If you’re having trouble seeing the stars, you’re not alone, friend. Eighty percent of the U.S. population is no longer able to spot the Milky Way. And in some major cities, pollution has gotten so bad that you’re lucky to see two or three stars on any given night.
The good news is pristine views of stars, meteors, and northern lights are out there. You just have to know where to go. Right now, national parks are home to some of the darkest night skies in the country. In turn, they’re ideal and unmatched for their otherworldly views. So don’t miss out on the swirling spectacle above.
Here are some of the best U.S. national parks for stargazing in existence.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
The International Dark-Sky Association declared Natural Bridges the first international dark-sky park on earth. This distinction recognizes parks for their world-class stargazing opportunities and areas, as well as rewarding commitments to protecting the splendor of the stars for present and future generations. Currently, visitors can witness up to 15,000 stars in a single night.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
One of Oregon’s most incredible natural wonders, Crater Lake National Park is the result of a volcanic peak that collapsed almost 8,000 years ago. In the daylight, its dazzling sapphire blue water is the main sight to see. But after nightfall, watch out for the chilly winds and make your way to Rim Road around the caldera for its night sky vistas. The layers of endlessly swirling stars are out of this world.
Redwood National and State Parks, California
Deep in the Redwoods, make your way to a clearing and prepare to be in awe. In Redwood National and State Parks, some of the best stargazing on earth happens between the groves. Located along California’s Del Norte Coast, the stunning region and its massive trees spans 139,000 ultra-dark acres and boasts very low light pollution for your viewing pleasure.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Per Travel and Leisure, this is by far one of the least-visited national parks in existence, with only 131,802 visitors each year. Nevada’s Great Basin offers the kind of solitude and unique landscape that will help you feel at one with nature. Home to what are believed to be the oldest trees on earth, people travel from all over the world to see the ancient and majestic Bristlecone Pines. It’s also a certified International Dark Sky Park. For a starry sight like no other, be sure to stop by the Mather Overlook.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
In just about any national park in Utah, you’re in for some amazing night skies, but you should put this one near the top of your list. In this breathtaking International Dark Sky Park, the iconic Mesa Arch is revered as perhaps the best spot to see the stars at their most sparkly. Also of note in Canyonlands National Park, you’ll get the rare treat of witnessing the “ring of fire,” an annular solar eclipse.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park boasts some of the darkest nights in all of California. On a clear and moonless night, you’ll be able to stargaze from any place in the park. Whether you’re camping, exploring the backcountry, or just driving by, there’s a perfect spot for taking in all the twinkling with ease anywhere you go. Just be sure to bring water and a flashlight, as the terrain here can change rapidly.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Near the Mexican border in southwest Texas, you’ll find this International Dark Sky Park. Thanks to the complete lack of light pollution, you’ll do some of the best stargazing of your life in this one. Here are some of the most notable stargazing sites on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and Panther Junction Road.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
If you’re looking for some prime stargazing spots in Washington, North Cascades National Park is just three hours from Seattle. You’ll have your pick of endless backcountry trails within the alpine-like wilderness. And there’s nothing quite like stumbling upon North Cascades’ famous glaciers and ancient forest when the stars are fully out. Thanks to its relatively low light pollution, this one’s an eternally beloved haven for starry, starry nights.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
You might be surprised how stunning the Grand Canyon National Park becomes after dark. Mather Point is often dubbed the best place for stargazing on the South Rim, but frankly, the views are unbelievable no matter where you stand. If you visit between June to early August, you’ll get to see the Milky Way at its most magnificent. You’ll just have to wait until midnight.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
On the Lassen Volcanic National Park official website, they note that “half the park is after dark.” Any time of day, you’ll see volcanoes, boiling mud pots, fumaroles, and hot springs, but stick around for the stars if you’re visiting this part of northern California. It really does come alive at night. And if you visit Lassen in August, you’ll be able to take part in the Dark Sky Festival.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Close to the Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park is renowned for its stunning forests and pristine lakes. Most notably, light pollution is extremely low. So if you’re willing to brave the cold, you’ll witness the northern lights in all of their dizzying splendor. While they’re usually seen a bit further north, powerful solar storms bring the aurora borealis to Voyageurs. So count yourself lucky.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
There are countless reasons to explore the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Stargazing and astrophotography just happen to be two of the biggest. In south-central Colorado, you’ll find massive sand dunes and endlessly glittering night skies. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has been an official International Dark Sky Park since 2019.
Arches National Park, Utah
If you want to see some truly mind-blowing views of the Milky Way, this is the place to be in Utah. Arches National Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2019. It’s ranked as one of the top stargazing destinations in the world today. Proud of its star reputation, the popular park does its best to limit light pollution. Here are the 5 best spots to stargaze in Arches National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Located in far west Texas, you can do some seriously magical and sorely underrated stargazing in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. For the very best views the park has to offer, you’ll want to explore on foot and consider camping out for a truly unforgettable night.
Death Valley National Park, California
Thanks to its famously treacherous heat, Death Valley may not sound like somewhere you ever want to venture. But at the right time, it can be quite pleasant. And if stargazing is special to you, I highly recommend going at least once in your life. Boasting a gold tier stargazing rating, standing in the middle of this desolate wonder will make you feel like you’re at one with the universe. For the most stunning views of the lightscape in the night sky (and for the most agreeable weather), be sure to go during a New Moon phase.