Besides campfires, our absolute favorite nighttime camping activity is stargazing. Very few things are as awe-inspiring as staring up at our night sky, and if we happen to be camping in the middle of nowhere, the night sky is darker than usual, making the stars and planets even more visible and creating a magical view that we simply cannot get enough of.
All that said, there are some stargazing locations that are even better than the typical campground. These are the places that have taken steps to proactively reduce their impact on the night sky by finding ways to reduce light pollution in the area.
Parks and other natural areas that make a point of doing this are recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association, an Arizona-based non-profit that is committed to protecting and preserving the world’s night skies. These spots make for the best stargazing sites in the US (and beyond), and we highly recommend checking out as many as possible.
Not sure where to go stargazing? Below are some of our favorite IDA-recognized locations. These places simply can’t be beat when it comes to their night skies.
Big Bend National Park
With incredible vistas and some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the Lone Star State, Big Bend National Park is a gorgeous sight to see during the day. That said, the place becomes even more magical at night when the sky becomes a pitch-black canvas dotted by sharp points of light created by the stars and planets.
Glacier National Park
It doesn’t get much more remote than Glacier National Park. That’s why this incredible park offers such great stargazing. The sky becomes so dark that the mountains—which stand so tall and mighty during the day—are swallowed up by the blackness as the twinkling stars are reflected in the crystal clear lakes found throughout the park.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is one of those sights that must be seen to be believed. In the daylight, it is absolutely awe-inspiring and the inspiration for many works of art. That said, the nighttime brings a new kind of beauty to this incredible place. We recommend watching the sunset behind the canyon and sticking around afterward for some of the most incredible stargazing you’ll ever experience.
Death Valley National Park
With a name like Death Valley, one wouldn’t expect to see much life in this national park. This is far from the truth. During the day, a few creatures can be seen wandering about. However, it’s during the nighttime hours that the park really comes to life, with coyotes, bats, and other nocturnal creatures wandering the grounds.
Fortunately, the stars and moon shine especially brightly against the incredibly dark sky, lighting the way for these creatures of the night and offering some awesome views.
Great Basin National Park
It may not be the most popular national park out there—many have never even heard of it—but Great Basin National Park has a lot to offer. Whether you’re looking for great hiking or amazing cave tours, you’re sure to enjoy your time here. Not only that, but the bright stars and planets, incredibly dark nights, and wide open spaces make for some of the best stargazing in the country.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Very few things are more fun than sledding the sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Additionally, very few things are more relaxing than finishing off a busy day of sledding by stargazing while still in the park. The high altitude of this park works alongside the lack of light pollution to create some seriously spectacular nighttime scenery you won’t want to stop staring at.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
If you’re located on the eastern side of the country, this one’s for you. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is our favorite northeastern stargazing location, and we are certain you’ll love it too. Hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and canoeing can be enjoyed in this park during the day, but it’s the incredible night sky this park offers that really fascinates us and draws us in.
Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve
The only US reserve dedicated purely to preserving the night sky, Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve is just as amazing as it sounds. Located in the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains, this reserve encompasses a full 1,500 square miles, meaning guests have plenty of room to spread out as they bask in the blackness of the night sky, gaze in wonder at the stars and planets, and contemplate the immense size of the universe.
Cherry Springs State Park
Another great east-coast stargazing spot, Cherry Springs State Park may not be an NPS site or a preserve, but it is recognized by the IDA and is well worth seeing. The Astronomy Observation Field in the park offers a 360-degree view of the incredible night sky. Additionally, those visiting during the fall and winter months might even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the northern lights!
Stephen C. Foster State Park
Finally, there is Stephen C. Foster State Park. This is the best place for southeastern night sky enthusiasts to see the beauty of the universe. The park is incredibly remote, meaning there is almost no light pollution to ruin the view. Be sure to take a blanket to lay on while you observe the constellations as they twinkle above.
Now that you know where to see the stars, the next step is to plan a stargazing trip.
Wondering when to plan your getaway? Well, when is the best time for stargazing? The days before and after the new moon are ideal, as they offer the darkest nights, meaning a trip planned around the new moon would be best.
You’ll also need someplace to stay during your trip. Since the best stargazing locations are remote, an RV that can be taken to the most remote locations is the ideal lodging option. Check out our RV rental units here to find one that will work for you on your stargazing quest.