Whether you’re looking for a romantic couples’ activity or a fun way to engage the kids with the natural world, stargazing is hard to beat. Lying back and looking at the night sky can remind us of just how small we and our problems really are — not to mention the fact that it’s just plain beautiful.
When we’re busy poring over our road atlases and travel guides to plan our RV trips, sometimes we forget about a whole half of our destination: its twinkling field of night-sky stars. That’s why we put together this post full of tips, tricks, prime spots and events for stargazing beginners and old hats alike.
No matter where in the world you are, the stars are shining above you. But a lot of factors affect how well you can actually see them. For example, if you’re in a big city with a lot of light pollution, stars’ far-off glow can get drowned out; even a remote area won’t work well if you’ve got a lot of tree coverage.
The best spots for stargazing are fairly remote and wide-open, which may sound familiar to avid campers. After all, it describes one of the most popular places to amble around in a motorhome or travel trailer: the American west!
A little bit later on in the post, we’ll get into some specific places well-known for their stargazing. But first, let’s make sure you’re prepared to make the most of the trip.
Since serious hobbyists sometimes drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on high-powered telescopes, you may think taking up stargazing will cost you a small fortune. But the truth is, you don’t really need that much gear to enjoy quality time under the night sky, especially as a beginner!
In fact, one of the most powerful pieces of stargazing equipment available is probably already in your pocket. Yes, we’re talking about your cell phone — you might be surprised at how many apps there are for stargazing.
For instance, programs like Sky View and Google Sky Map can help you figure out what exactly you’re looking at, or where to look if you’re hoping to see something specific. Get connected with what the pros are seeing up there by downloading the app built by NASA.
Interested in an analog way to learn more about what you’re looking at? There are tons of books available on the subject, whether you’re looking for a guide to stargazing or for information about your zodiac.
Finally, if you do want to make a small investment to help you see those celestial bodies a bit more clearly, some of the best binoculars for stargazing are surprisingly affordable. Space.com rated the Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15×70 Binoculars the best for beginners’ astronomy, and they’re available less than $70 on Amazon.
Weather for Stargazing
Obviously, live stargazing won’t work out if there’s too much cloud cover, no matter how dark and remote your campsite is!
While it’s always impossible to totally predict the weather, staying informed can help you make the best decisions for your upcoming travel plans, including whether or not stargazing will be an appropriate activity. After you check the general forecast, you might try downloading an app like Alpha Radar, which gives you a more accurate and immediate reading of your precise location. Alpha Radar is basically like having a private weatherman in your pocket for less than $2. It’ll help you figure out whether those annoying clouds will soon blow off, or if it’s best to call it a night!
Best Places for Stargazing
Now that you’ve got all the details you need to prepare yourself for your trip, it’s time for the fun part: Where to?
Although any remote spot with wide-open sky views will work, some locations are renowned for their incredible night skies.
Here are our top five favorite places to go stargazing in America, all of which are in national parks that offer RV camping.
1. Big Bend National Park, Texas
2. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
3. Arches National Park, Utah
Where to stay: Devil’s Garden
4. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Where to stay: Gallo Campground
5. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Honorable mention: Gerlach, Nevada
It’s not a National Park, but this tiny Nevada town is known to be the darkest in America, as covered by FiveThirtyEight. It’s just southwest of the Black Rock Desert, the host of the annual Burning Man event, and a great place for dispersed camping.
Stargazing Events 2018
With stargazing, sometimes it’s not where you are so much as when you get there! Here are some not-to-be-missed astronomical events coming up in 2018.
July 27: Mars Gets Up Close and Personal
As Mars and Earth travel around the sun in their separate orbits, the two planets come closer and further away from each other at different times. This year, our little red neighbor is set to be closer — and therefore brighter and more readily visible — than it has been since 2003. So be sure to make some time to get outside and see the shining orange orb this July!
August 12-13: Perseid Meteor Shower
An annual event not to be missed, the Perseid Meteor Shower is one of the best-known astrological events in America — and this year, it falls on a moonless sky for extra oomph!
December 12: Confronting a Comet
Although it’s not a guarantee, early predictions show that comet 46P, otherwise known as Wirtanen, may brighten enough to be discernible to the naked human eye on December 12, 2018. If it does so, it’ll be the brightest comet seen from the Northern Hemisphere in more than five years, according to National Geographic.
But even if you miss these special events, there’s still a lot in the night sky to inspire you. It’s really as simple as taking the time to go outside and look up.
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