15 Dark-Sky Parks Perfect for Stargazing This Summer

There’s nothing like staring up at the stars to make you realize how small you are in this vast universe. With cities and towns getting closer together, it can be hard to fully grasp the beauty of a dark sky sprinkled with glittering stars.

The International Dark Sky Places has made it its mission to “protect areas of land that have exceptional quality of nighttime darkness and advocate for a reduction in light pollution.” They have successfully added 60 parks across the United States to their roster of secured lands. These are the best places to study the nighttime sky.

1. Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, ID

Sawtooth National Forest from Galena Summit, Idaho, USA
Image Credit: Acroterion, Own Work – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Spanning over 1,400 miles across Idaho, The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve is described as one of the largest natural “pools,” or nighttime darkness, in the United States. Local vacation spots like Sun Valley or Ketchum benefit from being in the middle of this stretch of land. The towns definitely cater to the stargazing theme.

Throughout both towns, you’ll find themed Dark Sky dinners and events where local astronomers teach classes on constellations and how to spot them in the night sky.

2. Big Bend National Park, TX

Image Credit: Adbar, Own Work – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Big Bend National Park is in the southwest corner of Texas, right on the Mexican border. This 800,000-acre park receives nearly zero light pollution, making it an optimal spot for a night under the stars. It’s even been blessed to be named an International Dark Sky Park.

Take off that tent cover and get comfortable. You’ll love an evening enjoying the desert night sky among the cacti and chirping grasshoppers.

3. Canyonlands National Park, UT

Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Canyonlands has a unique, picturesque landscape. The canyons and redstone bluffs carved out by the Colorado River over a million years make it one of the most visited parks in the country.

When the sun goes down and the weekend tourists have gone home, the night sky is a black canvas on which the stars put on a breathtaking show. The view is so majestic that it’s been named a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park.

4. Voyagers National Park, MN

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

This park sits just south of the Canadian border and is known for its dense forest and pristine lakes. With minimal light pollution, it’s a popular spot in the Midwest for avid stargazers. It’s also one of the few places in the lower 48 states where you might see the Northern lights (aurora borealis). That was enough for DarkSky International to recognize it as a Dark Sky Park.

The park has numerous lakes and mini rivers swirling through it. Whether you navigate them on a kayak or camp at a campsite, you can’t miss this park if you love to stare off into the night sky.

5. Rappahannock County Park, VA

Image Credit: Big and Little Parks.

I almost don’t want to write about this hidden gem of a park because I don’t want to let the secret out. Rappahannock is not a national park or even a state park, but it is considered an International Dark Sky Park.

It sits near the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, just a few miles from the Appalachian Trail. It has been hosting stargazers for years. The deep black sky provides one of the few places on the East Coast where one can see the Milky Way in all its glittering glory.

6. Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

Image Credit: Kai Schreiber – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

This Northern California park has entertained visitors with its numerous trails and lakes that wrap around the jagged volcanic mountain peaks. These provide breathtaking scenery for taking in the stars. You won’t forget the reflection the stars make off of the many calm lakes, which make the sky appear to be sitting on top of each other.

The park can have some serious snowfall, so park rangers recommend visiting in the warmer months for better viewing.

7. Great Basin National Park, NV

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Great Basin National Park benefits from being one of the least visited parks in the nation. Fewer than 100,000 tourists visit the park, which leaves its rewards to those smart enough to stay in the Great Basin.

On a clear, moonless summer night, the naked eye can see thousands of stars, including the Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy, and closer neighbors like Jupiter, Saturn, or Mars. In the winter months, gazers can view the Pleiades open star cluster and the Orion constellation.

8. North Cascades National Park, WA

Image Credit: National Park Service/Deby Dixon – Wiki Commons.

If you thought the Great Basin National Park was remote, you’ll be surprised to know North Cascades only has 22,000 visitors a year. This provides a truly off-the-grid experience for adventure seekers.

Fewer visitors and its location in a remote part of the country mean there is little light pollution. That means it will be just you and the local wildlife taking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest sky.

9. Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

Image Credit: NPS/Patrick Myers – Wiki Commons.

Not only does the Great Sand Dunes National Park have the tallest sand dunes in North America, but it also features wetlands, alpine, tundra, and grasslands. It has been certified International Dark Sky Park, which allows visitors to see everything the vast sky has to see.

Moonless nights offer ample views of the Milky Way, with shooting stars that seem to bounce around in the sky at an alarming rate.

10. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, FL

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

With 54,000 acres to explore, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is one of the largest parks in the state. In 2016, it was named Florida’s first Dark Sky Park. Since then, thousands of Floridians have camped out to witness the stars dancing across the night sky.

In addition to stars, gazers can witness nearby rocket launches from nearby Cape Canaveral. Jupiter and Saturn are both clearly visible in the night sky. You may also be able to see the International Space Station orbiting the Earth.

11. Crater Lake National Park, OR

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Crater Lake is one of the most visited parks in the United States, and those who have been lucky enough to visit can understand why. The lake formed over 7,700 years ago when a powerful volcanic eruption caused a tall peak to collapse.

Today, the park welcomes visitors to enjoy a day of hiking and a night of watching the stars. The lake’s reflection provides a backdrop to the nighttime celestial sky. When it’s dark enough, you can’t tell where the lake ends and the skyline starts.

12. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

Image Credit: Carl Carlson IV, Own Work – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

Just outside El Paso, this 87,000-acre park is home to three distinct ecosystems. With a combination of great plains, lush forests, and dry deserts, the park attracts visitors year-round to experience its unique beauty.

This is a destination spot for backpackers who test their skills on multiple-day hikes. One thing is for sure, though: these hikers will sleep well, and the gorgeous night sky will slowly lull them to sleep.

13. Redwood National Park, CA

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

There is nothing quite like the northern coast of California. Sprawling beaches border striking forest-lined cliffs filled with trees big enough for cars to pass through. Inside the park, there are smaller parks that are ideal for those looking to take in the stars.

Redwood National Park, Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks consist of over 130,000 acres of nature to explore and enjoy the night sky. Find a spot between the gigantic trees. It looks like these monstrous redwoods scrape the low-hanging stars.

14. Cape Lookout National Seashore, NC

Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Image Credit: Jarek Tuszyński – CC BY 3.0/Wiki Commons.

This secluded area is only accessible by a quick boat ride. In 2021, the 56-mile-long stretch of barrier islands has been named an International Dark Sky Park. Cape Lookout National Seashore hosts monthly astronomy programs and presentations.

Local experts help tourists spot major constellations, planets, stars, and the International Space Station.

15. Cherry Springs State Park, PA

Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Cherry Springs State Park is the smallest on our list, with a footprint of just 80 acres. Still, the park is a charming location for getting lost in the stars. Known as the second International Dark Sky Park in the U.S., visitors love it due to its impressive views of the Milky Way.

A live astronomy field sits on top of a 2,300-foot-high mountain, offering panoramic night sky views. Colossal trees naturally block out any local light pollution.

+ posts