Six Amazing Stargazing Destinations in the United States

by Julie Cohn

Sharing is caring!

Looking for a unique travel experience for your family?   How about stargazing?  Stargazing tourism is huge right now, as more people get outdoors. The very definition of travel is to explore new places, and what better place to explore than to see the stars and planets in our universe?  Here are Six Amazing Stargazing Destinations in the United States, so you won’t need a rocket ship to travel to the stars!

These beautiful state and national dark parks in the United States offer some of the darkest skies in the world for optimal stargazing so your family can see the universe (including our Milky Way) in a whole new way.  Pack the kids in the car, grab a telescope and binoculars, and turn science into an adventure by going stargazing!

Photo by David Bradley

Photo by David Bradley M42 Orion Nebula


Six Amazing Stargazing Destinations in the United States

What do You See?

What do you see in your night sky?  If you live near a big city, probably not a lot. Stargazing near cities can be difficult, as light pollution blocks out most of the night sky.  To truly see the night sky in all its glory, you need to be in an area with a 6.1 or greater on the Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude (NELM) scale, or a class 4 or lower on the Bortle scale, with 1 being the darkest you can find.   Large cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago have Bortle scales of Class 9, but even smaller towns can have a lot of light pollution too, with Bortle scales of 5 or 6.  To get a truly dark sky experience, you need to visit one of the stargazing destinations in the United States that have been designated as dark sky parks by the International Dark Sky Association.  Experiencing the night sky from one of these parks with dark park stargazing will open your mind (and eyes) to a whole new world, where you may even be able to see the Milky Way, meteor showers, and other celestial events.

Where to See Dark Skies

 1. Cherry Springs State Park

One of the few places with dark park designation in the eastern United States is Cherry Springs State Park in central Pennsylvania.  This park boasts no sky glow in any direction, so viewers can observe not only the moon and major constellations, but also many planets, stars, galaxies, and of course, the Milky Way.  The park offers astronomy programs several times a year, but you can visit the park on your own, with a telescope in tow.
Photo by David Bradley California Nebula

Photo by David Bradley M33 Galaxy


2.  Headlands International Dark Park

The Headlands International Dark Park, in Mackinaw City, Michigan is one of the few dark parks in the Midwest.  It received a Silver Tier Dark Park rating in 2011, with an average Bortle scale of 3-5.  Although there is no camping allowed in the park, they do allow visitors to bring blankets and sleeping bags to sleep under the stars.  They offer dark park stargazing programs every month, at no cost to the public.

Photo by David Bradley California Nebula

Photo by David Bradley California Nebula


3. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park, in western Texas, offers visitors spectacular views of the night sky.  With a Bortle scale of 1-2, it is one of the darkest areas of the United States.  In 2012, Big Bend received a Gold Tier Dark Park rating by the International Dark Sky Association, the second such rating in the whole country.   In addition to the gorgeous sky views, Big Bend is known for its geology and fossils, including some that date back 9,000 years.

Six Stargazing Travel Destinations in the US

Photo by David Bradley m45 Galaxy (The Pleiades)


4.  National Bridges National Monument

The first park to receive “dark park” designation (by the International Dark Sky Association) was the Natural Bridges National Monument, in southeastern Utah.  Natural Bridges is known for its colorful sandstone formations, including Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the world, so visitors get both gorgeous ground and sky views.  This park has a Bortle class of 1-2, making it the darkest park in the United States, with brilliant views of the Milky Way.

5. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park in Nevada is the third darkest park in the United States.  Less than five hours from Los Angeles (Bortle class 9) star watchers have unlimited views of the night sky, boasting a Bortle class of 2-3.   The park offers sky programs and stargazing parties during the winter and spring, while the weather is still cool.  (Bonus: If you visit Death Valley in the early spring, you may also have a chance to see the rainbow of spring wildflowers that blanket the park.)

Six Stargazing Travel Destinations in the US 2

Photo by David Bradley M51 Galaxy


6. Goldendale Observatory

Goldendale Observatory Park in Washington State features one of the largest public telescopes in the country, a 24.5-inch custom-built Cassegrain-pattern reflector.  It is the only park in the northwestern United States to receive a Dark Sky designation.  A silver-rated dark park, viewers enjoy clear skies of 3-5 on the Bortle scale.  The park offers both day and evening telescope viewing programs.

Six Stargazing Travel Destinations in the US 3

Photo by David Bradley Aurora Borealis

There is always something happening in the sky above to show our children.  Super novas, meteor showers, and other celestial events make stargazing fun and informative every time of year, and most of the dark sky parks offering stargazing parties, as do local astronomy clubs.

A few tips for stargazing destinations in the United States
A special thank you to David Bradley of the Astronomy Section, Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS) for the use of his gorgeous astrophotography. 

Sharing is caring!

You may also like


Tamara Gruber 10/20/2014 at 10:32 am

This has me rethinking where to go in UT when we head out west this summer as I have a budding astrophysicist! We were able to see the Milky Way when we were in Sunriver, OR last summer and it was an amazing experience.

Kelsey Apley 10/23/2014 at 9:55 am

Oh wow, these pictures are stunning! My sister loves stargazing, and I have went out and looked with her, and it is breathtaking when you get to take a closer look at the stars!

Paige McEachren 05/30/2019 at 2:01 pm

This is such a great idea. People don’t realize how much light pollution can affect stargazing, nice to have some ideas of where to go to get a clear sight. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Cohn 05/30/2019 at 2:11 pm

Thanks Paige! We love to get out of the city and see the stars!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.