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If you’re a fan of stargazing, you might want to put some of these destinations on your travel bucket list to enjoy some of the best that can be had in the entire world. They offer some of the darkest, clearest, light pollution-free skies in the world, making for some especially unforgettable stargazing.
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Tonopah claims to have the distinction of being the very best place for stargazing in the country – and USA Today confirmed that by naming it No. 1. Located 215 miles north of Las Vegas, the town has mapped out roads known as “star trails,” from which you can see more than 7,000 of the sparklers in the dark night skies, including the Milky Way on a clear, moonless night. Even the most inexperienced stargazers will probably see a whole lot more than expected. Just travel the star trails after the moon sets, let your eyes adjust and then gaze up and lose yourself in the nation’s darkest skies. While those in bigger, brighter cities are used to seeing only 25 to 50 stars because of light pollution, the skies here are truly incomparable. Those with good eyes will be able to see stars as faint as visual magnitude +7.0, which is the faintest of stars visible to the unaided eye.
Yosemite National Park offers lots of breathtaking scenery and outdoor activities to enjoy during the day, and it also offers the ideal backdrop for stargazing after dark. High above the towering ancient sequoias, and miles away from city lights, the sky here is known as one of the best places in the world for watching Perseid meteor showers. Glacier Point is a popular spot for taking in the show, and throughout the summer, amateur astronomers an often be seen setting up their telescopes on Saturdays. You’ll also get an unforgettable look at faraway galaxies and the twinkling stars of the Milky Way. Over at Wawona, Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows you can enjoy an astronomy walk or talk too. Many of the park’s onsite accommodations, including Tenaya Lodge, offer packages that include an astronomer, telescope, and transportation to an ideal viewing spot as well as hot beverages and snacks.
Visiting Haleakala National Park and the Haleakala Crater while on Maui is a must for many reasons. At over 10,000 feet above sea level, this is where you can experience some of the most dramatic sunrises and sunsets throughout the islands. On the two-hour drive to the summit, you’ll pass through as many ecological zones as you would on a drive from Mexico to Canada. This is also one of the best places for stargazing after dark. Rangers lead guided walks from May through October, or you can pick up a star map at the park headquarters. Because of the high elevation, it’s usually quite cold at the top, so be sure to bring something warm to wear, preparing for unpredictable weather.
One of the most stunningly beautiful places in the U.S., there are few spots in Arizona for stargazing where you’ll find a landscape that is as dramatically colorful as Sedona’s. The giant red rocks soar into the nearly always brilliant blue sky that has inspired artists and photographers for decades. Explore the hidden canyons, bike or hike the miles of red rock trails, indulge in treatments at a world-class spa and even experience the powerful transformational energy centers known as vortexes. After dark, the haze-free and often cloud-free skies make for some of the best stargazing around. The area is renowned for some of the best observing conditions in the country due to virtually no light pollution, high altitude and over 300 dry clear nights each year – in fact, it’s an International Dark Sky City. Sedona Star Gazing also hosts special events that offer the chance to experience an unforgettable evening of stargazing guided by professional astronomers who use some of the largest custom-built and state-of-the-art telescopes and high-powered laser pointers to guide guests around the night sky.
Reminiscent of the Gobi or the Sahara, Great Sand Dunes National Park sits between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the San Juan Mountains. While this park is stunning during the day, home to unique land forms that are the tallest dunes in the country, rising up to more than 700 feet in height, half of the experience here is coming after dark. Spend your days hiking to the top of the dunes to soak up the incredible panorama of endless dunes, or try out unique activities like sand-sledding or sand-boarding. Nighttime at Great Sand Dunes can include dunes exploration under a bright full moon, viewing thousands of stars on a clear moonless night, listening for owls along the foothills, or viewing migrating amphibians on a rainy night. With its combination of dry air, little light pollution, and high elevation, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an incredible place for stargazing.
This UNESCO-listed nature reserve situated off the coast of Baja California is a must-see for its dramatic sheer red cliffs, windswept sand dunes and flawless turquoise bays. The wildlife found here is just as exceptional, with the chance to view humpbacks and gray whales, swim with manta rays and sea lions and then spend your nights at the only lodging on the island, Baja Camp, which is open from May to October. It’s non-stop fun 24-hours a day, with more outdoor recreational pursuits that you can handle, excellent wine, gourmet meals, and some of the best stargazing around.
Tucson is famous for its outdoor adventure opportunities that include hiking and mountain biking, rock climbing and caving. It’s also one of the best spots on Earth for stargazing. The Kitt Peak National Observatory, known for possessing one of the most extensive collections of research telescopes on the planet, sits high above the Sonoran Desert, offering visitors the chance to view some of the most incredible night skies through its Nightly Observing Program at the visitor center.
There are plenty of great stargazing spots in Europe, but France is one of the best for starring in your own space odyssey. Here you can camp in unique “bubbles,” that are made up of recycled materials. They’re eco-friendly, and they are deflated at the end of each season to ensure minimal impact on the surrounding pine forest. Although the bubbles are obviously sheer, there are no worries about privacy, thanks to the secluded locales. Choose a special package to heighten the experience, with options like gourmet dinners, organic wine, massage, and, of course, a telescope and star chart for the best in bedtime stargazing. While the property is fairly isolated, there are a number of fun places nearby to explore, like Aubagne, popular for its potter makers, as well as the nearby town of Allauch which overlooks Marseilles.
Joshua Tree National Park is known as the ultimate playground for stargazers. It offers the best opportunity for Southern Californians to find the darkest skies with clear nights nearly every day of the year due to the low desert humidity and absence of light pollution. Visitors are often astounded when getting a glimpse of the night sky in such an unpolluted state. That’s something that’s been recognized by the National Park Service for many years, with frequent stargazing get-togethers hosted throughout the year. Check the park’s event schedule for upcoming “My Night Sky” events that help visitors understand what they observe. Telescope manufacturer, Celestron occasionally sends some of their professionals out to the events to help “demystify the technology” behind the instruments and to help users get familiar with using them on their own. A variety of telescopes, including powerful computerized models as well as more basic tools for stargazing are used. If you want to get out and enjoy it on your own, just bring a pair of binoculars. To help identify all of those objects you’ll find, a star chart is also essential as it will reveal the location of many celestial objects so that you’ll know what you’re looking at.
The western Canadian province of Alberta is renowned for its dark night’s skies, and Jasper National Park is arguably the best of the best for stargazing thanks to its remote location, far from city lights. From September through April, the sky bursts into a blaze of color after dark, with dazzling red, purple, green and white rays of light. On a clear night here, you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy a stellar show, that often includes the appearance of the Northern Lights. In 2011, 97 percent of the 4,200-square-mile park was officially designated light-pollution free, as the second largest sky preserve in the world.
While you might want to avoid Death Valley in the summer, with temperatures that rise to 120 degrees or even hotter, the rest of the year can be a pleasant time to visit and experience the world’s largest dark sky reserve. As the sun sets here in the California desert, the dark night reveals the massive expanse of the Milky Way at its finest. If you arrive in springtime, during the day you may be able to take in one of the most spectacular displays of colorful wildflowers too. With the right conditions, the desert will be filled with a sea of gold, purple, pink or white flowers.
Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania offers some of the darkest night skies east of the Mississippi. It was named a Gold-Certified International Dark Sky Park in 2008, one of only a few in the entire country. Despite its proximity to urban areas, as the park sits atop a hill surrounded by the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest, you’ll find a 360-degree view of the night sky, totally free of light pollution. In the summer, sky tours are offered on Friday and Saturday nights, though the Night Sky Viewing area is always open.