5 Dark Sky Spots In The USA That Are Perfect For Seeing The Stars

5 Dark Sky Spots In The USA That Are Perfect For Seeing The Stars

Editor's Note: The Geminids meteor shower will peak between December 13th and 14th, 2015.

In these modern times more than 80% of us in the USA live in urban areas, and we’re all missing out. Light pollution in cities is bad. Really bad. On a good night you may be able to look up and see some stars, but chances are you’ll be able to count them… that’s not something you should be able to do.

The night sky is one of the truly awe inspiring sights we will ever see, and too many of us miss out. That’s reason enough to search out somewhere to lay down in the grass and take in the infinity of space and its endless beauty. Here are some fantastic places to watch the night sky:

1. Death Valley National Park, California

This spot in California, is a gold-tier International Dark Sky Park. It is far enough from cities that there is almost no light pollution. This view of the sky is as close to how it would have been before cities had lights. The views are spectacular too, but it can get cold at night. In the winter months, expect below freezing temperatures.

Milky Way stars Death Vally National Park

2. Staunton River State Park, Virginia

Cabin and camping options allow you to stay overnight at this silver-tier International Dark Sky Park in Virginia. The ability to camp gives you the fantastic freedom to spend hours laying in the grass gazing into the galaxy as it twinkles in the night sky. There’s also plenty to do during the day with boating, hiking, and mountain biking in the park.

3. Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

This is the closest gold-tier International Dark Sky Park to New York City. It’s still a whopping five hours drive away, but what else would you expect from one of the largest metropolitan areas on the planet? There are two major star parties each year here that attract hundreds of astronomers and star lovers. Make sure you visit the park’s “Astronomy Field,” which offers an unobstructed 360-degree view of the night sky.

4. Goldendale Observatory Park, Washington

Nestled between Portland and Seattle, this silver-tier International Dark Sky Park is home to one of the largest public telescopes in the US. Their 24.5” telescope is open to the public most days for viewings, with the bonus of solar viewings during the daytime.

Telescope at Goldendale Observatory Park Washington

5. Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii is perfectly situated for dark sky viewing as it is thousands of miles from any major landmass. However, with over 1 million people living here, and more than 7 million visiting annually, dark skies may seem hard to find. Most of the population is on Oahu, meaning that the other islands, including the “Big Island,” or Hawaii, has many great places to see stars.

The famous observatory on Mauna Kea is definitely worth visiting, as is the observatory’s information center where you’ll find nightly public stargazing with a range of telescopes. Volcanoes National Park is another spot to visit, where you can see the glow of the Milky Way and an active caldera at the same time. There are opportunities on Oahu too, if you can get out to the North Shore. The beaches on the North Shore get very dark and provide good star viewing.

Milky Way over Kilauea Caldera, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

If you can’t get to any of these spots, go to one of these great resources: Dark Sky Finder or Observing Sites.

Mauna Kea Observatory, Hawaii

Tips on enjoying the best of a dark sky:

The sky is at it darkest at midnight, in this case meaning halfway between sunset and sunrise. “Midnight” as in 00:00 (or 12:00 am) is only truly midnight if your geographic location is correct, and you’re not on daylight savings time. If sunset is at 8 pm and the sun rises at 6 am, then your midnight is at 1 am.

It’s always a good idea to scout out the area before the sun goes down. Finding a good spot with ample daylight is far easier that stumbling around in pitch black.

If there’s no moon (as you’d like it to be for the best stargazing) you’re going to need a light. Any flashlight will do, but it’s good to remember that using a red light will allow you to see without damaging your night vision, or that of anyone else who may be sharing the space with you.

Happy stargazing!

Published: 12/1/2015

Zygmunt, or "Ziggy" to family and all of you friends, travels the world, breathing visual storytelling. He lives behind a camera lens capturing the inexpressible moments that, in summation, become our life's story and a larger narrative on the human experience. He started The Wayward Post with Christina to share amazing travel photography and to inspire other people to travel and do good in the world.

When he's not behind a camera, you'll find him moving to a spot... where he'll then use his camera. Indulge yourself in his beautiful work at  Zygmunt Spray Photography and 500px. Follow him on Twitter.