According to Space.com, some of the best stargazing opportunities in the US will occur between late June and early September. The skies will be at their darkest, virtually uninhibited by moonlight, offering rookie astronomers the chance to take in thousands of stars as the Milky Way unfolds before their eyes.
The best places for celestial views are far away from city light pollution in state parks, national parks, and designated dark sky programs across the country. We’ve rounded up the best of the best so all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. But if you wanted to tie your summer stargazing adventure in to a celebration for centennial year of the National Park Service, that's cool too.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
If you’ve never heard of a Dark Sky program, you're not alone. They’re relatively new to the scene and have relatively strict guidelines. In order to become a Dark Sky Park, the land must include “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights” and “be specifically protected.” Natural Bridges set the mold, becoming the first Dark Sky Park back in 2007. Visitors to the area can expect to see hundreds of thousands of stars, planets, and even the Milky Way.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Taking in the starry nights in the midst of centuries-old ruins is pretty hard to beat and that’s exactly what you can expect in this far corner of New Mexico. To add to the wow factor, the park can only be accessed by dirt road, which led to some of the oldest and largest collection of pueblos in the southwest. While most visitors come for the history, they stay for the nighttime views. Park officials host a variety of free public astronomy programs throughout the year in their domed observatory with some seriously impressive telescopes visitors can peek through.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Known for its majestic mountains, roaring rivers, and calm lakes, avid outdoorsmen rave about Glacier National Park throughout the year but especially in the summertime when the entire park seems to hum with activity. Unlike its neighbors to the west, Glacier maintains mild summer temperatures so travelers can explore every inch of the park without feeling drained before they begin their stargazing escapades. For the best views, we recommend you try backcountry camping in one of the valleys. Not only will you be tucked away from the other park visitors, you’ll also be able to use the backcountry photo tips we have available too.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Cherry Springs is significantly smaller than the other parks on this list, but its staff's enthusiasm for stargazing more than make up for it. A special field has been set aside at the very top of 2,300-foot mountain with expansive views of one of the largest state forests in Pennsylvania and one of the coolest galaxies in the entire solar system, the Milky Way. Visitors are encouraged to set up camp as long as they are registered for an overnight pass.
Death Valley National Park, California
While Natural Bridges calls dibs for being the first Dark Sky Park, Death Valley is the world’s largest. Within five hours of LA and just two from Vegas, it's an easy trek for city dwellers. Either way, you’ll want to get here in time for sunset when the temperature has cooled down a tad, giving you just enough time to explore some of the sites that were featured in Star Wars (like Dante’s View and the Golden Canyon) before the desert sky is enveloped by millions of stars.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan
Just a few miles outside of Mackinac, Headlands International Dark Sky Park welcomes visitors free of charge on one condition: they don't spend the night. It may sound odd, but this is a part of Michigan is used to getting weird looks (Mackinac Island doesn’t permit cars). The guys at Headlands want visitors to enjoy every waking moment of the dark sky without interruption. In return, visitors are rewarded with a spot on the shores of Lake Michigan and some of the most spectacular views of constellations, meteor showers, and planets on the eastern side of the Mississippi.