Grab your telescopes, download your favourite astronomy apps and get ready to explore the best stargazing spots in the US.
The USA is a great place to visit for hiking in the national parks, shopping & dining in big cities, and staying at luxury resorts that pull out all the stops. But the USA is also a popular spot for another kind of vacation. Astro-tourism.
If you’ve been following the site for any period of time, you’ll know that I’m pretty much obsessed with the night sky, whether it’s stargazing in the barren stretches of the Atacama Desert or watching the auroral dance of the Northern lights in Iceland.
It was only when I started travelling around the US frequently during the last couple of years that I realised the huge scope for marvelling at the night skies. Whether you’re staring as the Milky Way rises above the already-surreal landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park or getting a closer view via a dedicated observatory, stargazing opportunities abound in the US.
Visiting the great outdoors gives you a great look at the Milky Way, dozens of constellations and several planets in all their glory. Trust me, if you’ve never travelled to an International Dark Sky Park, you should.
Ready to reach for the stars? Learn all about the best places to stargaze in the USA.
Can You See Stars in the US?
It’s sad but true that 80% of Americans can’t see the Milky Way. And most stars are becoming less and less visible in suburban and urban areas, too.
The good news is that the USA’s national parks, rural areas, and International Dark Sky Places (more on that in a bit) all offer some of the best stargazing anywhere in the world.
The State of Stargazing Today
What’s it like to stargaze in this age of high-tech gadgets and sprawling cities and suburbs lit up by neon signs, headlights, businesses, and homes? If you know where to go, it’s still fantastic.
Don’t get me wrong, light pollution is real. However, a group known as the International Dark Sky Association has worked hard since the late 1980s to help preserve dark sky places and diminish light pollution in certain spots.
And guess what? It worked. The USA has 60 of the 200 Dark Sky parks. These are popular sites for astro-tourism (seeking out the best spots to stargaze), thanks partly to social media and social distancing over the past few years.
I’ve been to a few of them, and trust me when I tell you that the United States has some of the world’s best stargazing spots, even with increasing light pollution.
Let’s look at the best stargazing spots in the US.
The Best Locations for Stargazing in the US
Death Valley National Park
What’s the best place to stargaze in the US? If you told me Death Valley, I would have to agree.
The park lives up to its name with a vast stretch of isolated land that’s hours away from any major cities. With no neon lights or traffic jams anywhere for miles, Death Valley is a perfect place to stargaze in California.
So what should you expect to see, and when should you go? Travel in the spring or early summer (March to May) and head to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It’s furthest away from the neon glow of Las Vegas and offers you the best chances to see the Milky Way and other otherworldly sights in the park.
Save your trip for another year (hopefully 2024). Death Valley National Park is currently closed after recent flooding damaged trails and roadways.
Want a bucket list trip idea for any Astro-tourism enthusiast? Go to Arizona for a chance to visit one of the most famous astronomy sites in the USA (if not the world) at Lowell Observatory.
Not convinced yet? Scientists at Lowell Observatory have been studying the dark skies near Flagstaff since the turn of the 19th century. And it’s where scientists first discovered Pluto in the 1930s.
It’s a unique chance to visit one of the most well-known space tourism sites in the country, and you can even look through one of the legendary telescopes while you’re there.
General admission tickets set you up on one of the 6 telescopes at Giovale Open Deck Observatory. If you want to splurge (do it) you can look at the far-off galaxies and stars from the famous Dyer and Discovery telescopes on a more private tour.
The Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory
If you find yourself on the East Coast looking for the best places for stargazing in the US, The Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory is the perfect place to go.
Located in upstate New York, it’s a wonderful place to stargaze and learn more from experts at the free events hosted at the Roll Off Roof Observatory.
The dark skies of Tupper Lake, NY, are the perfect place to stare out at far-away galaxies from a telescope or using the naked eye.
If you have a large group, you can book private sessions for $150 for up to 20 people.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The midwest is home to plenty of areas far from the bright lights of big cities like Chicago and St. Louis, so stargazing spots aren’t hard to find.
But if you head to the Great Lakes, you’ll find one of the best stargazing places in the USA and perfect opportunities to see the Northern Lights.
Lake Superior is the most majestic of them all, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers some of the best stargazing on the nearly 2,800 miles of shore.
Kitt Peak National Observatory
Arizona has so many of my favourite places to stargaze. Kitt Peak is in a league of its own.
You’ll have some of the closest looks at the galaxies and stars above at 2096 metres (6877 feet) up I’oligam Du’ag (Manzanita Bush Mountain).
Here, you can sign up for a nighttime program, which allows you to use one of four telescopes for a look at the enchanting Arizona skies.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah’s Mighty Five offers plenty of great opportunities to see the Milky Way and cosmos lighting up the high desert skies. But Bryce Canyon sits right at the top as a candidate for the best place to stargaze in the US.
Why? Not only will you have excellent chances to see the stars from above the dramatic hoodoos and canyon below, but it’s one of the best places to see the Earth’s shadow (penumbra).
Get to your stargazing spot at least an hour before sunset for the best chance to see the penumbra.
Being the largest state in the USA (and the furthest north), it’s no surprise you can find a few of the best stargazing spots in the US here. It’s also the best place to view the green, blue, and purple skies during the Northern Lights.
Fairbanks is one of the most popular locations for stargazing in Alaska, with great spots like Murphy Dome, where you can take a UTV or 4WD up the trails of the nearly 2,900-foot (884 metres) landmark. When you reach the top, you’ll find clear views of the dark night skies near the Arctic Circle.
Visiting from September to April gives you the best chance at seeing the Northern Lights.
Joshua Tree National Park
Looking for the best stargazing in the US? Head to Joshua Tree for a chance to enjoy some of the darkest skies anywhere in Southern California.
Just 2 hours away from the sprawling Los Angeles, you’d never guess you’re near one of the biggest cities in the country at Joshua Tree National Park.
You’ll have a chance to see more stars than you’ve ever seen from some of the darkest skies in the country. But it’s a chance to see the core of the Milky Way that makes it truly special.
Go in the summertime, preferably June or July, and walk over to Cap Rock to discover one of my favourite stargazing spots in the California national park.
Bare Dark Sky Observatory
North Carolina is home to one of the best educational stargazing opportunities in the USA, Bare Dark Sky Observatory.
Using 2 professional telescopes (the Newtonian and Meade Planetary telescopes) you can learn from expert guides about how to see distant planets, constellations, and stars.
There are actually 8 different viewing areas you can visit when you book a spot ahead, and you can bring your own telescope if you choose.
With a high elevation of over 2,700 feet (823 metres), you’ll have nearly perfect views of the dark rural North Carolina skies.
Voyageurs National Park
Head to the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada for some of the darkest skies anywhere in the USA.
What makes Voyageurs National Park so special? Many of the campgrounds and hiking trails along the remote northern lakes are only accessible by canoe, escaping nearly any trace of light pollution.
You can also see the northern lights, stars, and galaxies from Rainy Lake Visitor Center, an International Dark Sky Park you can drive to.
Grand Canyon National Park
Sometimes, you just have to save the best for last. If you’re looking for the best stargazing in the US, Grand Canyon National Park is in a class of its own.
First, the 277-mile-long canyon is full of excellent lookout spots like Mather Point and Yavapai Point along the Rim. You can capture incredible views of the planets and stars high above the canyon floor.
But camping in the spring or summer gives you views of the Milky Way like you’ll never see anywhere else.
Practical Tips for Your US Stargazing Trip
Seasonal Considerations: When is the Best Time to Go?
Are you trying to locate the Milky Way? Looking to see a meteor shower? Maybe you’re content just rolling the dice and seeing what’s under the dark night skies.
The fact is, stargazing is different depending on what time of year you go.
Spring and summer are clear and dry in some locations, while areas like Zion have their rainiest weather from July to September. So it’s important to know the local weather trends before stargazing.
What about celestial events? One of the most famous meteor showers, the Perseids, happens every year, between July and August. This year, the peak viewing was around August 12 and should be around the same dates in 2024.
You’ll have the best views of the Milky Way in the spring and summer, while Jupiter shines brightest in the fall.
Epic Stargazing Tours in the US
Looking to go stargazing with a group? There are plenty of great stargazing tours to choose from.
If you’re in locations like Flagstaff or Sedona, GetYourGuide offers some excellent tours. You can also go on ranger-guided tours in the summer or choose a private company like Yosemite Adventure Guides in national parks.
What Equipment / Apps Should I Bring for the Best Stargazing Experience?
Visiting places with the darkest skies is all about the lack of light pollution. So do yourself (and fellow stargazers) a favour and stick with a red torch.
You’ll also want warm clothes, bug spray, and a comfortable folding chair to sit on with a beginner telescope or pair of binoculars.
Looking for the best astronomy app? I plan my astronomy trips and photography using PhotoPills. Not only does it help optimise the depth of field, but it also helps you locate the Milky Way and tips you off to the moonrise and moonset times.
Best Spots for Stargazing in America: Map
Explore More of the US’ Dark Skies
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