park is the best place in the country for a chance to see this dazzling phenomenon. Although it’s impossible to predict an occurrence, avoid visiting in the summer when it will be too light to see them, even if they are there. Although there are a few campgrounds within Denali, such as Riley Creek, there are plenty of tours you can sign up for that will take you into the backcountry, as well.
Big Bend has the least amount of light pollution of all the parks in the lower forty-eight states. It’s also one of the least visited parks in the country, so if you want a private place to watch the skies and contemplate your existence, Big Bend is your place. Try the Chisos Basin Campground for the most beautiful views. Plus, the McDonald Observatory located nearby as well-- spend the day touring the facility and then head to the park as the sun sets for the main show!
Florida in general is not typically considered an ideal place for stargazing— it’s too humid for really clear skies. But, Big Pine Key is the exception to the rule. Not only is it far enough out to sea to avoid the usual light pollution, the air is stable enough for some beautiful views of the planets. The lack of atmospheric disturbance means the stars shine steadily, without the twinkling we usually associate with stars. It's also one of very few places in the United States where you can see the Southern Cross constellation. Astronomers come from all over the world to see such a rare sight! Stay at Bahia Honda State Park for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking during the day and stargazing and s'mores at night!
New England is one of the most developed areas of the country, which means that there are very few places to go for quality stargazing. But Acadia National Park in Maine is doing its best to preserve its dark skies… and as an added bonus, they offer camping within the park. If you're after prime views of the stars, the park hosts the Acadia Night Sky Festival every fall, with workshops, lectures, and hands on experience. The local residents have worked very hard to limit the light pollution in the area, which is not easy for a community that’s devoted to tourism!